We don’t buy into everything B.R. Myer’s has to say. But his The Cleanest Race is one of the freshest books on North Korea written in some time and he always has intriguing things to say. In a podcast on Korea Kontext, he serves up a lively half-hour overview of his take on the country, which focuses on the fundamentally militaristic nature of the state, the foundational nature of its anti-Americanism and its nationalist-racialist ideology.
Myers rips into the commentariat—both left and right–for their continued belief that North Korea as a failed communist state. Myers argues that this mistaken notion provides a continued basis for hope that the reformers will one day triumph, despite the absence of evidence that such reformers even exist. It also provides a convenient victim narrative for those who claim everything would be fine if we just engaged a little more.
Rather, he pursues a theme we too have emphasized with an even sharper edge: that not all good things necessarily go together. He argues that the North Korean leadership has never been as ideologically committed to central planning as the Soviets and Eastern Europeans were, and could easily adjust to piecemeal reforms. Its a militarized nationalist state, not a communist state. But the reforms will not be accompanied by any political changes; to the contrary, they might even require a ratcheting up of external provocations to sustain legitimacy.
Myers’ one ray of hope is that the continual propaganda escalation promising “one final battle” and imminent victory may prove rash as the victory never really comes. The mechanism by which this would actually generate a breakdown is left more than a little vague, but in that Myers is no different than most other collapsists. And he is definitely more entertaining.