Political Science Colloquium with Postdoctoral Fellow Sung-Wook Paik


For the final meeting of the Kinder Forum’s Spring 2015 Political Science Colloquium Series, Postdoctoral Fellow Sung-Wook Paik gave a talk outlining his ongoing research into the intellectual and historical conditions that led to a global expansion of judicial power in the era surrounding World War II. In providing an overview of current scholarship that addresses the question of why constitutional democracies worldwide have converged on a politics increasingly dependent on judicial power, Dr. Paik argued that prevailing theories which frame this shift as either a gravitation toward stronger democracy or as a conscious re-delegation of power by political actors fail to satisfactorily account for why it was only in the post-WW II era that juristocracy became so attractive. Filling this gap in scholarship, Dr. Paik suggested, requires attending to how European nations responded to the specter of totalitarianism by drawing on the intellectual roots of militant democracy in constructing their post-War constitutions. Specifically, he argued that using judicial empowerment as a way of discerning and counteracting perceived internal threats to the state–and, in turn, as a way of preventing totalitarian backslide–traces back to nineteenth-century liberal anxiety regarding adapting government to afford for mass democratic participation. Shifting his focus to the United States, Dr. Paik then examined how New Deal-era debates over the best institutional means of advancing liberal democratic principles not only spilled over into the judiciary but also did so in a way that, at least to some degree, cohered with post-WW II European constitutionalism. Citing the example of Justice Robert H. Jackson’s majority opinion in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943), Dr. Paik argued that the use of the Court as a vehicle for protecting fundamental rights was evidence of a general distrust of majoritarian principles and collective empowerment that resembled the anxiety about mass participation seen in post-War Europe. In this era, he concluded, the paradox of democracy thus began to give way to the paradox of militant democracy, where it is the character of judges, and not the character of the citizens, that maintains the democratic state. Boston University Prof. of Law James Fleming provided comments on Dr. Paik’s paper, after which the floor was opened up to questions.

Sung-Wook Paik recently completed his Ph.D. in Government and Politics at the University of Maryland. Dr. Paik’s research and teaching are driven by a fascination with the study of constitutions. His current research examines a contemporary manifestation of the way in which changes in intellectual discourse, triggered by historical events, have caused what he argues is a paradigmatic shift in constitutional development, namely the global expansion of judicial power. His dissertation, Juristocracy and the Failure of Constitutional Discourse, argues that the restructuring of political power from legislatures to courts is rooted in the proliferation of a depoliticized understanding of democracy after World War II in the United States and Europe. Dr. Paik joined the Forum on Constitutional Democracy as a 2014-2015 Kinder Postdoctoral Fellow.