Keerthik Sasidharan on the legacy of Lee Kuan Yew:
In the wake of his death, LKY is summarily dismissed by many on the Left as authoritarian or lauded by many on the Right who describe him as a pragmatist. Both appellations, while probably true depending on where in his long career one looks – obscure the true nature of a worldview, a philosophic outlook, around which he built institutions in Singapore. It is a view that is essentially pessimistic about human nature and what men would do if left unimpeded by social constraints. It sees humans as easily prone to material excess, as likely to grandstand at the expense of collective welfare, willing to indulge in emotionally satisfying rhetorical flourishes ignoring the truth of the evidence. It is also, however, a view that is self-aware enough to recognize that all societies need ideological Godheads around which its institutions and identities can accrete.
Inescapably, the result of such Godheads is a class of high priests, interpreters, and clergy who invent elaborate vocabularies to perpetuate their power. Faced with this recognition, the difficulty that faces every newly formed society is the choice of an organizing principle around which its institutions are then measured against. Viewed thus, while India chose ‘secularism’, the US enshrined ‘freedom’, post-Trudeau Canada made ‘multiculturalism’ its metier, the Saudis made ‘Islam’ their lodestar, Pakistan made ‘non-Indianness’ its operating principle, Singapore decided to enshrine (instrumental) Reason as its central organizing principle. Whatever gets the job done became the mantra.
As the conclusion to a quality piece of Singapore gloating, Kishore Mahbubani outlines the crucial principle of regime legitimacy that liberal-autocratic East Asia is honing for the world:
Singapore has its fair share of detractors. Its political system was widely viewed as being an “enlightened dictatorship,” even though free elections have been held every five years. Its media is widely perceived to be controlled by the government and Singapore is ranked number 153 out of 180 by Reporters Without Borders in 2015 on the Press Freedom Index. Many human rights organizations criticize it. Freedom House ranks Singapore as “partially free.” […] Undoubtedly, some of these criticisms have some validity. Yet, the Singapore population is one of the best educated populations and, hence, globally mobile. They could vote with their feet if Singapore were a stifling “un-free” society. Most choose to stay. Equally importantly, some of the most talented people in the world, including Americans and Europeans, are giving up their citizenship to become Singapore citizens. Maybe they have noticed something that the Western media has not noticed: Singapore is one of the best places to be born in and to live in. [UF emphasis]
Jacobinism is typically too lost in its own evangelical universalism to recognize its limits in political philosophy and in space, if not yet quite so demonstrably in time.
In the early 1960s … Singapore was ethnically fractured, under attack by Indonesia in its bizarre policy of “konfrontasi,” reviled by Beijing as “a running dog of U.S. and British imperialism,” and then in 1965 expelled unceremoniously from an ill-fated union with Malaysia. In announcing this devastating rupture on television, Lee became so distraught by the apparent hopelessness of his country’s situation that he ended up weeping.
Lee came from the diaspora of simple, poor emigrants who had been driven from the South China Coast by penury. Stripped of anything but folk culture and an abiding belief in the importance of their families, education and diligence, they had heaved onto the alien shores of this unlikely colonialized city-state. As Lee ruefully observed in trying to imagine his small country’s future, “City-states do not have good survival records.”