Lee Kuan Yew: A Legend Who Broke the Mold
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 24, 2015
Executive Summary: Lee Kuan Yew has passed on. This superstar of history has fallen. His life was dogged by controversy. But when all is said and done, he was without a doubt one of the great men of history. Lee Kuan Yew plus Singapore appears to be an accident of history. But this accident provided a unique solution to the political, economic, and social problems every nation is sure to encounter and cannot ignore. One may praise Lee or condemn him. But Lee's death spells the end of a legend, one whom the world will not see again.
Full Text Below:
Without Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore would not have become the miracle it is today. Conversely, without Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew would not have achieved the standing he enjoys today. Lee Kuan Yew led Singapore to independence. That was his first chess move. That move paved the way for the Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew we see today. Singapore was an ethnic Chinese society that Malaysia expelled from the federation. Lee Kuan Yew successfully transformed Singapore's Chinese society into an "English speaking society". This involved two paradoxes. One. Lee Kuan Yew took advantage of the expulsion. He did not advocate independence on his own initiative. Had he done so, Singapore today would be very different. Two. Following independence, Lee Kuan Yew retained English as the primary language. He took advantage of the fact that ethnic Chinese were the majority, to make English an instrument of Singapore's globalization. Had Lee Kuan Yew indulged in Chinese Chauvinism, had he acceded to majority calls for Mandarin Chinese, Singapore would undoubtedly be very different from what it is today. The policy choices made by Lee Kuan Yew during Singapore's founding revealed his extraordinary magnanimity.
Lee Kuan Yew's political philosophy has a number of notable features. One. Elitism. He often invoked "genetic determinism" and "eugenics first”. For example, he openly advocated that men with university educations should marry women with university degrees, He encouraged women with university degrees to bear more children. Two. Social Darwinism. He advocated fairness and the protection of the poor and underprivileged. In Singapore 84% of the population lives in government housing. But he also advocated social competition, and opposed populist social welfare policies. Three. Platonic Utopianism. Lee Kuan Yew denied any Platonist influences. But Singapore's political and economic structure differs little from Plato's ideal state. It features a philosopher king, Lee Kuan Yew, and a ruling elite. It features soldiers and teachers who protect the nation. It features businessmen and ordinary people. It even features “slaves”. There is of course no current equivalent to slaves. But among the 5.4 million people in Singapore, 1.3 million have the right to work but lack citizenship. Four. Machiavellianism. Lee Kuan Yew agrees with Machiavelli. He said Machiavelli was right about the choice between being loved and being admired. He said that if no one was afraid of him, he would have no value. Five. Paternalism. Lee Kuan Yew created "one-party dictatorship style democracy" in Singapore. Singapore holds regular elections. But it features a special form of partisan politics. The electoral system in Singapore enables Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP to win 60% of the vote, yet occupy 99% of the seats in parliament. This leads to "one-party dictatorship style democracy", under which opposition parties may have 40% of the votes but none of the power. The strict rule of law and generous salaries ensure clean government, with restrictions on freedom of speech. Singapore has a special form of elections and accountability, but lacks changes in the ruling party. Lee Kuan Yew has openly predicted that if Singapore ever implements Western-style political parties, it will inevitably descend into mediocrity.
In summary, politically speaking, the "Lee Kuan Yew model" does not repudiate democracy, but has reservations about democracy. It does not reject the rule of law and accountability. Socially speaking. It emphasizes social competition, embraces elitism, provides for social welfare, but rejects populism that panders to the poor and under-privileged. Singapore does not pander to either left or right oriented major powers. It treats the whole world as its hinterland, making possible the "Lee Kuan Yew miracle."
Lee Kuan Yew has global and historic stature. Obama called him an Asian legend. Kissinger said there is no other national leader who is a better strategist. Lee's role in the Taiwan Strait was also prominent. He visited Taiwan over 25 times. The first Koo-Wang talks in 1993 took place in Singapore. Beijing acknowledges that Deng Xiaoping's determination to embark upon reform and liberalization, began in 1978, when Deng visited Singapore. In fact, the Chinese mainland's political and economic reforms have long been aimed at transforming the Mainland into a "larger scale Singapore". This may be difficult to achieve. Lee Kuan Yew deeply concerned about the relationship between Taiwan and the Mainland. But during his twilight years, many on Taiwan were angry with him, and pessimistic about Taiwan's future. Lee Kuan Yew is gone. Taiwan has lost a close friend willing to speak the truth.
Lee Kuan Yew said Singapore was too small. He said it was so small it could not change the world. But he changed Singapore, making it into a nation that commanded the world's attention. Lee Kuan Yew's rule was a unique and unprecedented combination of democracy and authoritarianism, market competition and social welfare, elitism and populism, globalization and localization. It was the product of Singapore plus Lee Kuan Yew. One may ajudge Singapore a success or a failure. Either way, it is probably impossible to replicate. Having lost Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's prospects are now uncertain.
Lee Kuan Yew plus Singapore appears to be an accident of history. But this accident provided a unique solution to the
political, economic, and social problems every nation is sure to encounter and cannot ignore. One may praise Lee or condemn him. But Lee's death spells the end of a legend, one whom the world will not see again.
2015-03-24 01:40:07 聯合報 聯合報社論