Building and Keeping a Nation

Article author: 
Lee Kuan Yew / Guillaume Durocher
Article publisher: 
American Renaissance
Article date: 
11 December 2021
Article category: 
Our American Future
Article Body: 
Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding father and long-time prime minister (1959–1990), should be a role model for nationalists across the West. Lee was not a philosopher but a practical politician, so his insights are not theoretical but the product of three decades of leadership.
Lee was able to adapt to changing circumstances, eliminate Communist threats, maintain political stability, and reach astonishing levels of prosperity. All this in a small, insecure city-state with no history of independent self-government, in a region marked by aggressive geopolitics and sharp ethnic conflicts. Lee understood not only human capital, racial differences, and ethnic conflict, but navigated these realities to build a thriving nation for his people.

The wreckage of the British Empire

For most Westerners, southeast Asian countries scarcely register as anything other than tourist destinations and old war zones, but they offer interesting cases studies of the difficulties of nation-building and ethnic conflict.
Under the British, what are now Malaysia and Singapore were governed by administrators, such as Stamford Raffles, who ruled with a combination of commercial acumen and genuine moral concern. Economic opportunity brought many Indian and Chinese immigrants to the area. There has been ethnic conflict ever since, especially between the native Malays and the Chinese. By the 1950s, locals of all races wanted independence, but how to create coherent, free, and prosperous nations from heterogeneous human material?...

An Illiberal, Stable, and Prosperous Democracy

Lee set about building a new nation with a patriotic people, a prosperous economy, and political stability. He ensured stability with “illiberal” democracy: There were elections at least every five years, but opposition parties could operate only with difficulty, if at all. Communists, Communist sympathizers, and “chauvinists” of various stripes (ethnic, linguistic, or religious) were repressed and excluded from political life. The government had great influence over the media and the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) ruled an essentially one-party, parliamentary state. Lee also kept close ties with Britain and America as guarantees in the face of foreign threats, Communist or otherwise.
East Asia is the only region in the “global south” with countries that have been able to equal or even surpass Western standards of living. The rest, in the words of Francis Fukuyama, are perpetually trying to “get to Denmark.” Most of the successful nations caught up to the West thanks to stability through authoritarian or non-electoral governments. This has been the case not only in Singapore, but in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and also to some extent in Japan and South Korea...
Lee did not reject all the Western practices inherited from the British. He was impressed by the capacity of Western capitalism to stimulate economic growth... Lee tried to enrich Singapore through world trade and investment....

Biopolitics II: Fostering racial identity and harmony

Singapore built a meritocratic system under a unique multi-racialist ideology. Including the Malay Muslim minority, in particular, was meant to pacify relations with Singapore’s nativist Malaysian and Indonesian neighbors...
Lee saw cultivating ties of family and racial identity as essential to countering Western cultural and capitalist individualism....

Biopolitics III: Lee as a Chinese ethnic realist

... Lee understood racial differences. Observers had long noticed that Malays were easy-living and “lethargic,” while Chinese were driven and entrepreneurial. Lee Kuan Yew and a Malaysian nationalist prime minister Mahathir Mohamad had similar views: the Chinese had been selected by a culture of study and hard work, as well as by cold winters in China; tropical Malays had not. On trips to Europe, Lee remarked on the differences between efficient Germans and easy-going Italians. He was also aware of differences in performance and social outcomes in the United States....
Lee was also impressed by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve. He told his authorized biographers:
The bell curve is a fact of life. The blacks on average score 85 percent on IQ and it is accurate, nothing to do with culture. The whites score on average 100. Asians score more . . . . The Bell Curve authors put it at least 10 points higher. These are realities that, if you do not accept, will lead to frustration because you will be spending money on wrong assumptions and the results cannot follow.
... Lee’s policies made it possible to build an island of racial harmony in a world of ethnic tensions...
To this day, Singapore has officially maintained a successful policy of “maintaining the racial balance,” just as the United States tried to do with the Immigration Act of 1924.