Testament to power: remembering Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew

Power is what gets things going

Sean Jacobs, Menzies House, 14 April 2015

‘We start with self-reliance,’ said the late Lee Kuan Yew in a 1994 interview. ‘In the West today it is the opposite. The government says give me a popular mandate and I will solve all society’s problems.’

On 22 March 2015 Lee passed away at age ninety-one. The end of his remarkable life offers a sobering reflection on what it takes to actually build an economic pie and not just cut it up – a practice many of today’s democratic practitioners appear exceptional at.

Singapore now thrives alongside the Silicon Valleys and Tel Avivs of the world. Back in the 1960s, however, Malaysia effectively dusted its hands of the small nation by forcing it to break away.

A future of poverty and desperation appeared likely until Lee, warding off communist subversion and the revolving emergence of security threats, turned Singapore’s slim fortunes around. ‘He did not just pilot Singapore to prosperity,’ added Margaret Thatcher, ‘he became the most trenchant, convincing and courageous opponent of left-wing Third World nonsense in the Commonwealth.’

In his revealing memoir The Singapore Story Lee admits to flirting with socialism and Marxist theories of development – a legacy, perhaps unsurprisingly, of his Cambridge years. When taking the reins of Singapore, however, at just 35 years of age, he shed the vogue fascination of government-sponsored egalitarianism. He came to ‘realise’, unlike his post-colonial African peers, that individual self-agency and not government largesse was the true ‘driving force for progress throughout human history.’

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