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Shouldn’t the nations be free to choose their way of life?

Published on 4th May, Edition 18, 2015

 

History is witness to the bloodshed on ideological battlefields with one combating force insisting on the purity of its way of life and the other contesting it. With the end of the cold war, democracy has emerged as the most desirable way of life in a greater part of the Western world with its proponents to be seen everywhere in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The United States is unquestionably the origin of democracy. Every practical social system finds roots in human society when it is backed by a viable economic and financial system. Democracy owes its existence to the centuries-old capitalism, better known by the modern world as “market economy.”

With both democracy and market economy showing signs of fatigue, serious questions are now being raised on the efficacy of this socio-economic combo. There have been examples in the history when nations that chose an alternative or a suitably modified way of life succeeded both socially and economically. The most striking example is that of Singapore which under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew moved, within a period of 30 years, from a bottom-line third world country to a top-rank first world economy. Lee Kuan had the reputation of being the most formidable critic of Western democracy. Though disliked, he was revered by the Western democratic leaders! A 2013 The MIT Press book based on interviews and selections by Graham Allison, and Robert D. Blackwill, with Ali Wyne, opens with the question: ’When Lee Kuan Yew Talks, Who Listens?’ The answer shows an array of listeners: Presidents, Chinese Leaders, Other Heads of Government, Heads of Global Corporations and Economic Institutions, Senior Policymakers, Commentators. These categories included names like Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jacques Chirac, Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, Rupert Murdoch, Rex Tillerson, Robert Zoellick, Hillary Clinton, Larry Summers and many others.

A recent The Economist article praises Lee in a typical Western style:

‘One of the world’s great economic success stories, Singapore owes much of its prosperity to a record of honest and pragmatic government, the legacy of Lee Kuan Yew….Mr. Lee was its leader and Singapore’s prime minister, when it won self-government from Britain in 1959. He led Singapore into merger with Malaysia in 1963 and, after their divorce in 1965, as a small, fragile independent nation, Singapore’s prosperity and orderliness won admirers East and West, and came to be viewed as a kind of model.

Mr. Lee’s political views, however, were controversial. Decrying the decadence and welfarism, which he thought had sapped the strength of countries such as Britain, he supported tough laws and punishments, making Singapore orderly, clean and disciplined.’

 

The typical Western-style defense of democracy and criticism of any alternative form of governance, no matter how effective it may turn out to be for a particular nation, are self-evident in the cited lines of the article. Use of disciplinary force to promote economic development and societal orderliness is obviously taboo in democratic parlance. Lee used to be quite candid when it came to an objective criticism of governance systems. He once said: ‘if everybody gets the same rewards, as they do under communism with their iron rice bowl, nobody strives to excel; society will not prosper, and progress will be minimal. That led to the collapse of communist system. On the other hand, in a highly competitive society where winners get big prizes and losers paltry ones, there will be a great disparity between the top and the bottom layers of society, as in America.’

On a proper balance between law and order, he said: ‘I understood Deng Xioping when he said: If 200,000 students have to be shot, shoot them, because the alternative is China in chaos for another 100 years….Deng understood, and he released it stage by stage. Without Deng, China would have imploded.’ On post crisis global situation, Lee commented: ‘prior to the current economic crisis the world did not challenge the Washington consensus that the Anglo-Saxon economic model is the most efficient for the allocation of financial resources to produce the highest return. However, the US market model is considered no longer ideal. China is confident that it is better for the government to maintain control of and manage its economy. China will now also be slower to open its closed capital markets to avoid large inflows and outflows of speculative foreign currencies.’

In the backdrop of the recent oil price plunge, renewed global terrorism unleashed by newly formed (and financed) terrorist organizations, and armed conflicts in Yemen, the behind-the-scene efforts to aggressively democratize Arab and GCC countries can hardly go unnoticed. This is a long-term sort of agenda of Western interests to tackle China. On the contrary, it would be best for the West to leave Chinese and Muslims alone. They know how to choose the best way of life. To end the story, a quote from one of Lee’s interviews: ‘Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate….Islam is exclusive.’

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