Singapore's founding father shared his opinions on everything from democracy and leadership to terrorism and his late wife
Lee Kuan Yew had a strong opinion about most anything. As he once said, “I have been accused of many things in my life, but not even my worst enemy has ever accused me of being afraid to speak my mind.” Here’s a sampling of his other pronouncements over the decades:
We have created this out of nothingness, from 150 souls in a minor fishing village into the biggest metropolis two degrees north of the equator.
I have had to sing four national anthems: Britain’s “God Save the Queen,” Japan’s “Kimigayo,” Malaysia’s “Negara Ku,” and finally Singapore’s “Majulah Singapura;” such were the political upheavals of the last 60 years.
One arm of my strategy was to make Singapore into an oasis in Southeast Asia, for if we had First World standards, then businessmen and tourists would make us a base for their business and tours of the region.
To succeed, Singapore must be a cosmopolitan center, able to attract, retain, and absorb talent from all over the world.
Singapore is now a brand name.
My greatest satisfaction comes from … mustering the will to make this place meritocratic, corruption-free and equal for all races—and that it will endure beyond me.
One person, one vote is a most difficult form of government. From time to time, the results can be erratic. People are sometimes fickle. They get bored with stable, steady improvements in life, and in a reckless moment, they vote for a change for change’s sake.
In new countries, democracy has worked and produced results only when there is an honest and effective government, which means a people smart enough to elect such a government. Elected governments are only as good as the people who choose them.
Contrary to what American political commentators say, I do not believe that democracy necessarily leads to development. I believe that what a country needs to develop is discipline more than democracy. The exuberance of democracy leads to undisciplined and disorderly conditions which are inimical to development. The ultimate test of the value of a political system is whether it helps that society to establish conditions which improve the standard of living for the majority of its people, plus enabling the maximum of personal freedoms compatible with the freedoms of others in society.
There is no level playing-field of any government helping the opposition to win votes.
The weakness of democracy is that the assumption that all men are equal and capable of equal contribution to the common good is flawed.
On the U.S.
For the next two to three decades, America will remain the sole superpower. The U.S. is the most militarily powerful and economically dynamic country in the world. It is the engine for global growth through its innovation, productivity, and consumption. Today and for the next few decades, it is the U.S that will be preeminent in setting the rules of the game.
What has made the U.S. economy preeminent is its entrepreneurial culture … Entrepreneurs and investors alike see risk and failure as natural and necessary for success. When they fail, they pick themselves up and start afresh.
Militant Islam feeds upon the insecurities and alienation that globalization generates among the less successful. And because globalization is largely U.S.-led and driven, militant Islam identifies America and Americans as the threat to Islam. That America steadfastly supports Israel aggravates their sense of threat.
The war against terrorism will be long and arduous.
China’s history of over 4,000 years was one of dynastic rulers, interspersed with anarchy, foreign conquerors, warlords and dictators. The Chinese people had never experienced a government based on counting heads instead of chopping off heads. Any revolution toward representative government would be gradual.
China’s neighbors are unconvinced by China’s ritual phrases that all countries big and small are equal or that China will never seek hegemony.
If the U.S. tries to thwart China’s growth, China will surely want to return the compliment when it can do so.
China wants to be China and accepted as such, not as an honorary member of the West.
I was never a prisoner of any theory. What guided me were reason and reality. The acid test I applied to every theory or scheme was: Would it work?
The acid test is in performance, not promises.
It is not from weakness that one commands respect.
As long as the leaders take care of their people, they will obey the leaders.
On His Late Wife, and Life and Death
She’s gone. All that is left behind are her ashes. I will be gone and all that will be left behind will be ashes. For reasons of sentiment, well, put them together. But to meet in afterlife? Too good to be true.
There is an end to everything and I want mine to come as quickly and painlessly as possible, not with me incapacitated, half in coma in bed and with a tube going into my nostrils and down to my stomach. In such cases, one is little more than a body.
Do not intervene to save life. Let me go naturally.
I am not given to making sense out of life, or coming up with some grand narrative of it. I have done what I had wanted to, to the best of my ability. I am satisfied.
Sources: Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World; Lee Kuan Yew: One Man’s View of the World; The Wit & Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew