Modern Philosopher Kings: Lee Kuan Yew and the Limits of Confucian 'Idealistic' Leadership
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The paper explores the question of whether modern states, especially in Asia, need philosophical or 'ideological' bases for their founding and continuation. It takes as its case study Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, who appeared to succeed in founding a modern prosperous state that avoided grand philosophical foundations in favour of 'performance'-security, stability and prosperity. The paper argues that a closer look at Lee's conception of leadership reveals a more complex picture. Lee's concern for the future prosperity of Singapore, and therefore his legacy, meant that he needed to secure what he calls 'idealistic leadership' that was essential yet lacking in Singapore. His recourse to 'Asian values', and especially Confucianism, was intended to provide such idealistic leadership. The lack of success of his Confucian initiatives reveals the inherent problems of Confucianism as a moral foundation for modern legitimacy and statebuilding, and the limits of performance for founding of modern nation-states.
European Journal of East Asian Studies
© 2013 Brill Academic Publishers. This is the author-manuscript version of this paper. Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. Please refer to the journal website for access to the definitive, published version.
Government and Politics of Asia and the Pacific