Ross Douthat sometimes seems to inhabit a different world than I do by mattsteinglass
June 16, 2009, 9:43 pm
Filed under: China, democracy, Iran

Douthat in today’s NY Times:

Amid the wreckage of the Great Depression, intellectuals and policymakers looked to fascist Italy and the Soviet Union for inspiration. But it’s hard to imagine anyone seeing a model in the current crop of authoritarian governments.

Except for maybe this model:


Shanghai skyline. Photo by Gyabu on a Creative Commons license.

Shanghai skyline. Photo by Gyabu on a Creative Commons license.

Or this model:


Singapore skyline. Photo by Jerine on a Creative Commons license.

Singapore skyline. Photo by Jerine on a Creative Commons license.

Seriously. Over the past year and a half, the ideological consensus that underpinned the triumphant West at the supposed End of History — free elections and free markets — has sheared apart like a rickety amusement park ride. The credibility of the liberal economic and political model has taken a colossal frontal wallop. The US and Europe are seen in many parts of the world as declining powers whose models have failed in the developing world and are finally failing even at home. China is ascendant. It’s certainly not the case that everyone in the world looks to authoritarian China and Singapore as models for the future. Perhaps not even most do. But if Douthat finds it “hard to imagine anyone seeing a model in the current crop of authoritarian governments,” he needs to get out  more.


13 Comments so far
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I grew up in Canada and now reside in the USA. I lived for 4 years in Singapore. I prefer Singapore to both the US and Canada and am planning to return and take up PR. Low taxes, no crime, good transit etc. I don’t care if the government isn’t transparent. The standard of living for the poor/middle/uppermiddle classes is much higher in SG than in the US or most of Canada.

I’m over liberal democracy.

Comment by svend

I find Singapore pretty boring, and am rather put off by the look of trepidation and fear I see in the eyes of Singaporean academics when I ask them to assess the shortcomings of their government in any area. It reminds me of the USSR. But there\’s no corruption, and the zoo and the museums are nice. To each his own, I guess.

Comment by mattsteinglass

Let’s not be naive here. The academics in Singapore are every bit as able to criticize prevailing dogma as are academics in the US. The range of acceptable opinions in the US is narrow and shallow.

In SG, they may not be overly critical of LKY. In the US? Any deviation from leftist dogma (mostly regarding differences between groups) pre-tenure is career suicide. The debate on all topics not LKY in SG is robust and honest. The only debate robust in American academia is “is George Bush worse than or equal to Hitler?”.

Asian find us extremely arrogant, and rightly so. We are totally blind to the reality of our society. American academia suffers from a group think that would have brought a tear to Mao’s eye.

Comment by Svend

“when I ask them to assess the shortcomings of their government”

Do you have any idea how many arrogant Caucasians roll through Singapore every day demanding that the locals work themselves into a dither criticizing the PAP’s political economy? The trepidation that you see is probably them pushing their anger down down down to help the silly white westerner save face.

If you put 10 Singaporeans in a room together they’ll piss and moan about the state in an informed and balanced way that quite simply never happens in the United States, Canada et al.

Really guy. Turn down the Occidental know it all complex.

Comment by Svend

The question I particularly remember as inducing blank anxiety and obfuscatory silence involved the methodology of a survey of constituent satisfaction with government services by a Singapore sociologist and a political scientist. I have never asked anyone to criticize the PAP, except for the guys who ran the “Mr. Brown Show,” who I knew were only too happy to do so, and the leader of the SDP, who, from his bankruptcy-induced house arrest, was also only too happy to do so.

Comment by mattsteinglass

So this:

“obfuscatory silence involved the methodology of a survey”

Is the base of this:

“and am rather put off by the look of trepidation and fear I see in the eyes of Singaporean academics when I ask them to assess the shortcomings of their government in any area.”

Weak. Weak. Weak. No wonder we’re despised.

Comment by svend

I suggest you take up the subject with Dr. Chee, if you have the guts to visit him.

Comment by mattsteinglass

Ohhh. Burn. The effeminate lefty blogger goes for my manhood. What a world.

Comment by svend

So, you’re going to visit Dr. Chee?

Comment by mattsteinglass

Yes. I’m going to get in an airplane here in Miami, now, and fly to Singapore. After an evening in a hotel I’ll head over and knock on his door. I’ll post a followup here post haste.

Now a question for you. Yes or no please. Have you always looked down upon Asians? Seems pretty clear you hold them to an entirely different standard, given the claim/evidence above. So yes or no. Have you always looked down upon Asians?

Comment by svend

Because I compared the intellectual tone I experienced in Singapore to that I experienced in the USSR? Was I supposed to be looking down on Asians, or on Russians? I don’t look down on anybody. However, in my admittedly very limited experience, the intellectual and artistic atmosphere in Beijing is considerably more exciting than that in Singapore. You, on the other hand, with no evidence whatsoever, accused me of being arrogant, insulted me for being white, made outlandish and inaccurate claims about the narrowness of acceptable academic debate in the US, and have now proceeded to call me a racist. I don’t happen to like the intellectual atmosphere in Singapore. Maybe you do. That’s fine. As I said, to each his own.

It is, however, an empirical fact that the press in Singapore operates within narrow limits; that no foreign news organizations have their Asian bureaus in Singapore anymore, in part because the legal jeopardy issue means they cannot claim to report impartially if they are based there; that public gatherings of, if I recall correctly, more than four people are in principle illegal without prior government approval, allowing arbitrary crackdowns on any political activity; that opposition figures are prosecuted for the expression of their political views; and so forth. You may argue that these political restrictions are irrelevant to what I perceive as anxiety when a member of the press, such as myself, asks an academic a politically sensitive question. Or that they are irrelevant to what appears to me to be a rather staid intellectual and artistic atmosphere. Maybe you’re right, but it seems to me pretty likely that the correlation in places like Singapore and Vietnam between political limits on expression and a lack of creativity and intellectual vitality is not a matter of accident.

Comment by mattsteinglass

Anytime you want to get a lefty to explode in self-defense, merely accuse him of not being sufficiently tolerant.

Singapore is every bit as free as the United States. Look at your boy Obama. Just a new (now with dark pigments!) face on a corporate machine. Hope and Change + Larry Summers and escalation in Afghanistan. 3% of the global population, 25% of the prison population. Mr. Diversity doesn’t seem to mind that his black brothers rot behind bars at a rate higher than apartheid South Africa. Singapore has a much lower incarceration rate on aggregate and much lower for the Malay’s, compared to American blacks.

See, we just bullshit ourselves and believe our own platitudes. North American media does not actually serve as a check on the state. It is part of the state, as the same means of production that own the government own the media. Academia is a depository for unemployable hippies who exist in an incredibly air-tight echo chamber. This is exactly the same as in Singapore (less academia, as they’ll actually discuss difficult issues). The difference in Singapore is, again, no crime, high standard of living etc. In the US you can’t use public schools, public hospitals or public anything. To live well, you have to go private. Not so in Singapore.

So keep on, keepin on. But next time you’re in Singapore and you decide to lecture some Asian about this and that, don’t mistake their anger for fear. What you see as “I’m too scared to speak my mind” is really “you low-IQ ang-mo don’t know his own country lah”. Yeah.

Comment by svend

I don’t understand your suggestion that I should lecture to “Asians” when I travel from Vietnam to visit Singapore. I presume you mean “Singaporeans”, though I’m not sure why you exclude non-Asian Singaporeans from that polity; but in any case, why should I lecture them? I never have before. I’m a reporter. I ask them questions.

Are you from Singapore?

Comment by mattsteinglass

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