Was Lee Kuan Yew Racist

Asia's future

Eun-Jeung Lee

To person

Dr. phil. habil., born in 1963; Private Lecturer at the Institute for Political Science at the University of Halle; z. Currently at the University of Tsukuba in Japan.
Address: University of Halle, Institute for Political Science, Emil-Abderhalden Str. 7, 06108 Halle.
Email: [email protected]

Publications among others: Confucianism and Capitalism, Münster 1997; "Anti-Europe". The history of the reception of Confucianism and Confucian society in Europe since the early Enlightenment, Münster - Hamburg 2003; e-politics and democracy, in: Asia, (2003) 87; "Asia" as a project, in: Leviathan, 31 (2003) (i.E.).

For Europeans, "Asia" is the vast area from the Bosporus to Japan. However, "Asia" as such does not exist at all - at least not in the form of an overarching culture.

What is "asian"

"Asia" is a European concept. It comes from Greco-Roman antiquity. [1] Since the time of the oldest European explorer of Asia, the Greek historian Herodotus, the designation "Asia" in the European context has had the connotation of barbaric power, savagery and unpredictability.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz also shared this point of view when, at the end of the 17th century, he referred to China as "Europe of the East", of whose high culture and philosophy he learned from the Jesuits from the empire at the other end of the Eurasian continent. [2] This empire could not be an "Asian", that is, a barbaric empire. What he and his contemporaries like Christian Wolff saw in it was a "Confucian ideal state", a model for political reforms in Europe. It was not until the middle of the 18th century that China was anchored in the Orient by Montesquieu's characterization of Chinese rule as an oriental despotism. There was even speculation about the Egyptian ancestry of Chinese culture. In the eyes of the Europeans, the huge area from the Bosporus to Japan became an "Asian" cultural unit, which the philosophers of history described with the term "stagnation" or that of the "childhood" of human civilization.

Since then, Asia has embodied for Europeans what Europe had already left behind. The assessment of the "originality" of Asia, whether as something that has been overcome or something lost, is closely related to the respective intellectual, political and economic circumstances. That is why Edward Said wrote that Asia and the Orient are for Europeans an "arsenal of wishes, repression, investments and projections" [3]. Hermann Hesse once wrote that Asia was not a part of the world, "but a (...) mysterious place (...) there were the roots of all human beings and the dark source of all life" [4]. As such a place of projection, Asia is still present in western perceptions to this day.

"Asia" as such does not actually exist anywhere; at least not in the form of an overarching culture, a feeling of togetherness. In East Asia, the term "Asia" was not even known until the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci introduced the term "Asia" in the region with his map of the world, which was distributed throughout East Asia in the 17th century, but without naming the ideological connotation of this term . The Chinese characters that Ricci first used to mark "Asia" on this map are still used throughout East Asia today, as are the characters for Europe. [5]

The essence of the "Asian values" debate

In the 1990s, so-called "Asian values" clouded the sky of values ​​in international debate. [6] In the debate about human rights, in the discussion about economic, political and social development, the term "Asian values" was and is everywhere - in some cases to this day. The question was even raised as to whether the dominant civilizational paradigm claim of the West should be upheld and whether competing models of civilization - especially from Asia - would not oppose it with their own claim to leadership. It was even assumed that there were Asian values ​​and social norms that offer solutions to the current problems of Western civilization. All the more one has to ask what is meant by "Asian values".

The debate about "Asian values" represented - strictly speaking - only in a very mediated way a confrontation between different cultural and political traditions. One of the characteristic dimensions of this confrontation was the economic and political conflict of interests between the old industrialized countries of Europe and North America and the growth economies of the pacific region. Another is the inward intention of the proponents of these "Asian values" to secure the current political and social status quo. That is why the discussion was hardly conducted on a philosophical or state-theoretical level. Rather, it remained on a practical-political level, on which the instrumentalization of "Asian values" was in the foreground. T. still stands.

Since the beginning of the nineties, the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, and the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir bin Mohamad, have been actively involved in political discourses in which, since the "turning point" in 1989 and the decline of real socialism following a "New World Order" is searched. They propagated their authoritarian politics as "the Asian way". Their countries have been led to the much-vaunted combination of economic progress and social discipline through "Asian values". "Asian values" are therefore responsible for the strength and success of East Asia.

To support their arguments, they resorted to the "Confucian capitalism" thesis of the modernization theory in the 1990s. With regard to the success of Japan and the four tiger states (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan) since the 1960s, the proponents of the Confucian capitalism thesis have repeatedly maintained that the Confucian tradition is the secret of the economic success of these countries. They emphasized loyalty, thrift, diligence, education, peacefulness and harmony as essential ethical characteristics of this tradition. If Robert N. Bellah had declared in 1968 that this Confucian ethic was the functional equivalent of the Puritan business ethic, [7] Peter L. Berger even spoke of a "non-individualistic version of capitalist modernity" that embraces the collective virtues of solidarity and work discipline more Confucian Embossing as the basis. [8]

Applying such an explanatory pattern to Malaysia or Indonesia requires arbitrariness, since these countries are certainly not influenced by Confucians. For Lee Kuan Yew, this was not a problem: you have to instill values ​​in the population that are conducive to progress. It is ultimately irrelevant "how they are inoculated (!), Whether through Confucianism or some other type of preprogramming" [9]. Obviously, he equates the supposed cultural causes of the East Asian successes ex post with "Asian values". Nor does that prevent him from recommending other Asian societies to do the same.

In doing so, Lee Kuan Yew and his followers overlook the profound problems of the theory they have received. For the modernization theorists, apart from the questionable nature of their interpretation of Confucianism, have to put up with the accusation of theoretical arbitrariness, since they simply ignore a number of important changes in socio-political events in East Asia over the past 30 or 40 years - the emergence of a middle class, the working class and the democratization movements etc. However, they are part of the long tradition of the Western discourse on Asia, which makes Confucian culture responsible for political and socio-economic development. This, shall we say, culturalist perspective was not first introduced by Max Weber: it can be found in Europe much earlier - as early as the second half of the 18th century.

Essentialism in the Western discourse on Asia

In the second half of the 18th century, a few years after early Enlightenment scholars such as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Christian Wolff saw a "Confucian ideal state" in China, this Confucian society began to be viewed with disdainful eyes. Based on a pronounced awareness of one's own technical and scientific superiority, not only cultural theorists such as Johann Gottfried Herder, but also historians such as August L. Schlözer drafted civilization level doctrines in which the technical and scientific superiority is directly related to the cultural superiority of Europe in Has been linked. The Sino-Confucian civilization was classified below the European and only slightly above the predominantly barbaric cultures of the rest of the world.

Herder explained the reason for this civilizational backwardness with Confucianism. This keeps human reason in "childlike captivity" like a "mechanical drive"; The empire can therefore be administered like "a house of virtuous, well-educated, hardworking, decent, happy children and brothers". [10] Later, Georg W. F. Hegel wrote that the Confucian doctrine contained correct moral claims, but it was basically just talking about, which did not rise above the ordinary. [11] This is how this culture remained in childhood. The individual follows "without reflection and selflessly" only the "general will". [12]

At the beginning of the 20th century, Max Weber made Confucianism explicitly responsible for the lack of capitalist development in China. According to Weber, Confucianism was a mere ethic of adaptation, which "most deliberately left people in their natural relationships or personal relationships given by social superordinate and subordinate relationships". [13] The "ruthless canonization of the traditional" in Confucianism prevented the development of those forces which made the modernization and construction of the capitalist system possible in Europe.

In view of the economic successes of Japan and the other East Asian countries since the 1960s, in reverse of Weber's thesis, the Confucian ethics were brought into direct connection with these successes under the name of "Confucian capitalism". The history of theory also does somersaults - and after the outbreak of the financial and economic crises in East Asia in 1997, it struck another one: Confucian, Asian culture was the cause for this too - this time under the terms of nepotism, fractionalism and familism . Confucian culture was once again made responsible for "immobility and immutability" - albeit this time not in the Hegelian style, but in economic policy.

An analysis of this historical sequence since the 18th century clearly shows how much these changing perceptions and projections were dependent on one's own socio-political and spiritual conditions in the West and how easily Confucianism could be politically instrumentalized in this context. [14] This also applies to the Asian discourse of the past two decades.

Instrumentalization of the "Asian values"

Since the 1970s, Western Europe and North America have suffered from low growth rates, rising unemployment and ever-growing mountains of government debt. Increasingly, the welfare state was seen as the root of these ailments. Self-doubt and self-criticism increased, neo-conservatism promised a way out and prepared the ideological terrain for neoliberal economic and social policy à la Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. [15] In this situation the emerging capitalist societies of East Asia, in which it was believed to be able to recognize the continuing effectiveness of traditional values, advanced to become exemplary illustrative material for this conservative reform movement.

The actual development in the societies of East Asia was simply ignored, even though traditional social orders there were obviously weakened by, among other things, individualization processes that began as early as the 1960s. So the independence of the individual moves into the center of thought and action there too. The authoritarian-conservative politicians of East Asia reacted to these advancing processes of individualization by attempting to reverse them - by insisting on "Confucian tradition" or on "Asian values".

The authoritarian-conservative politicians of Asia and the neoconservatives of the West, especially in the USA, tossed balls with "Asian values" at each other: In the West, the "Asian" docility of workers was used to discipline the workers and lead to dismantling instrumentalized by the welfare state. In East Asia, international recognition of its economic successes has been used to justify authoritarian rule.

The intensity of the discussion about "Asian values" can not only be explained by this interaction. A more profound reason lies in the aforementioned tradition, which is over 200 years old, which establishes a causal connection between culture and economic development and therefore regards cultures as superior or inferior depending on their relative level of development. The intensification of the debate about "Asian values" reflected the West's fear that it could lose its global political hegemony in the face of the emergence of a new global center of gravity in the West Pacific. [16] Since the outbreak of the crisis in East Asia, this concern about Western hegemony has subsided again, while the confrontation scenarios between West and East Asia seem to have been defused at the same time. However, the fundamental problem of the culturalist explanatory approach still remains.

Of course, one cannot deny that the cultural realities of a country play a certain role in shaping politics and economic development. The decisive causes for development successes and failures are to be found in the nature of the political and social institutions of a country, in the structure of its elites, in the course of its colonial and post-colonial history and, last but not least, in its position in the international economic and power system. Cultural value orientations can only inhibit or promote development in connection with social and political structural framework conditions. In addition, values ​​change over time.

Finally: Life in the big cities of East Asia and the West differs only insignificantly these days - with the cities in East Asia even making a "more modern" impression. MTV, Madonna, McDonald's etc. exert a similar dominant influence on youth cultures in the region as in the USA or Europe. Even so, some intellectuals and politicians continue to search for the "Asian". Will they ever be able to find out what the "real" Asian is?