When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

01 September 2007

Singapore's Lion, in winter

The "benevolent despot" - an autocratic ruler who governs with an iron hand, ruthlessly suppresses opposition, but primarily makes decisions on the basis of what's good for the polity he governs and the citizens who inhabit it - is mostly a theoretical construct of political science textbooks and dorm room bull sessions.

Historical examples of benevolent despots, in other words, are mighty hard to come by. Human nature makes them rare birds indeed.

Here, arguably, is one.
Lee Kuan Yew, who turned a malarial island into a modern financial center with a first-world skyline, is peering ahead again into this city-state’s future, this time with an idea to seal it off with dikes against the rising tides of global warming.

“Let’s start thinking about it now,” he said during an interview in late August, in what could be the motto for a lifetime of nation building. Ever since Singapore’s difficult birth in 1965, when it was expelled from Malaysia, he said, the country has struggled to stay alive in a sea of economic and political forces beyond its control.

“If the water goes up by three, four, five meters, what will happen to us?” he said, laughing. “Half of Singapore will disappear.”
Modern Singapore’s Creator Is Alert to Perils (New York Times, 1 September 2007)

Related: Excerpts from an interview with Lee Kuan Yew (International Herald Tribune, 29 August 2007)

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