In This Review

Liberalism Disavowed: Communitarianism and State Capitalism in Singapore
Liberalism Disavowed: Communitarianism and State Capitalism in Singapore
By Beng Huat Chua
Cornell University Press, 2017, 224 pp

This penetrating account of the Singapore model by a senior Singaporean sociologist explains both why the model works and why it is not transferable to other countries. Chua describes the government’s use of the legal system to repress dissent, its public housing program that depends on coercive land acquisition and government manipulation of the housing market, its system of profitable state-owned enterprises that makes many residents employees of the state, and its assignment of every citizen to one of four constructed “race” categories in order to regulate relations among ethnic communities. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, he argues that neither repression nor a cultural preference for authoritarianism explains the regime’s success; rather, the state’s successful policies—rooted in social democratic ideology and meritocratic leadership—and the island nation’s strategic vulnerability explain why the population has accepted an elitist, repressive system for over 50 years and why it will probably continue to do so. Some of Singapore’s techniques can be emulated abroad, such as its methods of city planning. But the model as a whole is tailored too closely to the specific features of Singaporean society to be replicable elsewhere.