Lee Kuan Yew Quotes: wit and wisdom?

Local bookstores are so politically correct that they carry only titles by former Prime Ministers or President and the Men in White ( the ruling party elite). To find books by opposition figures, you need to cross the border to Malaysia.

Browsing at a bookshop the other day, I was surprised to see yet another book on Lee Kuan Yew. It was the title that made me curious: The wit and wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew.

I chuckled.

When a person has wit, he’s able to express ideas in such a clever way as to give us pleasure and amusement. Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain spring to mind.

Most associate the word “wisdom” with wise sayings and teachings. Like the wisdom of the great teachers throughout the ages.

Intrigued, I browsed through “The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew”. It’s merely a collection of LKY quotes on different topics like the media, his critics, life, Asian values, China and so forth.

Some of his more infamous quotes were omitted. For example, his ideas on repression:

“Repression, Sir is a habit that grows. I am told it is like making love-it is always easier the second time! The first time there may be pangs of conscience, a sense of guilt. But once embarked on this course with constant repetition you get more and more brazen in the attack. All you have to do is to dissolve organizations and societies and banish and detain the key political workers in these societies. Then miraculously everything is tranquil on the surface. Then an intimidated press and the government-controlled radio together can regularly sing your praises, and slowly and steadily the people are made to forget the evil things that have already been done, or if these things are referred to again they’re conveniently distorted and distorted with impunity, because there will be no opposition to contradict.”
Lee Kuan Yew as an opposition PAP member speaking to David Marshall, Singapore Legislative Assembly, Debates, 4 October, 1956

How prophetic!

Singapore ruling party, the PAP, following his template on repression, remains repressive till today.

LKY quote on democracy, however, was a surprise inclusion in the book:

“But we either believe in democracy or we don’t. If we do, then, we must say categorically, without qualification, that no restraint from the any democratic processes, other than by the ordinary law of the land, should be allowed… If you believe in democracy, you must believe in it unconditionally. If you believe that men should be free, then, they should have the right of free association, of free speech, of free publication.” (1955)

As it turned out, this paean to democracy was merely lip service. After more than 50 years, Singapore remains a de facto authoritarian state.

Having lived through that period of history, his quotes are familiar to me. One gets the sense of being lectured to in a hectoring and domineering manner.

The title “Wit and wisdom” is certainly a misnomer.

However, proceeds from the book go to charity.

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