I just completed my Political Science exam 🙂 I must say – GV101 was a fascinating course from start to end, and it has been a great entrée to the feast of knowledge in my next two years here in the LSE.
In the process of obliterating all my notes and worksheets in a massive bonfire, I decided to reflect on what I learned beyond the syllabus. (Just kidding about the fire – paper shredders are less dangerous :P). Just a couple of quick thoughts:
I remember that in one of the lectures at the beginning of the course, we were taught that Singapore is a specific kind of authoritarian state – a hegemonic electoral state, which falls under the category of electoral authoritarian states, which is a type of civilian dictatorship. As you can imagine, all the Singaporeans in the lecture theatre were astonished to find Singapore listed as a civilian dictatorship. I mean, sure, many Singaporeans are of the opinion that Singapore is not fully democratic. But dictatorship seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it?
(You can imagine my shock when I found Singapore listed as a military dictatorship in my textbook! To my relief, I found out that it was just a printing error…)
Initially, I was a bit defensive about what I felt was Western bias against Singapore. But over the course of the academic year, I realised that the only reason why one should get upset about his nation being called undemocratic is because he has made the assumption that democracy is good. Some would argue that democracy is inherently good, while others would argue that the only reason we think that way is because this pro-democratic paradigm has been ingrained in our culture as a result of the Cold War. Either way, a moral judgement is made about democracy.
I came to realise that beneath my defensiveness lay value-laden definitions of democracy and dictatorship, where “democracy” conjures images of the USA and the UK, and “dictatorship” is associated with Iraq, Iran, North Korea, etc. But now, I’ve learned to disregard such assumptions and try to adopt an emotionally-detached view of comparative politics. In the classification system that we were taught, any country that’s not a full democracy is a dictatorship – that’s just the way the system is designed. So if Singapore is called a dictatorship, I shouldn’t get defensive – I should just see it as a label that some political scientists use in generic models that allow for broad international comparisons but miss out on intricate details and nuances. Under a different system of classification – the Polity IV index – Singapore would be called an anocracy, which is basically anything between a democracy and an autocracy.
Rather than getting fussy about what Singapore is called, I now find it more worthwhile thinking about what Singapore lacks in its system of governance, what needs to be changed in the future, and what should be kept and strengthened. That is what I have committed myself to doing over the course of my university studies and beyond.
By the way, I didn’t shred my notes haha. 🙂