Liberalism Disavowed: Communitarianism and State Capitalism in Singapore

21 December, 2018


The Singapore model is praised as an exemplary way to govern a country, considering its achievements in helping Singapore to attain social and economic growth. Foreign countries have sought to incorporate some aspects of the model, such as the public housing program, into their society. Yet, they have not been as successful as they had envisioned.

NUS sociologist Professor Chua Beng Huat’s Liberalism Disavowed: Communitarianism and State Capitalism in Singapore (NUS Press, 2017) describes the Singapore model in detail, illustrating the numerous tactics used by the incumbent government – the People’s Action Party (PAP) – to administer the country. The book focuses on the three areas of public housing, multiculturalism, and state capitalism. Amongst other examples, Prof Chua explains how the PAP utilizes the law to silence dissent, and how it categorizes each Singaporean into one of the four “race” groups to regulate ethnic relations. Prof Chua asserts that the regime’s success in rejecting a Western-style liberalism is not down to repression or a cultural preference for authoritarianism. Rather, the success of the policies and the nation’s strategic vulnerability guaranteed the population’s continued acceptance of the system.

The book highlights how the future may bring new challenges. The passing of Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister, coupled with increasing calls for greater autonomy from an educated populace ensured an affirmative response from the PAP. However, despite permitting more freedom, they were careful not to let this change disrupt their hegemony. Prof Chua believes that some features of the Singapore model can be incorporated abroad, but the specialized tailoring of the model to address the specific needs of Singapore’s society means that the entire model cannot be fully transferred elsewhere.

Liberalism Disavowed: Communitarianism and State Capitalism in Singapore was listed in Foreign Affairs, the most important journal in international relations studies, as one of the best books of 2018. Check out their list of books here:, and the publication’s original review here:

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