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The Ideology of Pragmatism: Neo-liberal Globalisation and Political Authoritarianism in Singapore

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This article uncovers the strongly ideological quality in Singapore's theory and practice of pragmatism. It also points to a strongly pragmatic quality in the ideological negotiations that play out within the dynamics of hegemony. In this complex relationship, the combination of ideological and pragmatic manoeuvring over the decades has resulted in the historic political dominance of the People's Action Party (PAP) government in partnership with global capital. But in an evolving, diversifying and globalising society, this manoeuvring has also engendered a number of mismatched expectations. It has also seen a greater sensitivity and attention to the inherent ideological contradictions and socio-economic inequalities that may erode what has been a relatively stable partnership between state and capital. This article argues that Singapore's one-party dominant state is the result of continuous ideological work that deploys the rhetoric of pragmatism to link the notion of Singapore's impressive success and future prospects to its ability to attract global capital. In turn, this relies on maintaining a stable political system dominated by an experienced, meritocratic and technocratic PAP government. While this Singaporean conventional wisdom has supported the political and economic interests of the state and global capital in a period of neo-liberal globalisation, its internal contradictions and external pressures have also begun to challenge its hegemonic pre-eminence.

Keywords: Authoritarianism; Gramsci; People's Action Party; Singapore; hegemony; neo-liberal globalisation; pragmatism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Publication date: February 1, 2012

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