Ancient State Comparison: a Dialogue of State Administration, Legitimacy and Authoritarianism

Kan Yuenyong
27 min readMar 3, 2023

As a hunting society, band-level societies transformed into tribal societies by adopting agriculture during the Axial Age. Once it had developed into an agrarian society, religion played a significant role in the early development of Chinese society. The ancient Chinese rites and philosophies, particularly the five classics: the Shi Jing (Book of Odes,) the Li Chi (Book of Rites,) the Shu Jing (Book of History,) the I-Ching (Book of Changes,) and the Chun Qiu (Spring and Autumn Annals,) provided a moral and ethical framework for the rulers and the people (Fukuyama, 2011: 55–57, 59–63, 99–100.) However, as society became more complex and the challenges facing the rulers and the people increased, new instruments and mechanisms had to be invented to maintain order and control.

In order to transcend over the single or few tribal kinship organization and create the broader unified society, China alone created a modern state as defined by Max Weber (2011: 21), “an organization deploying a legitimate monopoly of violence over a defined territory” (2011: 450), while the classic republican precedent established by Greece and Rome can’t scale well, albeit it worked best in small, homogeneous societies like the city-states of fifth-century Greece, or Rome in its early years. “The Roman Republic, after a prolonged civil war, gave way to the Empire. Monarchy as a form of government proved superior in its ability to govern large empires and was the political system under which Rome achived its greatest power and geographical extent.” (2011: 20). “China had already invented a system of impersonal, merit-based bureaucratic recruitment that was far more systematic than Roman public administration.” (2011: 21). State, according to Huntington’s definition, is also an institution which is “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior” (2011: 450). In which we can use four criteria for measuring the degree of development of the institutions that make up the state: adaptability-rigidity, complexity-simplicity, autonomy-subordination, and coherence-disunity. “That is the more adaptable, complex, autonomous, and coherent an institution is, the more developed it will be. An adaptable organization can evaluate a changing external environment and modify its own internal procedures in response. Adaptable institutions are the ones that survive, since environment always change,” (2011: 450), c.f. DiMaggio’s institutional theory, that observed Max Weber’s Iron Cage analogy, resource dependence theory, and population ecology in organization theory considering degree of coupling between organization and environment.

How bureaucracy and thus a strong state could emerge in ancient China?

Bureaucracy and legalism were among the new inventions that emerged during the Eastern Zhou period and were further developed during the Qin dynasty. These mechanisms were designed to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the government and to provide a more standardized and systematic approach to governance. We can safely say that bureaucracy is one aspect of the three modernization which are 1) political modernization, 2) economic modernization, and 3) societal modernization (Fukuyama, 2011: 126–127). However, these mechanisms were also characterized by centralization and a focus on control rather than participation, which made them unpopular with the people and led to their eventual downfall.

Ming Dynasty Government Structure: Source

The Han dynasty, which followed the Qin, sought to find a balance between centralization and participation, and its governance was characterized by a combination of bureaucracy, Confucianism, and Daoism. This approach proved to be more successful in maintaining stability and order, and it allowed the Han dynasty to endure for a long period. However, the collapse of Han dynasties would draw some warlords to seize the central power rather than to strengthen their own local power which was different from Eastern Zhou, since during Qin, Shang Yang’s reforms abolished the well-field systems and thus redistributed land to individual families under the direct tutelage of the state (Fukuyama, 2011: 117). Once the political order that emerged after the interregnum following Qin dynasty, the political decay and then the following Han’s breakdown caused by the corrupted eunuchs and enforced by plagues in 173, 179, and 182; famines in 176, 177, 182, and 183 led to the Yellow Turban Rebellion, and thus the return to patrimonial government as mentioned by Max Weber that it contrasts to the modern state (Fukuyama, 2011: 140–141.) Therefore, this developed further in the struggle between the late three kingdoms.

Overall, the development of Chinese society and governance was shaped by a variety of factors, including religion, philosophy, warfare, and technology. The inventions of bureaucracy and legalism were aimed at enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of governance and supporting war efforts, but they also had negative consequences that were eventually addressed by subsequent dynasties.

Relations between government quality (service delivery) vs bureaucracy autonomy in different stage of state development, adopted from Fukuyama (2014: 516)

There is always a tension between centralization and autonomy, and striking a balance between them is crucial for the stability and success of a state. A highly centralized state may have more power to control its territory, but it may also be more vulnerable to collapse if the central authority fails. On the other hand, a state that grants too much autonomy to its regions or local authorities may struggle to maintain unity and cohesiveness. Thus, finding the right balance between centralization and autonomy is important for the long-term success of a state.

This article has closely followed Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order, which he has clearly said that it’s a work of “middle-range theory that avoids the pitfalls both of excessive abstraction (the vice of economists) and excessive particularism (the problem of many historians and anthorpologists)” (Fukuyama, 2011: 24). Read book summaries from: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

The decay and declines

The decay of strong states can occur due to a variety of factors. One common factor is corruption within the ruling class or bureaucracy. This can lead to a lack of efficiency in decision-making and resource allocation, as well as a loss of legitimacy among the general population. Another factor can be external pressures such as economic or military competition, which can weaken the state’s ability to maintain its power. It’s worth to mention that the bureaucracy as the state’s core tends to resist the change, as defined as “structural inertia” can be its own cause of problem for such a decay, c.f. the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1779) from Edward Gibbon (concerning the gradual loss of civic virtue among its citizens,) The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1987) by Paul Kennedy (concerning on military overstretch and a concomitant relative decline,) and The Decline of the West (1918/1926t) by Oswald Spengler (concerning the concentration of wealth in individuals led to the decline and the emerging of overpower figure like Caesar.)

History in Marxist definition does mean development and modernization, so in their view, Communism is their objective, therefore “the end of history”.
The Course of Empire (1833–1836) by Thomas Cole. There are five paintings in the whole set.

In the case of ancient Rome, one factor that contributed to its decline was the overextension of its military and political power. As Rome conquered more territories and incorporated more diverse peoples into its empire, it became more difficult to maintain a cohesive political structure and cultural identity. This led to political instability, economic decline, and eventually the collapse of the Roman Empire.

In the case of ancient China, periods of strong centralized control were often followed by periods of decentralization and fragmentation, as local rulers or warlords sought to assert their autonomy. This was often accompanied by internal strife and conflict, which weakened the central government’s ability to maintain its power.

Marx and Wittfogel’s problematic interpretation of Asiatic mode of production

The ancient Chinese state was highly centralized, bureaucratic, and despotic. Marx and Wittfogel used terms like “the Asiatic mode of production” and “Oriental despotism” to describe this aspect of Chinese politics. However, Oriental despotism can be seen as the early emergence of a politically modern state. In China, the state consolidated its power before other social actors could establish themselves, such as a hereditary, territorially-based aristocracy, an organized peasantry, cities based on a merchant class, churches, or other autonomous groups. Unlike in Rome, the Chinese military remained firmly under the state’s control and never posed an independent threat to its political authority, partly because of the society’s respect to scholastic wisdom rather than brute force. This initial imbalance of power persisted for a long time, as the mighty state acted to prevent the emergence of alternative sources of power, both economic and political.

Furthermore, the hydraulic hypothesis has several flaws. Most early irrigation projects in regions with nascent states were small and managed locally. Large engineering projects like China’s Grand Canal were undertaken only after a strong state had already been established and, therefore, were effects rather than causes of state formation. Additionally, one of Marx’s biggest errors was to group China and India together under a single “Asiatic” paradigm (Fukuyama, 2011: 83, 93–94).

Although Marx never explicitly defines the term “historical materialism,” he developed the concept by drawing on Hegel’s dialectic between master and slave, with the aim of achieving a political structure that endorses equitable dignity among citizens. It’s worth to note that Friedrich Engels had read Lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient Society that divided human history into three stages: savagery, barbarism, and civilization. Both Marx and Engels propagated a theory to devise evolutionary stages from primitive communism, to feudalism, to bourgeois society and true communism by means of an oversimplified concept of class struggle (Fukuyama, 2011: 49–50). Which was not true in ancient China, because it’s different from the medieval Europe, it was based on an extended kinship system, the Chinese powerful, hereditary landed feudal aristocracy never established the same kind of local authority that European lords did (Fukuyama, 2011: 125).

The central concepts of historical materialism, as suggested in the preface of “Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” [In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations…] (Marx, 1859), are productive forces (the “material” infrastructure of the means of production and labor power, including technology, knowledge, and skills), relations of production (the economic structure and “real foundation” of social class relations with effective command over the means of production and labor power), mode of production (the ensemble of productive forces and relations of production), and superstructure (legal and political institutions, and possibly “forms of social consciousness”). Marx uses these concepts to establish “three dynamical laws” (J. Cohen 1982: 258) of history:

  1. The productive forces tend to grow over time, meaning that more wealth can be produced with less labor time.
  2. Certain production relations must be present and maintained in order to foster optimal development of the productive forces.
  3. Certain superstructures must exist and be maintained in order to adequately reproduce the production relations required for maximal expansion of the productive forces.

In addition to these concepts and laws, historical materialism emphasizes the role of class struggle in shaping historical development, as different social classes seek to advance their own interests and maintain or challenge existing relations of production. Finally, historical materialism recognizes the importance of historical context and contingency in shaping social and economic developments.

However, historical materialism may not fully explain the development of bureaucracy in ancient China, as it primarily focuses on the role of economic factors and class struggle in shaping historical development.

In the case of ancient China, the development of bureaucracy can be traced back to the Qin Dynasty, which centralized and standardized the administration of the empire. This centralization was partly driven by the need to consolidate power in the face of external threats, such as invasions from nomadic tribes. Additionally, the development of bureaucracy was influenced by the philosophy of Legalism, which emphasized strict laws and regulations as a means of maintaining social order and promoting state power.

Furthermore, the bureaucracy was also shaped by cultural factors, such as Confucianism, which emphasized education and meritocracy as a means of selecting officials. The development of a civil service examination system, which allowed individuals to rise through the ranks based on their knowledge and ability rather than social status, or to build an impersonal state, was a key feature of the bureaucracy in ancient China. Thus, the development of bureaucracy in ancient China was shaped by a complex interplay of political, economic, and cultural factors, and cannot be fully explained by a narrow focus on class struggle or economic determinism.

Why Marx fails? While economic factors certainly played a role in shaping societies and their structures, it’s important to note that wars, conflicts, and social order were also significant driving forces in the development and evolution of societies. In many cases, the need for centralized control and efficient military forces was driven by the need to defend against external threats and maintain internal stability, rather than a specific economic class struggle. Therefore, a holistic approach that takes into account various factors would be more appropriate in understanding the development of different societies throughout history.

Legitimacy: State’s raison d’être

Legitimacy is an important factor in the long-term stability of a political order. When a strong leader is able to effectively manage a crisis and maintain the trust and support of the people, it can strengthen the legitimacy of the state. However, if a strong leader becomes corrupt or unable to effectively manage a crisis, it can erode the legitimacy of the state and lead to disintegration.

In weaker societies, there may be more opportunities for different leaders to emerge and gain legitimacy, but this can also lead to instability if there is no established system for succession or if leaders are constantly vying for power.

Legitimacy is the key to the stability and resilience of a state. If the people believe that the state is acting in their best interest and according to their consensus, they are more likely to support the state and its rulers. This can be achieved through accountability, transparency, and rule of law, which provide a mechanism for the people to hold the rulers accountable and ensure that they are acting in the interest of the people, not their own personal interests. Conversely, if the rulers are seen as corrupt or acting in their own self-interest, as said “L’État, c’est moi” by Louis XIV, King of France and Navarre, the legitimacy of the state can erode quickly, leading to instability and potential collapse.

The legitimacy of a state is an important factor in its resilience, as it affects the level of support and cooperation from the population. In general, a state with higher legitimacy is more resilient, as it can mobilize resources and coordinate efforts more effectively during times of crisis.

In the case of China, while the strong state and efficient bureaucracy have contributed to its resilience in some respects, the lack of rule of law and accountability can undermine its legitimacy. This can lead to issues such as corruption, abuse of power, and unequal treatment under the law, which can erode trust in the government and ultimately harm its resilience.

There were a struggle between the upper nobility, gentry, the third estate and the peasantry to build the state and the parliament to control it (2011: 333).

In contrast, the modern Western system, with its emphasis on rule of law (that bound even the ruler inherited from religious society such as the Code of Justinian to constrain the state’s power) and democratic accountability (inherited from the medieval European parliaments that the King need to consult with, abstractly presented in John Locke’s idea) which successfully developed in England and Denmark, can help to foster greater legitimacy and trust in government, which can enhance its resilience in times of crisis (Fukuyama, 2011: 334). Hungary has built a diet, Frence built sovereign courts, Spain built Cortes, and Russia built zemskiy sobor (2011: 381). These states had generated different governance, such as: 1) weak absolutism in France and Spain, 2) successful absolutism in Russia, 3) failed oligarchy in Hungary and Poland, and 4) accountable government in England and Demark (2011: 334). Therefore, it is important to note that different societies have different historical, cultural, and political contexts, and what works for one may not necessarily work for another.

Without legitimacy, how authoritarism survives?

In an authoritarian state, the government relies more on suppression of its people to maintain control rather than legitimacy. Authoritarian regimes often restrict freedom of speech, assembly, and association to prevent dissent and criticism of the government. They may also use propaganda and censorship to control the information available to citizens.

While some authoritarian states may try to establish legitimacy through economic development, public services, or nationalist rhetoric, these efforts are often overshadowed by the government’s use of force to maintain control. In the long run, reliance on suppression rather than legitimacy can undermine the stability and resilience of the state, as it can lead to widespread discontent and opposition to the government.

Therefore the possible playbook in a neo-authoritarian state might adopt to maintain its power and control includes strengthening the economy, controlling information flow, building a positive reputation through foreign diplomacy and infrastructure projects, using those projects to boost internal development and employment, propaganda exploiting and weakening political rivals through anti-corruption campaigns.

However, it’s important to note that this playbook may not necessarily lead to long-term legitimacy for the state, especially if it relies too heavily on suppression and control rather than addressing underlying issues and concerns of the population. Additionally, the effectiveness of this playbook may depend on various factors such as the specific context and culture of the country, the degree of public support for the government, and the level of international pressure and scrutiny.

Other possible political tactics that a neo-authoritarian state might adopt include:

  1. Cultivating a personality cult around the leader to promote loyalty and adulation from the population.
  2. Investing heavily in surveillance technology and monitoring systems to track dissent and suppress opposition.
  3. Cultivate educational program by promoting a specific cultural identity and emphasizing the state’s role in preserving it, the government can help to create a sense of national unity and pride among the population, which can in turn enhance legitimacy and support for the ruling regime. However, it’s important to note that this approach could also be problematic if it involves promoting a narrow or exclusionary view of culture that excludes certain groups or ideas, or if it is seen as overly prescriptive or manipulative by the population.
  4. Limiting political participation and representation to a small elite or ruling class, while limiting the rights and freedoms of the broader population.
  5. Building a strong military and security apparatus to maintain control and suppress dissent.
  6. Limiting the influence of independent media and civil society organizations to control the narrative and suppress dissent.
  7. Promoting nationalism and patriotism to create a sense of national unity and distract from domestic issues.
  8. Manipulating elections and political processes to ensure the ruling party remains in power.
  9. Using state-controlled enterprises and economic policies to reward political supporters and punish opponents.
  10. Targeting and detaining the obvious protest leaders while weakening the people that supporting them.
  11. Co-optation, which involves bringing potential opponents or critics into the political system by offering them incentives or rewards, such as political appointments or economic benefits, in exchange for their loyalty or compliance. This can help to neutralize potential threats and create a sense of unity and stability within the political system. However, it may also lead to corruption and cronyism, which can erode the legitimacy of the state over time.

How internet erodes authoritarianism?

The wider usage of the internet and the increasing difficulty in censoring it certainly poses a challenge to the playbook of neo-authoritarian states that rely on controlling information flow to maintain power. It is true that with the growth of the internet, it has become increasingly difficult to fully control the spread of information and ideas.

In recent years, we have seen authoritarian states develop sophisticated censorship and surveillance systems to try and combat the spread of dissenting voices on the internet, and also different political opinion regarding sensitive issue from tools like ChatGPT. However, these efforts are not foolproof and may only work in the short term.

As technology continues to advance, it will become increasingly difficult for authoritarian states to fully control the flow of information. Elon Musk’s plan to provide internet from space is an example of how technology is expanding the reach of the internet beyond the traditional methods of terrestrial connectivity.

In this new landscape, authoritarian states may need to adjust their tactics and strategies. They may need to focus more on winning hearts and minds through positive propaganda and state-sponsored media rather than relying solely on censorship and suppression.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of the playbook in an era of widespread internet usage and free flow of information will depend on the ability of the state to adapt and evolve its strategies.

The necessity of (temporal) authoritarianism to tackle crisis

In times of crisis, non-authoritarian states may temporarily exercise authoritarian rule or declare a state of emergency to deal with the crisis effectively. This is done to ensure public safety and prevent the situation from spiraling out of control. However, it is important to note that these measures should be time-bound and proportional to the crisis at hand. Once the crisis is over, it is crucial for the state to revert to normal democratic processes and respect civil liberties. If the state continues to exercise authoritarian rule even after the crisis is over, it can lead to an erosion of democratic values and legitimacy in the eyes of the people.

There should be a crucial consideration in any decision to exercise authoritarian rule during a crisis. It is important to balance the need for swift action to address the crisis with the need to maintain social order and avoid generating backlash that could have negative long-term consequences.

One approach could be to establish clear criteria for when and how long authoritarian measures can be implemented, based on objective factors such as the severity and duration of the crisis, the potential impact on public health and safety, and the capacity of the government to effectively address the crisis without resorting to authoritarian measures. Additionally, it may be helpful to establish independent oversight and accountability mechanisms to ensure that the exercise of authoritarian rule is transparent and subject to scrutiny.

Weakness of authoritarianism

However corruption and inefficiency could be prevalent in a neo-authoritarian regime, especially if there is a lack of accountability and transparency in the government. This could lead to a number of negative consequences, including economic stagnation, public unrest, and a decline in the legitimacy of the government. It is therefore important for any government to prioritize anti-corruption measures and effective governance in order to maintain the trust of the people and ensure long-term stability.

China’s economic growth has indeed played a major role in reducing corruption and improving the effectiveness of its government. One key factor in this growth has been the country’s focus on market-oriented economic policies and opening up to the world, which has helped to create a more competitive and efficient economy. Additionally, the Chinese government has implemented various anti-corruption measures, including increased transparency and accountability, harsher penalties for corruption, and a crackdown on high-level officials, which have helped to reduce corruption to some extent.

Another factor that has contributed to China’s economic growth is its large population, which has provided a significant labor force and consumer market. This has helped to drive growth in the manufacturing and service sectors, as well as in exports. However, China’s aging population and shrinking workforce in recent years have posed new challenges to sustaining its economic growth.

It’s worth noting that despite the improvements in China’s economy and government effectiveness, corruption and inefficiency still exist in various forms. There are also concerns about the lack of political freedom and human rights in the country, which can have negative impacts on long-term stability and legitimacy.

How authoritarianism could transform to democracy?

In the course of transitioning from neopatrimonial state to the modern state or “how to getting to Denmark (or the preferable end point of history,)” as Fukuyama has defined “an imagined society that is prosperous, democratic, secure, and well governed, and experiences low levels of corruption,” there are several possible factors that can contribute to authoritarian leaders in Taiwan and South Korea leading to more democratic societies:

  1. Democratization pressures: In both Taiwan and South Korea, there were growing pressures for democratization from civil society, opposition parties, and the international community. Authoritarian leaders may have responded to these pressures by making some concessions towards democratization, such as allowing more political competition or civil liberties.
  2. Economic development: Economic development can create a middle class that demands greater political rights and freedoms, which can pressure authoritarian leaders to make concessions towards democratization. Taiwan and South Korea experienced rapid economic growth under their authoritarian regimes, which may have contributed to greater demands for political liberalization.
  3. Leadership style: Some authoritarian leaders may be more willing to make concessions towards democratization than others. For example, in Taiwan, Chiang Ching-kuo was seen as a relatively pragmatic and reform-minded leader who initiated some democratic reforms, while in South Korea, Chun Doo-hwan was seen as a more hardline and repressive leader.
  4. External factors: External factors, such as international pressure and support for democratization, can also play a role in facilitating democratic transitions. In both Taiwan and South Korea, there was strong support from the United States and other Western democracies for democratic reforms, which may have helped to facilitate transitions to democracy.

Overall, the transition from authoritarianism to democracy is a complex and multifaceted process that can be influenced by a wide range of factors. Generally, in Political Order in Changing Society, Huntington developed a strategy for “authoritarian transition” by following path in Turkey, South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia which modernized economically under authoritarian rulers and only later opened up their political systems to democratic contestation (2011: 459).

South Korea at the end of the Korean War possessed a relatively strong government. It inherited a Confucian state tradition from China and had put many modern institutions in place during the period of Japanese colonialism from 1905 to 1945.3 This state, under the leadership of General Park Chung-Hee, who came to power in a coup in 1961, used industrial policy to promote rapid economic growth (arrow I). South Korea’s indus­trialization transformed the country from an agrarian backwater into a major industrial power in the space of a generation, setting in motion the social mobilization of new forces-trade unions, church groups, university students, and other civil society actors who had not existed in traditional Korea (arrow 2). Following the delegitimization of the military government of General Chun Doo-Hwan after the Kwangju massacre in 1980, these new social groups began agitating for the military to step down from power. With some gentle nudging from its ally the United States, this happened in 1987, when the first democratic elections for president were announced (arrow 3). Both the country’s rapid economic growth and its transition to democracy helped strengthen the regime’s legitimacy, which in turn helped, among other things, to strengthen its ability to weather the severe Asian financial crisis of 1997–1998 (arrows 4 and 5). Finally, both eco­nomic growth and the advent of democracy helped to strengthen South Korea’s rule of law (arrows 6 and 7)” (Fukuyama: 2011, 474–475).

The cost of “getting to Denmark”

Denmark has a progressive income tax system, with higher earners paying a higher percentage of their income in taxes. The top tax rate in Denmark might be as high as 55.8% on income over DKK 582,600 (approximately USD 91,000) per year. However, when including the additional municipal tax and other taxes and social contributions, the total top marginal tax rate can be as high as 61–64%.

In addition to income tax, Danes also pay a range of other taxes, including a value-added tax (VAT) on goods and services, a property tax, and various excise taxes on goods like alcohol, tobacco, and gasoline.

While the high tax rates in Denmark may seem daunting to some, they help to fund the country’s comprehensive welfare state and provide a range of services and benefits to its citizens, including healthcare, education, and unemployment benefits, among others. Many Danes view the high tax rates as a fair price to pay for a high quality of life and strong social safety net. Some of the key state welfare services provided by Denmark include:

  1. Healthcare: Denmark provides universal healthcare coverage to all its citizens, with free access to general practitioners and hospitals.
  2. Education: The Danish education system is free and open to all, including preschool, primary school, secondary school, and higher education.
  3. Unemployment benefits: The Danish government provides a range of unemployment benefits to help those who are temporarily or permanently out of work, including cash payments, training programs, and job search assistance.
  4. Family benefits: Denmark provides generous family benefits, including paid parental leave, child allowances, and free or subsidized childcare.
  5. Elder care: Denmark has a comprehensive system of elder care, including nursing homes and home care services, to provide support to its aging population.
  6. Social housing: Denmark provides affordable social housing to those who are unable to afford market-rate housing.
  7. Disability benefits: The Danish government provides disability benefits to those who are unable to work due to a disability, including cash payments and support services.

Overall, Denmark’s welfare state is designed to provide a safety net for its citizens and ensure that everyone has access to basic services and support, regardless of their income or social status. While the high tax rates may seem steep to some, many Danes view them as a fair price to pay for a high quality of life and strong social safety net.

What’s missing from Fukuyama’s proposal: “Getting to Singapore”

Singapore and Denmark have different political systems, economic models, and approaches to social policy. While Denmark is considered a liberal democratic welfare state, Singapore is often characterized as a hybrid regime with a dominant ruling party.

Denmark’s liberal democratic model emphasizes individual freedom, civil liberties, and social protections. It has a multi-party system, with free and fair elections, a strong tradition of civil society, and a robust welfare state that provides universal access to healthcare, education, social security, and other public services.

In contrast, Singapore’s hybrid regime has a dominant ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has been in power since 1959. While Singapore has multi-party elections, the PAP has consistently won the majority of seats in parliament, which has raised questions about the level of political competition and democratic participation in the country.

Singapore’s economic model is also different from Denmark’s. Singapore has a highly developed and competitive economy, with a strong focus on export-oriented manufacturing, finance, and services. It has a business-friendly regulatory environment, low taxes, and a relatively limited welfare state. In contrast, Denmark’s economy is characterized by a mixed economy model that combines free-market capitalism with a strong welfare state and progressive taxation.

In terms of social policy, Singapore’s approach is more targeted and means-tested, with a range of schemes to support vulnerable groups such as low-income households, the elderly, and people with disabilities. While these benefits are generally less generous than those in Denmark, Singapore’s system is designed to be financially sustainable and avoid the problem of dependency.

While Singapore does have a range of social policies and programs aimed at supporting vulnerable groups, it is not typically described as a welfare state in the same way that Denmark or other European countries are. This is because Singapore’s social policies tend to be more targeted and means-tested, rather than universal, and are often linked to work or personal savings rather than entitlements based on citizenship or residency.

Additionally, Singapore’s approach to social policy is often characterized as a “meritocratic” model, which emphasizes individual responsibility and self-reliance rather than collective welfare provision. This is reflected in policies such as mandatory savings accounts, workfare programs, and healthcare co-payments, which are designed to encourage personal responsibility and discourage reliance on state support.

Ultimately, the choice between different models depends on the values and priorities of a given society, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach that can be applied universally. It is up to individual societies to choose the model that works best for them, based on their unique circumstances and needs.

Based on the profiles of Singapore and Denmark, we can identify other similar countries and group them into a single group called FINDS: Finland, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, and Singapore. Switzerland, Austria, and Sweden are possible candidates to be included in the group, but we would like to limit the population range to around 5–6 million as a controlled variable.

There are a number of factors that contribute to Singapore’s reputation as a more authoritarian state than Denmark. Here are a few:

  1. Political system: Singapore is a one-party state, with the People’s Action Party (PAP) having held uninterrupted power since 1959. The PAP has been accused of using tactics such as gerrymandering and restrictive laws to maintain its grip on power. In contrast, Denmark has a multi-party system and regularly holds free and fair elections.
  2. Media and free speech: Singapore has strict laws that limit freedom of speech and the press, and the government has been known to use defamation lawsuits and other legal measures to silence dissenting voices. Denmark, on the other hand, has a strong tradition of free speech and a free press, and is consistently ranked highly in global press freedom rankings.
  3. Civil liberties: Singapore has been criticized for its restrictions on civil liberties, including restrictions on public assembly and association, and its use of capital punishment. Denmark, in contrast, has strong protections for civil liberties and human rights.
  4. Government intervention: While both Singapore and Denmark have active governments that play a role in shaping their respective economies, Singapore has been known for its highly interventionist approach, including state ownership of key industries and an emphasis on centralized economic planning. Denmark, on the other hand, has a more decentralized and market-oriented economy, with a greater emphasis on social protections and public services.

It’s worth noting that these factors are complex and interrelated, and that there is no simple answer to the question of why Singapore may be perceived as more authoritarian than Denmark. Additionally, it’s important to recognize that perceptions of a country’s political and social climate can be influenced by a wide range of factors, including historical context, cultural norms, and individual experiences.

It’s worth to note that Singapore has a highly literate population and English is widely spoken and understood, the government’s strict regulations on the media and freedom of expression can still have an impact on Singaporeans’ mindset.

For example, while there is technically no censorship of the internet in Singapore, the government has been known to use legal measures and other means to control online discourse and suppress dissenting opinions. Additionally, while the government may not directly censor content, the self-censorship that results from a fear of government retribution can also limit the range of viewpoints and opinions that are expressed in public.

Furthermore, Singapore’s education system places a strong emphasis on values such as social harmony, respect for authority, and deference to elders. These values can be seen as reinforcing the government’s control over public discourse and limiting the expression of dissenting opinions.

Overall, while Singaporeans may have access to a wide range of information and ideas through the internet and other channels, the government’s regulatory framework and societal norms can still have an impact on the range of opinions that are expressed and the degree of political engagement among the population.

Cultural Dimension

In the case of Singapore, its exceptional low Uncertainty Avoidance score might reflect a willingness to embrace change and innovation, but this does not necessarily mean that its society is completely free of uncertainty or ambiguity. Singapore’s government has implemented strict policies and regulations to maintain social order and stability, which might be viewed by some as necessary in a rapidly changing and highly competitive global environment.

So, while it’s true that Singapore has a low score in the Uncertainty Avoidance dimension, this should not be interpreted as an indication that its society is completely free of uncertainty or ambiguity, nor does it necessarily mean that Singapore’s government is completely authoritarian in nature. A more nuanced understanding of Singapore’s culture and political system is needed to fully appreciate its complexities.

It’s possible that Singapore’s strict regulations and stable environment have contributed to a culture that is more yearning of change and innovation. However, it’s also worth noting that Singapore’s government has been criticized by some for limiting political and civil liberties, which could suggest a desire to maintain control and order.

Indonesia has a low score in the Indulgence dimension, which suggests that its culture places a high value on restraint, discipline, and conformity to social norms. This is reflected in various aspects of Indonesian society, such as its emphasis on tradition, family values, and religious customs.

One possible explanation for Indonesia’s low Indulgence score is its strong adherence to Islam, which is the dominant religion in the country. Islam places a strong emphasis on self-control, moderation, and obedience to religious teachings, which might be reflected in Indonesian culture as a whole.

Another factor that could contribute to Indonesia’s low Indulgence score is its historical and cultural context. Indonesia has a long history of colonialism and foreign domination, which has led to a strong sense of national identity and a desire to preserve traditional values and customs. In this context, the emphasis on restraint and conformity to social norms might be viewed as a way to maintain social stability and preserve the country’s cultural heritage.

Three Difference Governances Style

In examining global governance models, three distinct yet enduringly successful styles emerge: the Anglophone system, the Scandinavian system, and the Oriental benevolent authoritarian regime. The Anglophone style emphasizes individual rights and free-market mechanisms, fostering competition, innovation, and personal freedoms. The Scandinavian approach champions trust-building, consensus-driven decision-making, and collective responsibility, which has cultivated cohesive societies with comprehensive welfare systems. Meanwhile, the Oriental benevolent authoritarian model, exemplified by Singapore, combines a high degree of governmental control with long-term planning and a focus on societal harmony. While each system is unique and rooted in its cultural and historical context, their time-tested resilience and effectiveness underscore their significance in the study of global governance.

Possible Measuring Variables

The World Values Survey (WVS) is a comprehensive research project that measures the values and beliefs of people in various countries. It provides a wealth of data that can be used to assess various aspects of governance, socio-economic conditions, and cultural values.

Potentially translate governance’s categories into measurable variables using WVS data:

System of Governance: Questions related to democratic values, trust in political institutions, and attitudes toward authority can help discern the type of governance.

Economic Orientation: Responses related to the role of government in the economy, wealth distribution, job security, and privatization will provide insights.

Civil Liberties: Questions regarding freedom of speech, freedom of association, and other related civil liberties can be considered.

Political Participation: Voter turnout, membership in political parties, or involvement in civil society organizations can be indicative.

Rule of Law: Trust in judicial systems, law enforcement agencies, and perceptions of corruption.

Social Welfare & Safety Nets: Attitudes toward social security, welfare, healthcare, and other social safety nets.

Cultural Values: Variables related to traditional vs. secular-rational values and survival vs. self-expression values.

Trust Building: Responses about interpersonal trust, trust in neighbors, and trust in institutions can be analyzed.

Income Distribution: Perceptions of inequality, the role of the government in income distribution, and wealth redistribution.

Public Participation & Feedback Mechanisms: Questions related to how often individuals provide feedback to authorities, engage in public consultations, or participate in local community events.

State Autonomy vs. Public Input: Attitudes toward governmental decision-making, whether individuals believe that experts should make decisions vs. public input.

Transparency & Accountability: Perceptions of corruption, the role of the media in ensuring government accountability, and overall transparency in governance.

Economic System: Questions regarding the role of competition, market economy vs. state-driven economy, and the role of innovation and entrepreneurship.

When analyzing WVS data, it’s essential to consider the cultural, historical, and socio-political contexts of the countries being studied. Some questions might resonate differently across various regions, so it’s always a good idea to couple quantitative analysis with qualitative insights.



Kan Yuenyong

A geopolitical strategist who lives where a fine narrow line amongst a collision of civilizations exists.