Excerpts from The Emerging Elite, by Devan Nair

Transcribed by Jess C Scott from Not By Wages Alone (Selected Speeches and Writings of Devan Nair, 1959-1981).

Full article at Singapore Repository.

Excerpts from “The Emerging Elite” (1973)
by Devan Nair

Devan Nair:
Istana File Photo

(1) The shortcomings, weaknesses and foibles of the elite have their reactions on the ground. . .there should be periodic and public assessments of ground level reactions to them.

(2) What distresses me is the feeling that, at ground level, the new elite in Singapore appear to be generally regarded, not as the inspiring social leaders they ought to be, but as somewhat odious but necessary evils.

(3) There is a very vital reason why our new elite should take a hard look at themselves, the image they project to the ground, and their social values, or more correctly, what strikes the ground as their lack of social values. . .in order to rule and to lead effectively, there is a fundamental pre-requisite. And this is the acceptance by the ground of [the] aspirants to political and social leadership in Singapore.

(4) It is important to appreciate, however, that Lee Kuan Yew and Co. belong to a freak generation. In fact, as individuals, they were quite unrepresentative of the great majority of their social class. . .in more senses than one, [they] are the creators of the vibrant and bustling Republic we know today. However, freak generations are never repeated by history. Indeed, it sometimes happens that their work is undone by those who inherit their mantle of leadership.

(5) One unpleasant side-effect has been the creation of [an] elite with an enormous appreciation of their own financial value and a singular lack of any larger social consciousness or commitment. The success syndrome has engendered in many of them, not loftier and more worthy social drives, but baser and narrowly personal and selfish appetites.

(6) Excessively self-centred, [the new elite’s] primary concern seems to be the constant enhancement of their own market value, and the extra perks they can get for themselves.

(7) What [people on the ground] do resent is the lack of any tangible signs of general social concern or commitment on the part of the new elite. . .flamboyant life styles, and vulgar displays of affluence and spending power, do not endear the elite to the ground. They only estrange.

(8) The fact remains that an elite in any society must be a minority. And the sole social and political justification for an elite, in the long run, is the degree to which they can lead and inspire a whole society to higher levels of achievement. If they fail to do this, and are content merely to serve themselves and feather their own nests, there can be only one end-result — social and political instability in the Singapore of the future.

(9) It would be much easier for members of the emerging elite in Singapore [if] they took their own market value a little less seriously, and concentrated much more on widening and deepening their social values and commitments.

(10) What is called for is less of the cocktail circuit and more of the community circuit. . .all this must be done sincerely. For nothing smells more rankly to ground level noses than insincerity and hypocrisy at the top.

(11) After all, it requires only a little reflection on the part of our emerging elite to help them restrain their own selfish concerns. The simple truth is that they are where they are today, with their enhanced market value and special perks, because of the discipline and wage restraint exercised by the working population.

(12) The elitist aspirants to the future leadership of Singapore must be educated to realise that to be accepted as leaders of society, they must be clearly seen to be giving of themselves, their time and their energies, in a whole-hearted way, to the community. Those who choose only to receive, but not to give, will deserve, not the crown of leadership, but the failure of the Singapore effort to create a more just and a more equal society. It will be a failure which will be placed squarely at their doors.

C.V. Devan Nair, in The Emerging Elite (1973)

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