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Lee Kuan Yew’s Life in “Wild Psychoanalysis” Case Study


As of today, the methodological framework of “wild psychoanalysis” (as conceptualized by Sigmund Freud) is commonly deemed much too speculative/unreliable to be representing much of practical value. The reason for this is quite apparent – the fact that there is no universally accepted definition as to what “wild psychoanalysis” stands for, significantly undermines the practice’s axiomatic soundness (Bateman & Holmes, 1995). At the same time, however, there can be very little doubt that the concerned psychoanalytic paradigm can indeed prove a valuable asset within the context of how one goes about gaining some preliminary insights into what accounts for the in-depth (subliminal) driving forces that define the behavioral pattern of a particular individual – especially if he or she happens to be a well-known public figure.

In its turn, this presupposes that the practical application of the psychoanalytic technique in question cannot be solely concerned with addressing “psychosexual” matters. Rather, the technique’s practitioners should seek to identify the repressed primordial (limbic) anxieties that can be assumed to have had a strong effect on such a person’s spatially stable tendency to react to the externally induced stimuli in one way or another (Dimen, 2014). In my paper, I will explore the validity of this suggestion at length, for Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015) – the first Prime Minister of Singapore, who held the chair for three decades (1959-1990) and who is credited with having enabled the transformation of Singapore from yet another impoverished former British colony in South-East Asia into one of the world’s most economically developed countries, the citizens of which can enjoy an unprecedented (especially as for the region) prosperity.


The Oedipus Complex

Throughout his life, Lee Kuan Yew never ceased praising Britain on account of this country’s advanced system of jurisprudence, which according to him proved the most important prerequisite for the British colonial administration in Malaya to be able to function with utmost efficiency. In fact, Lee Kuan Yew never made a secret of his admiration of the British, because of these people’s ability to act as the “natural-born masters” in their colonies, before the disintegration of the “classical” British Empire in 1945. As he pointed out, “The British were there (in Malaya) because they were superior. They knew how to govern our people with innate greater ability” (Transcript of an interview, 1965, p. 2). At the same time, however, it was named the growing popularity of the People’s Action Party (founded by Lee Kuan Yew in 1954) that resulted in putting an end to the British rule in the region. According to Teo (2015), “Founding the

People’s Action Party… LKY rallied together a group of like-minded individuals to campaign for British withdrawal, ultimately resulting in the independence of the Malayan Federation in 1963” (p. 2). Because Lee Kuan Yew appears to have simultaneously loved and hated the British, this provides us with a certain rationale to discuss such his behavioral tendency in conjunction with the Freudian outlook on the origins and discursive significance of the so-called “Oedipal complex” in males, extrapolated by the concerned individuals’ unconscious strive to undermine the authority of whoever they consider being the “father figures” (most commonly their biological fathers). The legitimacy of this idea can be illustrated even further, regarding the “technical” specifics of Lee Kuan Yew’s love-hate relationship with the UK. After all, there are many indications that it was the Japanese occupation of Singapore in 1942 that resulted in making him believe that it is indeed possible to succeed in confronting Britain, “As a Peranakan or Straits Chinese he (Lee Kuan Yew) saw himself as a British subject. But the ease with which the Japanese invaded Singapore made Lee question British colonial authority” (Patapan, 2013, p. 231).

Just as it the case with a son who loses much respect for his father, after having realized that due to having grown physically weaker, the latter can no longer resort to physical force as the mean of enforcing his fatherly decisions on him, Lee Kuan Yew has grown utterly disrespectful of Britain in the aftermath of the mentioned historical development. As Singapore’s founding father once admitted, “(After 1942) I saw no reason why they (the British) should be governing me; they’re not superior. I decided, when I got back, I was going to put an end to this (the British rule)” (Zakaria, 1994, p. 115). The “Freudian” sounding of this Yew’s statement is quite apparent. Evidently enough, throughout the early phases of his life, Lee Kuan Yew was innately driven to think of Britain as the actual “father” of what was later going to become the Singaporean nation. Yet, this particular mental predisposition, on Lee Kuan Yew’s part, was also the reason why comparatively early in his life he decided to replace Britain as the nation’s “father” – in full accordance with the main provisions of the “Oedipal complex” theory. Therefore, the popular references to Lee Kuan Yew as Singapore’s “founding father” are not quite as metaphorical as most people tend to assume.

Ego vs. Superego

Another notable feature of what used to account for the discussed person’s existential stance has to do with the fact that Lee Kuan Yew’s sense of self-identity appears to have had a strongly defined dichotomous quality to it. On one hand, Lee Kuan Yew continued to position himself as the proponent of “meritocracy” while basing his policies on the idea that the specifics of one’s ethnocultural affiliation are irrespective of the concerned person’s ability to act as the society’s productive member. This explains why to qualify for attaining social prominence, a Singaporean citizen must meet the two informal criteria – to be highly educated/well-versed in English and to be secularly minded (the more he or she is non-religious, the better).

In this respect, the particulars of his or her ethnic background are considered utterly irrelevant, whatsoever. Hence, the prominently cosmopolitan quality of the Lee Kuan Yew’s superego-driven sense of personal identity, “I am not in fact Chinese. I am in fact a Malaysian. I am by race Chinese… I can’t deny my ancestry. I am not ashamed of it. But I’ve never been to China” (Zakaria, 1994, p. 114). However, deep on an unconscious level (ego), Lee Kuan Yew could not help experiencing the deeply embedded sense of “Chineseness” – something that explains why “Despite official denials, there can be little doubt that there is an unofficial pro-Chinese bias in Singapore… the Malay minority, in particular, has suffered structural discrimination” (Barr, 1999, p. 145). The same author suggests that such a situation is directly related to the fact that, “Lee has always had an agenda based on the racial and cultural superiority of Singapore’s Chinese population” (Barr, 1999, p. 150).

This point of view, on Barr’s part, does make much sense because Lee Kuan Yew did suggest on many occasions that, as compared to what it is the case with the country’s Chinese citizens, the ones of the Indian and Malayan descent are not quite as capable of operating with the highly abstract categories (with the reference made to their lower ability to score highly while IQ-tested). According to Jayasuriya (2002), “Lee’s attitude towards the undeniable educational disadvantage suffered by Malay students in comparison with Chinese students was that it reflected the innate cultural and ethnic inferiority of the Malays as against the Chinese” (p. 488). It must be noted that the “Singaporean” workings of the politician’s superego used to keep his ego-driven longing towards “Chineseness” well repressed most of the time. However, it will only be logical to hypothesize that this was costing Lee Kuan Yew a great deal of mental effort – hence, the person’s well-known vulnerability to the strikes of depression, as well as his intolerance of the dissenting opinions, on the part of his political opponents.

Eros vs. Thanatos

In his numerous interviews, Lee Kuan Yew used to exhibit a certain emotional discomfort with the questions about what did he do in Japanese-occupied Singapore. Hence, the sheer vagueness of his replies to this kind of questions, “(At the time) I was a student at Raffles College… And the Japanese came, knocked us about, and the three-and-a-half years was a nightmare” (Transcript of an interview, 1965, p. 1). The most psychologically plausible explanation behind the display of the signs of emotional uneasiness with the war-era questions, on the politician’s part, has to do with the unsightly essence of Lee Kuan Yew’s activities during the historical period in question. After all, there is plenty of evidence that throughout the war Lee Kuan Yew did collaborate with the Japanese rather enthusiastically, “Lee survived the Japanese Occupation by working as a transcriber of Allied newswire reports for the Japanese Forces” (Teo, 2015, p. 263).

And it will not present much of a challenge to identify what served the main motivation for him to act in a way he did – Lee’s overwhelming desire to survive the Japanese occupation at whatever the cost (Eros), reflective of his mentally incapacitating fear of death (Thanatos). And, as many psychologists are aware of, one of the most commonly deployed strategies for coping with the fear of death, on the affected person’s part, is presenting himself/herself as someone who does not care much about the prospect of dying, or the prospect of having to kill others. In its turn, this helps to explain Lee Kuan Yew’s ruthlessness in dealing with the opposition, as well as his insistence that the Singapore’s system of justice continues to provide death-penalties for even the most “innocent” (by Western standards) crimes, such as being caught with one gram of cocaine.

At the same time, Lee Kuan Yew continued to act on behalf of the “Eros”-related anxieties deep in the unconscious depths of his psyche. The most easily observable proof that this has indeed been the case can serve the person’s preoccupation (through the last two decades of his life) with promoting the ideas of Confucianism, on one hand, and providing different incentives for the public discourse in Singapore to be comfortable with the assumption that the very name “Lee Kuan Yew” represents the load-bearing cornerstone of the Singaporean nationhood, as we know it. In this respect, Jayasuriya (2002) came up with the insightful observation, “The notion that Singapore is what Lee Kuan Yew wants it to be is of course what his memoirs aim to the implant. Such a Singapore is a brand name for a meritocratic, multicultural, cohesive and prosperous social formation” (p. 550). There is no need to doubt that Lee Kuan Yew did believe that working on behalf of Singapore constituted his main priority in life. There is, however, appears to have been a certain psychoanalytical peculiarity to it – by prioritizing the nation’s interests above those of own, Lee Kuan Yew was unconsciously aiming to attain immortality, even if in the purely metaphorical sense of this word.


It appears that the insights that I obtained while conducting the “wild analysis” of the world-famous Singaporean Prime Minister, correlate well with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, it is indeed thoroughly appropriate to assume that the conscious workings of one’s brain are, in fact, largely defined by the individual’s limbic (or unconscious) predispositions. Therefore, it is likely that the concerned technique will continue to remain a viable tool for the psychoanalytic analysis into the future – provided, of course, that its proponents will be willing to incorporate the latest breakthrough in the field of neurology as an integral part of the technique’s methodological paradigm (Kahn, 2002). In particular, the practitioners of “wild psychoanalysis” should take into account what is now known about the role that the brain’s paleocortex plays within the context of how a person’s unconscious anxieties come into being.


Barr, M. (1999). Lee Kuan Yew: Race, culture and genes. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 29(2), 145-167.

Bateman, A. & Holmes, J. (1995). Introduction to psychoanalysis: Contemporary theory and practice. London/New York: Routledge.

Dimen, M. (2014). Inside the revolution: Power, sex, and technique in Freud’s “‘Wild’ analysis”. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 24(5), 499-515.

Jayasuriya, K. (2002). Lee Kuan Yew: The beliefs behind the man. Pacific Affairs, 75(3), 488-489.

Kahn, M. (2002). Basic Freud – psychoanalytic thought for the 21st century. New York: Basic Books.

Patapan, H. (2013). Modern Philosopher Kings: Lee Kuan Yew and the limits of Confucian ‘idealistic’ leadership. European Journal of East Asian Studies, 12(2), 217-241.

(1965). Web.

Zakaria, F. (1994). Culture is destiny – A conversation with Lee Kuan Yew. Foreign Affairs, 73(2), 109–121.

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