• This thesis compares the recent rise and decline of two political uses of cultural tradition, one in India and one in Singapore. In India, the thesis examines the Hindutva (Hindu-ness) movement, which became influential in the 1980s and 1990s. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which leads India’s current coalition government, arose from the Hindutva movement, but it deemphasized Hindutva themes in favour of militaristic nationalism as it came closer to power. In Singapore, the thesis examines the government’s promotion of Confucian ethics in schools and the media. While this promotion was a major effort in the 1980s, the government quickly moved away from it, and began promoting a more generic form of “Asian values” instead.

    The thesis’s aim is to show the underlying similarity between the projects of Hindutva and Singapore Confucianism. It does so using a modified version of Jürgen Habermas’s theory of legitimation crisis. Habermas claims that modern states have changed the basis of their legitimacy from traditional worldviews to economic welfare functions, and that economic crises can now therefore become crises of state legitimacy. The thesis suggests that governments which perceive such a crisis may then attempt to turn back to the traditional worldviews. The conclusion of the thesis is that Hindutva and Singapore Confucianism became influential as responses to the perceived emergence of legitimation crises; they declined in influence because their disconnection from popular practice prevented them from restoring political legitimacy.