Forsaken Causes: Liberal Democracy and Anticommunism in Cold War Laos (New Perspectives in SE Asian Studies) (Hardcover)

Forsaken Causes: Liberal Democracy and Anticommunism in Cold War Laos (New Perspectives in SE Asian Studies) By Ryan Wolfson-Ford Cover Image

Forsaken Causes: Liberal Democracy and Anticommunism in Cold War Laos (New Perspectives in SE Asian Studies) (Hardcover)


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In the wake of anticolonial struggles and amid the two world wars, twentieth-century Southeast Asia churned with new political, cultural, and intellectual realities. Liberal democracies flourished briefly, only to be discarded for dictatorships and other authoritarian regimes as the disorder and inefficiencies inherent to democracy appeared unequal to postcolonial and Cold War challenges. Uniquely within the region, Laos maintained a stable democracy until 1975, surviving wars, coups, and revolutions. But Lao history during this period has often been flattened, subsumed within the tug-of-war between the global superpowers and their puppets.

Forsaken Causes offers a groundbreaking intellectual history of the Royal Lao Government (RLG) from 1945 to 1975. In Ryan Wolfson-Ford’s account, the Lao people emerge as not merely pawns of the superpowers but agents in their own right, with the Lao elite wielding particular influence over the nation’s trajectory. Their prevailing ideologies—liberal democracy and anticommunism—were not imposed from outside, but rather established by Lao themselves in the fight against French colonialism. These ideologies were rooted in Lao culture, which prized its traditional monarchy, Buddhist faith, French learning, and nationalist conception of a Lao race. Against histories that have dismissed Lao elites as instruments of foreign powers, Wolfson-Ford shows that the RLG charted its own course, guided by complex motivations, rationales, and beliefs. During this time Lao enjoyed unprecedented democratic freedoms, many of which have not been seen since the government fell to communist takeover in 1975.

By recentering the Lao in their own history, Wolfson-Ford restores our understanding of this robust but often forgotten liberal democracy, recovers lost voices, and broadens our understanding of postcolonial and Cold War Southeast Asia as a whole.
Ryan Wolfson-Ford is a Southeast Asia Reference Librarian at the Library of Congress.
Product Details ISBN: 9780299348601
ISBN-10: 0299348601
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
Publication Date: July 23rd, 2024
Pages: 200
Language: English
Series: New Perspectives in SE Asian Studies
“An important contribution to our understanding of Laos and anticommunism in Southeast Asia, and a needed correction to Cold War histories that tend to focus on the superpowers.”—Christopher Goscha, author of The Road to Dien Bien Phu: A History of the First War for Vietnam

“Outstanding in its use of primary sources, Forsaken Causes emerges as a gauntlet thrown at non–Lao literate historians, challenging conventional assumptions about the events of the Cold War years. As someone who resided in Laos during a portion of these years, I cannot read this book without feelings of intense poignancy.”—James R. Chamberlain