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Catalog Archive / Spring 2024

Forsaken Causes
Liberal Democracy and Anticommunism in Cold War Laos

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies
Alfred W. McCoy, Ian G. Baird, Katherine A. Bowie, and Anne Ruth Hansen, Series Editors

“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. A story of a fallen republic that is still important to tell.”
—Christopher Goscha, author of The Road to Dien Bien Phu: A History of the First War for Vietnam

A complex and eye-opening intellectual history of modern Laos

Postcolonial and post—World War II Southeast Asia churned with new political, social, and cultural realities and possibilities. Liberal democracies flourished briefly, only to be discarded in favor of dictatorships and other authoritarian regimes, as the disorder and slow response times inherent to democracy proved unsavory or unequal to the challenges of the Cold War. Uniquely, Laos maintained a stable democracy into the 1970s, but its history has often been flattened into the global tug-of-war between the superpowers.

Forsaken Causes offers the groundbreaking intellectual history of the Royal Lao Government (RLG) from 1945 to 1975. Ryan Wolfson-Ford’s account firmly centers the Lao people as not pawns of the superpowers but agents of their own history, with the Lao elite as the authors of the nation’s trajectory. The prevailing ideologies of liberal democracy and anticommunism were not imposed from the outside, as is usually assumed in Western accounts; rather, they were rooted in the specific culture of Laos, which prized its traditional monarchy, its Buddhist faith, and a powerful nationalistic concept of Lao race. Contrary to histories that dismiss the Lao elite as mere instruments of foreign powers, the RLG charted its own course during the Cold War, guided by complex motivations, rationales, and beliefs. By recentering the Lao in their own history, Wolfson-Ford restores our understanding of this robust, multiparty political system and enhances 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.


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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

1 Origins of Democracy
2 Democracy in Practice
3 Origins of Anticommunism
4 Universal Democracy
5 Anticommunism and Nationalism
6 Democracy and Dictatorship
7 Anticommunism and Neutralism
8 Return of Democracy
9 Death of Democracy
Conclusion: Specter of Democracy



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Dead in the Water: Cover showing a barren tree resting in the middle of a lake, a vast, cloudy sky rolling behind it.  The clouds and background are grayscale, while the tree and lake are spot colored. The title text is written in a contrasting red, with the bottom of the word 'water' sinking into the lake.

Dead in the Water
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Edited by Bruce Shoemaker and William Robichaud

Forsaken Causes: a red cover with three white elephants in the center, a pyramid atop their heads. The title text is written in white font in a blue block at the top of the page.

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July 2024
344 pp. 6 x 9

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Cloth $89.95
ISBN 9780299348601
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