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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.”
—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

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. Photo credit, Natalie Wolfson-Ford. Ryan Wolfson-Ford is a Southeast Asia Reference Librarian at the Library of Congress.



“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



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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



Of Related Interest


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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
Global Lessons from the World Bank’s Model Hydropower Project in Laos
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
200 pp. 6 x 9

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Cloth $89.95
ISBN 9780299348601
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