In search of liberalism: Ideological traditions, translations, and troubles in Thailand
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AbstractThe history of political thought in Southeast Asia has overwhelmingly focused on nationalism and socialism/Marxism. Little has been written about the fate of liberalism in the region. This is in stark contrast with the literature that in recent years has emerged on liberal political thought in South Asian and East Asian contexts. Seeking to make a Southeast Asian contribution to this literature, this article asks: Is there liberalism in Thailand? To answer the question, it surveys the existing literature on Thai political thought; outlines the history of the reproduction of the Western liberal canon in Thai translation; and takes stock of contemporary political debates. What does it find? First, that while one might find liberals in Thai history, there is no liberalism. Second, that serious intellectual engagement with liberal political thought occurs comparatively late and remains modest in Thailand, but that Thai politics nevertheless has been stalked by the spectre of Rousseau for more than eight decades. Third, and finally, that some Thai intellectual historians and other writers have responded to the country’s recent political troubles – in the form of increasing political polarization, intractable and often violent conflict, two military coups, and the ill health and subsequent death of King Bhumibol – by laying the intellectual groundwork for a liberal form of Thai nationalism.