Seminar: Is Thailand Ripe for Liberalism?



About the Seminar

The conventional wisdom holds that “the influence of classical political liberalism is extraordinarily limited” in Southeast Asia (Rodan & Hughes 2014) – and Thailand is no exception. Yet liberalism’s sorry fate in Southeast Asia in general and Thailand in particular has largely been taken for granted by scholars, with few puzzling over its causes or questioning its veracity. An intellectual history of liberalism has therefore yet to be written for Southeast Asia (unlike, say, for South and East Asia). Aiming to add one small piece to the larger regional jigsaw, this talk seeks to answer some basic questions about liberalism in Thailand. Does Thailand have a liberal tradition? To what extent have Western liberal thinkers captured the imagination of Thai intellectuals? Is Thailand now ripe for liberalism? It argues that the history of political thought in Thailand does not contain a well defined liberal “stream” (krasae); that Rousseau is the only Western liberal thinker who has “made it” in Thailand; and that the current political context – defined by intense political polarization, intractable conflict, conservative overreach, and the end of the reign of King Bhumibol – has stimulated some Thai intellectuals to begin laying the ideological groundwork for a (more) liberal future for the Thai nation.

About the Speaker

Tomas Larsson is Visiting Fellow at the Thailand Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. His research interests include Southeast Asian and especially Thai politics, political economy, and Buddhism and politics. He earned his PhD in Government from Cornell University in 2007, and he won the 2008 American Political Science Association’s Walter Dean Burnham award for best dissertation in Politics and History. He is the author of Land and loyalty: Security of the development of property rights in Thailand (Cornell University Press 2012). His recent articles have appeared in The Journal of Peasant Studies, Asian Journal of Law and Society, Modern Asian Studies, and Asian Politics & Policy. At Cambridge, he teaches courses on democracy and dictatorship in Southeast Asia, comparative politics of religion, and case study research methods. He has followed Thai politics in different capacities for 30 years: as an undergraduate studying Thai at Lund University; as a journalist based in Thailand from 1990 to 2000; and since then as a scholar.


To register, please fill in this form and email it to by the morning of 2 March 2017.


Mar 02 2017


3:30 pm - 5:00 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2