Lisandro E. Claudio is Associate Professor at the College of Liberal Arts, De La Salle University, Manila and author of Liberalism and the Postcolony: Thinking the State in 20th-Century Philippines, published by NUS, Kyoto and Ateneo de Manila University Presses and winner of the 2019 AAS George McT. Kahin Prize.
To begin with, please tell us what your book is about.
It’s a history of liberalism in 20th-century Philippines told through the lives of four scholar-bureaucrats. Through these biographies, I examine liberal thought in various fields from literary theory, pedagogy, economics, and diplomacy.
What inspired you to research this topic?
There had never been a history of liberalism in the Philippines, and I felt it was about time. Also, while it is important to write histories of Southeast Asia from below, it is also important to look at how elites shape national and political discourse.
What obstacles did you face in this project? What turned out better and/or easier than you expected it would?
Not a lot Southeast Asianists study liberalism. Meanwhile, not a lot of historians of liberalism think about Asia. I was afraid of ending up in a no-man’s land where nobody would be interested in my work.
What is the most interesting story or scrap of research you encountered in the course of working on this book?
My favorite intellectual in the book is Salvador P. Lopez, who once served as the chair of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. John Humphrey, the initial drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, called Lopez the finest chair of the commission he had ever seen—even better than Eleanor Roosevelt.
What are the works that inspired you as you worked on this book, and/or what are some other titles that you recommend be read in tandem with your own?
Resil Mojares’s Brains of the Nation. Sometimes I crack a half-meant joke that my work is Mojares fan fiction as it is a continuation of his pathbreaking book.
I unfortunately had not read Peter Zinoman’s Vietnamese Colonial Republican when I wrote the book, but his work raises themes very similar to mine.
Caroline Hau’s Elites and Ilustrados in Philippine Culture was written in the same place (Kyoto) and roughly at the same time as mine.
What are you working on now?
I want to write a full biography of Salvador P. Lopez. I was only able to touch on one part of his life in the book. Lopez was a remarkable figure. Before his work in the United Nations, he was a literary critic—the Lionel Trilling of the Philippines, if you like.