How to be a Liberal

You can’t say that it lacks ambition. Ian Dunt’s “How to be a Liberal“:

tells the forgotten story of the advance of liberalism and the events which led to its current retreat.

And, by and large, it succeeds. I’m not qualified to say how complete it is — he may have missed out half of the story for all I know — but from Descartes to Mills, to Keynes, Orwell, Trump and Brexit, the history is here, right up to events of 2020. It’s well researched and mostly easy to read1. Having heard the author on various podcasts, I might have expected more swearing.

From a personal point of view, I think it clarifies a lot of my thinking and opinions, putting a name and a structure around things that I’ve likely believed for a long time but had never known the correct label.

In the UK, “liberal” is often understood to be directionless, wishy-washy, neither Labour nor Conservative. I never thought I was without principle. Being in favour of private enterprise doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be limits. A belief in personal responsibility doesn’t mean that I think people should end up destitute for mistakes or bad luck.

I never thought I was without principle, but perhaps I lacked the vocabulary to easily explain where I was coming from. With its discussion of the “harm principle,” the English Civil War, the American and French Revolutions, Keynes and Hayek, I now have a better handle on that framework.

It also ends on a positive note. I don’t know about you, but I needed that.

  1. A few typos and dodgy sentences made it into print. Not enough to spoil the book but enough to be noticeable. ↩︎