How to Be a Liberal


‘A tour de force.’THE SECRET BARRISTER


‘Courageous.’ JAMES O’BRIEN, LBC

From Brexit Britain to Trump’s America to Orban’s Hungary, liberalism is under attack. In a soaring narrative that stretches from the English Civil War to the 2008 crash and the rise of populism, the host of the Origin Story podcast tells the epic story of personal freedom. 

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‘A tour de force.’ THE SECRET BARRISTER


‘A phenomenal history from a truly big mind.’ – DAVID SCHNEIDER, WRITER

‘Required reading for anyone interested in politics and philosophy.’ – PROSPECT

In this groundbreaking new book, political journalist Ian Dunt tells the story of liberalism from its birth in the fight against absolute monarchy to the modern-day resistance against the new populism.

In a soaring narrative that stretches from the battlefields of the English Civil War to the 2008 financial crash and beyond, this vivid, page-turning book explains the political ideas which underpin the modern world.

But it is also much more. Written by the author of How Westminster Works… and Why It Doesn’t and host of the Origin Story podcast, How to be a Liberal is a call to action for those who believe in freedom and reason.

Among the topics dealt with are:

  • The birth of liberalism with Rene Descartes
  • Radical ideas of freedom in the English Civil War
  • Mob rule during French Revolution 
  • Liberal values in the American War of Independence
  • Benjamin Constant’s philosophical revolution
  • John Stuart Mill, Harriet Taylor and liberalism’s great love affair
  • The Nazis and Soviets snuff out individual rights
  • Building a liberal world with John Maynard Keynes
  • The rise of identity politics and groupthink
  • The viral threat from social media
  • Liberalism’s failures, from feminism to the rust belt 
  • From the US to Hungary, nationalism sweeps the world
  • Why we fight for our values – the rebellion begins here 

Hailed as ‘courageous’ by LBC’s James O’Brien and as a ‘tour de force’ by the Secret Barrister, How to be a Liberal is both a history of the growth of individual liberty and a rally cry to turn back the new populism threatening democratic values and personal freedoms.


‘A tour de force; a mighty trumpet blast for the forces of liberalism and enlightenment in the face of a global tide of ignorance and populism.’


‘This is a history of ideas as it should be written – brilliant, vivid story-telling about the people who shaped liberalism, the challenges it has faced over the centuries, its commitment to the truth and why it’s now more important than ever to defend it.’


How To Be A Liberal is required reading for today’s political debates.’


‘I’m loving How to be a Liberal. It’s really great. I mean breathtakingly good. Bravo.’


‘Dunt… describes liberalism as “an enormous, boisterous, confounding bloody thing,” and writes passionately in its favour, as a counterweight to ignorance and populism. This book is required reading for anyone interested in politics and philosophy.’


About the Author

Ian Dunt is a columnist with the I newspaper and presents the Origin Story and Oh God, What Now? podcasts. 

His first book, Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now? (Canbury Press, 2017), on Britain’s challenge in leaving the European Union, was a critically-acclaimed bestseller.

In How To Be A Liberal (Canbury, 2020), the journalist tells the epic story of personal freedom. Ranging across history, politics and economics, he makes a powerful case for a radical brand of egalitarian liberalism that can safeguard individuals while looking after us all.

Extract – The New Nationalism

(starting with the nationalist blueprint of Viktor Orbán’s Hungary)

Liberalism had been weakened by the financial crash, the rise of identity war and anti-truth. Then, in 2016, nationalism punched through its defences with breakthroughs in Britain and America.

For many people, this was the start of the nationalist takeover. But in fact its momentum had been building for years.

Hungary’s leader, Viktor Orbán, had blazed the trail. He demonstrated how a nationalist agenda could create a narrative of division, amass vast executive power, and subvert and manipulate democracy.

Orbán’s ascent had begun a decade earlier with an audio recording that changed the direction of Hungarian politics. In 2006, comments from the Socialist prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, to party members were secretly taped and released to the public.

‘We have fucked it up,’ Gyurcsány could be heard saying. ‘Not a little but a lot. We have obviously lied throughout the past one and a half to two years. It was perfectly clear that what we were saying was not true. We did not do anything for four years. Nothing. I had to pretend for one and a half years that we were governing. Instead, we lied in the morning, at noon and at night.’

It is hard to think of any political communication, in any country, in living memory that had a more devastating impact on an incumbent leader. Gyurcsány had shredded his reputation and that of the Socialist party. Riots erupted in the street, but he struggled on in power for several more years.

Then the financial crisis hit. The collapse of the banking system battered eastern Europe. Before the crisis, around $50 billion of investment flowed into the region every quarter. In the last quarter of 2008, that had reversed into an outflow of $100 billion. Domestic currencies plunged and the cost of servicing international loans spiralled. In a matter of weeks, many Hungarian families saw their mortgage or car loan bills surge by 20 per cent.

Hungary was forced to seek an emergency package from the IMF and EU. The terms were actually relatively generous, but public opinion inside the country viewed it as a humiliation. Nationalists branded the requirements attached to the loan an act of neocolonialism. They compared it to the Treaty of Trianon after the First World War, when Hungary was stripped of two-thirds of its territory.

Orbán, the leader of the far-right Fidesz party, took the spoils. He swept into power in 2010 with two-thirds of the parliamentary seats – a super-majority that allowed him to do almost anything he wanted. And what he wanted was to destroy liberalism in Hungary.

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Additional information

Weight 430 g
Dimensions 19.8 × 12.9 × 3.5 cm










320.51 (edition:23)


General – Trade / Code: K

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