Political Science

Freedom from Fear: An Incomplete History of Liberalism

A provocative new history of liberalism that also provides a road map for today’s liberals


Published (US):
Aug 22, 2023
Published (UK):
Oct 17, 2023
6.13 x 9.25 in.
2 tables.
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Freedom from Fear offers a striking new account of the dominant political and social theory of our time: liberalism. In a pathbreaking reframing of the historical debate, Alan Kahan charts the development of Western liberalism from the late eighteenth century to the present. Examining key liberal thinkers and issues, Kahan shows how liberalism is both a response to fear and a source of hope: the search for a world in which no one need be afraid.

Freedom from Fear reveals how liberal arguments typically rely on three pillars: freedom, markets, and morals. But when liberals ignore one or more of these pillars, their arguments generally fail to persuade. Extending from Adam Smith and Montesquieu to today’s battles between liberals and populists, the book examines the twists and turns of the “incomplete” or unfinished liberal tradition while demonstrating its fundamental continuity. It combines fresh accounts of familiar figures such as Tocqueville and Rawls with discussions of less-famous but pivotal thinkers such as A. V. Dicey and Jane Addams, and explores how liberals have dealt with crucial issues, from debates over male and female suffrage to colonialism and liberal anti-Catholicism.

By transforming our understanding of the history of liberal thought and practice, Freedom from Fear provides a new picture of the political creed today: the paths liberals need to follow, the questions they need to answer, and the dead ends they must avoid—if they are to win.

Liberalism's back to the future moment

Awards and Recognition

  • A Financial Times Best Book of the Year: Economics