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The Departed Spirit

Tom Nairn, 30 October 1997

... Anglo-Britain, however, required a more distinctive, tailor-made garment. Neither ethnicity nor Tom Paine’s republican, civic-territorial nation could have stabilised the vital bond between the English masses and all their alien or multinational attachments. The main feature in the making of the Anglo-Brit working class was that it shouldn’t appear too ...

Wanting to Be Special

Tom Nairn, 21 March 1996

The Race Gallery: The Return of Racial Science 
by Marek Kohn.
Cape, 311 pp., £17.99, September 1995, 9780224039581
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... Writing in the London Review of Books in 1994 (8 September) I was incautious enough to make some remarks about alternatives to Eurocentrism that history might have generated. For example Progress, like Homo sapiens himself, might have erupted out of Africa rather than from the areas north of it. In which case, instead of indulging in what Edward Said calls Orientalism, there might well be present-day pallid-skin observers – ‘fulminating over Septentrionalist delusions about colourlessness: the vacant brain-pans supposed natural to the pigmentally-challenged, with their slime-grey eyes, ratty hair and squeaky-voiced irrationality ...

At the Fairground

Tom Nairn, 20 March 1997

Republics, Nations and Tribes 
by Martin Thom.
Verso, 359 pp., £45, July 1995, 1 85984 020 5
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... If this new year was a precedent, there will be serious prophetic constipation till around 2001. The Independent on Sunday of 22 December last weighed in with a mere forty crystal-gazers, from Ian Angell, ‘darling of the doom-and-gloom conference circuit’, down to Theodore Zeldin’s ‘persuasively touchy-feely manifesto’, An Intimate History of Humanity ...

Demonising Nationalism

Tom Nairn, 25 February 1993

... Two-and-a-half years ago Time Magazine published a feature on the future of the world. Being on the cover of Time has always been an American honour: the cover of 6 August 1990 carried a portrait of Nationalism. An elementary tombstone-shaped visage of plasticine, or possibly mud, glowers out from an equally rudimentary map of Central Europe. One primitive, soulless eye is located near Vilnius ...

History’s Postman

Tom Nairn: The Jewishness of Karl Marx, 26 January 2006

Karl Marx ou l’esprit du monde 
by Jacques Attali.
Fayard, 549 pp., €23, May 2005, 2 213 62491 7
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... More than a quarter of listeners asked last year in a Radio 4 poll who they thought was the most important philosopher for today’s world replied Karl Marx – he was easily the winner, ahead of Hume, Plato, Karl Popper and others. Asked to comment, Eric Hobsbawm said he thought that the fall of Soviet Communism had at last allowed people to disentangle Marxism from Moscow ...

Out of the Cage

Tom Nairn: Popping the bubble of American supremacy, 24 June 2004

After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order 
by Emmanuel Todd, translated by C. Jon Delogu.
Constable, 288 pp., £8.99, July 2004, 1 84529 058 5
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Bubble of American Supremacy: Correcting the Misuse of American Power 
by George Soros.
Weidenfeld, 207 pp., £12.99, January 2004, 0 297 84906 9
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... In some ways, millennium absurdity has not yet ended. Although the Dome reached oblivion in record time, a deeper dimension of fever, wild surmise and unhinged ‘radicalism’ has remained, greatly intensified since 11 September 2001. Its future was prepared by the non-election of George W. Bush in 2000, equivalent to the failed coronation of a pope in 1000 ...

Make for the Boondocks

Tom Nairn: Hardt and Negri, 5 May 2005

by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri.
Hamish Hamilton, 426 pp., £20, January 2005, 0 241 14240 7
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... Better to wonder if ten thousand angels Could waltz on the head of a pin And not feel crowded than to wonder if now’s the time for the armies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire To teach the Serbs a lesson they’ll never forget For shooting Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo Carl Dennis, ‘World History’1 The cover of Multitude invites bookshop browsers not just to read it, but to ‘Join the many ...

The Enabling Boundary

Tom Nairn: We’re All Petit Bourgeois Now, 18 October 2007

What Should the Left Propose? 
by Roberto Mangabeira Unger.
Verso, 179 pp., £15, January 2006, 1 84467 048 1
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The Self Awakened: Pragmatism Unbound 
by Roberto Mangabeira Unger.
Harvard, 277 pp., £19.95, February 2007, 978 0 674 02354 3
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Une brève histoire de l’avenir 
by Jacques Attali.
Fayard, 432 pp., €20, October 2006, 2 213 63130 1
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... Dans mes bras, un cyclone imaginaire flotte sur moi l’onde solitaire Je suis la rivière qui penche Le torrent qui s’élance Je murmure sous la glace, je connais les abîmes, les méandres irrésistibles, Dans mes bras tourbillonne un cyclone imperceptible, Sous mes pieds, des jardins imaginaires… Anabase, ‘Le Bonheur flou’ These books don’t propose easy answers to the current dearth of centre-left initiative and hope ...

Upper and Lower Cases

Tom Nairn, 24 August 1995

A Union for Empire: Political Thought and the Union of 1707 
edited by John Robertson.
Cambridge, 368 pp., £40, April 1995, 0 521 43113 1
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The Autonomy of Modern Scotland 
by Lindsay Paterson.
Edinburgh, 218 pp., £30, September 1994, 0 7486 0525 8
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... Next time it will be different. Or so almost everyone in Scotland now believes, as they look forward to another election and back over the long trail of wreckage from 1979 to the present. The Conservative regime began by aborting Constitutional change and is ending in a state of Constitutional rigor mortis. John Major’s Government contemplates no political evolution whatever on the mainland, as distinct from in Ireland, and advertises this rigidity as ‘defence of the Union ...

Cleaning Up

Tom Nairn, 3 October 1996

The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79 
by Ben Kiernan.
Yale, 477 pp., £25, April 1996, 0 300 06113 7
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... Northern Ireland, the Basque Country, Corsica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nagorno-Karabakh: this list of familiar trouble-spots is neither complete nor extended beyond Europe, in which case it would be at least eight times longer. Originally coined to describe the situation in Ireland, ‘troubles’ in this sense have multiplied and become global, notably since 1989 ...

On with the Pooling and Merging

Neal Ascherson: The Incomparable Tom Nairn, 17 February 2000

After Britain: New Labour and the Return of Scotland 
by Tom Nairn.
Granta, 336 pp., £15.99, January 2000, 1 86207 293 0
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... contribution occurs in the last section, ‘Epilogue: The Last Day’, a sort of diary of what Tom Nairn did and felt on the unforgettable rainy Thursday of 6 May 1999. It was the first polling day for the reconvened Scottish Parliament. As Nairn drove back from Fife, where he had gone to say goodbye to a dying ...

From the Outer Edge

Rory Scothorne: ‘Painting Nationalism Red’, 6 December 2018

Tom Nairn‘Painting Nationalism Red’? 
by Neal Ascherson.
Democratic Left Scotland, 27 pp., £4, February 2018
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... last whistle’. Ascherson’s homecoming in 1975 coincided with that of another ‘red Scot’, Tom Nairn, whose own journeys, intellectual and geographical, are now surveyed in Ascherson’s essay-length intellectual biography. The essay was commissioned by Democratic Left Scotland, a small, polite collection of left-wing intellectuals and activists ...


R.W. Johnson, 7 July 1988

The Enchanted Glass: Britain and Its Monarchy 
by Tom Nairn.
Radius, 402 pp., £25, June 1988, 0 09 172960 2
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... Tom Nairn has, for many years, been pondering the peculiarities of the British state with impressive intelligence and originality. His earlier work, The Break-Up of Britain, remains a landmark – but had the curious deficiency of devoting relatively little space to England, which is, even from Nairn’s Marxist and Scots nationalist vantage-point, the heart of the matter ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: A Spasso con Gusto, 1 November 2007

... live simultaneously in a cosmopolitan web and in various and diverse primary communities’ that Tom Nairn mentioned in the last issue of the LRB. Most of the people attending the meeting in the spring were mayors and councillors, there to share ideas about such practical matters as the best ways to encourage local small industries and artisans, promote ...

Dazed and Confused

Paul Laity: Are the English human?, 28 November 2002

Patriots: National Identity in Britain 1940-2000 
by Richard Weight.
Macmillan, 866 pp., £25, May 2002, 0 333 73462 9
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Pariah: Misfortunes of the British Kingdom 
by Tom Nairn.
Verso, 176 pp., £13, September 2002, 1 85984 657 2
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Identity of England 
by Robert Colls.
Oxford, 422 pp., £25, October 2002, 0 19 924519 3
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Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Chatto, 518 pp., £25, October 2002, 1 85619 716 6
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... dissolved. Our ‘crisis’ of national identity has become an old friend. It’s 25 years since Tom Nairn first willed the ‘Break-Up of Britain’, and ten since Linda Colley influentially explained that Britons were the product of particular historical conditions – conditions which have now disappeared. We have had the woe-is-England vapourings of ...

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