Nairn, Tom 1932–

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Nairn, Tom 1932–

(Tom Cunningham Nairn)

PERSONAL: Born June 2, 1932, in Freuchie, Fife, Scotland; son of David Robertson and Katherine Herd Nairn. Education: University of Edinburgh, M.A., 1956.

ADDRESSES: Home—Old Rectory, Kilmore, County Roscommon, Ireland. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: University of Birmingham, Birmingham, England, lecturer in philosophy, 1962–64; Hornsey College of Art, London, England, lecturer in liberal studies, 1964–69; Transnational Institute, Amsterdam, Netherlands, research fellow, 1972–75; Scottish International Institute, Edinburgh, director, 1976–80; freelance television writer and consultant, 1989–. University of Edinburgh, creator of nationalism studies course, 1995–2000; University of Aberdeen, fellow of Research Institute for Irish and Scottish Studies.


(With Angelo Quattrocchi) The Beginning of the End: France, May 1968; What Happened and Why It Happened, Panther (London, England), 1968.

The Left against Europe?, Penguin (Harmondsworth, England), 1973.

The Break-up of Britain: Crisis and Neo-nationalism, NLB (London, England), 1977.

The Enchanted Glass: Britain and Its Monarchy, Radius (London, England), 1988.

Faces of Nationalism: Janus Revisited, Verso (London, England), 1998.

After Britain: New Labour and the Return of Scotland, Granta Books (London, England), 2001.

Pariah: Misfortunes of the British Kingdom, Verso (London, England), 2002.

Contributor to periodicals, including New Left Review.

SIDELIGHTS: Radical Scottish socialist Tom Nairn has long used his writings to put forth his republican and Marxist views. With Angelo Quattrocchi, Nairn pub-lished The Beginning of the End: France, May 1968; What Happened and Why It Happened, essays about the political motivations behind the student riots in Paris in 1968. In The Break-up of Britain: Crisis and Neonationalism, which collects essays previously published in the New Left Review over a seven-year period, Nairn deals with the wave of nationalism in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland during the mid-seventies. According to Nairn, the British State was experiencing difficulty because it did not modernize and could no longer sustain itself after the disintegration of its colonial empire. This British decline left room for the nationalist aspirations of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland to reassert themselves. A Choice reviewer noted that The Break-up of Britain is a difficult read but found it worthwhile for Nairn's "compelling" insights and "stimulating" introductory essay. Comparing Nairn's work favorably with The Death of British Democracy by Stephen Haseler, Library Journal contributor Donald J. Murphy called the work "provocative."

In The Enchanted Glass: Britain and Its Monarchy Nairn maintains that the British middle classes never completed their revolution and are thus living under the rule of an upper-class British hegemony masquerading as a democracy. Nairn argues further that efforts to modernize Britain have failed because their efforts have been sidetracked by the ruling elite. Nairn expresses his puzzlement over the popular appeal of the royals: the queen, princes, and princesses. He also lambastes parts of the political Left that he sees as seduced or contaminated by royalist connections. He does not, however, prescribe how to alleviate such problems. The Enchanted Glass caught the attention of critics, several of whom noted the depth of Nairn's passionate dislike of the British monarchy and his ambiguous language. "Marred by collapses into New-Left-Review Speak, and unashamed by denunciation or crazed chapter-headings,… Nairn's book still pursues its lonely course like a powerboat crossing the harbour," wrote Michael Neve in the Times Literary Supplement. "Such is his fury at the wealth and triviality of the monarchy in Ukania [Nairn's word for the fake nationalism that binds Britain] that he won't be held back by sentiment." Writing in the New York Review of Books, Peter Jenkins stated he had found the book "virtually unreadable in digressive prolixity, labored allusiveness, and intellectual pretension, although others have admired it." "Mr. Nairn has done this poor benighted state some service by hauling republicanism from the closet. Foolishly, he has restricted his audience by assiduously avoiding 'the Queen's English'—presumably because of its connotations—and wrapping his argument in an almost impenetrable intelligentsia speak, his meaning leaking in disconnected drops through archaic words and dense constructions," reported Robert Chesshyre in the New York Times Book Review.

Asserting that the "true subject of modern philosophy is nationalism," Nairn published Faces of Nationalism: Janus Revisited with a twofold purpose. On the one hand he wishes to dispel what he considers to be the myth that nationalism is a modern phenomenon. His second goal is to point out the fallacy of thinking that the much-desired internationalism of a "new world order" would eliminate nationalist aspirations or struggles. "One does not have to share Nairn's views to find this a rewarding book, full of insight and heresy," commented Matthew d'Ancona in the New Statesman. "Few scholars understand the power of tribe better than Nairn, but it would be a shame if Faces of Nationalism were read only by his own."



British Book News, August, 1984, p. 458.

Choice, February 1978, review of The Break-up of Britain: Crisis and Neo-nationalism, p. 1709; February, 1995, pp. 901-902.

Contemporary Review, August, 2000, R.D. Kernohan, review of After Britain: New Labour and the Return of Scotland, p. 115.

Economist, July 16, 1977, p. 123; August 6, 1988, p. 71.

Ethnic and Racial Studies, May, 1999, review of Faces of Nationalism: Janus Revisited, p. 618.

Guardian Weekly, June 26, 1988, p. 28; July 3, 1988, p. 24.

History Today, October, 1983, p. 48.

Journal of Politics, November, 1978, p. 1122.

Library Journal, November 1, 1977, Donald J. Murphy, review of The Break-up of Britain, p. 2266.

Listener, June 9, 1988, p. 32.

London Review of Books, July 7, 1988, p. 6; November 28, 2002, Paul Laity, review of Pariah: Misfortunes of the British Kingdom, p. 24.

New Statesman, June, 17, 1977, p. 825; June 10, 1988, p. 39; December 23, 1988, p. 32; March 13, 1998, Matthew d'Ancona, review of Faces of Nationalism, p. 55; January 24, 2000, John Gray, review of After Britain, p. 53.

New York Review of Books, October 12, 1989, Peter Jenkins, review of The Enchanted Glass: Britain and Its Monarchy, p. 46; June 4, 1998, pp. 14-15.

New York Times Book Review, May 7, 1989, Robert Chesshyre, review of The Enchanted Glass, p. 31.

Observer (London, England), August 21, 1977, p. 29; June 5, 1988, p. 42; September 16, 1990, p. 54.

Publishers Weekly, April 6, 1998, p. 71.

Social Forces, September, 1999, review of Faces of Nationalism, p. 385.

Spectator, July 2, 1977, p. 19; July 16, 1988, p. 28.

Times Educational Supplement, October 12, 1990, p. R3.

Times Literary Supplement, August 19, 1988, Michael Neve, review of The Enchanted Glass, p. 906.

Village Voice, March 15, 1983, p. 37.

Voice Literary Supplement, December, 1983, p. 15; May, 1989, p. 6.

Washington Post Book World, March, 26, 1989, p. 12.

Western Political Quarterly, December, 1978, p. 580.