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About Tom Nairn

Tom Nairn is Research Professor in the Politics Department of Durham University and was a Professor of Nationalism and Social Diversity at Austrailia's RMIT 2002 - 2010

Articles by Tom Nairn

This week’s front page editor


Sunny Hundal is openDemocracy’s social media editor.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Scotland and Europe, Iris Murdoch and Antonio Gramsci: an interview with Tom Nairn

From The left against Europe to The break up of Britain, Tom Nairn's essays have been far-sighted and era-defining for half a century. Here, we publish the first recorded interview on his intellectual history.

Old nation, new age

When it comes to countries in the modern world, is bigger really better?

A nation's blueprint? Introduction to "The case for left wing nationalism"

A posthumous collection of the writings by one of Scotland’s most distinguished advocates of independence, Stephen Maxwell, has just been published: ‘The Case for Left-Wing Nationalism’. It has been edited by Jamie Maxwell and is published by Luath Press and has been introduced by Tom Nairn.

Frontiers: a re-evaluation

For advocates of globalisation, the 'frontier' is often presented as an obstacle to universal freedom. But as the anti-democratic implications of this argument are increasingly evident, what if the solution to managing power is not fewer borders but more? 

Fate of the First Born? English nationalism and Euroscepticism

One of the most respected contemporary voices on nationalism gives his take on an important new book exploring the relationship between England and Europe. 

After Britain: Tom Nairn's view of Blair and Brown eleven years and five years ago

Scotland's foremost thinker and oD regular Tom Nairn is 80 today. OurKingdom republishes two of his biting polemics on the two leaders of New Labour

Hooligans of the Absolute: Black Pluto's door after 11 September

The impulse of the attacks was not confidence but despair – the strike of a miserable old world against the unsettling but promising new.

Tom Nairn is 80 today. To celebrate, we are republishing his reflections on 9/11, first published on 4 October 2001.

New faces of nationalism

Around the globe, new forms of governance are being sought to counter-balance the hyper-empire of global capitalism. Scotland is developing its own resistance, could England follow suit?

Will Britain ever shake the ghost of Empire?

Reflections on Jeremy Paxman's book, 'Empire: What ruling the world did to the British'.

A Republican Monarchy? England and revolution

The author of the first major contemporary critique of the monarchy looks over his argument as Scotland moves towards independence under a shared crown and inaugurates a new debate 'For England's Sake!'

The prophet redeemed?

Ernest Gellner was a polymath and a public intellectual, a philosopher and defender of modernity. A remarkable ‘intellectual biography’ by John A.Hall explores the Gellner Archives at the LSE alongside his published works to piece together the profile of something even more important than an account of the man or his ideas - a ‘prophetic’ quasi-ideology destined for our times.

Time to Call it a Day: Sometimes it is right for a country to recognise that its job is done

We revisit an article from 2007 meditating on the export of the possible break up of Belgium back across the channel to the country responsible for Belgium's creation in the first place

The English Postman

An OurKingdom essay: As Britain's postal workers vote to strike and the Royal Mail seems doomed, Tom Nairn dissects the servile, postman like nature of those trapped in the British polity and points to a way out

Attention: Global Moles at Work


In an article entitled 'Feminism Co-opted' Nancy Fraser has recently suggested that among the deeper effects of Neo-Liberal hegemony may be counted a tacit alliance between marketolatry and the women's movement (New Left Review, March-April 2009). The former could not help undermining inherited customary attitudes many of which bore a strongly patriarchal component. Such instinctive assumptions tend to stick together and support one another. This is a lot of what a 'culture' means. But may not what sticks together, perish together as well?

What the ensuing General Financial Crisis has accomplished may be partly the ruin of custom, in just that sense. An unquestioned 'macho' strain in global finance capital piled one risk upon another: for Lords of that age, failure was unthinkable. The 'cash-nexus' took over, and increasingly escaped control until it did fail. And in the wake of collapse, we find the Washington Post's Foreign Policy taking up Fraser's refrain. Its 2009 July-August edition declares 'The Era of Male Dominance is Coming to an End. Seriously' (Reihan Salam of the New America Foundation, p.66). Valerie Hudson of Brigham Young University backs him up with 'Good Riddance' (p.71): 'It used to be said that behind every great man is a great woman. Maybe the scoundrels, hooligans, Genghis Khans, derivatives traders and debt-securitizers could use a few great women too, for the sake of the rest of us, if nothing else'.

No such intention crossed the minds of the cash-nexus prophets. 'Moles' must have been at work: the famous unobserved tunnellers of Shakespeare's Hamlet (I, iv, 24). Karl Marx returned to the point in the 19th century: people consciously make history, but not in conditions of their own choosing. In early-modern folklore moles were sometimes identified with the Devil. And from 1848 to the present, the furry creatures have consistently grown in scale. To bring about the major landscape shifts evoked by Salam and Hudson, globalization's equivalents must be more like small bulldozers. Normally credited with the lowering of nation-state borders, they are now reported at work on the gender frontier.

When an earth-movement gets registered both in New Left Review's atelier and on the Foreign Policy front lawn, something must be up. For all the indignation her article aroused among left-wing feminists, Nancy Fraser may have been even righter than she knew. The 'cunning of history' is another conventional way of imagining mole-workers. Cultures are rarely smart enough to perceive a process that has to be 'made' collaterally, as well as through policies and will-power. There were few women among the derivatives traders and columnar foghorns. That didn't mean they had abandoned the economy. On the contrary, within Marx's 'relations of production' they have become more important then ever.

However, as Hudson puts it, they have remained 'less confident than men because they usually live with men who are over-confident'. but as macho vanity collapses realism should come into its own, with the recognition that 'better decisions might be made if men and women were making them together'. 'And wouldn't you know it' she ironizes in conclusion, '...research has shown that mixed decision-making groups are less risk-acceptant than all-male groups, and that non-zero-sum outcomes are more likely'.

For social-democrats, surely, here is one real advance on head-counting. It's true that evolution is involved. And so it should be. As Salam writes: 'As women start to gain more of the social, economic and political power they have long been denied, it will be nothing less than a full-scale revolution the likes of which human civilization has never experienced'. The Neo-liberal cock may have crowed far too loudly and too long on the other hand, as Perry Anderson has pointed out, at least nobody could ignore him, and the whole new globalising farmyard has been awakened for good from the torpor of tradition and 'I told you so!' Yet no culture of collective Socialism waits to take over: the even bigger earth-shifts in the East made that clear as well. So new management looks like the only alternative.

Tom Nairn replies to his comments

... regarding Kevin Rudd, Social Democracy, and the Melbourne Monthly and Griffith Review 25 debate. Tom Nairn responds to comments made on his recent openDemocracy essay, Down under diary: is it time for Social Democracy?

Down Under diary: is it time for Social Democracy?

The Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd sees a revived social democracy as the only terrain on which the "great financial crisis" can be fought and overcome. In assessing his case and the lively debate it has provoked, Tom Nairn argues that this core idea is more widely relevant to the current international search for a politics beyond neo-liberalism.

After the global

A journey that maps the life of ideologies from the French revolution via Marxism to neo-liberalism opens a space to explore what may come next, says Tom Nairn.

After Greatness, everybody is small

In an OurKingdom essay, Tom Nairn looks at how new forms of nationalism are challenging the established nation-states of an earlier era in an essay he originally called, A Footnote to Gellner: Megalomaniacs, Leftover-lands and ‘Putting the Clock Back'.

Byzantium: always an Empire, never a Nation

In a response to Judith Herrin's new history, the example of Byzantium inspires some contemporary reflections from Tom Nairn in Melbourne's Arena magazine, republished with kind permission.

Globalisation and nationalism: the new deal

The map of world statehood is creatively fissuring, as globalisation accentuates difference and breeds self-confident ambition among its underlings and marginals. The process, says Tom Nairn's extraordinary Edinburgh Lecture, heralds the retreat of the "body-builders' club" of would-be great nations and the "emergence of new, smaller communities of will and purpose - the nations of a new and deeply different age"

The sorcerer’s birthday: notes from the apprentice

Anthony Barnett, pioneering constitutional reformer and founder of openDemocracy, is 65. Tom Nairn, a lifelong ally, pays intellectual respects and looks forward.

Not on your life

Britain’s prime-minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown is making an offer the people – not least in England - must refuse, says Tom Nairn.

The Queen: an elegiac prophecy

The real target of Stephen Frears's depiction of a British queen under siege from politicians and people following Princess Diana's death is the constitutional system embodied in Tony Blair's imperial prime ministership. Tom Nairn, pioneering critic of Britain's monarchical state, views the film and looks beyond.

Five down, two hundred-and-ninety-five to go

Amidst a torn world, a voracious empire, and a decaying Ukania, Tom Nairn sees a future where openDemocracy can play an essential role.

Ending the big 'ism

John Ralston Saul's book "The Collapse of Globalism" provokes Tom Nairn to dissect identity-formation in Canada and Australia as the bedrock of different visions of nation, state and world in the 21st century.

On the beach: a bonfire of monarchies in Melbourne

Tom Nairn, sharing Australian celebrations of the birth of an heir to the Danish throne, sees an angel of democracy in the Melbourne night sky.

After the G8 and 7/7: an age of 'democratic warming'

The conjunction of the G8 and the London bombings carries a message of democracy to the global community, says Tom Nairn.

Britain's tipping-point election

The ice of Britain’s political system is melting. A potent coalition for electoral and constitutional reform is assembling. Tom Nairn registers an inexorable shift.

Don't vote for Bullshit

Tom Nairn offers his advice to voters in Britain’s general election.

The Free World's end?

Tom Nairn presents a searching critique of Timothy Garton Ash’s book Free World. He argues that it seeks to conserve the global status quo through a comforting subordination to American power. His wide-ranging survey suggest that the new century is not going to embrace any such outcome.

Authoritarian Man: the Axis of Good

The cold war, neo-liberal triumph and 9/11 have ushered in the assertive global hegemony of the United States and its British and Australian satraps. But the millennial project of imperial nationalism conceals a labyrinth of fear – of ordinariness, lost greatness, multiculturalism, globalisation itself.

5. Are there alternatives?

The concluding, fifth part of Tom Nairn’s series on America and globalisation addresses an urgently practical question: where lies the potential for a better world order beyond the free market model of globalisation? In two words: democratic nationalism.

4. America: being old with a vengeance

We are living through the after-life of Western Imperialism, argues Tom Nairn in the fourth part of his series. The United States administration has fallen back upon a conservative apocalypse to restore an Old World Order. Is such a project doomed to failure?

3. Apocalypse is in the air

Globalisation, far from creating a unified world, also produces invigorated collective identities that lead to new forms of violence.

The third in the series on globalisation and American power.
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