Books: Vox pops
John O'Farrell waves the flag
by Tom Nairn
Verso, pounds 12
The study of nationalism has boomed since the Fall of the Wall and the decline of Marxism as a respectable subject. If one thing links this massive output from academics, it is the critical distance they keep from the Old Demon - the resurgent nationalism of Serbia, Slovakia and Rwanda, not to mention our local irrationalities in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
For three decades, Tom Nairn has been an iconoclastic voice from the left, challenging the notion that nationalism equals false consciousness. In The Break-up of Britain, 20 years ago, he argued that nationalism was crucial to modernity and that self-determination for small nations from Scotland to Wales and Ulster was imperative for the modernisation of Britain.
continues this argument in essays that make occasionally strident, often brilliant cases against the shibboleths of internationalism and the prophets of New World Disorder. Nairn can seem cold at times, taking a robust attitude to the democratising of the ex-Soviet empire. But he makes a compelling argument that, Bosnia excepted, the chaos of eastern Europe is preferable to the threat of nuclear war that enforced its "order" on the squabbling tribes.
There are contradictions: between his contempt for the "metropolitan elites" of Brussels, London, Washington and Moscow and for "the curse of rurality". But this inconsistency is part of Nairn's appeal as a polemicist. Nationalism is an ideology that appeals to the heart before the head. This awareness places him in a position to hammer away at nationalism's critics, such as Ernest Gellner and Eric Hobsbawm. His preferred option is a happy medium between Order and the Old Demon of ethnic nationalism.
He has his blind spots, though. Scotland is too close to his heart for a clear analysis. And he is surely wrong in his assertion that "[Ulster] Unionism's version of national self-determination was not a form of nationalism". If anything, ethnicity has become a greater issue in Northern Ireland, particularly since the annual cultural warfare at Drumcree has deepened mutual mistrust in the province to levels even worse than before the ceasefires.
Life & Style blogs
Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
- 1 All Blacks Aaron Cruden misses New Zealand flight after drinking session, has brilliant excuse
- 2 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 3 'F*ck it, I quit': TV reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 4 Alicia Keys leaks nude photo 'to create a kinder and more peaceful world'
- 5 Clothes store Joy angers mental health campaigners with Twitter exchange on bipolar disorders
£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...
£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...
£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...
£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...