The Enchanted Glass: Britain and Its Monarchy

The acclaimed anatomy of Britain’s relationship with its monarchy, by the foremost historian of nationalism.
In this acclaimed study of British statehood, identity and culture, Tom Nairn deftly dispels the conviction that the Royal Family is nothing more than an amusing relic of feudalism or a mere tourist attraction. Instead, he argues that the monarchy is both apex and essence of the British state, the symbol of a national backwardness. In this fully updated edition, Nairn’s powerful and bitterly comic prose lays bare Britain’s peculiar, pseudo-modern, national identity—which remains stubbornly fixated on the Crown and its constitutional framework, the “parliamentary sovereignty” of Westminster.


  • “A long and brilliant meditation on the nature of the British state, its identity and national culture ... one of the most powerful and original pieces of writing I have ever read on the subject.”
  • “An ambitious and ruthless dissection of the most down-market comic opera of our age.”
  • “Dazzling, cliché-nailing ... The first serious study for more than a hundred years to take a coldly analytical look at this most emotion-charged part of our heritage, it reflects a growing sense of the peculiarity of it all.”


  • "The Peculiarities of the English and the Decline of Britain" - Ellen Meiksins Wood on the Nairn-Anderson thesis and the Bourgeois paradigm

    Ellen Meiksins Wood is a leading political theorist and one of the world's most influential historians. Her wide-ranging and original work, covering topics which range from examinations of Athenian democracy to contemporary American imperialism, has, alongside Robert Brenner, inaugurated the 'Political Marxist' approach to history. Political Marxism is founded upon a critique of the teleology and formalism of many forms of Marxism in an attempt at rehistoricising and repoliticising the Marxist project. The influence of Ellen's distinctive work can be seen across the social sciences and has influenced generations of scholars.

    To celebrate her work, we're publishing an extract from The Pristine Culture of Capitalism on the Nairn-Anderson thesis, Britain and the bourgeois paradigm.

    Verso, Birkbeck Politics Department and the Sussex PM group, will be hosting a symposium on the work at Ellen Meiksins Wood on Wednesday 4th November at Birkbeck. For full details click here.

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  • Tom Nairn's Break-Up of Britain: Extract

    With the result of the Scottish independence referendum a mere sleep away, we're revisiting Tom Nairn's Break-Up of Britain. Nairn has been an important influence on the debates around independence, referred to by Anthony Barnett as the "prophet of the break-up of Britain". See below for an extract from Break-Up of Britain discussing the move towards Scottish nationalism, or neo-nationalism, in the post-war period:

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  • Tom Nairn's Break-Up of Britain: Extract

    With the Scottish independence referendum a mere six days away, and the Guardian today deeming it “too close to call”, we’re returning to Tom Nairn’s The Break-Up of Britain. First published in 1977, Nairn contended that civic nationalism, rather than ethno-nationalism, would play an increasing role in the breakdown of the United Kingdom.

    In the 2003 Australian new edition, he wrote 

    The Break-Up of Britain began its life in a still imposing, if narrowing river; by the time the 1981 paperback edition had appeared, the river had begun to feel the approaching rapids—which have accelerated for over twenty years, and attained a crazy pace even in the few weeks between beginning and finishing this new edition. The thunder of a waterfall no one conceived of in 1977 is in everyone’s ears, as Tony Blair sends off his ships and troops to assist America’s assault on the Middle East … In the altered world lying beyond these falls, it is surely unlikely the United Kingdom will survive in anything like its historical form.

    Read an excerpt from Nairn’s chapter on ‘Old and New Scottish Nationalism’ below.

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Other books by Tom Nairn