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In this classic text, first published in 1977, Tom Nairn memorably depicts the “slow foundering” of the United Kingdom on the rocks of constitutional anachronism, its fall from empire and the gathering force of civic nationalism. Rich in comparisons between the nationalisms of the British Isles and those of the wider world, The Break-Up of Britain concludes by reflecting on the Janus-faced nature of national identity. Postscripts from the Thatcher and New Labour years trace the political strategies whose upshot accelerated the demise of a British order they were intended to serve.
As a second Scottish independence referendum beckons, a new introduction by openDemocracy’s Anthony Barnett underlines the book’s enduring relevance.
“The most forceful and original mind to confront, demask and anatomise the British state.”
“A luminous guide to the morbidities unleashed by the relentless machinery of post-imperial decline.”
“Tom Nairn pioneered critical retrospect of the United Kingdom, and scandalised people by looking forward calmly to its disintegration.”
“A creative intellectual toolkit for a political emergency, assisting Scots, Welsh and English democrats alike to finally break the chains of Westminster.”
“Densely and brilliantly argued … original and perceptive.”
“Burning-glass of a mind … disconcerting in its withering contempt not only for the British state but for everything associated with it.”
“Vitriolic wit … The method is resolutely materialist.”
“The intellectual godfather of modern Scottish nationalism.”
“Powerful and prophetic. Nairn is perhaps Britain’s most perceptive and ambitious national storyteller, an audaciously creative stylist.”
“Combines often stunning writing with immense knowledge of literature, history, and political philosophy … Nairn has made a priceless contribution towards a desperately needed new discourse.”
“The most significant book on British politics of the past half-century.”