Professor Tom Nairn: Elusive England - in search of the English Polity
IAS/University College Public Lecture
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In UK constitutional practice, the question of an English polity has become central: how else can constitutional modernization go ahead, when three jurisdictions (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) are arising in the archipelago? But the problem may be deeper than is often realized. The nature of 'Englishness' appears resistant to 'devolution' (as was seen in the failure of New Labour's proposed assembly for the North-East). Also, this difficulty may give rise to theoretical questions: what is a 'polity', as distinct from a community, society, or an inherited 'imperium'?
Professor Tom Nairn is currently a Distinguished IAS Fellow at University College. He has made a significant contribution to studies of nationalism over the last three to four decades, but also made a contribution to political theory more generally. Writing in the London Review of Books, Neal Ascherson stated that Tom Nairn has been 'for twenty years the dominant political philosopher of his country, and an influence on the ideas of the post-1968 generation all over Western Europe'. He is one of the four most widely cited authorities on nationalism in the world today, along with Benedict Anderson, Anthony Smith and the late Ernest Gellner. Professor Nairn's influential book The Break-up of Britain (1977) gained much attention for its prediction of the unsustainability of the United Kingdom state and its probable fragmentation into a number of different republics.
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