- The Invention of Tradition edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger
Cambridge, 320 pp, £17.50, March 1983, ISBN 0 521 24645 8
One of Arnold Toynbee’s Laws was that, in any civilisation, mannered imitation of the past was a Bad Thing: he chose the Poles’ decision to reconstruct the Old City of Warsaw after 1945 as an instance, and would have much preferred to see them raze the ruins and build a ‘city of towers’ on modernistic lines. In a similar way, Victor Hugo remarked of the post-Napoleonic Bourbons that ‘nothing is more decrepit than at the moment of its restoration.’ The editors of this volume might agree with such sentiments. Their book contains knowledgeable and entertaining contributions. Hugh Trevor-Roper discusses the origins of Scottish kitsch; David Cannadine the (not at all remote) origins of British royal ritual; other contributions concern British rule in India and Welsh cultural identity (treated more respectfully than Trevor-Roper treats poor old Scotland). Eric Hobsbawm both introduces and concludes the book with essays of great penetration and learning on ‘the invention of tradition’ as a kind of phenomenology of the bourgeois mind.