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Highway to Modernity

Colin Kidd: The British Enlightenment, 8 March 2001

Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World 
by Roy Porter.
Allen Lane, 728 pp., £25, October 2000, 0 7139 9152 6
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... A central tenet of the current Eurosceptic case resides in the contrast between English pragmatists, blessed with an instinctive distrust of the systems concocted by philosophers, and dreamy Continentals whose chequered histories bear witness to a dangerous addiction to fresh starts, a priori blueprints, legal codification and all the other follies of political rationalism ...

Bastard Gaelic Man

Colin Kidd, 14 November 1996

The Correspondence of Adam Ferguson 
edited by Vincenzo Merolle.
Pickering & Chatto, 257 pp., £135, October 1995, 1 85196 140 2
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... Nurtured over two centuries ago in Scotland’s ‘hotbed of genius’, the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment endure. Their genetic code lurks in the inheritance of Liberals and Marxists alike, while the New Right delights in a pedigree which reaches back to David Hume and Adam Smith. In the United States scholars have established the influence of Francis Hutcheson, Hume and Smith on the American Revolution and the making of the Constitution ...

Pudding Time

Colin Kidd: Jacobites, 14 December 2006

1715: The Great Jacobite Rebellion 
by Daniel Szechi.
Yale, 351 pp., £25, June 2006, 0 300 11100 2
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... Until the past two decades most historians tended to be dismissive of Jacobitism as a subject of little more than antiquarian interest. In particular, they questioned both the scale of the threat posed by the exiled Stuart dynasty to the new regime established at the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the extent of support for the cause (so called because ‘Jacobus’ was the Latin for James, and James II was the monarch overthrown at the revolution ...

It took a Scot

Colin Kidd: English Nationalism, 29 July 2015

The Formation of the English Kingdom in the Tenth Century 
by George Molyneaux.
Oxford, 302 pp., £65, May 2015, 978 0 19 871791 1
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The English and Their History 
by Robert Tombs.
Allen Lane, 1012 pp., £14.99, June 2015, 978 0 14 103165 1
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Conquests, Catastrophe and Recovery: Britain and Ireland 1066-1485 
by John Gillingham.
Vintage, 345 pp., £10.99, October 2014, 978 0 09 956324 2
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From Restoration to Reform: The British Isles 1660-1832 
by Jonathan Clark.
Vintage, 364 pp., £10.99, October 2014, 978 0 09 956323 5
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Britain since 1900: A Success Story? 
by Robert Skidelsky.
Vintage, 472 pp., £10.99, October 2014, 978 0 09 957239 8
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... Until​ our recent discontents England had never succumbed to doctrinal nationalism. Absent from English history was the obsessiveness found in many countries across Europe about the recovery of authentic nationhood. Although the English have often been perturbed about the condition of England, they have rarely floated nationalist solutions to their problems ...

Farewell to the Log Cabin

Colin Kidd: America’s Royalist Revolution, 18 December 2014

The Royalist Revolution 
by Eric Nelson.
Harvard, 390 pp., £22.95, October 2014, 978 0 674 73534 7
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... The notion​ that toil, ability and ambition might be enough in themselves to propel the humblest of citizens from log cabin to White House is a vital ingredient in the American Dream. Indeed, it has served as a powerful anaesthetic against the inequalities of American society. But for how much longer? A rampant dynasticism – verging on royalism – threatens the efficacy of this opiate ...

How They Brought the Good News

Colin Kidd: Britain’s Napoleonic Wars, 20 November 2014

In These Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 739 pp., £25, November 2014, 978 0 571 26952 5
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... Familiarity,​ oddly enough, is all too often an obstacle to historical understanding. The more we think we know about a period, the more preconceptions we have. In the case of the Napoleonic Wars, a patriotic mythology fixated on the achievements of Nelson, Wellington and Sir John Moore at Corunna tends to filter out fear and uncertainty in favour of a seemingly inevitable procession of victories ...

The Obdurate Knoll

Colin Kidd: The Obdurate Knoll, 1 December 2011

Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics: JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan 
by Jeff Greenfield.
Putnam, 434 pp., £20.25, March 2011, 978 0 399 15706 6
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11.22.63 
by Stephen King.
Hodder, 740 pp., £19.99, November 2011, 978 1 4447 2729 6
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... The cultural consequences of 22 November 1963 are far more interesting than the events of the day itself. Historians like me tend not to find much of interest in the killing of one person by another, especially when the killer seems to have been a dysfunctional misfit. Of course, the assassination had puzzling aspects: Lee Harvey Oswald’s lengthy stay in the Soviet Union during some of the hottest years of the Cold War; the unlikely trajectory of one of the three bullets fired from the Texas School Book Depository, the ‘magic bullet’ which passed through the president’s neck and then through the body of the Texas governor, John Connally; and Oswald’s own murder while in police custody at the hands of Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner ...

Sabre-Toothed Teacher

Colin Kidd: Cowling, 31 March 2011

The Philosophy, Politics and Religion of British Democracy: Maurice Cowling and Conservatism 
edited by Robert Crowcroft, S.J.D. Green and Richard Whiting.
I.B. Tauris, 327 pp., £54.50, August 2010, 978 1 84511 976 8
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... Maurice Cowling was the English intelligentsia’s self-appointed pantomime ogre. Hamming up his villainy, he deliberately courted boos and hisses. In 1990, on the publication of the second edition of his book Mill and Liberalism (1963), he remembered with delight that one of its original reviewers had ‘obligingly’ described it as ‘“dangerous and unpleasant”, which was what it was intended to be ...

Non-Stick Nationalists

Colin Kidd: Scotland’s Law, 23 September 2015

Constitutional Law of Scotland 
by Alan Page.
W. Green, 334 pp., £95, June 2015, 978 0 414 01456 5
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... Notwithstanding​ the 55:45 split between unionists and nationalists in the independence referendum last autumn, the major – if unacknowledged – cleavage in Scottish politics lies within the SNP itself, between its cannily cautious leadership and its enthusiastic rank and file. The SNP has grown phenomenally since last September, when it had about 25,000 members, to its current tally of more than 100,000 ...

Not Very Permeable

Colin Kidd: Rory Stewart’s Borderlands, 19 January 2017

The Marches: Border Walks with My Father 
by Rory Stewart.
Cape, 351 pp., £18.99, October 2016, 978 0 224 09768 0
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... Last June’s​ xenophobic campaign and the Brexit vote that followed have left Scots – even the most unionist – estranged from the idea of Britain. In the months before the independence referendum of 2014, a large body of undecided Scots, while alienated from the Englishness of Toryism, the Home Counties and the City, still felt torn between a sense of solidarity with ordinary working people in the North of England and a desire to create an independent Scandinavian-style state ...

Misappropriation

Colin Kidd: Burke, 4 February 2016

Empire and Revolution: The Political Life of Edmund Burke 
by Richard Bourke.
Princeton, 1001 pp., £30.95, September 2015, 978 0 691 14511 2
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Training Minds for the War of Ideas: Ashridge College, the Conservative Party and the Cultural Politics of Britain, 1929-54 
by Clarisse Berthezène.
Manchester, 214 pp., £75, June 2015, 978 0 7190 8649 6
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The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Vol. IV: Party, Parliament and the Dividing of the Whigs, 1780-94 
edited by P.J. Marshall and Donald Bryant.
Oxford, 674 pp., £120, October 2015, 978 0 19 966519 8
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... Buffeted​ by events, the attentions of lobbyists and the gusts of media whim, politicians need a reliable compass if they are to maintain a steady course. The party manifesto provides a basic ready-reckoner, but there are occasions when something more foundational is required, and at such moments politicians have recourse to party tradition. In the Cameron era, the Conservatives have happily aligned the Big Society concept of charities and volunteers with the ‘little platoons’ championed by their acknowledged forebear, the political philosopher Edmund Burke ...

A Betting Man

Colin Kidd: John Law, 12 September 2019

John Law: A Scottish Adventurer of the 18th Century 
by James Buchan.
MacLehose, 513 pp., £14.99, August 2019, 978 1 84866 608 5
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... Britain’s​ early Enlightenment, between the 1680s and the 1750s, was the golden age of ‘projectors’, the name given to promoters of speculative schemes, some for making money, others for human betterment. After the Civil Wars of the 1640s the ingenuity which had once been applied to calculating the date of the Creation and the timing of the Second Coming was increasingly applied to more earthly concerns ...

Duels in the Dark

Colin Kidd: Lewis Namier’s Obsessions, 25 November 2019

Conservative Revolutionary: The Lives of Lewis Namier 
by D.W. Hayton.
Manchester, 472 pp., £25, August 2019, 978 0 7190 8603 8
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... In​ 1951, at the height of his celebrity and a year before he received his knighthood, the historian Lewis Bernstein Namier was sufficiently well known to appear – only lightly caricatured – in Cyril Hare’s An English Murder. The events of the story take place in a country house whose archive has attracted the attention of Dr Wenceslaus Bottwink, a Central European Jew and expert on the high politics of the reign of George III ...

Snobs v. Herbivores

Colin Kidd: Non-Vanilla One-Nation Conservatism, 7 May 2020

Remaking One Nation: The Future of Conservatism 
by Nick Timothy.
Polity, 275 pp., £20, March, 978 1 5095 3917 8
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... The​ political volatility of the last decade has made fools of us all. Very little has panned out as pollsters and pundits predicted, and the rapid succession of bizarre new normals has made it difficult to recover our previous expectations about the likely trajectory of political life. Predicting the course of politics has always involved a speculative flutter; but it’s usually more like trying to pick the winner of a race run on the flat, like the Derby, than punting on the Grand National, where one of the favourites could easily fall at Becher’s Brook ...

The Calvinist International

Colin Kidd: Hugh Trevor-Roper, 22 May 2008

The Invention of Scotland: Myth and History 
by Hugh Trevor-Roper.
Yale, 267 pp., £18.99, May 2008, 978 0 300 13686 9
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Europe’s Physician: The Various Life of Sir Theodore de Mayerne 
by Hugh Trevor-Roper.
Yale, 438 pp., £25, October 2006, 0 300 11263 7
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... associated with the lowliest of family names: ‘previously having been sold in quantity to a Mr Kidd, the same tartan had been labelled “Kidd”.’ Elements of this story – particularly the sections on Buchanan and on tartanry – Trevor-Roper had told before, though in discrete portions, and it is welcome to see the ...

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