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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 2020, 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 ...

Men in Aprons

Colin Kidd: Freemasonry, 7 May 1998

Who’s Afraid of Freemasons? The Phenomenon of Freemasonry 
by Alexander Piatigorsky.
Harvill, 398 pp., £25, August 1997, 1 86046 029 1
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... Our experience of Freemasonry is one of the minor peculiarities of the British. From The Grand Mystery of Freemasonry Discover’d (1724) and Samuel Prichard’s Masonry Dissected (1730) to Martin Short’s Inside the Brotherhood: Further Secrets of the Freemasons (1989), the dominant genre in Masonic literature has been the ‘exposure’. Rituals, passwords, oaths, handshakes and symbolic imagery pique the curiosity of the uninitiated, or ‘cowans’ in Mason-speak ...

Damnable Deficient

Colin Kidd: The American Revolution, 17 November 2005

1776: America and Britain at War 
by David McCullough.
Allen Lane, 386 pp., £25, June 2005, 0 7139 9863 6
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... Their resolve fortified by the sturdy civic virtue of Cato and Brutus, and their idea of republican self-government indebted to Greco-Roman models, the founders of American independence deferred to the authority of the ancients, even as they embarked on a revolutionary political experiment. George Washington, for example, identified himself with Cato of Utica, whom the 18th-century British knew best through the medium of Addison’s popular tragedy Cato (1713 ...

Writing the History of Middle Earth

Colin Kidd: Edward Gibbon, 6 July 2000

Barbarism and Religion Vol 1: The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 1737-64 
by J.G.A. Pocock.
Cambridge, 339 pp., £55, October 1999, 0 521 77921 9
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Barbarism and Religion Vol 2: Narratives of Civil Government 
by J.G.A. Pocock.
Cambridge, 422 pp., £55, October 1999, 0 521 77921 9
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... Tall, silver-haired and bearded, with a mesmerising voice and beguiling manner of delivery, John Pocock has long struck me as the Gandalf of the historical profession. The range, altitude and stylistic sophistication of his writing seem almost other-worldly, though legend has it that his distinctive accent derives from a small community of Channel Islanders in New Zealand ...

Endless Uncertainty

Colin Kidd: Adam Smith’s Legacy, 19 July 2001

Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet and the Enlightenment 
by Emma Rothschild.
Harvard, 366 pp., £30.95, June 2001, 0 674 00489 2
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... Among the intellectual figures who have shaped the modern world Adam Smith stands out as someone who doesn’t frighten the laity, might be positively welcomed indeed by middle England. Should the neighbours catch a glimpse of the Wealth of Nations sitting on the bookshelf alongside Thatcher’s memoirs or the latest Delia Smith, there’s no risk of ostracism ...

A British Bundesrat?

Colin Kidd: Scotland and the Constitution, 17 April 2014

... Whatever​ the outcome of the independence referendum in Scotland this September, it will be followed by an extensive inquest into the workings of the British constitution. In some quarters inquiries have already started. The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee of the House of Commons issued a report in March last year titled Do We Need a Constitutional Convention for the UK? The Liberal Democrats’ Home Rule and Community Rule Commission has advocated ‘home rule all round’ in a new federal union ...

Double Doctrine

Colin Kidd: The Enlightenment, 5 December 2013

The Enlightenment and Why It Still Matters 
by Anthony Pagden.
Oxford, 436 pp., £20, May 2013, 978 0 19 966093 3
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... In the course of 15 years teaching history at the University of Glasgow, with between a hundred and fifty and two hundred students in my classes, I inevitably received a few complaints. Some have stuck in the memory. ‘He made us read a whole book by Hume.’ Or the student in a class on 19th-century intellectual history who grumbled about having to read books from the anthropology and biology sections of the library; surely that wasn’t part of a history degree? A tiny minority of students found fault with revisionist analysis which punctured reassuring prejudices, not least where contextualisation seemed to verge on extenuation ...

Diary

Colin Kidd: After the Referendum, 18 February 2016

... Pets​ aren’t just for Christmas, as the animal charities remind us, they are for life. A bit of responsible foresight is required, to see beyond the delight the family gets from cuddling the puppy on Christmas morning to the wet evenings when somebody needs to put on an anorak and take the dog for a walk. Scottish independence, similarly, is for life ...

Europe, what Europe?

Colin Kidd: J.G.A. Pocock, 6 November 2008

The Discovery of Islands: Essays in British History 
by J.G.A. Pocock.
Cambridge, 344 pp., £18.99, September 2005, 9780521616454
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Barbarism and Religion. Vol. III: The First Decline and Fall 
by J.G.A. Pocock.
Cambridge, 527 pp., £19.99, October 2005, 0 521 67233 3
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Barbarism and Religion. Vol. IV: Barbarians, Savages and Empires 
by J.G.A. Pocock.
Cambridge, 372 pp., £17.99, February 2008, 978 0 521 72101 1
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... Few areas of the humanities have undergone such a remarkable transformation over the past half-century as the history of political thought. Students were once introduced to it by way of its giants – the likes of Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Marx. Rather than a living discussion among contemporaries, between great thinkers and lesser fry, political thought was reckoned to be a more elevated – if stilted – affair, of giant responding unto giant, sometimes across centuries of silence ...

A Matter of Caste

Colin Kidd: Alexis de Tocqueville, 22 March 2007

Alexis de Tocqueville: Prophet of Democracy in the Age of Revolution 
by Hugh Brogan.
Profile, 724 pp., £30, December 2006, 1 86197 509 0
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... Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59) presents several faces to the modern world. His measured acceptance of the new forces of democracy unleashed by the American and French Revolutions made him an icon of moderate centrist liberalism. However, he has also had his champions on the right, at least among sophisticated Cold Warriors determined to maintain connections with a broader liberal tradition, including, in his native France, Raymond Aron and Jean-François Revel, for whom Tocqueville’s oeuvre was the sole haven of grace and trust within a canon of modern political philosophy whose prescriptions – from right as much as left – seemed to lead to mass extermination or indoctrination ...

It was worse in 1931

Colin Kidd: Clement Attlee, 17 November 2016

Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee 
by John Bew.
Riverrun, 668 pp., £30, September 2016, 978 1 78087 989 5
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... It is hard​ to imagine Clement Attlee, the most effective champion of ordinary working people in Labour’s history, thriving in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Not only was he a conventional public school product – enormously proud of his Haileybury connection – and an unquestioning British patriot of military mien and experience, he had very limited patience for leftist fads and the highbrows who prattled on about them ...

You Know Who You Are

Colin Kidd: About Last Year, 25 January 2018

Fall Out: A Year Of Political Mayhem 
by Tim Shipman.
William Collins, 559 pp., £25, November 2017, 978 0 00 826438 3
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... Brexit​ has added a new gesture to the repertoire of political fibbing and evasion: the shrug. Former Remainer politicians, well aware that Brexit risks economic catastrophe, absolve themselves of responsibility for doing the right thing with a casual shrug and a reference to the unassailable popular will enshrined in the referendum result. Despite the recent Conservative rebellion aimed at ensuring parliamentary ratification of a final Brexit outcome, no sitting Tory apart from Ken Clarke, who was the sole Tory rebel in the Article 50 vote, has been prepared to reject the Brexiteers’ flat-earth vision outright ...

Upside Down, Inside Out

Colin Kidd: The 1975 Referendum, 25 October 2018

Yes to Europe! The 1975 Referendum and Seventies Britain 
by Robert Saunders.
Cambridge, 509 pp., £24.99, March 2018, 978 1 108 42535 3
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... In​ the 2014 independence referendum in Scotland, prudence, self-interest and the ministrations of Project Fear kept the Scottish electorate from succumbing to the over-optimistic prospectus presented by the SNP. Surely, David Cameron reckoned, the same formula would work again a mere two years later in the UK-wide Brexit referendum. After all, there was also the reassuring story of the UK’s first Euro-referendum in 1975 ...

New Unions for Old

Colin Kidd, 4 March 2021

The Case for Scottish Independence: A History of Nationalist Thought in Modern Scotland 
by Ben Jackson.
Cambridge, 210 pp., £18.99, September 2020, 978 1 108 79318 6
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Standing up for Scotland: Nationalist Unionism and Scottish Party Politics, 1884-2014 
by David Torrance.
Edinburgh, 258 pp., £80, May 2020, 978 1 4744 4781 2
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... If​ Scots sometimes seem unduly exasperated with Brexiter nationalism, it isn’t just because they voted heavily against Brexit. Nor, in the case of Scottish unionists, is it simply a consequence of a well-founded anxiety that our reckless departure from the EU threatens to break up the United Kingdom. Rather, it comes from the perception that England’s nationalism is crude, unreflective and cartoonish by comparison with the arguments put forward for Scottish independence ...

With a Titter of Wit

Colin Kidd: Wholly Ulsterised, 6 May 2021

Deniable Contact: Back-Channel Negotiation in Northern Ireland 
by Niall Ó Dochartaigh.
Oxford, 306 pp., £75, March, 978 0 19 289476 2
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... As a child​ in the 1970s I lived only a hundred miles from Belfast; but for people in Ayr (in south-west Scotland), Northern Ireland and its Troubles might as well have been Mars. Who would want to go there? Nobody we knew. But there was plenty of traffic the other way. Northern Ireland’s Protestants would come across the water to holiday on the Ayrshire coast ...

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