Nairn's England and the progressive dilemma: reappraising Tom Nairn on English nationalism

Ben Wellings, Michael Kenny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


In British political and intellectual circles, there is a longstanding disagreement between those envisaging an opportunity for the development of a radical English patriotism and those resistant to the idea of a progressive English imaginary. Despite their antithetical quality, both divergent frameworks were explored in the work of Scottish nationalist and New Left intellectual Tom Nairn, long before mainstream social science preoccupied itself with the ‘English Question’. Notwithstanding his later espousal of Englishness as a contribution to democratic renewal, Nairn's earlier notion of an inherently regressive nationalism remains the dominant frame for many intellectuals and politicians confronted by the challenges of increasingly politicised English identities. Whilst he has been only one of a number of thinkers and writers who have informed and contested political thinking on this question in the UK, the influence of his early work upon liberal and left circles has been underestimated, an oversight that this article addresses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)847-865
Number of pages19
JournalNations and Nationalism
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Brexit
  • England
  • English nationalism
  • nationhood
  • progressives
  • Tom Nairn

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