Event Date: 8 May 2017
Birkbeck University of London
43 Gordon Square
London WC1H 0PD
Professor Michael Kenny (QMUL) – E.P. Thompson – Last of the English Radicals?
The English radical lineage has been repeatedly invoked on the British left in recent years: as an antidote to the technocratic character of social democratic thought and rigidity of socialist orthodoxy; and for its intimate relationship with English traditions at a point when ‘Englishness’ appears resurgent. Edward Thompson, one of Britain’s leading public historians, best known intellectuals and leading figure in the peace movement during the 1980s, is often seen as the last exemplar of this tradition. This lecture takes a critical look at this characterisation. It also reappraises standard dismissals of Thompson’s patriotism, asking what kind of Englishness was at stake in the work of the author of The Making of the English Working Class. It explores the shifting ways in which he wrote – as historian, intellectual contrarian and romantic critic — about the English radical tradition, and compares Thompson’s raucous, eclectic and argumentative conception of this lineage with latter-day progressive thinking. The lecture finishes by asking who in British politics can lay claim to the title deeds of Thompson’s brand of English radicalism.
Michael Kenny is a Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London. He has written widely on British political thought and politics, and is the author of The Politics of English Nationhood (2014), The Politics of Identity (2004) and author of the Preface to the Penguin Modern Classics edition of E.P.Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class (2013). He is currently writing a book, with Nick Pearce, on The Anglosphere in British Politics, which will be published by Polity Press.
Chair and Introduction by Dr Jason Edwards (Birkbeck).