A new ConHome monthly series offering a very short introduction to some of those who are making or who have made an intellectual contribution to conservatism.
1) Robert Tombs
Education: Paris (Sorbonne) and Cambridge.
- Professor Emeritus of French History, Cambridge
- Co-editor, Briefings for Britain
- The English and their History
- This Sovereign Isle
When Robert Tombs first strayed from his academic specialisation in French history with The English and their History, it was extremely well reviewed – the Guardian described it as “a work of supreme intelligence”. Yet when he turned his historical training to making a case for Brexit in This Sovereign Isle, he was accused by one reviewer of “jettisoning in the process almost everything that makes him such a good historical writer and teacher in his normal professional life”.
So it goes when somebody breaks ranks. Tombs’ account of his journey from voting in favour of EEC membership in 1975 to backing Leave in 2016 draws heavily on his training as a historian. Described as “a chronicle of national disillusionment”, the book rests on Tombs’ believe in the fundamental importance of nation-states.
He criticises the EU, for example, for giving wealthy citizens a new, transnational identity that allows them to neglect their obligations to their worse-off fellow citizens. Echoing the language of Peter Mair, who wrote on this phenomenon from the left, he writes that it “created a political void between citizens and those who govern them”.
Tombs also attacks the tendency of some Remainers to lapse into crude gigantism (“Where would you choose to face a pandemic: Singapore or China? Where would you put your life savings: Switzerland or the eurozone?”) and writes warmly of the Anglosphere as an alternative international partnership for Britain.
In fact, his case for it perhaps best encapsulates his outlook: “Sentiment aside, language, similarity of legal systems and robust attachment to democracy create strong connections.” Factors such as these, more than cold economic logic or brute geography (despite the title) determine the best courses for nations and states.
Tombs has been one of the highest-profile academic supporters of Brexit, and together with his colleagues at Briefings for Britain continue to try and provide “well researched expert briefings on key issues”.
Where to start?
Given its more explicitly political character and much shorter length, almost certainly This Sovereign Isle.