Lewis Bernstein Namier

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Namier in 1915

Sir Lewis Bernstein Namier (UK /ˈnmɪər/;[1] 27 June 1888 – 19 August 1960) was a British historian. His best-known works were The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III (1929), England in the Age of the American Revolution (1930) and the History of Parliament series (begun 1940) he edited later in his life with John Brooke.


Namier was born Ludwik Niemirowski in Wola Okrzejska in what was then part of Congress Poland and is now in Poland. His family were secular-minded Jewish gentry. His father, with whom young Lewis often quarreled, idolized the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By contrast, Namier throughout his life detested the Dual Monarchy. He was educated at the University of Lviv in Austrian Galicia (now in Ukraine), the University of Lausanne, and the London School of Economics. At Lausanne, Namier heard Vilfredo Pareto lecture, and Pareto's ideas about elites would have a great influence on his thinking.

Namier emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1907,[2] studied at Balliol College, Oxford, from 1908,[3] and became a British subject in 1913, whereupon he anglicised his name.[4] During the First World War, he fought as a private with the 20th Royal Fusiliers in 1914–15 but was discharged owing to poor eyesight. He then held positions with the Propaganda Department (1915–17), the Department of Information (1917–18) and finally with the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office (1918–20). At the Versailles Peace Conference of 1919, Namier served as part of the British delegation. His area of responsibility was Poland, and his relations with the chief Polish delegate, Roman Dmowski, were antagonistic owing to Dmowski's anti-Semitism and Namier's anti-Polonism. Namier was seen as one of the biggest enemies of the newly independent Polish state in the British political environment and in the Polish territories. He falsified the earlier proposed Curzon line by detaching the city of Lwów from Poland with a version called Curzon Line "A". It was sent to Soviet diplomatic representatives for acceptance. The earlier compromised version of Curzon line which was debated at the Spa Conference was renamed Curzon Line "B".[5]

After leaving government service, Namier taught at Balliol (1920–21) before going into business. Later Namier, who was a long-time Zionist, worked as political secretary for the Jewish Agency in Palestine (1929–31). For a time he was a close friend and associate of Chaim Weizmann, but Weizmann later severed relations with Namier when the latter converted to Anglicanism to marry his second wife.

Namier served as professor at the University of Manchester from 1931 until his retirement in 1953, having been loudly cheered by his students at the conclusion of his last lecture there on European History. Namier remained active in various Zionist groups (in particular, lobbying the British government to allow the creation of what he called a Jewish Fighting Force in the Mandate of Palestine) and from 1933 was engaged in efforts on behalf of Jewish refugees from Germany.

History-writing is not a visit of condolence.[6]

—Lewis Namier

He was married twice and knighted in 1952. Also, in 1952, Namier was given the honour of delivering the Romanes Lecture, on which subject Namier chose Monarchy and the Party System. Although Namier was well known for his conservative political views, his principal protégé was the left-wing historian A. J. P. Taylor.


Namier is best known for his work on the Parliament of Great Britain, in particular English politics in the 1760s.[7] His principal conclusion of that decade was that there was no risk of an authoritarian disposal of British parliamentarism. By way of its very detailed study of individuals, this course of study caused substantial revision to accounts based on a party system. Namier's best-known works were The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III, England in the Age of the American Revolution and the History of Parliament series he edited later in his life with John Brooke.

Namier used prosopography or collective biography of every Member of Parliament (MP) and peer who sat in the British Parliament in the latter 18th century to reveal that local interests, not national ones, often determined how parliamentarians voted. Namier argued very strongly that, far from being tightly organised groups, both the Tories and Whigs were collections of ever-shifting and fluid small groups whose stances altered on an issue-by-issue basis. Namier felt that prosopographical methods were the best for analysing small groups like the House of Commons, but was opposed to the application of prosopography to larger groups. At the time of its publication in 1929, The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III caused a historiographical revolution in understanding the 18th century.

In addition, Namier used other sources such as wills and tax records to reveal the interests of the MPs. In his time, Namier's methods were innovative and quite controversial. Namier's obsession with collecting facts such as club membership of various MPs and then attempting to co-relate them to voting patterns led his critics to accuse him of "taking ideas out of history".[8] Namier was well known for his dislike in ideas and people who believed in them, and made little secret of his belief that the best form of government was that of a grubby self-interested elite.

A friend, admirer and patient of Sigmund Freud, Namier was an early pioneer in psychohistory. He also wrote on modern European history, especially diplomatic history and his later books Europe in Decay, In the Nazi Era and Diplomatic Prelude unsparingly condemned the Third Reich and appeasement. In the 1930s, Namier had been active in the anti-appeasement movement and together with his protégé A. J. P. Taylor spoke out against the Munich Agreement at several rallies in 1938. In the early 1950s, Namier had a celebrated debate on the pages of the Times Literary Supplement with the former French foreign minister Georges Bonnet.[9] At issue was the question whether Bonnet had, as Namier charged, snubbed an offer by the Polish foreign minister Colonel Józef Beck in May 1938 to have Poland come to the aid of Czechoslovakia in the event of a German attack.[9] Bonnet denied that such an offer had been made, which led Namier to accuse Bonnet of seeking to falsify the record.[9] Namier concluded the debate in 1953 with words "The Polish offer, for what it was worth, was first torpedoed by Bonnet the statesmen, and next obliterated by Bonnet the historian".[10] Namier was horrified by the Holocaust and his writings on German history have been criticised for Germanophobia.[11] His hatred of Germany was legendary and Namier himself wrote in 1942, that "it did not require either 1914, or 1933, or 1939 to teach me the truth about the Germans. Long before the last war I considered them a deadly menace to Europe and the civilisation."[12] Like the work of his friend Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, Namier's diplomatic histories are generally poorly regarded by modern historians because he was content to condemn appeasement without seeking to explain the reasons for it.


  • The House of Commons, 1754–1790 (3 vols.), 1966, 1964, edited by John Brooke & Sir Lewis Namier.[13]
  • Crossroads of Power: Essays on Eighteenth-Century England, 1962.[14]
  • Vanished Supremacies: Essays on European History, 1812–1918, 1958.[15]
  • Personalities and Powers, 1955.[16]
  • Basic Factors in Nineteenth-Century European History, 1953.[17]
  • Monarchy and the Party System: The Romanes Lecture Delivered in the Sheldonian Theatre 15 May 1952, 1952.[18]
  • In the Nazi Era, 1952.[19]
  • Avenues of History, 1952.
  • Europe in Decay: A Study in Disintegration, 1936–1940, 1950.[20]
  • Diplomatic Prelude, 1938–1939, 1948.[21]
  • Facing East: Essays on Germany, the Balkans and Russia in the Twentieth Century, 1947.[22]
  • 1848: The Revolution of the Intellectuals, 1944.[23]
  • Conflicts: Studies in Contemporary History, 1942.[24]
  • In the Margin of History, 1939.[25]
  • Skyscrapers and other Essays, 1931.[26] Contains his essays on Austrian Galicia.
  • England in the Age of the American Revolution, 1930.[27]
  • The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III, 1929.[28]




Adamthwaite, Anthony (1977). France and the Coming of the Second World War. London: Frank Cass. 
Cairns, John C. (1974). "Sir Lewis Namier and the History of Europe". Historical Reflections 1 (1): 3–35. JSTOR 41298644. 
Colley, Linda (1989). Namier. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-297-79508-7. 
Crozier, Andrew J. (1997). The Causes of the Second World War. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 978-0-631-17128-7. 
Davies, Norman (1971). "Lloyd George and Poland, 1919–20". Journal of Contemporary History 6 (3): 132–154. doi:10.1177/002200947100600309. JSTOR 259884. 
Mansfield, Harvey C. (1962). "Sir Lewis Namier Considered". Journal of British Studies 2 (1): 28–55. doi:10.1086/385453. JSTOR 175306. 
Sharp, Samuel L. (1953). Poland: White Eagle on a Red Field. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 
Wrigley, Chris (2006). A. J. P. Taylor, Radical Historian of Europe. London: I.B.Tauris. ISBN 978-1-860-64286-9. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Burke, Peter "Namier, (Sir) Lewis Bernstein" page 207 from Great Historians of the Modern Age edited by Lucian Boia, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991.
  • James, Clive. Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts (2007) online excerpt
  • Namier, Julia Lewis Namier: A biography, London: Oxford University Press, 1971.
  • Pares, Richard & Taylor, A.J.P. (editors) Essays Presented to Sir Lewis Namier, London: Macmillan Press, 1956.
  • Price, Jacob "Party, Purpose, and Pattern: Sir Lewis Namier and His Critics" pages 71–93 from Journal of British Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1 November 1961.
  • Rose, Norman Lewis Namier & Zionism, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.

External links[edit]