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Lewis Bernstein Namier - Biography

Sir Lewis Bernstein Namier (27 June 1888 – 19 August 1960) was an English historian. He was born Ludwik Niemirowski in Wola Okrzejska in what was then part of the Russian Empire and is today in Poland.



Namier's family were secular-minded Jewish gentry. His father, with whom young Lewis often quarreled, idolized Austria-Hungary. By contrast, Namier throughout his life detested the Dual Monarchy. He was educated at the Universities of Lviv in Austrian Galicia (now in Ukraine), 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 1906 and became a British subject in 1913. During World War I, 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. Namier was seen as one of the biggest enemies of the newly independent Polish state in the British political environment. He changed 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".

After leaving government service, Namier taught at Balliol College (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 Palestine Mandate) and from 1933 was engaged in efforts on behalf of Jewish refugees from Germany.

He is best known for his work on the Parliament of Great Britain and its composition in the latter part of the 18th century, which by its very detailed study of individuals 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 organized 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 analyzing 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 such as Sir Herbert Butterfield to accuse him of "taking ideas out of history". 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. 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. Bonnet denied that such an offer had been made, which led Namier to accuse Bonnet of seeking to falsify the record. 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". Namier was horrified by the Holocaust and his writings on German history have been criticized for Germanophobia. 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." Like the work of his friend Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, Namier's diplomatic histories are generally poorly regarded by historians because Namier was content to condemn appeasement without seeking to explain the reasons for it.

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.




  • The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III, 1929.
  • England in The Age of the American Revolution, 1930.
  • Skyscrapers and other Essays, 1931. Contains his essays on Austrian Galicia.
  • In the Margin of History, 1939.
  • Conflicts: Studies in Contemporary History, 1942.
  • 1848: The Revolution of the Intellectuals, 1944.
  • Facing East: essays on Germany, the Balkans and Russia in the twentieth century, 1947.
  • Diplomatic prelude, 1938–1939, 1948.
  • Europe in Decay: A Study in Disintegration, 1936–40, 1950.
  • Avenues of History, 1952.
  • In the Nazi era, 1952.
  • Basic Factors in Nineteenth-Century European History, 1953.
  • Monarchy and the party system: the Romanes Lecture delivered in the Sheldonian Theatre 15 May 1952, 1952.
  • Personalities and powers, 1955.
  • Vanished Supremacies; essays on European history, 1812–1918, 1958.
  • Crossroads of Power: essays on eighteenth-century England, 1962.
  • The House of Commons, 1754–1790, 1966, 1964, edited by John Brooke & Sir Lewis Namier.
  • Burke, Peter "Namier, (Sir) Lewis Bernstein" page 207 from Great Historians of the Modern Age edited by Lucian Boia, Westport, C.T.: Greenwood Press, 1991.
  • Colley, Linda Lewis Namier New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.
  • 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

See also

John Brooke

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