Maurice Cowling

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Maurice John Cowling (6 September 1926 - 24 August 2005) was a Conservative historian based at Peterhouse, Cambridge. [1]

Peter Oborne describes Cowling as an inspirational teacher of the Namierite school of history.

However, his particular scholarly contribution was to take Namier's pessimism about human nature, scepticism about political ideas, and dogmatic insistence that public events could only be explained by reference to narrow personal interest, to their ultimate conclusion. His most important book, The Impact of Hitler, argued in spellbinding detail that the British reaction to the rise of fascism in the 1930s could only be understood in terms of squalid calculations of partisan advantage.[2]

William Rees-Mogg, who visited Cowling at Peterhouse in the late 1970s, offers a similar assessment:

His great gift was to bring political ideas to life, to explain them so that good second-class students of Peterhouse, let alone the high-flyers, could see them as vivid and significant. Yet his central doctrine was that political philosophies are mere rhetoric, designed to advance the politician or his party towards power. He was a brilliant exponent of political philosophies, but he did not believe that they were real.[3]

Oborne cites disgraced Labour spindoctor Damian McBride, who studied under Cowling at Peterhouse, as an example of the historian's political influence:

Cowling, who enjoyed disturbingly close connections to Tory central office, has been the mentor of a variety of other political figures. Among them are John Major's defence secretary Michael Portillo, the rising Tory star Michael Gove, and Mike Ellam, the current Downing Street press spokesman. It is Brown's tragedy that he has become a prime minister on the Namierite model.[4]




  1. Maurice Cowling, The Times, 26 August 2005.
  2. Peter Oborne, The Tories must avoid the cult of the celebrity prime minister, The Observer, 19 April 2009.
  3. William Rees-Mogg, Ideas are the decisive force, The Times, 29, August 2005.
  4. Peter Oborne, The Tories must avoid the cult of the celebrity prime minister, The Observer, 19 April 2009.