(p. W8) ‘I am sorry, I have written another,” Ernest Gellner used to say in his later years before publishing a new book. “I just couldn’t help it.” Not even his death in 1995 stopped the flow. The last of his posthumous works, “Language and Solitude,” appeared in the late 1990s. Now Gellner has been brought back to life–alongside his combative ideas and his maverick approach to intellectual combat–in a sympathetic but by no means reverential biography by his former pupil John A. Hall.
. . .
Many of the problems that Gellner addressed during his long intellectual career–such as the roots of nationalism and the role of contemporary Islam–are obviously of direct relevance today. But the most pertinent part of his legacy lies in his fearless endorsement of Western modernity at a time when it was becoming increasingly embattled in the academy and elsewhere.
As Mr. Hall demonstrates, Gellner believed that there really was a clash between “liberty and pluralism,” on the one hand, and “authoritarianism and oppressiveness” on the other. In a passionate riposte to Noam Chomsky, who had accused him of ignoring Western crimes, Gellner charged that his critic had “obscured” the fact that “the survival of freedom and accountable, limited government is an enormously important value even when some of its defenders are occasionally tarnished.”
This was the authentic voice of Ernest Gellner: honest, cool and reasonable. Mr. Hall is to be congratulated for reminding us of how much we miss it today.
For the full review, see:
BRENDAN SIMMS. “A Combatant in the Battle of Ideas; A defender of the West when it was most embattled, a defender of reason at a time of dangerous irrationality.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., JULY 23, 2010): W8.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 30 (sic), 2010.)
(Note: ellipsis added.)
The book under review, is:
Hall, John A. Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography. London, UK: Verso, 2010.
Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited above.