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Simile World

Denis Feeney: Virgil’s Progress, 4 January 2007

Virgil: Georgics 
translated by Peter Fallon, with notes by Elaine Fantham.
Oxford, 109 pp., £7.99, July 2006, 0 19 280679 3
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Virgil: The Aeneid 
translated by Robert Fagles.
Penguin, 486 pp., £25, November 2006, 0 7139 9968 3
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... away of the usual equation of the agricultural with the natural life. A telling quotation from Ernest Gellner illustrates how instinctive this equation can still be: ‘Agrarian man can be compared with a natural species which can survive in the natural environment. Industrial man can be compared with an artificially produced or bred species which can ...

English Individualism Revisited

Alan Ryan, 21 January 1988

The Culture of Capitalism 
by Alan Macfarlane.
Blackwell, 254 pp., £19.50, August 1987, 0 631 13626 6
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... other hand, Paul Hyams hailed it as a blast of fresh air and the sort of book we need more of, and Ernest Gellner was equally enthusiastic about its intellectual daring. I thought it was a splendid piece of work: a small book with large implications. Moreover, in its main claims it was clearly right, and none of its critics have in the least disturbed its ...

Onward Muslim Soldiers

Malise Ruthven, 1 October 1981

Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey 
by V.S. Naipaul.
Deutsch, 399 pp., £7.95, September 1981, 0 233 97416 4
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Muslim Society 
by Ernest Gellner.
Cambridge, 267 pp., £18.50, June 1981, 0 521 22160 9
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... attach themselves to non-kinship groups, such as revolutionary brotherhoods. Islam, as Professor Gellner points out in this collection of his writings, is unique among world religions in ‘maintaining its pre-industrial faith in the modern world’: a feature which, when it combines with political aspirations, makes a potent agent of political mobilisation ...


Geoffrey Hawthorn, 3 December 1992

English Questions 
by Perry Anderson.
Verso, 370 pp., £39.95, May 1992, 0 86091 375 9
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A Zone of Engagement 
by Perry Anderson.
Verso, 384 pp., £39.95, May 1992, 0 86091 377 5
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... on Michael Mann, Norberto Bobbio, Roberto Unger, W.G. Runciman. Andreas Hillgruber, Max Weber, Ernest Gellner, Carlo Ginzburg, Isaiah Berlin, Fernand Braudel and Francis Fukuyama. More recently (LRB, 24 September and 22 October), he has extended himself to Michael Oakeshott and others of Oakeshott’s generation on ‘the intransigent right’, and to ...

Mrs Thatcher’s Spengler

Tom Nairn, 24 January 1980

An Unfinished History of the World 
by Hugh Thomas.
Hamish Hamilton, 700 pp., £12.50, November 1980, 0 241 10282 0
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... of European empire, had it not been checked and turned back, was to transform the globe (as Ernest Gellner put it in a memorable phrase) into a series of South Africas, or even into one unified system of forced underdevelopment and apartheid. Euro-centrism is failure to perceive the limits and contradictions of an Enlightened culture that issued in ...

Where’s the omelette?

Tom Nairn: Patrick Wright, 23 October 2008

Iron Curtain: From Stage to Cold War 
by Patrick Wright.
Oxford, 488 pp., £18.99, October 2007, 978 0 19 923150 8
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... putting forward quite similar arguments about the Arab world and Muslim society.* As Ernest Gellner maintained nearly thirty years ago in Muslim Society, extreme Islamicism can be at bottom an expression of panic at internal changes, based on dread of over-hasty threats to a rigidly paternalist social structure ...

In the Company of Confreres

Terry Eagleton: ‘Modern British Fiction’, 12 December 2002

On Modern British Fiction 
edited by Zachary Leader.
Oxford, 328 pp., £14.99, October 2002, 0 19 924932 6
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... witty, self-ironising style has been the quickest route for expatriates like Wilde, Wittgenstein, Ernest Gellner, Isaiah Berlin or Tom Stoppard to become English. In doing so, they compensate for their outsider status by becoming honorary aristocrats, superior to the very middle classes who have marginalised them. In modern England, the patrician is an ...

From the Outer Edge

Rory Scothorne: ‘Painting Nationalism Red’, 6 December 2018

Tom Nairn: ‘Painting Nationalism Red’? 
by Neal Ascherson.
Democratic Left Scotland, 27 pp., £4, February 2018
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... about Oxford’s fad for linguistic philosophy was shared by another of Nairn’s future mentors, Ernest Gellner, whose polemic Words and Things drew a connection between the insular preoccupations of the Oxford faculty and their cosy college life. Nairn was more interested in the Continental vigour of the ‘emperor of aesthetics’, Benedetto ...

History’s Postman

Tom Nairn: The Jewishness of Karl Marx, 26 January 2006

Karl Marx ou l’esprit du monde 
by Jacques Attali.
Fayard, 549 pp., €23, May 2005, 2 213 62491 7
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... sentiments nor the consequences – the background to Marxism’s genesis – were accidental, as Ernest Gellner, a later thinker from another border country, would put it in Nations and Nationalism (1983). They were not the result of history delivering the redemption message to ‘the wrong address’ – to nation instead of class. ‘Marxists ...

Demonising Nationalism

Tom Nairn, 25 February 1993

... a more substantial framework of development. This failure was remedied by the important work of Ernest Gellner, Anthony Smith and others from the Sixties to the Eighties. They showed, to my mind conclusively, that nationalism was in separable from the deeper processes of industrialisation and socio-economic modernity. Far from being an irrational ...

Make for the Boondocks

Tom Nairn: Hardt and Negri, 5 May 2005

by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri.
Hamish Hamilton, 426 pp., £20, January 2005, 0 241 14240 7
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... This disappointingly bland aperçu is supported by a footnote referring readers not to Barth, Gellner or Geertz, and certainly not to such historical revisions as Hugh Brody’s The Other Side of Eden (2001), or Stephen Oppenheimer’s Out of Eden (2003), let alone to such disturbing stuff as Chris Knight’s Blood Relations (1995), or remarkable surveys ...

Frameworks of Comparison

Benedict Anderson, 21 January 2016

... ethnic groups. On the liberal left was the philosopher, sociologist and anthropologist Ernest Gellner, a Czech Jew brought up in Prague, who made his way to London just after the end of the war. A sturdy Enlightenment liberal, he pioneered the so-called constructivist view of nationalism, arguing that it was strictly a product of ...

Wanting to Be Special

Tom Nairn, 21 March 1996

The Race Gallery: The Return of Racial Science 
by Marek Kohn.
Cape, 311 pp., £17.99, September 1995, 9780224039581
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... and multicultural display. I think this is what the famous row between Edward Said and the late Ernest Gellner was really about. Admittedly. Kohn’s survey also shows clearly how far social science is from being able to tell any such story. For example, one fundamental element of it will be the Human Genome Project. A 1994 document from this ...


W.G. Runciman: You had better look out, 10 December 1998

... lurches incoherently from one crisis to another, reminds me of the last conversation I had with Ernest Gellner before his untimely death. I may not believe that sociology is or could ever be a predictive science, but Ernest has been proved spot on in what he said to me about Eastern Europe. The Czechs and Poles, he ...

Wedded to the Absolute

Ferdinand Mount: Enoch Powell, 26 September 2019

Enoch Powell: Politics and Ideas in Modern Britain 
by Paul Corthorn.
Oxford, 233 pp., £20, August 2019, 978 0 19 874714 7
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... expressed with Powell’s intensity tends to repel historians, or at any rate to unnerve them. Ernest Gellner, for example, says he is ‘allergic to the history of ideas approach, because nationalism as an elaborated intellectual theory is neither widely endorsed, not of high quality, nor of any historic importance’. He argues in Nations and ...

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