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Tag Archives: Jewish Intellectuals






“Ernest Gellner was a great twentieth-century intellectual, and John Hall’s fine biography conveys a vivid sense of the man and of the extraordinary range of his ideas, while commenting with great intelligence upon them. A must read.” Michael Mann, Professor of Sociology, UCLA

“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.” WALL STREET JOURNAL


Ernest Gellner (1925–95) was a multilingual polymath and a public intellectual who set the agenda in the study of nationalism and the sociology of Islam. Having grown up in Paris, Prague , and England , he was one of the last great Jewish thinkers from Central Europe to experience directly the impact of the Holocaust.

His intellectual trajectory differed from that of similar thinkers, both in producing a highly integrated philosophy of modernity and in combining a respect for nationalism with an appreciation of the power of modern science.

Gellner was a fierce opponent, in private as well as in public, of such contemporaries as Michael Oakeshott, Isaiah Berlin , Charles Taylor, Noam Chomsky and Edward Said. As this definitive biography shows, he was passionate in the defence of reason against every form of relativism – a battle that his intellectual inheritors continue to this day.



“This is a fascinating biography of one of the seminal and most interesting thinkers of the later twentieth century … John Hall has done a great deal to make clear the complex background and underlying motives of this remarkable man and thinker.” Charles Taylor, Professor Emeritus at McGill University in Montreal

Praise for Ernest Gellner:

“Gellner’s world is austere. But therein lies its attraction. Not much real comfort for our woes is on offer; the consolations peddled in the market are indeed worthless. What Gellner offered was something more mature and demanding: cold intellectual honesty.” John A. Hall

“A university don and intellectual of the first rank, Mr Gellner understood the needs of the press. He loved public debate and infuriated less nimble opponents with cutting wit and memorable epigrams. He poured out articles and books – more than twenty by one count – routinely apologising: ‘I’ve written another; I just couldn’t help it.’“ THE ECONOMIST

“As a philosopher Ernest Gellner was a maverick and a gadfly. Yet neither of these quite captures the uniqueness of his subversiveness.” Steven Lukes, Professor of Sociology, New York University

“Ernest Gellner was a scholar in the classic mould, whose intellect and influence could not be confined within national boundaries or within the bounds of any one academic discipline.” Edward Mortimer, Foreign Affairs Editor of the FINANCIAL TIMES

“Although known primarily as a philosopher, Gellner had a vertiginous perspective on life. He expanded his interests into the fields of anthropology and social and political theory, exposing with a dazzling and at times controversial lucidity the patterns by which modern society has been shaped.” TIMES

“David Glass, the sociologist, once said “with a touch of irritation”, that he wasn’t sure whether the next revolution would come from the right or from the left; but he was quite sure that, wherever it came from, the first person to be shot would be Ernest Gellner.” The GUARDIAN, obituary of Ernest Geller.


JOHN A. HALL is the James McGill Professor of Comparative Historical Sociology at McGill University in Montreal . His previous books include Powers and Liberties; Liberalism; Coercion and Consent; Intern ational Orders; and (with Charles Lindholm) Is American Breaking Apart? He taught at the Central European University in the early 1990s, when Gellner had returned to Prague, and gained an appreciation at that time of his background in Central Europe .


ISBN: 978 1 84467 602 6 / $49.95 / £29.99 / CAN$62.51 / Hardback / 400 Pages


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