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New Left Review 71, September-October 2011

Steven Lukes


Ernest Gellner died in Prague, the city of his childhood, in 1995, leaving a colossal intellectual legacy: some twenty books, two of them posthumous; a mass of articles, scholarly or journalistic, many of them provocative and polemical; all displaying his distinctive, scintillating intelligence. Gellner’s range across topics and disciplines was remarkable and yet his thought displays considerable unity. [1] John A. Hall, Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography, Verso: London and New York 2010, £29.99, hardback 400 pp, 978 1 84467 602 6 Its foundations are most fully laid out in the second of the posthumous works, Language and Solitude: Wittgenstein, Malinowski and the Habsburg Dilemma (1998). Reconstructed from manuscripts by his son David, this is a work of synthesis: the closest Gellner came to an intellectual autobiography. It brings together philosophy, anthropology, and an interpretation of the Central European context of his upbringing, by juxtaposing the ideas of his lifelong bête noire, Wittgenstein, with those of Malinowski, a figure whom Gellner greatly admired, and whose work helped inspire his own turn from philosophy to anthropology.

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