It is a great honour to have elicited comments from such a distinguished assembly of scholars and thinkers, and I feel greatly moved by this.footnote1 The papers range over a large number of topics and more than one of them leaves me feeling out of my depth, conceptually or in terms of scholarship. To reply to each of them in turn would be a very major undertaking, and though it would no doubt be very rewarding for me, by forcing me to fill gaps in my knowledge and face up to inadequacies of my arguments, it might turn out to be less than readable for others. In the light of this consideration, it has seemed to me best to single out some of the major themes which occur repeatedly in these essays, and comment on the individual criticisms in connection with these themes, thereby paying my critics the compliment of rational opposition (Jane Austen’s phrase) which they so amply deserve (unlike the character in the novel who provoked the use of this expression).
The crucial themes would seem to be the following:
On nationalism, the criticisms include certain objections which arise so frequently that, at the very least, my writings must be open to the suspicion that they frequently provoke opposition, at these points, in the minds of readers. Even if these objections are based on misunderstanding, it is still up to me to reformulate my views in a way which does not encourage such misapprehensions. One of them might be called the Argument from Identity. It runs roughly as follows: my vision of nationalism grossly underrates the emotional intensity of national identification and perhaps, more generally, the role of identity in human life in general. Their nation means so dreadfully much to men! Love of one’s country, love of one’s nation, is marked by a depth and intensity of passion, which is shamefully travestied by a theory which would make it a mere consequence of the labour market situation in an occupationally mobile society in which work is semantic rather than physical. Did men die, suffer, kill, write poetry, merely so as to enhance their career prospects?
There is a positive chorus on this point. For instance, Nick Stargardt in his essay refers, with moderation, to my ‘greater emotional distance’ (from nationalism).footnote2 Perry Anderson puts it more firmly and squarely:
[Gellner’s theory] plainly neglects. . .the overpowering dimension of collective meaning that modern nationalism has always involved. . .not its functionality for industry, but its fulfilment of identity. . .Where Weber was so bewitched by its spell that he was never able to theorize nationalism, Gellner has theorized nationalism without detecting the spell. What was the tragic fate for the one becomes prosaic function for the other. Here the difference between idealist and utilitarian background tells.footnote3