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The Habsburg dilemma

Ernest Gellner was a brilliant polemicist, but his partisan history of ideas is a crude caricature of modern European thought.

By John Gray   April 1999

Language and solitude by Ernest Gellner (Cambridge University Press 1998, £12.95)

There are two fundamental theories of knowledge. These two theories stand in stark contrast to each other. They represent two poles of looking, not merely at knowledge, but at life. Aligned with these two polar views of knowledge, there are… theories of society, of man, of everything. This chasm cuts right across our social landscape.”

These opening lines of Language and Solitude, Ernest Gellner’s last book, published posthumously (he died in 1995), embody the style and tone of his thought. The tone is dogmatic and uncompromising, the style impressionistic…

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