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Below is an assembly of some of the most important (and maybe even not so important) quotes from Gellner's work. They should be use be useful for quick and easy reference. If you know of any other quotes that might be useful to add, please submit them to: Gellner Quotes











"It is nationalism which engenders nations, and not the other way round." from Nations and Nationalism 1983 p.55

"These cultures define and make nations: it is not the case, as nationalists believe and proclaim, that independently and previously existing nations seek the affirmation and independent life of 'their' culture. Cultures 'have' and make nations; nations initially neither exist nor have or do anything." from Nationalism 1997 p.69

"nationalism is about entry to, participation in, identification with, a literate high culture which is co-extensive with an entire political unit and its total popuations, and which must be of this kind if it is to be compatible with the kind of division of labour, the type or mode of producation, on which this society is based." from Nations and Nationalism 1983 p.95

"It is this which explains nationalism: the principle - so strange and eccentric in the age of agrarian cultural diversity and the 'ethnic' division of labour - that homogeneity of culture is the political bond, that mastery of (and, one should add, acceptability in) a given high culture (the one used by the surrounding bureaucracies) is the precondition of political, economic and social citizenship." from Nationalism 1997 p.29

"I am deeply sensitive to the spell of nationalism. I can play about thirty Bohemian folk songs (or songs presented as such in my youth) on my mouth-organ. My oldest friend, who is Czech and a patriot, cannot bear to hear me play them because he says I do it in such a schmalzy way, 'crying into the mouth organ'. I do not think I could have written the book on nationalism which I did write, were I not capable of crying, with the help of a little alcohol, over folk songs, which happen to be my favourite form of music." from 'Reply to Critics' in The Social Philsophy of Ernest Gellner p.624

"In simpler words, agrarian civilisations do not engender nationalism, but industrial and industrial societies do." from Culture, Identity and Politics 1987 p.18



"The new perspective also manifested itself in other ways: the shift of attention to sociologists such as Max Weber who were primarily concerned, not with overall 'development', but with the one specific development, that of modern society; the tendency to be concerned with those aspects of Marxism relevant to this one transition, and to ignore its Evolutionist aspects; and, recently and most characteristically, the concern with the notion of industrial society, and its antithesis, to the detriment of other classifications, oppositions and alternatives." from Thought and Change 1964 p.49

"But current social thought is not in terms of transition as such, but of a specific transition: industrialisation (including of course, modernisation of agriculture." from Thought and Change 1964 p.68

"In the twentieth century, the essence of man is not that he is a rational, or a political, or a sinful, or a thinking animal, but that he is an industrial animal. It is not his moral or intellectual or social or aesthetic etc., etc., attributes which make man what he is his essence resides in his capacity to contribute to, and to profit from, industrial society. The emergence of industiral society is the prime concern of sociology." from Thought and Change 1964 p.35



"America was born modern; it did not have to achieve modernity, nor did it have modernity thrust upon it." from Anthroppology and Politics 1995 p.18

"This is indeed one of the most important general traits of a modern society: cultural homogeneity, the capacity for context-free communication, the standardization of expression and comprehension." from Conditions of Liberty 1996 p.104



"The model that can be drawn up, of a plural society in which the multiplicity of forces and institutions prevent any one of their number dominating the rest, and which function on the basis of a broad and non-doctrinaire consensus - this picture does not warm the blood like wine. To appreciate and savour its appeal, one needs a rather sophisticated taste, perhaps." from Contemporary Thought and Politics 1974 p.28

"The state is obliged to pervade economic activity, so as to contain all those side effects of industrial production which, if uncontrolled, would tear everything apart." from Spectacles and Predicaments 1979 p.289

"So, the overall terms which decide the way the market arbitrates depend on political factors." from Spectacles and Predicaments 1979 p.304

"What clearly matters is whether the system is plural: are there ways of checking on those who have the power to command, and is the power limited in time and area, and so on?" from Conditions of Liberty 1994 p.167

"Looking at the contemporary world, two things are obvious: democracy is doing rather badly, and democracy is doing very well. New states are born free, yet everywhere they are in chains. Democracy is doing very badly in that democratic instituions have fallen by the wayside in very many of the newly independent 'transitional' societies, and they are precarious elsewhere. Deomcracy, on the other hand, is doing extremely well in as far as it is almost (though not quite) universally accepted as a valid norm. from Contemporary Thought and Politics 1974 p.21



"All the same, on may suspect that this dignified, unflustered, one-by-one, generalization-free behaviour may after all have missed the point. If you do not feel a generalized intellectual anxiety, if you feel no need to find and make explicit and to evaluate the basic presmisses of your activities, why the devil philosophize in the first place?" from Devil in Modern Philosophy 1974 p.19

"The real trouble with this kind of philosophy (Wittgensteinian philosophy) is that it wholly obscures both the tremendous changes which our society has undergone, and the choices which it faces." from Devil in Modern Philosophy 1974 p.22





"But, knowledge which on the other hand transcends the bounds, the prejudices and prejudgements of any one society and culture is not an illusion but, on the contrary, a glorious and luminous reality. Just how it was achieved remains subject to debate." from Reason and Culture 1992

"When knowledge is the slave of social considerations, it defines a special class; when it serves its own ends only, it no longer does so. There is of course a profound logic in this paradox: genuine knowledge is egalitarian in that it allows no privileged source, testers, messengers of Truth. It tolerates no privileged and circumscribed data. The autonomy of knowledge is a leveller." from Plough, Sword and Book 1988 p.123

"Within the range of options which then remains - and we do not yet know just what that range is - the choice is ours. The code of cognitive conduct which has emerged with Civil Society, which separates facts from values, unfortunately prevents us from terminating the regress of justifications, and freeing our choice from the charge of arbitrariness. But that is our situation, and we cannot escape it." from Conditions of Liberty 1994 p.214

"In my view, epistomological principles are basically normative or ethical: they are prescriptions for the conduct of cognitive life." from Relativism and the Social Sciences1985 p.34



"I do not recommend any legislative action against hermeneutics. I am a liberal person opposed to all unnecessary state limitation of individual liberties. Hermeneutics between consenting adults should not in my view be the object of any statutory restrictions. I know, only too well, what it would entail. Hermeneutic speakeasies would spring up all over the place, smuggled Thick Descriptions would be brought in by the lorry-load from Canada by the Mafia, blood and thick meaning would clot in the gutter as rival gangs of semiotic bootleggers slugged it out in a series of bloody shoot-outs and ambushes. Addicts would be subject to blackmail. Consumptions of deep meanings and its attendant psychic consequences would in no way diminsh, but the criminal world would benefit, and the whole fabric of civil society would be put under severe strain. Never!" from Anthropology and Politics 1995 p.20

"Dr J. O. Wisdom (of York University, Toronto) once observed to me that he knew people who thought there was no philsophy after Hegel, and others who thought there was none before Wittgenstein; and he saw no reason for excluding the possibility that both were right."
from Spectacles & Predicaments 1979 p.15

"Civil Society is a cluster of institutions and associations strong enought to prevent tyranny, but which are, none the less, entered and left freely, rather than imposed by birth or sustained by awesome ritual. You can joint (say) the Labour Party without slaughtering a sheep..." from Conditions of Liberty 1994 p.103

"The argument establishing this link seems to me virtually Euclidean in its cogency. It seems to me impossible to be presented with these connections clearly and not to assent to them. Spinoza claimed that it is impossible to state a truth clearly without granting it assent. Alas, this is not generally true; but in this case at least, the conncetion does seem to me luminously manifest. (That, at any rate, is how the matter appears to me. As a matter of regrettable fact, an astonishing number of people have failed to accept the theory even when presented with it.)"

"Just as every girl should have a susband, preferably her own, so every culture must have its state, preferably its own." both from "The Coming of Nationalism and Its Interpretation: The Myths of Nation and Class in Mapping the Nation