As Ernest Gellner shows in this path-breaking book, the most significant difference between communism (and other totalitarian ideologies) and Western liberalism is the existence of the civil society - the intermediary institutions like trade unions, political parties, religions, pressure groups and clubs which fill the gap between the family and the state. Under communism the civil society was suppressed. In liberal democracy it thrives. If life is to improve in Eastern Europe, the civil society must be encouraged to grow and prosper: the early signs - as observed by the doyen of British social anthropology - are good. The contrast with militant Islam is extraordinary: while Marxism as a faith has collapsed, Islam has been growing ever stronger. In fundamentalist states like Iran there is little civil society and apparently not much pressure for one, either. Why is there so little resistance or opposition? How can this be understood? This is an extremely important book and a major contribution to the 'end of history' debate by one of the most distinguished scholars working in Europe today.
This is an essential book. It is frequently unclear and the argument is sometimes far too compressed. In detail there is much to disagree with. But, in general, it represents a profound and honest attempt to justify the benign and rather beautiful 'system of illusions' thanks to which, for the moment, the West has won. - The Independent, 1994
Ernest André Gellner (1925 – 1995) was a philosopher and social anthropologist, described by The Daily Telegraph when he died as one of the world's most vigorous intellectuals and by The Independent as a "one-man crusade for critical rationalism"
His first book, Words and Things (1958) - famously, and uniquely for a philosopher—prompted a leader in The Times and a month-long correspondence on its letters page over his attack on linguistic philosophy. As the Professor of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method at the London School Of Economics for 22 years, the William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge for eight, and finally as head of the new Centre for the Study of Nationalism in Prague, Gellner fought all his life—in his writing, his teaching, and through his political activism—against what he saw as closed systems of thought, particularly communism, psychoanalysis, relativism, and the dictatorship of the free market. Among other issues in social thought, the modernization of society and nationalism were two of his central themes, his multicultural perspective allowing him to work within the subject-matter of three separate civilizations—the Western, Islamic, and Russian.