The Passing of Ernest Gellner

Mon, 20 Nov 1995 08:52:24 -0600

The following obiturary message was forwarded from ANDERE-L by Shawn
Landres. Gellner was to have delivered the Plenary Address at the
American Anthropological Association meetings just concluded today in
Washington D.C. and was sorely missed.
Tony Galt, Editor

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 12 Nov 1995 13:50:06 +1300
From: Michael Hill, Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand
To: Multiple recipients of list ANDERE-L <>

I was stunned and deeply saddened to hear, through your network, of the
death of Ernest Gellner. He was my teacher, and subsequently my colleague,
in Sociology at the London School of Economics (incidentally the Washington
Post gets it wrong: till the late 1970s Ernest was Professor of Sociology
with Special Reference to Philosophy at LSE; subsequently Professor of
Philosophy with - I think, but this may be Ernest's special brand of humour
influencing my memory! - Special Reference to Sociology). He was an utterly
memorable person - have a look at the book THE FLY AND THE FLY BOTTLE by Ved
Mehta for an account of his run-in with Oxford philosophy - and the range of
his formidable intellect was breathtaking: Philosopher, Anthropologist,
Sociologist, Political Scientist are categories that he simply transcended.
I was taught Social Philosophy and Sociology of Religion by Ernest, and
years later (this year in fact) I was using his insights on nationalism in
my recent book (with Lian Kwen Fee) THE POLITICS OF NATION BUILDING AND

Lots of people will have their own stories to tell of Ernest. His Sunday
lunches at his house in Haslemere were legendary - as a young member of
staff in the Sociology Department at LSE I was advised to wear a good pair
of walking shoes for the occasion, and I later found out why! - and his
lecturing style was (if the word has not lost some of its impact) awesome.
For several years a chair in the Staff Room of the Sociology Department at
LSE bore the imprint of his walking stick, which he used to impress a point
on the departmental convener.

But I was especially delighted to see in July this year that Ernest had lost
nothing of his declamatory power. At a session of the LSE Centenary
celebration - after Ernest had given an account of the links between LSE and
Eastern Europe - he was questioned by one of his former colleagues about his
claim that Mannheim (IDEOLOGY AND UTOPIA) had been on the staff of LSE.
Growing impatient with his colleague's refusal to accept his account he
stated, "Look, I'm not debating this, I'm telling you!!"

It is tragic that Ernest's career should be ended when he had so recently
returned to Prague. May his work continue.

I end as I began: I am stunned.

Michael Hill
Professor of Sociology
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand