Selected Philosophical Themes, volume II: Contemporary by Ernest Gellner

By Ernest Gellner

Gellner's political philosophy in those volumes combines the down-to-earth realism of political sociology with a rational remedy of the normative problems with conventional political idea. In those essays Gellner strives to appreciate the religions of nationalism, communism and democracy, returning many times to the fundamental values of the liberal: social tolerance, rational feedback, human decency and justice.

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Extra resources for Selected Philosophical Themes, volume II: Contemporary Thought and Politics

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In the main, of course, unanswered questions; and a stress on the difference in meaning (quite apart from differences in difficulty of implementation) of democracy in ‘creation’ situations and in situations of marginal management. Perhaps one relevant observation would be to say that even developed societies do not approximate closely to this ‘marginal’ model. One might also ask to what extent, in the developed societies, concern for democracy really boils down to concern with liberalism plus the symbolism of general participation, of universal incorporation in the moral community.

Not, evidently, will and consent, for just these are being, in this imaginary case, violated. It would be agreeable to be able to say that the example is farfetched. Twentieth-century history has made it not at all far-fetched. But if we were living in a better world and could happily say that it is far-fetched, we should still have to go on to admit that many other less far-fetched examples can be invoked. My point is this: a ‘democratic’ society, governed by the will of the people, interpreted as the will of the majority or in any other way, can only be acceptable when it respects certain limits, certain entrenched principles.

Inside theories concerning knowledge give us theories of knowledge in terms of sensation. Inside theories in the field of ethics give us accounts of morals in terms of feelings or pleasure. Inside theories in the field of politics give us an account of the legitimacy of the social order or of the power of the state, in terms of will and consent: in other words, they give us the classical theory of democracy. This surely is the genesis of the general features of the theory of democracy, and also the explanation, in as far as an intellectual explanation is relevant at all, of the pervasiveness of the democratic assumption in the modern world.

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