After reading Gellner it’s clearer what the Brexiteers in the UK and Trump in the USA get right, as well as where they go wrong. They get right that some if not all of the important cogs in the advanced industrial machine have become damaged, some seriously and certainly more seriously than those holding the levers of power have let on. And they are right to identify inequality in its many guises as the defining issue. Where they’re in error is in the options they think they have. What they’ve opted for is a confused mix of neoliberal economics plus the exploitation of nativist, ethnic fissures expressed as belligerent and nasty Nationalism. Neither are sensible choices. Both neoliberalism and virulent nationalism are the subject of Gellner’s work. He helps explain why they seem attractive whilst being exactly the wrong sort of medicine.
Gellner gives us a suggestive picture of our current dilemma. ‘The modern industrial machine is like an elephant in a very small boat. Either the boat is built around it so as to accommodate it, or it becomes an absurdity.’
Richard Marshall reads Ernest Gellner on Brexit and Trump.
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