What next?

W.G. Runciman

  • Plough, Sword and Book: The Structure of Human History by Ernest Gellner
    Collins, 288 pp, £15.00, August 1988, ISBN 0 00 217178 3

If human history does, indeed, have a structure, it is, as Professor Gellner emphasises, discernible only with hindsight. The path which has led, in his words, ‘from the cosy social cocoon of early man to the expanding, cognitively powerful, and socially disconnected world of modern man’ was not merely invisible to those who were treading it: it was inconceivable. The two prodigious transformations which we now label – a little misleadingly – the Neolithic and Industrial Revolutions were both so extraordinary as virtually to defy explanation. How could they have come about? And what a totally different ideological as well as economic and political world did they both bring into being!

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