July 22, 2009


    -OBIT: IN MEMORY OF LESZEK KOLAKOWSKI (University Diaries, July 18, 2009)

Leszek Kolakowski's death reminds us that Terry Eagleton's recent attack on the atheism of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins is only the latest instance of a curious but now familiar trajectory, in which a left thinker in his or her latter days (think of Christopher Lasch among Americans, and, among the British, Gillian Rose) embraces, if not the truth of religion, the validity and endurance and even inescapability of its cultural power.

A formidable intellectual, Kolakowski is part of the tradition of scathing post-communist critique associated, among his Polish compatriots, with Czeslaw Milosz. In remembering him here, I'd like to focus instead on his delicate and moving embrace of religion. But I hope it will become clear that his disenchantment with various forms of radical - and even liberal - politics, and his growing appreciation of religious faith are connected.

I say delicate embrace because, like Lasch and Eagleton and, let's say, Philip Rieff, Kolakowski came to believe that communal faith and its rituals and prohibitions, as well as the personal experience of the sacred that underlies faith, was foundational to culture, and to the recognition and maintenance of human dignity; yet Kolakowski ultimately seemed to be saying something like what Freeman Dyson says, in an 2002 essay in the New York Review of Books: "I am a practicing Christian but not a believing Christian. To me, to worship God means to recognize that mind and intelligence are woven into the fabric of our universe in a way that altogether surpasses our comprehension."

    -REVIEW: TWO PRESCRIPTIONS FOR SOCIALISM: a review of A WAY OF HOPE By Lech Walesa (Leszek Kolakowski, NY Times Book Review)
THE event which in modern history came the closest to the image, once predicted in socialist theory, of a working-class revolution was the emergence and the 14-months-long struggle of Solidarity in Poland. No other upheaval - including the Bolshevik takeover in 1917 and the Chinese revolution - deserves this label. Solidarity was precisely that: a powerful revolutionary (though peaceful) social movement, triggered by the conflict between industrial workers and owners of the means of production, that is to say the state, embodied in the Communist Party, police and administrative apparatus.

And this (unsuccessful) working-class revolution, the only one that has ever occurred, was directed against a socialist state and carried out under the sign of the cross, with the blessing of the Pope. So much for the (highly scientific) Marxist historical predictions.

    -EXCERPT: "How to be a Conservative-Liberal-Socialist" (Leszek Kolakowski, Modernity on Endless Trial)
A Conservative Believes:

1. That in human life there never have been and never will be improvements that are not paid for with deteriorations and evils; thus, in considering each project of reform and amelioration, its price has to be assessed. Put another way, innumerable evils are compatible (i.e. we can suffer them comprehensively and simultaneously); but many goods limit or cancel each other, and therefore we will never enjoy them fully at the same time. A society in which there is no equality and no liberty of any kind is perfectly possible, yet a social order combining total equality and freedom is not. The same applies to the compatibility of planning and the principle of autonomy, to security and technical progress. Put yet another way, there is no happy ending in human history.

2. That we do not know the extent to which various traditional forms of social life--families, rituals, nations, religious communities--are indispensable if life in a society is to be tolerable or even possible. There are no grounds for believing that when we destroy these forms, or brand them as irrational, we increase the chance of happiness, peace, security, or freedom. We have no certain knowledge of what might occur if, for example, the monogamous family was abrogated, or if the time-honored custom of burying the dead were to give way to the rational recycling of corpses for industrial purposes. But we would do well to expect the worst.

3. That the idee fixe of the Enlightenment--that envy, vanity, greed, and aggression are all caused by the deficiencies of social institutions and that they will be swept away once these institutions are reformed-- is not only utterly incredible and contrary to all experience, but is highly dangerous. How on earth did all these institutions arise if they were so contrary to the true nature of man? To hope that we can institutionalize brotherhood, love, and altruism is already to have a reliable blueprint for despotism.

A Liberal Believes:

1. That the ancient idea that the purpose of the State is security still remains valid. It remains valid even if the notion of "security" is expanded to include not only the protection of persons and property by means of the law, but also various provisions of insurance: that people should not starve if they are jobless; that the poor should not be condemned to die through lack of medical help; that children should have free access to education--all these are also part of security. Yet security should never be confused with liberty. The State does not guarantee freedom by action and by regulating various areas of life, but by doing nothing. In fact security can be expanded only at the expense of liberty. In any event, to make people happy is not the function of the State.

2. That human communities are threatened not only by stagnation but also by degradation when they are so organized that there is no longer room for individual initiative and inventiveness. The collective suicide of mankind is conceivable, but a permanent human ant-heap is not, for the simple reason that we are not ants.

3. That it is highly improbable that a society in which all forms of competitiveness have been done away with would continue to have the necessary stimuli for creativity and progress. More equaliity is not an end in itself, but only a means. In other words, there is no point to the struggle for more equality if it results only in the leveling down off those who are better off, and not in the raising up of the underprivileged. Perfect equality is a self-defeating ideal.

    -Leszek Kolakowski (kirjasto)

    -WIKIPEDIA: Leszek Kołakowski

    -GOOGLE BOOK ARCHIVE: Leszek Kołakowski


-GOOGLE BOOK: Metaphysical horror‎
by Leszek Kołakowski

    -GOOGLE BOOK: God Owes Us Nothing: : A Brief Remark on Pascal's Religion and on the Spirit of Jansenism

    -LECTURE: The Death of Utopia Reconsidered (Leszek Kolakowski, Tanner Lectures)

    -EXCERPT: The Alienation of Reason (Leszek Kolakowski, The Culture of Logical Empiricism)

    -ESSAY: The general theory of not-gardening (Leszek Kolakowski, November 1990, Harper's)

    -OBIT: Leszek Kolakowski dies at 81; exiled Polish philosopher: After criticizing communism and falling out of favor, he taught at Western universities, including Oxford and UC Berkeley. The author of more than 30 books was also a MacArthur grant recipient. (LA Times, July 21, 2009)

Kolakowski, who had lived and taught mainly at Oxford since his expulsion from Poland as a dissident in 1968, was the author of more than 30 books, of which the most influential was "Main Currents of Marxism" (1978). The massive, three-volume work is considered the definitive history and critique of Marxism, which he branded "the greatest fantasy of the 20th century." [...]

A contrarian by nature, he was appalled by the chaos of Berkeley in the late 1960s, terming the student movement "simply barbaric." English historian E.P. Thompson and other critics on the left considered him politically incorrect, to which he issued a rejoinder, titled "My Correct Views on Everything" (1973).

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said Monday that Kolakowski's body would be returned to the country and buried with military honors.

    -OBIT: Professor Leszek Kolakowski: philosopher (Times of London, 7/22/09)
Kolakowski came to treat all utopian visions of society with suspicion, believing that their victory would lead to “a totalitarian nightmare and the utter downfall of civilisation”.

However, he also rejected what he considered to be their opposite, namely armchair scepticism, which he thought would condemn us to a “hopeless stagnation”. Thus utopian ideals for society such as the concept of human fraternity could be regarded as a guiding sign and a regulative rather than a constitutive idea. In light of his belief that no perfect model exists for society’s ills, the important thing was to find practical, workable solutions.

    -OBIT: Leszek Kolakowski, 1927-2009: a master figure: The great Polish intellectual was a voice for reason, truth and decency amid the deceits of the communist era, says Adam Szostkiewicz. (Adam Szostkiewicz, 21 - 07 - 2009, Open Democracy)

    -OBIT: Leszek Kolakowski, Polish Philosopher, Dies at 81 (NICHOLAS KULISH, July 20, 2009 , NY Times)

    -OBIT: Leszek Kolakowski (Daily Telegraph, 7/20/09)

    -OBIT: A Sense of Historical Irony: Leszek Kolakowski, 1927-2009. (Christopher Hitchens, July 20, 2009, Slate)

    -OBIT: Leszek Kolakowski: Outspoken Polish philosopher and one-time communist frozen out for his trenchant views (Michael Simmons, 7/22/09, guardian.co.uk)

    -PROFILE: PRIZE WINNER: Leszek Kolakowski, an anti-Communist Polish philosopher at Oxford University in England, was awarded the first $1 million John W. Kluge prize for lifetime achievement in the humanities. Jeffrey Brown reports on Kolakowski and the new honor. (Online Newshour, 11/05/03)

    -PROFILE: When Philosophy Makes a Difference (SARAH LYALL, February 14, 2004, NY Times)

    -ARCHIVES: Leszek Kolakowski (Harper's)

    -ARCHIVES: Leszek Kolakowski (FindArticles)

    -REVIEW: of MODERNITY ON ENDLESS TRIAL By Leszek Kolakowski (Arthur C. Danto, NY Times Book Review)

    -REVIEW: of THE PRESENCE OF MYTH By Leszek Kolakowski (Karsten Harries, NY Times Book Review)

    -REVIEW: of The Two Eyes of Spinoza by Leszek Kolakowski (Roger Kinball, New Criterion)

    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Leszek Kolakowski (NY Review of Books)

    -REVIEW: of Modernity on Endless Trial, by Leszek Kolakowski (Peter L. Berger , Commentary)

    -REVIEW: of Modernity on Endless Trial (Pierre Jorgensen, National Catholic Reporter)

    -REVIEW: of Modernity on Endless Trial (Robert Royal, First Things)

    -REVIEW: of Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders, the Golden Age, the Breakdown by Leszek Kolakowski and My Correct Views on Everything by Leszek Kolakowski (Tony Judt, NY Review of Books)

-REVIEW: of Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders, the Golden Age, the Breakdown (Franklin Hugh Adler, Antioch Review)

    -REVIEW: of God Owes Us Nothing: A Brief Remark on Pascal's Religion and on the Spirit of Jansenism (Avery Dulles, National Review)

    -REVIEW: of God Owes Us Nothing (Stephen J. Duffy, Theological Studies)

    -REVIEW: of Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?: 23 Questions from Great Philosophers by Leszek Kolakowski (John Schwenkler, Commonweal)

    -REVIEW: of Why is there Something (Nicholas Fearn, Independent)

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 22, 2009 6:02 PM
blog comments powered by Disqus
« SKIPPING OUT: | Main | THANKS, W!: »