Day By Day

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Leszek Kolakowski RIP

This seems to be a time for remembrance. Celebrities large and small seem to be dropping like flies and even the worst of these have been commemorated with extravagant spectacle. A great and good man has just passed away, but I do not expect the public to much notice his leaving. His name is Leszek Kolakowski, a philosopher and a teacher who made the long and intellectually demanding journey from being one of the world's most important Marxist theoreticians to being one of communism's greatest critics, a journey that was fraught with great personal as well as professional peril. The Times of London explains his importance:

He began as an enthusiastic Marxist, becoming chair of Warsaw University’s philosophy department. Later, he became one of the regime’s most outspoken revisionists, advocating a democratic, humanist Marxism. But he then rejected that too, concluding that a democratic communism would be like “fried snowballs”.

His thoughts led to his expulsion from the party and, later on, his sacking from his position at the university. He was forced to flee Poland in 1968, whereupon he took up an international career, teaching on both sides of the Atlantic, at Berkeley and Oxford. By that time he had ceased to regard himself as Marxist, and his professorship at Berkeley left him highly critical of the left wing, in particular of the student New Left.

Despite having a reputation for massive erudition, he was far from being an ivory tower academic. His ideas were often prescriptive, and he formulated the concept of constructing selforganised social groups that would gradually and peacefully expand the spheres of civil society within totalitarian states. Many believe that this directly inspired the dissident movements in Poland in the 1970s that led to Solidarity and the collapse of the communist monopoly of power in 1989.

Read the whole thing here.

And so, while others mourn the passing of their favorite movie or pop star, I will pause for a moment to note the departure from this life of a far greater man.