Leszek Kolakowski dies at age 81.
July 22, 2009 8:52 AM   Subscribe

Leszek Kolakowski, a distinguished Polish philosopher who critiqued the Communist system and helped inspire the Solidarity movement, passed away last Friday in Oxford, UK.

Kolakowski was born in Radom, Poland in 1927. Largely self-taught as a youngster, he received his doctorate from Warsaw University in 1953. In 1950, he came to reject Marxism following a Party-sponsored visit to Moscow.

In 1956, his publication What is Socialism? coincided with unrest throughout Poland and was formally banned. In 1966 he was kicked out of the Polish United Workers' Party; lost his professorship in 1968; and went to live in exile.

Adam Michnik, one of the founders of Solidarity, called Kolakowski "one of the most prominent creators of Polish culture."

Some of the awards he received throughout his life: the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest honor; a MacArther "genius" grant; and the first John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities and Social Sciences from the Library of Congress.

One of his key beliefs was that the cultural role of philosophy was “never to let the inquisitive energy of mind go to sleep, never to stop questioning what appears to be obvious and definitive, always to defy the seemingly intact resources of common sense.”
posted by orrnyereg (13 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

dla Solidarności...
posted by jock@law at 9:17 AM on July 22, 2009

posted by tommasz at 9:27 AM on July 22, 2009

First he liked them and he was great. Then he disliked them and he was great.
posted by Postroad at 11:07 AM on July 22, 2009

Oh, bother. I've got Modernity on Endless Trial on the bookshelf, having picked it up after reading God Owes Us Nothing. I tracked down the latter to sort out Pascal and Augustine's relationships to the everyday world, but it's got a lot more going on than that. Deeply insightful about the problems of grace, free will, and predestination; deeply secular without having a tin ear for theological problems and categories.

posted by felix grundy at 11:21 AM on July 22, 2009

posted by mdonley at 11:31 AM on July 22, 2009

posted by MarshallPoe at 11:48 AM on July 22, 2009

posted by ruelle at 12:41 PM on July 22, 2009

posted by desuetude at 1:05 PM on July 22, 2009

posted by daniel_charms at 1:28 PM on July 22, 2009

As I write this, I'm staring at Kolakowski's Main Currents of Marxism sitting on my bookshelf. Despite its length (around 1200 pages), I've read it cover to cover...one and a half times. I think it's a marvelous book, and a great example of how to approach sensitive subjects (which the history of Marxism is, without a doubt): his writing style is (mostly) neutral and balanced; he's letting his subjects mostly "speak for themselves", which only makes their flaws, shortsightedness and maliciousness the more apparent. Name-calling is completely unnecessary: you just stop taking these people seriously as philosophers.
posted by daniel_charms at 2:14 PM on July 22, 2009

posted by sien at 4:27 PM on July 22, 2009

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