First and second hand links to appreciations of Leszek Kolakowski, some for the first time, some the second time around.
Via Terry Glavin: “A free mind, no longer among us: Leszek Kolakowski. Nick Cohen remembers him here, and the other day, Christopher Hitchens eulogized him here. From the great Yank heartland, Stuart posts an essay from Kolakowski’s Modernity on Endless Trial, here.”
Via Martin in the Margins: “ Norm defends Marx against Oliver’s Kolakowski-inspired dismissal of his legacy. Michael Weiss gives his own take on the Polish philosopher’s spat with E.P.Thompson.”
[Here, by the way, is a pdf of Kolakowski’s reply to Thompson, via a post at History Today, which also mentions Ignacio Silone.]
Earlier, at the start of Martin’s own nice appreciation: “There’s a terrific guest post by Andrew Murphy over at Harry’s Place, about Leszek Kolakowski, who died last Friday. Andrew links to Christopher Hitchens’ thoughts on the great Polish thinker, which you can find here. I also recommend this post by The New Centrist, who in turn links to this fascinating conversation between Kolakowski and Danny Postel (whose work I recommended here).”
From Jonathan Todd: “Top stuff from Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian today, which alerted me to the death of a great man, Leszek Kolakowski, whose description of social democracy was one that Denis Healeymuch liked and which I do too: “An obstinate will to erode by inches the conditions which produce avoidable suffering, oppression, hunger, wars, racial and national hatred, insatiable greed and vindictive envy”. It concisely presents social democracy as it is: a creed not just for our times but for all times.”
Reading the Maps: “Leszek Kolakowski liked to talk of Marxism and socialism as dogmatisms that had beem made obsolescent by the history of the late twentieth century. He was inclined to see anyone interested in Marx and in socialist politics as a quixotic anarchronism. In truth, though, it was Kolakowski who had become an anachronism with the end of the Cold War. Like the Stalinists he had so often condemned, he had adopted a worldview which relied upon an interpretation of Marx and Marxist history that was ballasted by the Cold War, rather than by facts. When the Cold War ended, and Marx was released from the rival simplifications of Stalinists and right-wingers, Kolakowski found himself with nothing interesting to say. Perhaps he should have listened more carefully to his old friend Thompson.” READ THE REST.
Ragbag: “Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski died on Friday. The Telegraph’s obit is good, capturing his influence as well as his attractively sceptical and mordant approach to life. I think he was one of the heroes of the twentieth century. I went to a seminar he gave in All Souls College once, on communism, about fifteen years ago. I left liking the man very much – as dry as talc but with a warm wit that revealed itself in asides made whilst sipping black coffee – but also with a feeling of disappointment: I hadn’t heard anything new or revelatory.” READ THE REST, including comment on Hitch and religion.
The Israeli water engineer: “In 1972 I had to spend a night in Posadas, Misiones, Argentina so I bought a bottle of red wine and a book in a second hand shop. The book was a collection of essays, among them “What are philosophers paid for?” which explored the issue why a Communist regime maintained philosophers and what he – Kolakowski – was being paid for. The Communist regime maintained that everyone had to do productive work – no parasitic intermediary luftgescheftn permited – and everyone had to produce something tangible for society. Why, then, were philosophers like himself being allowed to do “nothing”? His conclusion was that Marxist philosophers satisfied a basic necessity of the Communist regime: the theoretical, intellectual infrastructure (justification?) of the regime. READ THE REST.
Leiter Reports: “Rather than a younger version of Herbert Marcuse (who at the time used to raise his fist and intone “Power to the people!” when he lectured), Kolakowski was an urbane ironist of immense cultivation.” READ THE REST.
UD: “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.” READ THE REST.
Steven Hayward: “In my forthcoming Reagan book I quote Kolakowski’s prescient prediction made in May 1983 (two years before Gorbachev and his wrecking crew arrived in the Kremlin): “We can imagine that the Soviet rulers, under the combined pressure of self-inflicted economic disasters and social tensions, will accept, however grudgingly, a genuine verifiable international disarmament plan and concentrate their efforts on a large-scale economic recovery, which they cannot achieve without a number of social and political reforms. This might conceivably usher in a process of gradual and non-explosive disintegration of the empire.” In that same article he anticipated the “velvet revolution” of 1989: “Certainly in Poland or Czechoslovakia (or in Hungary) Communism would fall apart within days without the Soviet threat.” “