Another Remembrance Of Leszek Kolakowski

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 30, 2009

Courtesy of Roger Kimball:

The Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski was just a few months shy of his 82nd birthday when he died at his home in Oxford on July 17, after what his daughter Agnieszka described as “a brief and very sudden illness.” For anyone inclined to despair that we live in intellectually diminished times, Kolakowski provided a glittering counterexample. He was an intellectual giant. What is even more extraordinary, he was an intellectual giant whose accomplishments were widely celebrated. Kolakowski died full of honors as well as years. The coveted if often risible MacArthur “genius” award: He got that. The Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the humanities–a cool $1 million for that bijou: Kolakowski got that, too. Honorary degrees and lesser awards, honors, lectureships, and sundry recognitions: He received, and deserved, them all.

Indeed he did, for insights that should have been obvious, but weren’t, and required a powerful and insightful mind–like the one Kolakowski possessed–to make them clear to others:

A corollary of Kolakowski’s criticism of Marxism was his appreciation of the virtues of capitalism and the free market as indispensable enablers of freedom. “Capitalism,” he noted, in 1995,

developed spontaneously and organically from the spread of commerce. Nobody planned it, and it did not need an all-embracing ideology, whereas socialism was an ideological construction. Ultimately, capitalism is human nature at work–that is, man’s greed allowed to follow its course–whereas socialism is an attempt to institutionalize and enforce fraternity. It seems obvious by now that a society in which greed is the main motivation of human action, for all of its repugnant and deplorable aspects, is incomparably better than a society based on compulsory brotherhood, whether in national or international socialism.

Sadly, the lesson needs repeating, and Kolakowski is not around to give it. Like Milton Friedman, Kolakowski lived a full and exemplary life, but may have died just when he was needed the most.

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