Leszek Kolakowski RIP

A late call on the departure of the distinguished scholar Leszek Kolakowski. A short obituary.

Starting off as an orthodox Marxist in postwar Poland, Kolakowski became progressively disenchanted and his calls for a more democratic version of socialism led him into conflicts with the censors which finally forced him to move to the West.

In exile, first at Berkeley University in California and then at Oxford’s All Souls, Kolakowski wrote books on the history of ideas, culminating in his “Main Currents of Marxism,” published in 1978, which chronicled the origins, rise and decline of Karl Marx’s philosophy.

His Wik entry.

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Ingolf Eide
14 years ago

Yes, a passing truly worth marking, it seems, Rafe.

I say” it seems” only because I hadn’t read anything by him before yesterday when I happened across a similar obituary. The few snippets I found on the net (bits of “Modernity on Endless Trial” and “My Correct Views on Everything”) left me eager to read more.

Have you read much of his?

14 years ago

I’ve read my correct views on everything (Rafe’s linked piece) a few times. It is a great read!

14 years ago

arriving a little late!

Koloakowski was certainly one of the most credible critic of western apologists.

I;m not sure it was a “great’ read but an interesting one

a obituary by Christopher Hitchens in Slate for anybody interested

14 years ago

“Clive James has a few pages on him in Cultural Amnesia which would be worth reading in a bookshop if you dont buy the book. BTW I recommend that you do buy the book!”

I did. A very interesting book and not just for the reasons Clive wrote it. As he said in the intro, it’s the book he’s been writing for 40 years.


His prose style is still one of the best around, his massive attempt to tease out and dilate upon a wiry, intellectually rigorous and worldly thread of Western humanism thought and life that survived two World Wars and two major tsunamis of totalitarism is a necessary and worthy exercise, and he hipped me to some folks I’d never heard of. Like Louis Armstrong.


The tome weighs a fucking ton. Its nuggets are a perfect reading length for a 10 minute tram ride into work. But the tram moves slower once you lug the whole bloody thing aboard.

I don’t think he resolved the overall structure to his satisfaction. And it shows.

And too much emphasis on the Euro side and not the New World. He could easily have lost the whole Kolakowski entry in favour of one Will Rogers one liner.

“Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.”

I wonder why Clive left Will Rogers out? A half Cherokee cowboy who became a wildly popular multimillionaire by saying out loud what most of America was already thinking to itself. I’d certainly put Will up there with Polger, Altenberg and Clive’s other Viennese pets as a master aphorist.

In fact more so. Rogers was out there in the face of a whole country, using broadcast media to push his humanism message at a very volatile time, not just quipping on for a few mates at Cafe Central.

“An ignorant person is one who doesn’t know what you have just found out.”
– guess who.