Polish philosopher who rejected Marxism and helped inspire the Solidarity movement in his native land while living in exile.
In a long and wide-ranging career, Mr. Kolakowski most famously dissected the intellectual underpinnings of the Communist system he had supported as a young man, at the height of the cold war’s ideological and military arms race. He was an academic whose influence reached far beyond the academy’s gates and a scholar whose writings could be playful and satirical, but most of all, accessible.
Leszek Kolakowski was born Oct. 23, 1927, in the city of Radom, south of Warsaw. Like most Poles of his generation, Mr. Kolakowski knew hardship early. Under the German occupation of Poland during World War II, Mr. Kolakowski and his family were forcibly relocated to different towns and villages.
Because the Germans had closed Polish schools, young Leszek had to teach himself and take exams in the underground school system that was created. After the war, he studied philosophy first at the University of Lodz and later earned a doctorate at the University of Warsaw. He took a teaching position there, rising to chairman of the history of philosophy section.
After the 1956 worker riots in Poznan, Mr. Kolakowski’s increasingly critical writings began to run afoul of the censors. His critique of Stalinism, “What Is Socialism?”, was banned, among other works. Mr. Kolakowski was expelled from the Polish United Workers’ Party in 1966 and lost his position at Warsaw University in 1968. He went into exile the same year.
Mr. Kolakowski taught at top-rank institutions after leaving Poland, including McGill University in Montreal; the University of California, Berkeley; Yale; and the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. But Oxford became his home.
Mr. Kolakowski is survived by his wife, Tamara, and a daughter, Agnieszka.more » « less