1927-2009

 

Leszek Kolakowski died a couple of weeks ago. He was a philosopher, a man of letters, historian of ideas. He lived the 20th-century life. It sucked. But like many a Pole, he made the best of a bad situation. The opening lines of the Polish National Anthem are, after all, “Poland has not perished yet.” Poles know that everything will turn out for the worst. It always does.

Kolakowski grew up during the Nazi occupation of Poland and came of age when the Nazis were exchanged for the Soviets. Liberation, in Poland, is the name for a short period of chaos between oppressors. Kolakowski did his best to think with the times. He started out a Marxist — not a ridiculous position for a young anti-fascist to take in those days. It was not, however, a position that… More…

It’s a shame the 20th century was such an unrelenting nightmare. Especially if you were anywhere near Central or Eastern Europe (though by no means exclusively so). Those who perished more often than not perished in suffering and fear. Those who lived had to make do.

“Making do” could mean a lot of things. Keeping your mouth shut while the Nazis rounded up everyone else on the block. Mentioning something you overheard your neighbor say to the local Stasi agent to deflect suspicion from yourself. Perhaps outright collaboration with the secret police. It was a dirty business, and it reached down deep. We like to pretend of ourselves and our heroes that there was a way to remain untainted. But that was the cruel genius of the police states of the 20th century. Whether out of Soviet or National Socialist motivations the point of the total state was to reach… More…