In an article in The Wall Street Journal, Barton Swaim writes about Leszek Kolakowski [1927-2009], the well-regarded Polish intellectual. Among Kolakowski's writings are wonderfully written essays that greatly explain why people, otherwise informed, fall under the influence of totalitarian ideologies, Communism being a good example. The essays are compiled in a book, Is God Happy?
Is God Happy?," a collection of essays selected by the author's daughter, Agnieszka Kolakowska, from his 60-year writing career, is an excellent introduction to Kolakowski's writing. It is a treasure for Kolakowski's admirers, too, with 10 of the essays appearing in English for the first time.
The collection begins with a grouping of nine essays examining the Western responses to Soviet communism. One of these, "What Is Socialism?" (1956), enjoyed a long notoriety within the Polish underground. It is a satirical enumeration of things that socialism wasn't supposed to be: "a state whose neighbors curse geography"; "a state that produces superb jet planes and lousy shoes"; "a state whose philosophers and writers always say the same things as the generals and ministers, but always after the latter have said them." The essay was posted for a brief time on a bulletin board at Warsaw University, where Kolakowski taught, before being taken down by government minders. Twelve years later its author was pushed out of Polish academic life altogether, freed to take positions in England and North America.
To those younger than 35, communism must seem like some ridiculous hoax. How could so many Western intellectuals have defended an ideology—and defended it into the late 1980s—that had never produced anything but economic devastation, cultural perversion and mass murder? And yet they did. In "Genocide and Ideology," from 1977, Kolakowski asked why Soviet communism attracted so many artists and intellectuals and Nazism so few. He pointed out that Nazism at least stated its aims straightforwardly: Nazis promoted Teutonic racial superiority and the conquest of Europe. Communism, on the other hand, "never preached conquest, only liberation from oppression; it never extolled the state as a value in itself, only stressed the necessity of reinforcing the state as an indispensable lever to destroy the enemies of freedom." All it took to gain the loyalty of influential writers and thinkers, in other words, was some heavy-handed rhetorical legerdemain.Surprising? Not really when you consider the coin of intellectuals are words. It doesn't matter if the words are true; what's more important for many thinkers is that the words are beautiful and thoughtful and espouse ideas of freedom from repression. Personal Liberty.
The idea of individual liberty, of having no state, has appeal to many. It doesn't matter if many others suffer torture, brutality and indignities if that leads to such "freedom." Writers, who ought to know better, often are the first to fall victim to brutal ideologies. The reasons are personal, that is, they are thinking only of themselves. And, yet, no one can be happy under such a system.
You can read the rest of the article at [WSJ]