Beyond Hubris

With disarming and hardly disingenuous modesty, Polish humanist Leszek Kolakowski describes his new anthology, Modernity on Endless Trial, as a loose collection of "semi-philosophical sermons" written over the course of a decade or so, purporting to offer no original philosophy. He adds, as an apparent afterthought, that he views them as conscious, deliberate appeals for "moderation in consistency"—an idea for which he, a very much former Marxist, confesses a long-standing fascination. In fact, these intellectual cameos are sophisticated attempts to struggle with some of the most difficult and interesting challenges to our culture; their style is so elegant and refreshingly clear as to delight even the reader who on occasion may take exception to some of the author's conclusions.

The book is divided into four parts: modernity, barbarity, and intellectuals; the dilemmas of the Christian legacy; liberals, revolutionaries, and Utopians; and scientific theories. In more or less logical order, these categories embrace the question of what modernity is (or is not), together with two related epistemological-sociological questions: should modernity be placed in the dock at all, and if so, who is qualified to judge it? (Certainly not the self-righteous but usually deeply flawed intellectuals, whom the equally contemptuous Solzhenitsyn has called "the smatterers.") Kolakowski further...

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