Kołakowski began his scientific career in the difficult time of communism and during his life he went through an extraordinary path and intellectual transformation from his admiration for the contemporary socio-political system to its consistent and brilliant criticism. He was born in 1927 in Radom, in central Poland. His father was murdered by the Nazis in Pawiak prison in 1943, and his mother died when he was three years old. During the Nazi occupation he for some time shared an apartment with Jews who were sheltered by Irena Sendler. Shortly after the war, Kołakowski began his academic career by studying at the University of Łódź, and in 1953 he obtained his PhD. From 1957 to 1968, he headed the department of history of modern philosophy at the University of Warsaw. However, his scientific career started to falter due to his critical attitude towards the communist system of that time. He was expelled from the Polish United Workers’ Party in 1966, and then in 1968 he was deprived of his lecturing position and publishing due to his involvement in the March 1968 anti-system student revolt. Like many scholars and artists with Jewish roots, he left Poland. Eventually, he settled in the UK, and taught at the University of Oxford until 1991.
“A decent man lives better. Not because he has a better opinion of himself, but because he does not suffer spiritually of the evil he inflicts on others.”
Kołakowski made his name with “Main Currents of Marxism”. His works on the history of religious thought, ethics and philosophy gained great recognition. Many of his non-scholarly books became bestsellers: “What if God does not exist” and “Mini lectures on maxi issues” (2003, based on an earlier, popular series of television broadcasts). Kołakowski was repeatedly honored with awards in the USA (such as the Library of the US Congress Award), in Germany, Italy and, of course, Poland, where he was awarded the Order of the White Eagle (1997). Leszek Kołakowski died in 2009 in the UK but he was buried in Poland at the Powązki Military Cemetery.