“Remembering Leszek Kolakowski” by Roger Kimball, published in the Oct. 4–10 edition, was a tour de force, both in restating some critical ideas of the brilliant philosopher Kolakowski and in presenting Kimball’s own evocative thoughts and writing style. Having close relatives who lived through the rise and fall of the communist regime in the (former, thank God) East Germany, that sort of totalitarianism was exposed to me as the nightmare those living under it had to endure.
Some of these same relatives also made it clear to me that the totalitarianism they had lived through under Hitler’s fascist version of totalitarianism was similarly evil. Kolakowski had also lived through both sorts of totalitarianism-imposed crushing of human ideas and freedoms. He was uniquely qualified to give warnings when he saw the seeds of totalitarianism in our Western society likely trying to reemerge in these past few decades and today.
Kimball noted, “Liberalism implies openness to other points of view, even those points of view whose success would destroy liberalism.” That concept underlies the paradox of many or perhaps most modern universities in the Western world: Institutions once heralded as the ultimate venue for the free exchange of ideas have become insular hotbeds of an almost exclusively leftist agenda. As Kimball noted a few sentences later, “in order to continue to enjoy the luxury of freedom, we must say no to those movements that would exploit freedom only to abolish it.”
Put another way, we need to be constantly reminded that totalitarianism of whatever stripe can be voted in, but it can’t be voted out. That happens only when blood is shed.