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JEFFREY BROWN: In Washington this morning, Librarian of Congress James Billington announced the inauguration of the Kluge Prize.
JAMES BILLINGTON: This covers everything from philosophy, religion, to politics, sociology, anthropology, criticism and the arts– all of the many subjects subsumed in the area we are calling “the human sciences.”
JEFFREY BROWN: The $1 million prize was funded by businessman and philanthropist John Kluge, and is intended to give Nobel- like recognition to the humanities. It’s administered by the Library of Congress, which is responsible for picking the winner. The first is Leszek Kolakowski, a 76-year-old Polish-born philosopher.
JAMES BILLINGTON: He was the most important single thinker behind the most important event of the late 20th century, the implosions and the peaceful nonviolent end of the communist system.
JEFFREY BROWN: Kolakowski lived in Poland under the Nazis as a boy during world war ii. He says that and other experiences led him to try to rethink the world.
LESZEK KOLAKOWSKI: Obviously when one lives for a long time in the atmosphere of violence, lawlessness, and danger like we all lived under the German occupation, inevitably one asks oneself whether or not another world is possible.
JEFFREY BROWN: In post-war communist Poland Kolakowski was a leading Marxist scholar, but soon called for a more humanist approach. He was expelled from the Communist Party in 1966, and left Poland for exile in 1968. His writings influenced the solidarity movement that eventually brought about the end of communism in Poland. One solidarity leader called him “the awakener of human hopes.”
LESZEK KOLAKOWSKI: The decisive factor in the collapse of communism was the collapse of ideology. It is true that in the last period this ideology was dead, in the sense that nobody believed it, neither the ruled nor the rulers.
JEFFREY BROWN: Kolakowski has written more than 30 books and hundreds of essays on subjects such as religion, the history of Marxism, and the foibles of western culture. One constant theme: The quest for human freedom.
LESZEK KOLAKOWSKI: There is one freedom on which all other liberties depend, and that is freedom of expression, freedom of speech, of print. If this is taken away, no other freedom can exist, or at least it would be soon suppressed.
JEFFREY BROWN: Is the quest for freedom one of the things that makes us human?
LESZEK KOLAKOWSKI: Yes, we have various needs and instincts which sometimes collide with each other. We need freedom, but we need security as well. And freedom and security often clash with each other. One cannot have both in perfect degree.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, how do we live with that confusion?
LESZEK KOLAKOWSKI: We live with that confusion like we live with many confusions.
JEFFREY BROWN: What is the role of a philosopher in our society today?
LESZEK KOLAKOWSKI: Philosophers for centuries have dared to ask questions which might have appeared futile or unrelated to life. Then at a certain moment they turn out that they are most important, and even they might be crucial in changing society in leading revolutions and so on.
JEFFREY BROWN: At today’s press conference, Kolakowski was asked what he would do with the million-dollar prize.
LESZEK KOLAKOWSKI: As for the use of the money, I can only say that I’ve never had in my life special problems about what to do with money. ( Laughter )
JEFFREY BROWN: After receiving his prize this evening, Kolakowski will return to his home in Oxford, England.