Beyond Hubrisnby Juliana Geran PilonnModernity on Endless Trialnby Leszek KolakowskinChicago and London:nThe University of Chicago Press;n304 pp., $24.95nWith disarming and hardly disingenuousnmodesty, Polish humanistnLeszek Kolakowski describes hisnnew anthology, Modernity on EndlessnTrial, as a loose collection of “semiphilosophicalnsermons” written overnthe course of a decade or so, purportingnto offer no original philosophy. Henadds, as an apparent afterthought, thatnhe views them as conscious, deliberatenappeals for “moderation in consistency”—nan idea for which he, a verynmuch former Marxist, confesses anlong-standing fascination. In fact, thesenintellectual cameos are sophisticatednattempts to struggle with some of thenmost difficult and intereshng challengesnto our culture; their style is sonelegant and refreshingly clear as tondelight even the reader who on occasionnmay take exception to some of thenauthor’s conclusions.nThe book is divided into four parts:nmodernity, barbarity, and intellectuals;nthe dilemmas of the Christian legacy;nliberals, revolutionaries, and Utopians;nand scientific theories. In more or lessnlogical order, these categories embracenthe question of what modernity is (or isnnot), together with two related epistemological-sociologicalnquestions:nshould modernity be placed in thendock at all, and if so, who is qualified tonjudge it? (Certainly not the selfrighteousnbut usually deeply flawednintellectuals, whom the equally contemptuousnSolzhenitsyn has calledn”the smatterers.”) Kolakowski furthernexplores the contribution of religionnand the role of faith; the shortcomingsnof Utopias, revolutions, and politicsngenerally; and finally he offers a transcendental—nand quixotic — critique ofn40/CHRONICLESnREVIEWSnall ideology, including the selfrighteouslyn”scientific” kind.nTo begin with, he lays to rest thenidea that “modernity” is something tonbe for or against insofar as the developmentnof technology and economic rationalitynare concerned. Kolakowski’snchief fear is that, in the name ofnmodernity and a mystical sense ofn”progress,” we shall witness the disappearancenof what he calls “taboos,”ndefined by him as “barriers erected byninstinct and not by conscious planning,”nwhose function is nothing lessnthan the preservation of social life.n”Various traditional human bondsnwhich make communal life possible,nand without which our existence wouldnbe regulated only by greed and fear,nare not likely to survive without a taboonsystem,” Kolakowski argues; on thisnpragmatic ground, he is prepared tondefend them.nOn the one hand, Kolakowski unequivocallynattacks reason as a moralnguide, since what he takes to be “thennormal sense of ‘rationality'” allowsnfor—indeed invites — nominalist relativism.nThus he bluntly and clearlynasserts that “there are no more rationalngrounds for respecting human life andnhuman personal rights than there are,nsay, for forbidding the consumption ofnshrimp among Jews.” Yet this propositionnflies blatantly in the face ofnthe natural rights theory of ImmanuelnKant, whom Kolakowski in anothernessay correcfly and emphatically prais­nes. The essay “Why Do We NeednKant?” is in fact a particulariy astutenrendering of the German philosopher’snrather complex rationalist ethics. Kolakowskinappreciates that the classicalndoctrine of natural rights asserts thatneach human being is by his naturenunequivocally entifled to fundamentalnrights and that people are ends innthemselves — ideas that, contrary tonother, less sophisticated naturalist theories,nemphatically do not belong to annempirical concept. Kolakowski regardsnas essential the appreciation that thennnethical understanding of humanity derivesnlegitimately from neither anthropologicalnnor historical research, but isnrather substantiated morally. AndnKant, of course, derived that moralnground from practical reason.nOn this issue, Kolakowski is tentative.nWhile noting that moral substantiationncan be obtained through postulatingnabsolutely autonomous principlesnof practical reason, and hencenmight not have to rely on religiousntradition, he avoids taking a stand onnthe matter by noting simply that itsnresolution is “another question.” Onensenses that Kolakowski has great sympathynwith Kant’s rational moral justificationnon a purely intellectual — whichnis to say, rational — level. Yet Kolakowskinseems to lean away from it in thenend, for the Dostoyevskian reason thatnhuman beings are not equal to thisnkind of rationality, and that withoutnCod, to echo the great novelist, “anythingnis possible.”nKolakowski fears the human penchantnfor invoking “rationality” to dismissnage-old traditions — a tendency tonwhich intellectuals especially are pronen—and invoke certainty and ideology innthe service of grand illusions whosenresult is terror and destruction. Havingnwitnessed the tragedy of his own country,nthe monstrosity of Nazism followednby the horrors of communism,nKolakowski will forever appreciate thendanger of inhumanity in the name ofndeceptively lofty but in fact barbarousnprinciples. The result, in his case, is anskepticism that has turned dogmatismninto its opposite: an apology for balance,nfor tradition, for pluralism at allncosts — even at the cost of abjuringnphilosophy. Kolakowski appears tonhave been stunned into forgiveness andntolerance.nSympathetic to the forces of noveltynand, for lack of a better term, “modernity,”nKolakowski deplores the “spiritnof technology” and believes that Christianitynalone has the power to shieldnman from the evils of despair on thenone hand and hubris on the other.n