- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

What would Thomas Jefferson have said? Following precepts of the former president’s legacy, the Library of Congress is a democratic institution to be sure — meant for the education of all citizens as well as members of Congress. Yet when a glamorous princess and heir to a European throne makes an entrance, all heads turn swiftly to catch a glimpse.

It was a duly elected member, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, sitting at dinner beside Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden Wednesday in the library’s Great Hall, who seemed to enchant the comely 26-year-old royal visitor most of all.

The ceremony in the library’s Whitall Pavilion before dinner was a fairly solemn, high-minded occasion marking the first million-dollar award ever granted for lifetime achievement in the social sciences and humanities. It went to Polish-born philosopher and authorLeszek Kolakowski, 76, who lives in retirement in England. Because the sum is part of business entrepreneur and philanthropist John W. Kluge’s largess of $60 million to the library, the international prize has been established in his name.

Mr. Kluge, founding chairman of the James Madison Council, the library’s private-sector support and advisory body, said he didn’t know the name of the awardee until the last minute. “I wanted to be as white as snow,” he said after a special 30-second fanfare composed for the event by library scholar Libby Larsen and played onstage by 11 musicians.

To call the building festive would be something of an understatement. Red roses, red carpets and soft red wall lighting were everywhere. A cookie modeled after the red-ribbon-bedecked prize medal was part of a “Medallion Medley” dessert at the end of an elaborate four-course meal.

After the presentation and remarks by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, Mr. Kolakowski read from a prepared paper titled “What the Past Is For” for about 20 minutes, occasionally leaning on a black cane.

“I am not even sure to whom I should express gratitude,” he began, noting that he had been among those people asked to submit candidates. “And fortunately, [my candidate] did not succeed.”

Mr. Billington, who came up with the idea for the award many long years ago, wanted to honor a world citizen noted for work in social and political thought with the same due respect — and remuneration — given annually to Nobel Prize recipients for work in specific sciences. Nobel Foundation procedures generally were followed. (The Kluge Prize will be offered at various intervals in the future, rather than annually.) Nominations for candidates were solicited from about 2,000 scholars around the world, but the finalist was a secret until Tuesday.

Kolakowski family members said they had no idea what Mr. Kolakowski would do with the monetary award. “We are not interested in money,” said son-in-law Jean-Pierre Hirszowicz, an astrophysicist who lives in Paris with his writer wife, Agnieszka, Mr. Kolakowski’s daughter, whose mother,Tamara, is a psychiatrist. Mr. Kolakowski is “not a pop star, but he is well-known in France,” Mr. Hirszowicz added, listing the many other honors his father-in-law has won in a long career, including a teaching stint at the University of Chicago from 1981 to 1994.

The philosopher’s endeavors have included searching and searing examinations of Marxism as well as Christianity. He is known for being the moral and philosophical mentor behind the Solidarity union’s rebellion against Poland’s communist regime in the 1980s. Exiled from his homeland, he found refuge in a number of European countries and still teaches a course at All Souls College in Oxford.

Mr. Kluge’s range is equally broad in other ways. Hinting privately at evening’s end about what project he might tackle next, he said he had several ideas and one of them “would be better than anything I have done before.”


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