De verovering van de vrijheid is partly a revision of my master’s dissertation, though it also greatly differs from it. I've been puzzled and intrigued by freedom for almost as long as I can remember, ever since I was a child and we fled from communist Poland to Belgium. In The Conquest of Freedom I tell the story of our escape to the free world, the difficulties we encounter while trying to build a new life and the price we had to pay for freedom. I combine this personal story with an attempt at obtaining a better understanding of the complex thing that freedom is. Even though probably everybody has an opinion about freedom and thinks he knows what freedom means, it is very difficult to define. Why is freedom both a blessing and a burden? Why is often a false promise? Why do politicians so often use and abuse the term? And why is freedom not merely about what one is allowed to do, but also about what one is capable of doing? It is these and other questions I try to answer.
For my Ph.D I did several years of research on the writings of two thinkers whose work, I believe, should receive greater recognition. Max Scheler was possible the brightest star at the sky of early 20th century philosophy. However nowadays only a small group of scholars is familiar with his writings. And while Karol Wojtyla is known all over the world as pope John Paul II, the fact that prior to the papacy he wrote numerous works of philosophy and essays, and taught courses in philosophy has generated relatively little interest. In my Ph.D dissertation I explore the meaning of two concepts central to the thought of Scheler and Wojtyla (who wrote a dissertation on Scheler): freedom and personhood.
There isn’t a single thinker of whom I possess more books than Leszek Kolakowski. Kolakowski was one of the most important and well-known Polish philosophers of the 20th century. My appreciation for his writings possibly results from the fact that Kolakowski – for most of his life – didn’t belong to any philosophical school, tradition or political ideology. If philosophy is the art of doubt, Kolakowski mastered this art as few others. He once described himself as a conservative-liberal socialist and said the truest answer to most philosophical questions is nie wiadomo: that is unknown. For this co-authored book I wrote chapters on Kolakowski’s political philosophy and negative concept of freedom, his critique of Spinoza, and I translated Kolakowski’s essay Niepokój wieku naszego (The turmoil of our century). I also wrote an extensive biographical introduction on Kolakowski, whose life was deeply marked by the turmoil of the previous century: the malaise of interwar Poland, the horror of Nazism, the communist repression, the life in exile, the fight against communism, the years of transition.
My debut novel tells, in alternating chapters, two stories that slowly come together. On the one hand, there’s the story of Elisabeth, who had a difficult relationship with her father and who is faced with the task of cleaning out his house and selling his things after his death. On the other, there is the story of Anna, a young woman who many years ago had an affair with a man who was three times her age. A Kind of Love is a novel about the elusiveness of love, about how real and all-encompassing love can still fail and be incomplete, and about the gap that sometimes exists between reality and the way we love and feel loved.
Allmensch is a reflection about our human nature and what we essentially are: always unfulfilled and incomplete, always becoming. Allmensch is a plea for ambitious modesty: we have to be modest enough to admit we are all fairly ordinary and mediocre people, but also sufficiently ambitious so as to recognize that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things. We can always do better, and be better. ‘The ability to transcend mediocrity, to develop ourselves, to improve the world… the essence of our human condition resides in this possibility.’