Art & Culture

Czech philosopher, writer Erazim Kohak dies at age 86

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Erazim Kohak, a 20th-century significant Czech philosopher and holder of the Order of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk for his contribution to democracy, humanity and human rights, died on Saturday aged 86, Charles University Faculty of Arts spokesman Petr Kukal told CTK today.

Kohak, who spent over 40 years in exile, taught at universities in the Czech Republic as well as abroad and won a number of awards and prizes, including the Order of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk high state award from Czech President Milos Zeman in 2013.

Citing a Prague priest of the Evangelical Church of the Czech Brethren, in which Kohak was active, the Church spokesman Jiri Hofman told CTK that Kohak died on February 8 morning.

The date of his funeral is yet to be set.

Kohak was born in Prague on May 21, 1933. In 1948, when he was 14 and when the Communists seized power in Czechoslovakia, he fled together with his parents to Germany and later continued to the USA, where he did manual work along with studying at the Colgate University. In 1954, he was granted a scholarship and could continue his studies at Yale University, where he attained a doctorate in 1958.

In 1960, he joined the Boston university’s Faculty of Arts as an assistant lecturer and was later named senior lecturer and professor.

He returned to Czechia after the 1989 fall of the communist regime, contributed to the re-establishment of Czech philosophy and also tried to arouse ecological awareness. From 1990 to 1995 he alternately taught at the Boston University and Prague’s Charles University, before returning to Prague definitively.

The Czech public also knew Kohak as a former member of the Council of Czech Television and as a supporter of environmentalist groupings.

In 2004, he unsuccessfully ran in the Senate elections for the Social Democratic Party (CSSD), of which he was a member.

He issued numerous books in Czech and English, including a book on philosopher and dissident Jan Patocka (1907-1977) and books focusing on democracy and its values and on environmentalism.

As a philosopher, he dealt with phenomenology, social philosophy, philosophy of social sciences and environmental ethics. The personalities that influenced him most of all were Edmund Husserl and T. G. Masaryk, a philosopher, and lawyer who became the first Czechoslovak president in 1918-1935.

As a philosopher, Kohak warned of boundless consumerism and called for the society to redistribute the world welfare, because “at present, the ecological problem is a social problem of poverty and abundance. The antibody against wealth is solidarity,” he said. He criticized the short-term interests of the Euro-Atlantic civilization and a lack of joint interest, and he was also active on the local level. For example, he defended local railways and, together with his U.S. wife Dorothy, he helped save the Czech football club Bohemians.

In the wake of the September 11, 2002 terrorist attacks on the US, Kohak called the attacks on “imperial symbols of America” and that terrorism amounts to “the raging of the helpless.” In the mid-2000s, Kohak opposed the plan to install a U.S. missile defense radar near Prague, an idea that was later dropped by Washington.

1 Comment

  1. Nathan Carson

    April 12, 2020 at 5:32 am

    Erazim, in the last 2 years, I discovered your life and work. You were a singular light to me, and so many others. While I am only finding this news of your passing now, after communicating with you only weeks before your death, my response is no less heartfelt; I am no less broken by this news. You spoke at the intersection of Christian Platonism, Orthodoxy, and the person of Jesus himself, with a critical eye on care for our common home, and what our task as humans can and should be within it. You communicated with such passion and care, about the ingression of the eternal in time, the true, the good, and the beautiful, while affirming the deep meaning of humanity and temporality at the same time…all made possible by your embrace of Jesus Christ himself, God, humanity, united in a way that explodes the categories of Being, and holds far, far reaching sacramental and metaphysical significance that very, very few have begun to explore adequately. You certainly did, and I am forever grateful for it. As a philosopher, I sorely lack your empathy, your emotional depth of vision, your kindness, and the sheer alluvial force of mind that you have… so rare a combination these are indeed, especially amongst philosophers in our time. You inspired me so much, personally and professionally, that I put your work in The Embers and the Stars in the center of my Fresno Pacific University Sierra Wilderness Program (begun in 2018), and your ethical work at the center of my first attempt at an Ecophilosophy seminar in Fall 2019. While I am late to the news of your passing, I am glad for having had one chance to speak with you, and I am simply undone by this news. But, I know that of all people, you lived a life fully worthy of your writing, reflection, and passion for the goodness of creation and the possibilities of humanity to live most fully into their calling, broken and ruined as they are, in light of the ideal of the Kingdom of God and God’s peaceable kingdom, as articulated in Isaiah 11:1-9 and pointing to Jesus himself. You, at a critical moment in my life in Fall 2019, pointed me to this well-known text, in a way that I suspect will change me for good, in my understanding of our care and responsibilities toward non-human animals in light of Yahweh’s ideal of shalom for all creation, and not just human beings: Isaiah 11:1-9 (The Peaceful Kingdom)

    1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
    The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
    His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

    He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
    but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
    he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
    5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

    6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
    the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
    The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
    The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
    They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
    for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

    I pledge to continue what you spent your entire, wonderful life doing; to love even the flies themselves, as you did, and your father as well. May you see the face of Jesus and behold the glory of the LORD, and I hope to see you there some day.

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