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.

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