What I Learned From John Paul II

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I
shall leave it to other columnists to comment on the profound impact
of John Paul II on our times. I am content to confine myself to
comments on what I learned from his ministry.

THE
INESCAPABLE INFLUENCE OF THE UNPREDICTABLE

Robert
Burns’s phrase about the best-laid plans of mice and men often going
awry is illustrated better by John Paul II’s career than anyone
in my era. Only one other figure comes close: Deng Xiao Ping. The
best-laid plans can come to naught in an amazingly short period
of time.

The
year 1978 was a year of expected caretakers. In March, Deng Xiao
Ping had become the undisputed leader of Communist China. At age
74, he seemed old: probably a caretaker. The National People’s Congress
decided to go with a safe bet: age.

Pope
Paul VI died in early August. He had overseen the transformation
of the Roman Catholic Church. The death of John XXIII in 1963, after
Vatican II had begun, left to Paul VI the task of overseeing the
sessions and implementing them. This he did. The Church changed
more under his administration in 15 years than had taken place in
the previous 500 years — maybe 1,000. It moved decisively in a liberal/modernist
direction.

The
election of John Paul I took place in one day of the Conclave in
late August, 1978. There is no doubt in my mind that a Conclave
that brief indicates pre-Conclave agreement regarding a short list
of candidates before the cardinals were locked in their room (which
is what "conclave" means). John Paul I was to be a caretaker
Pope. He immediately took the names of his two predecessors, indicating
his commitment to extend Vatican II. Thirty-three days later, he
died.

There
are lots of really choice conspiracy theories about his death. My
favorite has to do with the secret Masonic brotherhood, P2, and
its connection to the unfolding Bank Ambrosia scandal. Do I actually
believe he was murdered? There is insufficient evidence to persuade
me. (The standard book on this non-standard theory is David Yallop’s
In
God’s Name
. The fictional account is the novel by Malachi Martin,
Vatican.)

Whatever
the cause of his death, no conspiracy theory has come close to explaining
the outcome: the election of a Polish Pope and what followed next.

The
Conclave that elected John Paul II took three days. There are no
notes published after a Conclave. There are no leaks during it.
Silence prevails. So, theories about what went on are without verifiable
support. The duration indicates that there had been a short list.
Wojtyla was probably on the previous short list. I say this because
there had been little time for pre-Conclave politicking. The cardinals
had barely arrived home by the time John Paul I died.

Wojtyla
took the name John Paul II. This was the equivalent of calling Wilt
Chamberlain "Wilt the Shrimp."

Consider
the next 14 months after John Paul II’s election in October.

In
December, Deng announced the agricultural reform that transferred
land ownership to farmers. That marked the beginning of the capitalist
revolution in Red China. He lived long enough to implement his economic
reforms. He died in 1997. We see the results of that revolution
in every Wal-Mart and in every report on the U.S. trade deficit.

January,
1979: the Shah of Iran abdicated and fled Iran. Khomeini took over.

On
May 3, Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain.
She was to serve longer than any Prime Minister in 150 years: 11
years. Under her administration, much of the system of government-owned
monopolies was privatized.

On
June 2, John Paul II arrived in Poland and began a series of public
meetings that drew millions of visitors. This was the beginning
of the end of Communism in Poland. The Solidarity movement began
within a year. Poland’s ex-Communist tyrant, Gen. Jaruzelski, later
said that this was the central event in the toppling of Communism
in Central Europe. Gorbachev, when out of power, agreed.

Late
June: OPEC announced a 50% hike in the price of oil. Jimmy Carter
went into defensive mode economically.

November
4: Iranian mobs captured the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Jimmy Carter
went into defensive mode militarily.

In
December, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. This marked the
beginning of a decade of bloodletting that culminated in 1989 with
the withdrawal of Soviet troops and, within two years, the disintegration
of the USSR.

None
of this was remotely visible in October, 1978.

So
far, I haven’t mentioned Ronald Reagan.

We
know the phrase, "seize the moment." Pope John Paul II
not only seized the moment, he seized the next quarter century.
For someone officially in charge of an organization that large,
seizing a quarter century is no small accomplishment.

NOTHING
LEFT TO LOSE

Alexandr
Solzhenitsyn was the other figure of the twentieth century who rivaled
Pope John Paul II in undermining Soviet authority by the power of
his words. He, even more than the Pope, made painful and embarrassing
any support of the Soviets by Western intellectuals, too many of
whom had become early admirers of Stalin and then his successors
until The
Gulag Archipelago
finally undermined them in the mid-1970s.
He wrote of his decade in the Soviet concentration camps that this
experience saved him. The camps took everything material away from
him. He had nothing left to lose. Outside the camps, victims of
Communist oppression clung to a few possessions and conformed in
order to keep what little they owned. By being stripped of everything,
Solzhenitsyn said, he avoided this fate.

By
the time Wojtyla was 21, every member of his immediate family had
died. The Nazis had invaded Poland when he was 19. He began as a
student for the priesthood in a clandestine seminary. He was ordained
in 1946, to begin life under the Communists. He was in opposition
from the beginning.

He
was trained by a consummate anti-totalitarian, Stefan Wyszynsky
(pronounced, ironically, "Vishinski" — just like the Soviet
foreign minister), the primate of Poland, who became a cardinal
in 1953 and was immediately put under house arrest for over three
years. Wyszynsky served as president of Vatican II in 1962. Wojtyla
learned how to survive under a rival bureaucracy that also claimed
universal authority, eschatological inevitability, and the infallibility
of its supreme council.

He
had no family to terrorize, no possessions to confiscate. "What’s
a tyranny to do?" He went into opposition and remained in opposition
until there was nothing left of worldwide Communism to oppose.

The
nothing-left strategy is not open to most men most of the time.
But it is what is required of a dedicated few in times of moral
confrontation. Mentally, you have to surrender it in advance in
order to preserve any of it in a time of life-and-death confrontation.
Jesus said: "He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he
that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 10:39).

Of
all Catholic nations that had been in opposition to totalitarianism
longest, Poland was it in 1978. So, when the Conclave chose Wojtyla,
it chose the man most suited for a long-term confrontation.

The
Western media have identified his strategy of resistance with respect
to Communism. This strategy was also visible in his open confrontations
in Latin America in the 1980s. His opponents were priests who had
joined the liberation theology movement. That movement sank on the
Good Ship Marx after 1991, to the dismay of seminary professors,
Protestant and Catholic, around the world.

We
do not yet know the outcome of his strategy of opposition with respect
to his steady, quiet, non-headline-grabbing undermining of the social
liberals in the Church’s hierarchy.

STICK
TO YOUR KNITTING

John
Paul II was the second-longest reigning Pope after Pius IX (1846—1878),
the Pope of Vatican I (1870).

Under
his reign, he appointed well over 100 cardinals. Of the 117 eligible
to vote (those under age 80), he appointed all but three.

In
his 1987 book, The
Jesuits
, former Jesuit Malachi Martin discussed Romanita.
Romanita is the ability to outlast your competition. There are always
factions in any bureaucracy, and there is no bureaucracy with a
longer tradition or more factions in the West than the Roman Catholic
Church. The faction that provides the longest-lasting survivors
in any battle wins the next phase of the war.

Pius
IX was a conservative. Until John XXIII reversed this tradition,
it held firm. Yet it was visibly on the defensive within a decade
of the death of Pius XII in 1958.

I
have little sense of the details of John Paul II’s philosophy. As
for his theology, it is clear that he upheld traditional Catholic
views regarding the Virgin Mary. This outlook was the product of
his years in Poland and also the assassination attempt. He had moved
unpredictably just before he was shot, looking more closely at a
Sacred Heart emblem worn by a little girl. (This is reported in
Martin’s book, The
Keys of This Blood
.)

Everyone
knows his social views: no female priests, no abortion, no contraception
devices, no homosexuality. Also, it should be added, no war. On
abortion, he voiced his opposition to the policy of Clinton. On
war, he voiced his opposition to the policies of Clinton and both
Bushes.

Year
after year, appointment after appointment, he wove a tapestry of
traditionalism. It will take a concerted effort on the part of liberals
to reweave this tapestry. In the seminaries, they have more than
a foothold. They have control. The Pope did not excommunicate entire
seminary faculties. To get a sense of what I am talking about, click
here
.

He
did not resign, although the American media kept running interviews
with liberal Catholics who thought he should. He grew old and infirm
before our eyes. He did not hide what was happening to his body.
He was reduced at the end to silence, unable to speak in any of
the eight languages he spoke. But he did not hide from the cameras.

If
ever there was a man whose career said "No retirement,"
it was his. He stayed on the job until the end. It was not a bitter
end, but it was painful.

WHEN
YOU’VE GOT IT, USE IT

Has
any man worked the mass media better, longer?

He
got in front of the cameras, and there he stayed for 26 years.

One
interviewee revealed that when the Pope first met with members of
the press, when the interview was over, he stood up and walked around
the room full of reporters to shake hands. This was unheard of.
They had expected to be allowed to file past him, one by one.

He
had a unique skill. He exercised his ability as Pope to go directly
to the people — the first Pope in history to do this internationally.
He made 103 trips outside of Italy to some 120 countries. No other
figure has ever toured a reported 120 countries in front of TV cameras.

No
one has ever drawn the crowds that he did. So, the media had to
show up. So, the crowds kept getting larger. By 1995, an estimated
seven million showed up to see him in Manila — the largest crowd in
man’s recorded history.

He
had a unique ability to capture attention. He used it for all it
was worth.

The
media reported that he had been an amateur actor early in his career.
This was not said in derision. Another former actor, also known
for his ability to handle the media, received more criticism for
his similar background. In both cases, the public responded favorably.

CONCLUSION

Deng,
an old man in 1978, was not expected to do much. The twenty-first
century already looks back at what he did and marvels.

Brezhnev,
a doddering old man in 1979, launched a war in Afghanistan that
brought down the USSR a decade later. This caretaker failed to take
care.

John
Paul I, another expected caretaker, did not remain on the job long
enough to fulfill his expected role.

The
Shah of Iran, a caretaker of Western oil, did not stay on the job.

Pope
John Paul II knew that a resistance strategy was suitable in 1978.
He publicly issued traditional encyclicals, while maintaining absolute
mastery of the media — a skill also possessed by Mrs. Thatcher and
Ronald Reagan.

What
blindsided liberals after 1978 was the ability of conservatives
to commandeer the media to extend their agendas. Liberals had long
assumed that their control over the media was unbreakable. They
believed that they could set the agenda. The best-laid plans. .
. .

In
each case, what had been expected by the various establishments
did not come to pass.

I
am reminded of the words of my teacher, Robert Nisbet, in the closing
words of a June, 1968 essay in Commentary:

"What
the future-predictors, the change-analysts, and trend-tenders
say in effect is that with the aid of institute resources, computers,
linear programming, etc. they will deal with the kinds of change
that are not the consequence of the Random Event, the Genius,
the Maniac, and the Prophet. To which I can only say: there really
aren’t any; not any worth looking at anyhow."

April
6, 2005

Gary
North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.freebooks.com.

Gary
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