• 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
    North Archives

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