You are here:   Civilisation >  Books > The Polish Pope and his Boswell
Political neo-conservatism is also under stress. John Paul II’s social witness was shaped by a distinctive historical moment. In the final years of the Soviet empire, human rights played a central role in undermining the Communist regimes, and after 1989 the formerly subjugated nations in Eastern Europe largely embraced liberalisation. At its best, this was anchored in a moral seriousness about the integrity of conscience and an admirable loyalty to national traditions. The post-Soviet historical moment was transformative, even revolutionary, but in the service of timeless truths and healthy commitments.

There’s something very American about this combination, for we tend to think of our country as engaged in an ongoing revolution in the service of our creed of liberty and equality, as the rhetoric of George W. Bush after September 11 manifested so clearly. That’s perhaps why John Paul II was always more popular in the United States than in Western Europe. But these days even we are having second thoughts. Human rights have become a weapon used by progressives to demolish moral authority insofar as it bears upon sex, marriage, and family life, and a utopian globalism threatens to dissolve natural forms of solidarity. Here, too, the salience of the old framework of liberal vs. conservative is returning, making the neo-conservatism that promises to save liberalism from its excesses seem less plausible.

This does not mean John Paul II is passé. His great encyclicals limn the truths of the faith and they will be read and reread. Moreover, his witness was to Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But he had a distinctive theological and political style that grew out of the distinctive course of his life and the times in which he lived. I’m calling that style neo-conservative: a Church unequivocally Catholic and confident of its role and place in the modern world, an optimistic, liberalising witness rooted in timeless truths. This style attracted George Weigel and his circle of friends. It attracted me as well. It still does. But I’ll admit to wondering whether I can sustain the “modern” and “liberal” elements in the same ways I thought I could when John Paul II was Pope.
View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.