“The creativity of John Paul’s analysis of totalitarianism and his prescription for effective resistance was its recognition that culture is the key to history. A people in firm possession of their historic culture could mount an effective, nonviolent resistance to totalitarianism; they could say ‘no’ to communism, for example, on the basis of a higher and more compelling ‘yes’–for example, to the Catholic culture of Poland. This culture-first reading of history gave a new form of power to the powerless, attacked communism at its maximum point of vulnerability, and demonstrated that a revolution of conscience could ignite a nonviolent political revolution that led not to a new form of tyranny but to the restitution of civil society as the basis of democracy. That is what John Paul II did in east central Europe. That is what he tried to do in Cuba. And that is why the Communist leadership in Beijing has blocked his access to that country.”
The past is a reminder that those who are in control today will not be in control for long. Conserving our own past is the people’s most powerful weapon against the political and social fashions of their era.
I was talking with a friend a few years ago who shared something he learned from a local in Eastern Europe who told him: “We’ve been ruled by empire after empire. If it wasn’t the Soviets, it was the Ottomans. If it wasn’t the Ottomans, it was the someone before them. For thousands of years, empires have come and gone. And in this town, for thousands of years, we’ve been living right here and drinking together in this pub.”
That’s folk wisdom in a nutshell, and I think it’s mostly right.