The Final Revolution (13)

I actually started this a few days back and thought I posted about it, but somehow it didn’t make it. So, I’ll try again.

The Final Revolution by George Weigel is an account of the 1989 revolution in Eastern Europe. Weigel begins by suggesting that the revolution had moral and spiritual (even, gasp, religious) dimensions that have been largely overlooked. He surveys several overarching theories of the cause of the revolution and rejects them as inadequate, namely: 1) Gorbachev did it, 2) Ronald Reagan did it, 3) the Helsinki Act did it, and 4) Economics or history [e.g., The End of History]. Though Weigel recognizes various contributions of these elements, he points to the fact that there was an explicit moral dimension, acted out in non-violence and reflecting the contributions of especially John Paul II (though other contributors, including some more secular figures are mentioned).

Weigel is understandably a bit adament about the role of Catholicism (he’s a well-known Catholic writer), especially given the relative inattention to religious motivations in other histories of the period. And especially in Poland, one cannot doubt the contributions of religion to the rather dramatic outcome. Fundamentally for Weigel, the failure of communism was a moral one – and only by calling the lie what it was (the theme of chapter 2) could it be overcome. That is ultimately a moral task and not merely a political or economic one.

It’s a fascinating period and I’ve enjoyed learning more about it. Undoubtedly, the period was driven by complex concerns, but religion looms large at least in parts of the story. Weigel is also aware of the fact that the period represented a unique and different voice; the Catholic church had been alternately confrontational and accomodating earlier in the 20th century. So, one must ask what about that time and the circumstances of the church as well as the world contributed to that unique set of events. This book provides some of the clues!

I’m also interested to think of how events since 1989 (20 years now) might change the perception of the events. I think it is safe to say that elements of the overthrow of communism have at least in some places (notably Russia) not been entirely positive. I’ll have to think on this more as I reach the end of the book.

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