The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism by George Weigel (Oxford University Press, £18.95) Michael Bordeaux THIS is an important book. The academic journalist, Timothy Garton Ash, to whom the author pays glowing tribute in these pages, was the first to insist, in his account of the events of 1989, We the People, that the election and activity of Pope John Paul II played a decisive role in the collapse of communism. Now we have a full analysis of that thesis.
George Weigel is President of the Ethics and Public Policy Centre, Washington DC. He has an incisive mind, balanced judgement, a direct style and marshals his arguments with passion and precision. How can the world's academics, journalists and politicians, he says, continue to ignore the role played by religion in the cataclysmic events of 1989?
He delivers some scathing judgements against those academics who do and should know better. In the final chapter he bewails the clouded vision of those many Christian leaders who thought they could, somehow, "save" the Church in the East by compromising with the communists.
I learned a great deal from the account of the activity of Cardinal Wyszynski and how this great man had prepared the soul and political will of the Polish people during the stark days of Stalinism. I was fortunate enough to travel widely in Poland in August 1979, just a few weeks after the new Pope's triumphant first return to his homeland.
There had been moments earlier, not least when I was writing about the witness of the Catholic Church in Lithuania in the mid-1970s, when I began to feel that beneath the bravado of communism there was some very insecure ground; but it was when I talked with such people as Tadeusz Mazowiecki, later to become the first Polish noncommunist prime minister, or more particularly shared the exhilaration of the ordinary people, that I knew that sooner or later faith would prevail over a system built on atheism.
The opposition, in its millions on the streets, had for the first time seen its own strength. George Weigel's book moves the reader inexorably in a great sweep from Wyszynski to the breach of the Berlin Wall.
Is this, then, a book without weaknesses? Not quite.
There is a missing chapter. The early section on the conventional views of what led to the collapse of communism (political, economic) is thoughtprovoking, but it ignores one essential.
A blood-bath of military intervention would have replaced the political collapse if there had not already been an erosion of the will to carry out atrocities in the name of the ruling ideology. Gorbachev set out to reform the communist party, not to lose an empire, but the incipient democratic and national independence movements did somehow unsettle the status quo, so the collective will to defend communism crumpled before the end of the Soviet system in 1991.
Amazingly, Christian values played a role even in the USSR, where the Church itself was infinitely weaker than in Poland.