What drives history over the long haul is culture

Quote of the Day for Friday, January 6th, 2012 – Epiphany.

George Weigel, in an On The Square article over at FirstThings.com last Wednesday, entitled The Weakness of Tyranny:

With the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, it now seems clear that the imposition of martial law in Poland in December 1981 was not an act of strength but one of weakness, by a regime so incapable of commanding the allegiance of those in whose name it claimed to rule that it could only compel obedience by violence. It took some time for this to become clear in Poland, a country frequently burdened by crushed hopes; John Paul’s second pastoral pilgrimage to his homeland, in June 1983, did a lot to raise the spirits of his countrymen—who rallied their energies such that, by 1987, the Pope could spend his third pilgrimage home laying the cultural and moral foundations for a post-communist Poland, which was born two years later in the Revolution of 1989.
The lessons, 30 years later? Solidarity’s triumph ought not be universalized as a one-size-fits-all model for coping with tyrants. Still, John Paul II’s instinct for reading history through cultural lenses has much to commend it. Politics and economics are important. What drives history over the long haul, however, is culture: what men and women cherish, honor, and worship; what men and women are willing to stake their lives, and their children’s lives, on.

The truest realism, therefore, is one shaped by truths and ideals, not only by calculations of power. If you doubt that, ask General Jaruzelski.

I (re-)watched a video/drama biography of Pope John Paul II last week that my daughter had brought home over Christmas school vacation, and was glad for the opportunity to spend some time with the family appreciating the great man. What struck me most profoundly in the story was the way it presented the malice of malevolent power as incompetent; in particular how the scheming but fearful bully tactics of the Communist regime, while attempting to secure an easily manipulable client to be named bishop of Krakow by insisting upon a young, local theater wonk of a priest, ended up with Karol Wojtyla. Oops. In the end, evil-doers always end up stealing enough rope to hang themselves, though they don’t always go down without first doing much harm.

Today we celebrate, among other things, vicious King Herod being stiffed in his evil designs by the Magi, though we mustn’t forget that he responded with the Slaughter of the Innocents. It’s a good day for me to ponder what it is I am willing to stake my life on, and the lives of my children.

Merry Epiphany. Now, Christmastide is over. It’s time to take down the lights, and begin the ordered cycle of the new year.