The film Nine Days That Changed The World is about JPII’s pilgrimage to Poland in 1979 while it was still under the Soviet Union’s control.  It documents the uproar his visit caused and how fragile the Communist hold over that country really was.  His stay sparked the Solidarity Movement which became a thorn in the Soviets’ side.

The film is also clear that JPII did not see the Cold War in terms of Evil Empire A v. Evil Empire B; instead, he sided with the Americans over the Soviets.  Far from reactionary, he was an advocate of modern notions such as human rights, democracy, and capitalism.

At the same time, his support for Western democracies was not absolute.  The end of the film (very) briefly mentions his worry that Western democracies like America will endorse moral relativism as its public philosophy.  A polity which recognizes no objective standard above the human will would allow might to make right.  In his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae , JPII discusses this problem in terms of the ‘culture of death.’ The growing acceptance of abortion and euthanasia in Western societies depicts the weak and vulnerable as being outside the human community.

While the film does not discuss this question, it is worth pondering whether the culture of death is the inevitable byproduct of democratic capitalism.  If the political system of democracy and economic system of capitalism both emphasize freedom, isn’t  a ‘ Culture of Choice ’ the necessary result?   In that case, aren’t social conservatives’ hopes for a Pro-Life policy doomed in this country?

Porcher Patrick Deneen would answer in the affirmative to the previous two questions.  He argues that democratic capitalism is solely the product of the Modern Enlightenment and thus necessarily leads to the culture of death.  JPII would agree with a part of his assessment.  In his book Memory and Identity, JPII says “ In all its different forms, the Enlightenment was opposed to what Europe had become as a result of evangelization . He would agree  Enlightenment ideals are hostile to the culture of life.

But he would not agree that Western democracies like America are inevitably headed towards the culture of death.  In Evangelium Vitae, he thinks the two cultures are future possibilities before Western democracies and so there is nothing determined about what is ahead. Like Tocqueville, he accepts the democratic revolution, but thinks what path it will take is still up in the air.

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Articles by Jason Joseph

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