Volume XXVII, No. 1
The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World, by John Ralston Saul. Woodstock & New York: The Overlook Press (www.overlookpress.com), 2005. 309 pages. Index, notes. ISBN 1-58567-629-2. Hardcover. $19.77 on Amazon.com.
This book flies in the face of accepted political and economic wisdom. The author sketches out a history of globalization, an economic trend based on the belief in technocracy, consumerism, and technological determinism, as opposed to group identity shaped by centuries of common experience. He argues that “the big solutions of Globalization are just privatized versions of the big government solutions of the post-war period” (85). Saul sees similarities between globalization goals and practices, and those of communism and socialism. As was the case with socialist societies, in a globalized world a small group of people controls financial empires whose activities are often detrimental to the common good. Saul points out that Walmart’s yearly gross earnings, $250 billion, exceed those of many small and medium-size states. He argues that far from marshaling “the end of history,” globalism is about to end, and nation-states will reassert themselves. He also notes a connection between the belief in globalization and American neoconservatism.
Saul offers a point of view and much information to those who wish to understand the trajectory of world economy and politics in the last half century. He issues an indirect warning to the central and east European states anxious to follow the mighty by embracing the ruthless privatization that has already ruined much of Poland’s economy and that of other postcommunist states. He is well aware that agriculture “performs various non-commodity roles” (87) and that application of the rule “the bigger and more efficient should win, the smaller should die” is disastrous for countries with low average incomes.
Saul points out that “the confidence to be uncertain” is a strength rather than a weakness. He defends the right to dissent. He is against the herd of independent minds huddling together at the neocon think tanks that dominate American academia, politics, and economics. Without people like Saul we would descend into a dictatorship of fashion in all these areas. What Saul defends is the “think small” society, a Chestertonian community of responsible people who strive after quality of life instead of GDP or consumerism. The 43/2006 issue of Europa (a weekly supplement to Dziennik, 28October2006, <www.dziennik.pl/Default.aspx?TabId=208&year=2006&nrw=134&art=294>) carries Maciej Nowicki’s interview with John Ralston Saul, as well as an article about Saul. (sb)
How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishers, 2005. 280 pages. Bibliography, index. ISBN 0-89526-038-7. Hardcover. $29.95 on B&N.
The blunt title may put some fastidious readers off, but read on. Thousands of books that congealed into historical “truth” have falsely attributed society-building capabilities to everyone except the Catholic Church. The author cannot deal with this mountain of texts and he does not attempt to. This is not a polemical treatise; instead, it asserts. In its argument it relies mostly on secondary sources, and it is occasionally disappointing to find that a quote from Voltaire or St. Augustine comes from a book about them rather than from the original text. And yet, read on.
Woods presents a compendium of facts about the Middle Ages (they were not “dark”). He rightly credits that period of history with the invention of universities (a glorious achievement of the Catholic Church, one that eventually made modern learning-oriented societies possible); the cultivation of science (impossible without Catholic theology, the author argues-and forget the old canard about Galileo, he was not threatened with execution as university lore has it); the development of architecture and art; the development of international law; free market; and the tradition of helping those in need. Woods states that the dark ages were actually the ages when the Catholic Church was in the forefront of erecting civilizational structures destroyed by the conquerors of Rome in the fifth century. We are reminded of the fact-so well known to Poles, less so to native-born Americans-that destruction is swift, whereas rebuilding takes generations and proceeds in fits and starts. The Middle Ages were a long, laborious period of reintroducing literacy to the elites, and preserving and hand-copying in monasteries the manuscripts that survived the destruction of libraries by the barbarians. It would be worthwhile to direct a PhD dissertation comparing Carolingian Renaissance in the eight and ninth centuries to the Polish Renaissance in the sixteenth century.
The argument concerning science is based on the writings of Catholic philosophers about the nature of God. The author asserts that Christian theology sustained scientific enterprise (81). His argument resembles the lecture given by John Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI) at Regensburg University on 12 September 2006. The argument states that unlike the gods of many other religions, the Catholic God is not capricious or unpredicatable; His very nature is to be rational, and therefore the material universe is rational as well, i.e., predictable. The word “rational” as used here has Hellenistic overtones. Like Ratzinger, Woods considers the marriage of Hellenism and Christianity to be a New Testament-based development. What is invoked is the Aristotelian-Thomistic (and not the Enlightenment-based) rationality. Only within this Weltanschauung can scientists observe the regularities of the material world and perform their experiments. This Weltanschauung allows them to be confident that similar conditions and ingredients will produce similar results. If God and reality were inscrutable or unpredictable, they could not have provided the comfortable certainty that an experiment once performed can be performed again, with the same results. Newton’s apples always fall down; they never go up. Woods claims that this predictability of the universe is a priceless gift that the scientific world received from the theology of the Catholic Church.
Regarding international law, Woods reminds us of the writings of the sixteenth-century Spanish monks who argued that all human beings, irrespective of their societal status, have certain rights because they are children of God. The monks argued that even non-Christian kings hostile to Christians had the right to rule their dominions. Their right was grounded in what the monks called natural law imprinted by God on all human hearts (or minds, if you prefer). Ergo, the mistreatment of American natives by the conquistadores was a grievous injustice and a sin. The only admissible war is the war of self-defense. This idea of the just war was a tremendous step forward in shaping international relations, Woods notes. It brought to bear the idea that unjust wars breach a moral order rather than being a justifiable reaction to an evil deed or to an insult to one’s honor. The idea that a moral order transcends the laws of individual nations and does not allow vengeful acts or acts that merely defend one’s wounded ego was formulated by Catholic intellectuals who happened to be monks. Eventually institutions such as the United Nations came about because the idea that peoples and rulers had the right to live undisturbed by others began to be taken for granted. This rule was honored more in the breach than in observance, of course; however, it cannot be denied that the world is better off with the idea of a moral order that transcends religions, political systems, and national and period differences. Without it, the Hobbesian and Darwinian idea that the world is basically a jungle where the stronger eat the weaker would be the alternative.
Literatura polska w teatrze i telewizji w latach 1953-1993, by Gražyna Pawlak. Warsaw: Instytut Badan Literackich of the Polish Academy of Sciences, 2004. 534 pages. Bibliogaphy, indices of names and titles. ISBN 83-89348-35-7. Paper. In Polish.
In many ways, this is a definitive work on Polish TV theater during the communist period and beyond. It is organized chronologically (the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s), and it contains a complete and detailed list of Polish plays staged by state television during that time. The list is again chronological, beginning with Old Polish literature then moving on to Enlightenment literature, Romanticism, Positivism, the Young Poland, literature of the Second Republic (1918-1939), and post-1939 literature. The book is a treasure trove of dates and details; indeed, an encyclopedic work. Apart from bibliographical and historical details, the book provides interpretative essays about the ways the plays were selected, their popularity, the problems encountered in staging plays for the screen, and a host of other issues. A sine qua non for those seriously interested in the Polish theater and in twentieth-century TV theater in particular, this is obviously a labor of a lifetime and a genuine contribution to the literature.
Nowa Okolica Poetów, nos. 18-19 (2005). Published in Rzeszów, Poland, by the Stanisław Pi´tak Society <firstname.lastname@example.org>, or <email@example.com>. ISSN 1506-3682. 311 pages + photographs. Paper. In Polish.
This periodical is published in southeastern Poland, a place not known for vigorous literary activity. It is impressive. It brings to mind the tolstye zhurnaly in nineteenth-century Russia where prose and poetry, literary criticism, and essay coexisted in mutual tolerance and supplied much reading pleasure to the squirearchy. In Nowa Okolica the abundance of poets, many of them well known, is astounding. Many are represented by a single poem, a device that keeps the reader on his/her toes. The essays eschew postmodern approaches without slipping into the primitivism of their Russian antecedents. They speak directly to twenty-first-century men and women about issues of crucial importance to human existence. We particularly liked the essay on Czesław Miłosz’s poem “To” by Jarosław Klejnocki; Mark Pawlak’s “Treblinka” (translated from German by Janusz Zalewski), a prose poem that is the best brief rendition of the Holocaust in memory; Karol Maliszewski’s poetry; Rafał Rżany’s text and photographs; Stefan Miśkiewicz’s short story about incest. . . too many to mention. This is truly a periodical for lovers of literature and the printed word. The writers who publish here and their readers will not be honored by their universities for participating in a prestigious enterprise; their reward is the reading itself. Rather than focusing on the study and dissections of texts in light of a theory for the purpose of advancing one’s career, Nowa Okolica appeals to the desire to read and think that has motivated people for centuries.
Dreams of Fires: 100 Polish Poems, 1970-1989. Translated and edited by Zbigniew Joachimiak, David Malcolm, and Georgia Scott. Introduction by David Weisssbort. Salzburg: University of Salzburg (http://www.poetrysalzburg.com), 2004. 152 pages. ISBN 3-801993-15-0. Paper.
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