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Not Your Father's Communism

As Mark Noll observed in the last issue of BOOKS &CULTURE, we have "not yet caught up to the Christian significance of what went on and has been going on in Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, the former East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and the former Yugoslavia" in the years leading up to the breakup of the Soviet Bloc and the often disheartening aftermath. Noll's assessment indeed reveals a careful historian's habit of understatement. It would not be tabloidish to go further and say that in the places where such matters are discussed, the role of the church in these great events has been systematically ignored and distorted.

No single event was more influential in the transformation of East-Central Europe than the flourishing of the Polish labor movement, Solidarity. Adam Michnik was at the heart of that struggle, for which he was imprisoned by Poland's military regime. While his work is hardly unknown in the West, scholars routinely downplay Michnik's Christianity, which is in fact fundamental to his outlook.

In Letters from Prison and Other Essays (1986) and The Church and the Left (1992), Michnik's distinctive political vision is laid out. Because the telling is dense with particulars, many Americans have not bothered to digest it. That is a great loss. Now more than ever, American political discourse needs reinvigoration, and the publication of Michnik's new collection, Letters from Freedom, couldn't be more timely.

Michnik, it is important to add, is not your standard-order political theorist. At a conference last year, he ruffled the mostly impeccably liberal, Buddhist, agnostic academic audience by referring repeatedly to the Communists as a "gang" and by frequently invoking the Holy Trinity. Nor is he a saintly man; his comments about women are not only "pre-feminist" but also "pre-Christian." Nonetheless, his is a voice very much worth our attention.

What follows is an excerpt from just one piece in a rich collection of essays and conversations. ...

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