The Struggle for World Dominion

Between Pope John Paul II,

Mikhail Gorbachev, and the

Capitalist West

By Malachi Martin

Simon and Schuster. 734 pp. $24.95

IN The Keys of This Blood, Malachi Martin asks us to believe that he has unlocked the secret strategy of Pope John Paul II to wrest world dominion from George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev. The new game in history, Martin plausibly contends, is the building of a supra-national world order. Everyone who is anyone in terms of sociopolitical and economic power is engaged in a "millennial end game" to determine what values and institutional mechanisms this new geopolitical order will require. But Martin assumes, gratuitously it seems to me, that we're talking about a world government.

The big players in this game, as Martin sees it, are three: 1) the transnational capitalists -- the David Rockefellers, George Shultzes and Akio Moritas of this world -- in whom Martin finds ominous tendencies toward a homogenized, bureaucratized world culture in which only "the good life" counts; 2) Moscow's Party-State in its new, soft-sell Gorbachevian form (don't trust it, Martin warns: Gorbachev is only using Antonio Gramsci's subtle tactics of eviscerating popular culture of any spiritual element); and 3) the Roman pontiff as a leader of the Catholic Church's vast international network, in Martin's view the only "georeligion" on the map. The geopolitical plans of the former will surely founder, while the pope's, relying on certain revelations given by the Virgin Mary at Fatima in 1917, will inevitably endure.

One can readily agree with certain parts of this thesis -- that the purpose of Karol Wojtila's pontificate has been to restore the papacy's role as a principal player in world affairs; that, with 45 trips to 91 countries to his credit, this pope has carved out for himself an international profile as the conscience of nations; and as such he is the first genuinely "geopolitical" pope in history. Neither the Dalai Lama nor the Archbishop of Canterbury can touch him in this regard. But that Pope John Paul II has mounted Hegel's world spirit as "the Servant of the Grand Design" and is engaged in a fierce competition to beat out the Kremlin and the capitalist West in a "winner-take-all" gamble to shape the global system -- well, this is documentary fiction. The grand design, so far as I can fathom it (Martin is annoyingly vague), looks like the world envisioned by Boniface VIII, the 13th-century pope who claimed supremacy over all civil powers.

If the pope hasn't mounted Hegel's horse, certainly Martin has -- for he slogs through contemporary North-South politics, the history of the Russian Revolution, dissections of Western globalists of all stripes and 195 years of Polish history. This is a fat, terribly overwritten book, also a very repetitious one. If you don't get the author's point on the first round, there are plenty of other chances.

Martin has undoubtedly put his finger on a central claim of Karol Wojtila's regime: that no system of politics is viable unless based on some transcendent moral reference, and that no religious belief is viable unless it is deeply involved in the construction of political systems. But it is one thing to say, citing hard evidence, that Pope John Paul II seeks to become, on behalf of Third World beggars, the moral conscience of the rich, and quite another to allege, citing ecclesiastic rumor and gossip, that the pope is competing with secular powers to dictate the terms of a fanciful world government. Martin's account of Mikhail Gorbachev's historic meeting with the pope on Dec. 1, 1989, is a classic of the latter sort; he pretends to know, as if he were a fly on the wall, just what the two talked about. In effect, they were discussing the ideas in Martin's book! AND WHY, one wants to ask, put the pope in a winner-take-all competition for world dominion? The only explanation is to be found in Martin's own inflated interpretation of what it means to assert that the successor of the Apostle Peter is, by writ of heaven, the infallible moral authority, not just for Catholics but for the whole human race. Martin has no use in his philosophy for pluralism, spheres of competence, grace working through nature or nearly a millennium of struggle between church, state and university that has happily prevented the pope from becoming a Khomeini.

The irony is that though Martin opposes centralized global control in any secular form, he is all for the Vatican having such absolute power. What puzzles him, despite his great admiration for the pope's geopolitical shrewdness, is why Karol Wojtila hasn't dealt more forcefully with the erosion of papal authority within his own power base, the church itself. The Keys of This Blood rehearses themes familiar from Martin's previous books -- that the Second Vatican Council was an act of "misfeasance" on the part of Pope John XXIII, that its liberalizing tendencies were heretical, and what the church needs now is a Moscow-trials- style purge of all those progressive elements in which, putting the worst possible construction on them, Martin fantasizes a conspiracy to dismantle the papal office. If Martin were pope (and much of this book seems to imagine that he is), he would stamp out all democratizing tendencies and dissenting voices within the church by a liberal use of suspension, interdict and excommunication. In the concluding chapter, Martin imagines that some future Polish pope will set things right -- far right, that is -- in exactly this way.

Behind his Gaelic charm, Malachi Martin has all the witch-hunting instincts of a Torquemada or a Commie-baiting Joe McCarthy. (The World Council of Churches and the New Age movement, for instance, are charged with being nothing but KGB tools.) He has no sufferance for the Holy Spirit working from the bottom up, and remains intractably convinced, as other zealots have been, that quite literally there is no salvation outside the Roman church's top-down command structure. Unfortunately, Martin projects much of this mindset onto his idol, Pope John Paul II. It does the pope no credit.

David Toolan, S.J., is an associate editor at America Magazine in New York City and the director of the Catholic Book Club.