The encyclical of Pope John Paul is 102 pages long. From reading the summary of it by Roberto Suro in The New York Times, one is left with the prayerful hope that what has not been summarized by Roberto Suro is less bad than what has been. But even if that were so (and many scholars and friends of the church and indeed of humankind will spend uncounted hours in the days and months to come trying to find a little gold in allthat alloy), what threatens to make its way into the public consciousness is quite simply: Pope declares East/West similarly sinful. Both, Pontiff Declares, Worsen Plight of Poor. The encyclical does not justify such a reading.
Jean-Franc ois Revel, the French philosopher, wrote a book four years ago called ''How Democracies Perish.'' It is a searching examination of the way in which the rhetoric of egalitarianism blurs the moral judgment. We talk of the two ''superpowers,'' of de Gaulle's ''deux he'ge'monies.'' We speak of the first-strike capabilities of the ''two'' superpowers.Of two scorpions in the bottle. The effectof such rhetorical amalgamations, Revelpoints out, is to blind us to the liberating distinctions.
We have a Cold War deplored by the pope -- and equally deplored by the commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States. Ronald Reagan, and the overwhelming majority of Americans who back our annual expenditure of $300 billion to ensure our defenses, dream of a day in which no Cold War would be necessary. But that day is one that only the Soviet Union could bring about. The pope specifically singlesout the violation of human rights as the princi-pal crime of the age, but only the Soviet Unionis driven by the imperialistic compulsionwith which the pope appears evenhandedlyto charge the Soviet Union and the United States.
That allegation alone is so mystifyingly antihistorical as to jeopardize the credibility of any thought accompanying it. If the pope had instead warned against a reckless flight from colonialism, he'd have leaned on hardier moral arguments. The flight of the French, the Belgians and the British from Africa and the Americans from Southeast Asia has caused more misery and deaths than all the benighted crusades associated with misguided predecessors of Pope John Paul. It would be difficult to name with confidence an average man or woman living in Africa or in Southeast Asia who does not think wistfully, when measuring only material matters, of the days of colonialism.
On the matter of helping the poor, one must ruefully conclude that the pope is adamantly unaware of the great 20th-century lessons of economic emancipation. The spectacular rise from poverty in the postwar world has been in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and those nations of the West according as they encouraged the exercise of capitalism. One fears that the pope and his advisers feel an aversion to the word, notwithstanding his stress on individual initiative. In the case of the pope, that is perhaps because for 30 years he lived in a culture in which capitalism was denounced in demonic accents.
There can be no accounting for the nonrational way in which the Vatican now refers to social arrangements that have benefited humankind precisely as the pope so ardently desires that humankind be helped. The raging disease in Catholic social thought is the inattention given to the problem of production. There cannot be any residue with which to effect redistribution unless first there is an accumulation of that residue.
The pope is going to make a lot of enemies of exactly the kind he does not need, if The New York Times summary is accepted as comprehensive. There is in formation in America (and elsewhere) a body of highly sophisticated men and women who are deeply informed by empirical knowledge, who have penetrated the shibboleths of Marxism and are productively engaged in opening the eyes of those who would see to avenues in the direction of freedom and plenty. These aren't utopians, not by any means: there will always be plenty of work to be done to govern ungovernable appetites, to guard the social interest against abuse.
But we are talking about the Western imperative, as it has fallen on our shoulders during the 20th century. It is first and foremost never to flinch from the material cost of staying the hand of the great reaper who with hammer and sickle would do to any country what it has done to Afghanistan, had it the power. It is second to incorporate into our laws and our mores the great lessons that teach us how to grow great harvests. To do this we need the enthusiastic encouragement of the Christian primate.