"History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind." ~ Edward Gibbon
Florida, Rome and Monaco
Death has been in the news a great deal in recent weeks, and since it's an experience to which all of us must look forward, perhaps a further comment or two will not be out of place.
This unfortunate lady's slow demise dominated the media for much of March, and how all those writers found so much to write about is hard for me to understand. Perhaps it was that most of them are Democrats, and here was a wily Republican treading on their turf; all those bleeding hearts could not contemplate pulling the plug, while at the same time they couldn't allow a pro-life President to make political capital out of keeping her alive. A nice dilemma, with attendant publicity that must have made things much worse for Mrs. Schiavo's family.
The one thing nobody (that I saw) ever discussed was money. At whose expense had the lady been kept alive so far? Who would pay, if a court ordered re-insertion of the feeding tube; the judge? Such matters are sordid, in the context of pending death; but that never stopped the undertaking trade doing quite well for itself and were directly relevant to her case.
And the one associated question that was never asked (that I saw) and never answered was: given that the patient's parents said they were eager to take Mrs. Schiavo home and care for her at their own expense, why not? Who prevented them doing just that? Was it Florida law (an act of government) that gave custody to her former husband, or was it a court ruling (another act of government) that said the parents had no "standing"? Maybe I missed it, but it does seem to me that one way or the other, government killed this lady. Heck, it's killing people every day; all governments kill people by the thousand whenever it suits them; go read Rummell. What's one more formerly comatose victim, between friends?
Even more media prominence was given to the death of this distinguished Pole, with self-described "world leaders" rushing to Rome to attend his funeral so as to secure Roman Catholic support back home. Nobody found an unkind word to say about him, and of course one should not speak ill anyway of the dead; but I do wonder if it's not a tad overdone, a well taken opportunity for ecclesiastical P.R. Perhaps I shouldn't blame the Vatican for that. After all, if the media beat a path to my door upon the death of some prominent anarchist, I would not turn them all away, and perhaps you wouldn't either.
But shall I join the chorus of adulation about the life of this Pope? No. From what one can tell, he was a kindly and humorous man, who led his substantial following with respect from all its quarters. He lived a life consistent with his beliefs (how many do that?) Although the collapse of the Communist empire resulted from the absence of a price mechanism precisely as Ludwig von Mises had predicted (though after being delayed by two major wars, one hot and one cold; wars always rally people behind their governments) John Paul II undoubtedly helped give it a push into history's ash can when the moment arrived.
On the other hand, the particular content of his leadership of one and a quarter billion humans left a lot to be desired. He insisted that the traditional Roman Catholic teaching on sex be preserved, both between couples and regarding priestly celibacy, with the predictable results of malfeasance by the clergy and unwanted pregnancies among the laity. Such leadership no doubt helped cement the attitude of one critic of my recent article "Abortion: a Market Solution?" who said he would not read beyond the first few lines. I call that "obscurantism," for even though I'm pro-choice, that article leaned over backwards to try to accommodate the desires of "pro lifers."
More than any of that, of course, are the central doctrines that Wojtyla's organization continues to teach: that he, the Pope, is infallible (a marvelous line in Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" asked how long [while awaiting election of a new Pope] mankind can last with nobody infallible left on Earth?) and that there is a God who both created the entire universe yet who takes a close interest in the doings not only of every human but of every sparrow. If such an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being really exists, he is responsible for a massive amount of cruelty and suffering and is therefore not someone I would care to know. Yet this as every previous Pope presided over zillions of theologs dedicated to perfecting the intellectual contortions required to "explain" such logical impasses with not a shred of a sign of admitting that the whole system is no more than a pleasant myth designed to give government, ever the ally of religion, a veneer of morality.
Before Karol was decently in his grave, the genial old monarch of Monaco passed away a mere hour's flight to his northwest; so giving all those world leaders even more time away from the office and throwing HRH Prince Charles' re-wedding plans into even further disarray.
I have been to the late Prince's home. Well, I stood on the forecourt and photographed his pigeons; he didn't actually invite me in. It stands atop a one-square-mile rock, with every nook and cranny filled with houses, quite a spectacular location with gin-palaces anchored in the bay and the hills behind Monte Carlo rising to the North. I particularly recall that upon crossing from the Republic of France to the Principality of Monaco, nobody at all asked for my papers. Like Sherlock Holmes' non-barking dog in the night, that is very remarkable.
Ranier was shy and retiring, as far as monarchs can be, and evidently very easy-going with visitors and so distinguished himself as a most unusual Head of Government. In fact, I'm not sure that his "government" consisted of a whole lot; a secretary perhaps, a chef de cuisine without doubt, and maybe a couple of guys in fancy suits to parade up and down past the front door. And yes, he probably had a financial advisor and maybe even a rent collector.
His influence upon human liberty, though, was positive. In the middle of a lengthy tribute by CNN comes this pregnant one-liner: "Over the years, Rainier worked to consolidate his authority and expand Monaco 's economic base as a tax haven for international millionaires . . . ."
Small countries nestling between bigger ones in Europe , and scattered around the Caribbean , have specialized in offering theft-protection services to those who manage to make a buck or two, and under Ranier's leadership, Monaco was in the top rank. Good for him! When many of the others folded under US FedGov and EU pressure, Ranier did not. One reader here told me recently he was a "very libertarian" Prince and that the question now will be how far his son and successor Albert will hold fast to that vital task.
Three deaths, three very different people. All death is tragic; of the three, when my turn comes, I hope I'll be likened to the third.