Live Not By Lies

Live Not By Lies, by Rod Dreher. About his new book, by the author.

You say that totalitarianism is a real threat to the US. Secret police, commissars, and gulags — can you be serious?

I am serious — in fact, the outlandishness of the claim is a big reason for our vulnerability. I didn’t take it seriously either when people who grew up under Soviet-style totalitarianism started explaining to me what they were seeing emerge here. I came to realize that they were our canaries in the coal mine. But no, I don’t foresee gulags and the usual apparatus of Stalinism coming for us. It will be softer and more subtle than that.

What’s the difference between soft and hard totalitarianism?

Let’s start with some basic definitions.

Authoritarianism is when a non-democratic government has a monopoly on politics.

Totalitarianism is when an authoritarian government expands its claim to power to cover every aspect of life – including the inner life of its citizens.

Stalinism, or hard totalitarianism, achieved that through terror and pain. This kind of system is what every American high school student read about in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. I wouldn’t say it could never come here, but I don’t really think it will.

Instead, we are building a kinder, gentler version. What awakened the Soviet-bloc emigres is the way political correctness has jumped over the walls of the universities and is both intensifying and spreading through society’s institutions. The forms it takes, the language that it uses to justify itself, and the way that it tolerates absolutely no dissent — all of this is truly totalitarian.

What makes it soft? A couple of things. First, it is emerging within a democratic system, within the institutions of liberal democracy, without a state monopoly on power. Second, and more importantly, the emerging totalitarian system will not coerce compliance through pain and terror, but more from manipulating our comforts, including status. It will be more like the dystopia in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. That’s more pleasant to live through than Nineteen Eighty-Four, but it’s still totalitarian, and it will still have major long-term effects. …

What are the signs of a pre-totalitarian society?

In 1951, the great political theorist Hannah Arendt published The Origins of TotalitarianismArendt said that loneliness was the greatest source of totalitarianism — that desperately lonely people were looking for meaning, purpose, and solidarity with others. They found it in totalitarian political ideology. Sociologists have been warning for years now that we have reached dangerously unhealthy levels of loneliness and atomization in our “Bowling Alone” society.

Also, the loss of respect for hierarchy, traditional authority, and the decline of the institutions of civil society, opened the door for totalitarianism. The desire to transgress — that is, to destroy things for the sake of destroying them — were key factors. Another: the willingness of the masses to believe things they knew were untrue, or probably untrue, but that made them feel good.

There are others. None of this means that totalitarianism is inevitable, but it means we are especially susceptible to it. Arendt said that liberal societies will always have to contend with an inner voice that says it can’t happen here, when the 20th century proves that yes, it actually can. …

What can you do?

Believing that stopping it is simply a matter of voting Republican is one reason we conservatives have failed to see it coming. Don’t get me wrong – it does help to vote Republican, because we know with the Democrats, wokeness is going to be accelerated and imposed throughout the government. …

Solzhenitsyn acknowledged that ordinary people were powerless to change the situation under totalitarianism, but one thing they could all do is refuse to pretend like they didn’t see what was going on, or that they agreed with it. The whole system was a lie, and to the extent that they could, men and women of integrity should refuse to consent or cooperate.

For us, this means refusing whenever we can to bend our knees to what the so-called “social justice warriors” demand. Refuse to say that we believe something when we don’t. This is going to require us to be prepared to suffer for the truth – but what else can we do?

hat-tip Stephen Neil