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Survivors of Soviet communism are warning the West is becoming totalitarian. Here’s a manual for resisting

Rod Dreher spent several years asking European survivors of Soviet communism if they thought America was drifting toward totalitarianism. They all said yes.
Mon Nov 30, 2020 - 1:07 pm EST
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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, November 30, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Baton Rouge is the hometown of American Conservative columnist and best-selling author Rod Dreher. I live in Scotland, where the Justice Minister has proposed a “Hate Crime” law that could result in our prosecution for remarks we make in our own homes. This is particularly alarming to me personally, for the definition of “hatred” these days is wide-ranging, and some believe that “stirring up hatred” includes stating that men who masquerade as women can be a danger to women, especially when these men identify as “lesbians.” I have frequently said this at home, and now I am saying it in print. Come and get me, copper.

Dreher’s Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents is, therefore, of particular interest to me and, unfortunately, of particular interest to all of you LifeSiteNews fans. The book’s aim is to give us tools for retaining our “small-o orthodox” faith in God, preventing our children from becoming Woke totalitarians, and ultimately defeating the Culture of Lies currently gathering speed in the West. It is, if you like, a companion volume to Dreher’s The Benedict Option, which aims at the same thing.

Live Not by Lies develops Dreher’s ideas by presenting us with heroic — and successful — models of Christian resistance to another Culture of Lies, the Moscow-based communist regime that ruled Eastern and most of Central Europe from 1945 until 1989. Dreher traveled throughout the area, interviewing Christians of different confessions who actively resisted the Marxist regime in Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. Poignantly, Dreher reveals in his book that the Christian resisters who survived the era did not believe the Iron Curtain would fall during their lifetimes. Their goal was not to survive communist totalitarianism but to be faithful to God and His truth.

Dreher’s project was sparked by a phone call from “an eminent American physician” whose Czechoslovak immigrant mother had warned him that the same circumstances that ushered in communist totalitarianism had begun to appear in the U.S. The exact event that triggered this warning was the mob hysteria around the refusal of a pizzeria in small-town Indiana to cater a same-sex “wedding.” It wasn’t just the mob’s calls to burn the pizzeria down, but the fact that the so-called “liberal” elite, including the mainstream media, “normally so watchful against the danger of mobs threatening the lives and livelihoods of minorities” was unconcerned.

Dubious but curious, Dreher spent the next few years asking European survivors of communism if they thought America was drifting toward totalitarianism. They all said yes.

“What unnerves those who lived under Soviet communism is this similarity: Elites and elite institutions are abandoning old-fashioned liberalism, based in defending the rights of the individual, and replacing it with a progressive creed that regards justice in terms of groups," Dreher writes.

“It encourages people to identify with groups — ethnic, sexual, and otherwise — and to think of Good and Evil as a matter of power dynamics among the groups. A utopian vision drives these progressives, one that compels the to seek to rewrite history and reinvent language to reflect their ideas of social justice.”

The main difference between the defunct Soviet regime and the growing Empire of Woke is that whereas the former featured the “hard totalitarianism” of physical violence, the latter employs the “soft totalitarianism” of so-called “social justice” ideology, cancel culture, surveillance technology beyond the commissars’ wildest dreams, and permissive consumerism. Dreher uses a literary metaphor to illustrate: half of Europe lived out George Orwell’s 1984 and now the West is looking increasingly like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.  

Dreher devotes the first part of his book to the Woke Revolution and how Big Business, especially Big Tech, signed on to it. Although I was already familiar with the threat Big Tech presents to our liberties, I appreciated how lucidly Dreher presented the evidence. If you haven’t already forbidden your children smartphones, you will after you finish reading Live Not by Lies. You may also quit your shopping habit, turn down the thermostat, and start fasting more often. Consumerism and comfort, Dreher convincingly argues, have made us weak and cowardly.

Part 2 provides the detailed testimony of what life back in the USSR and its European satellites was like under hard totalitarianism. The stories of imprisonment are brutal. What was done to priests and ministers is almost beyond belief — or would be beyond belief if we hadn’t read stories about state violence against martyrs under Diocletian, Henry VIII, and Mary Tudor. But there are also important lessons about radical faith in God, the friendship of small and secret communities, and close-knit, carefully parented families. Dreher believes that uncompromising devotion to Christ, small communities, and loyal families will be absolutely necessary for living not by lies in the coming maelstrom.

Of course, the maelstrom may already be here. Between beginning and ending this review, I saw footage of a man in England being arrested by masked police officers, apparently for walking down the street while chatting with strangers. He resists by pulling away, and then breaks down into most un-English wailing. Apparently, he lost his business in one of the many coronavirus lockdowns, and being manhandled by London bobbies has clearly pushed him over the edge. Hearing a middle-aged Englishman scream for help as masked policemen surround him made my blood run cold.

“I have no understanding of what’s going on,” he cries.

Well, anyone who has read Live Not By Lies could tell him. We’ve gone soft, soft as rotten apples, and too many people are willing to give up their rights, and ours too, rather than risk catching a virus that spares 99.9 percent of its victims. Dreher doesn’t address the pandemic in Live Not By Lies, but he has a lot to say about cowardice and what it can do to you.

But that’s a big lacuna, by the way. One of the terrible ironies of reading Live Not By Lies during the lockdown is that public worship has, in many places, been cancelled or curtailed, elderly people are held separate from their families, and friends are not allowed to visit each other’s homes. Christian worship, kin, and community, Dreher’s proposed fortress against the lie, are therefore arguably even more difficult to preserve now to than they were in 1970s Poland.

Thus, if I had an issue with this book, it would be that Dreher did not pen an “Afterword” to discuss the role the unprecedented suspension of civil liberties in the West might play in speeding up soft totalitarianism. And listening to a broken man wailing in the London street, I’m not sure it’s going to be so soft.

Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, New York City, Sentinel, 2020, 240 pages, $27 USD. 

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