Cancel culture. Transgender ideology. Antifa protests. Internet surveillance. Is an anti-religious totalitarian regime like the former Soviet Union coming soon to the United States?
According to Rod Dreher, the best-selling author of The Benedict Option and senior editor at The American Conservative, the answer is yes and churches must be prepared for it.
Dreher documents the evidence for what he labels “soft totalitarianism” and how U.S. Christians should respond in his soon-to-be released book Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents.
Dreher looks at cancel culture, the advance of socially liberal ideas on mainstream society, and the intrusion of information technology into private lives as evidence of this possible future.
“Back in the Soviet era, totalitarianism demanded love for the Party, and compliance with the Party's demands was enforced by the state,” he wrote in the book’s introduction.
“Today's totalitarianism demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs, many of which are incapable with logic—and certainly with Christianity.”
The title is derived from a quote from famed Russian anti-Communist intellectual Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who uttered the phrase not long before being exiled from the Soviet Union.
Dreher explained to The Christian Post that the inspiration came after he spoke to a friend’s mother, who had lived in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia.
The woman, who had been imprisoned for her dissident political views, claimed that the social and political changes in the U.S. mirrored those of the rise of Communism in Eastern Europe.
“That struck me as really alarming. I didn't know if I believed it, but once I started talking to other people here in the U.S. and in Europe who had lived under Communism and they said, 'Yeah, this is a real thing,' it suddenly became real for me,” explained Dreher.
“Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, one of the things he's most known for is saying that people in the West, they make a big mistake if they think it can't happen here, because it can.”
The Christian Post talked with Dreher on Thursday about his upcoming book. Below are excerpts from that interview.
CP: How would you say this book compares and contrasts to your best-selling earlier work, The Benedict Option?
Dreher: It is, really, a continuation of The Benedict Option.
The Benedict Option I talk about very generally the de-Christianization in the West and how Christians should respond to it in our daily lives. What Live Not by Lies does is it focuses much more intensely on one aspect of that, which is the arising of systematic oppression and marginalization and oppression of traditional Christian believers."
This is much more focused … It’s more specific. It identifies much more particularly the problem and gives much more concrete ways of dealing with it, but it’s all part of the same crisis.
There are people who don't think at all that we're moving towards a sort of totalitarianism because they think that the sort of things that Christians believe are just wrong and weird. But I didn't write the book for them, I wrote it for Christians."
CP: In chapter four, you focused a lot of attention on "surveillance capitalism" and how modern information technology, including social media, are being used to control people's behaviors. Do you believe that recent efforts to curb this influence, both in Congress and elsewhere, are helping to combat this trend?
Dreher: It’s hard to say now. I’m really happy to see the congressional hearings and they ought to be bipartisan because we are all threatened by surveillance capitalism, left and right. But my fear is that the public is going to see this as being completely politicized from the right.
That's no reason for conservatives like Senator Josh Hawley not to do them and I am grateful that they’re doing it. But we need to really be careful about this and make sure that people on the left who value free speech and who value privacy are equally concerned and are equally involved in the fight to preserve that privacy.
In Europe, this is a very bipartisan concern they have there. European privacy laws are much stronger, especially on electronic privacy, and I think that we Americans really need to learn from them.
CP: On the issue of bipartisanship, in chapter nine, "Standing in Solidarity," you wrote about how Christians can benefit from having secular liberal allies. You cited examples of this in the former Soviet Union. In the United States today, what groups or individuals considered secular liberal would you say are sympathetic to conservative Christians resisting soft totalitarianism?
Dreher: It’s hard to pinpoint particular groups, but I’ll give you an example that I was just listening to. I’ve become a listener to the Joe Rogan podcast and I’ve been really impressed by him because he’s not a conservative, I don’t think he’s any kind of religious believer. He seems to be a left libertarian, if I had to pin him down. But he’s also got a lot of common sense. He has been very strong about the way the transgender movement, for example, is exploiting teenage girls and their anxieties.
I was just listening to his newest podcast, in which he talks about how difficult it is to have a common sense conversation with anybody these days because everybody is so ramped up and so ideological.
Somebody like Joe Rogan, … [also] comedian Bridget Phetasy.
I wouldn’t listen to these people normally, but listening to them both, they sound like they’re leftish, but they’re normal people and they don’t like this cancel culture any more than I do.
People like that are the kind of people I could find common cause with.
CP: As you know, this is election season. If President Donald Trump wins reelection in November, do you believe that this will help stem the rise of soft totalitarianism?
Dreher: I think it may slow it somewhat. I think it’s possible it could even accelerate it because the left will be even that much more angry, but that’s not a reason not to vote for Trump, mind you. But the thing I try to encourage my readers to keep in mind is whether you vote for Trump or against Trump, these processes that are in place now, these trends that are going on throughout the culture, they would be very hard for any president to stop.
Our problem is not primarily political, it's cultural and it's spiritual. We can get the right guy in the White House, the right people on the federal bench, and that’s important, but no president is going to be able to compel universities and corporations and institutions to stop with the identity politics.
This is the sort of long-term fight that Christians have got to be prepared for and we also have to keep in mind that for a lot of millennials and Generation Z Americans, they don’t have faith, it’s a very secular generation and they overwhelmingly accept the identity politics side of all these issues.
We have to radically change the way we think about church, and I think it’s absolutely true that you don’t need to be a prophet to see what’s coming and also to know that one election, two elections, are not going to solve it.
This is one of the reasons that we Christians are in so much trouble today is for the past 30, 40 years we have placed way too much emphasis on politics as the answer to our problems and not culture. Well, we’ve lost the culture and we’re losing our children. If we don’t start taking radical steps right now, to build resilience and build networks of resilience, the soft totalitarians are going to roll right over us.