The importance of Solzhenitsyn and others who have lived under totalitarian regimes is they know how it works. They have been there and done that. Some of their stories are recounted here. And these brave souls who are now living in the West are utterly shocked at how clueless Westerners are as they follow the same path to totalitarianism – although via new means. And the two main means by which this is happening today is by so-called social justice, where group identity trumps the individual, and by technological surveillance.
“Open war is upon you whether you would risk it or not.” Some of you may recall that line of Aragorn to Theoden in Tolkien’s The Two Towers. And it is now fully applicable to what Christians find in the West today. As genuine persecution begins to mount, only real deal Christians will be able to stand and withstand – not the fake ones. The time of playing games is over. The time of a cross-less Christianity is long gone.
That is one of the main takeaways from this important new volume by Rod Dreher. The American Christian writer and commentator especially came into prominence back in 2017 with the release of his widely discussed book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.
In it he said – among other things – that taking a tactical and temporary timeout from the culture wars might be a wise thing to do. See my discussion of that book here: billmuehlenberg.com/2017/06/11/strangers-strange-land-christianity-contemporary-culture/
His new book is also getting a lot of attention. The title may seem strange, until one understands that it comes from an essay by Solzhenitsyn, the last one he wrote before being evicted from the Soviet Union. In the piece he told the Russian people that totalitarianism is built on lies and the people’s fear. The way to defeat it is to not live by lies.
The importance of Solzhenitsyn and others who have lived under totalitarian regimes is they know how it works. They have been there and done that. Some of their stories are recounted here. And these brave souls who are now living in the West are utterly shocked at how clueless Westerners are as they follow the same path to totalitarianism – although via new means.
And the two main means by which this is happening today is by so-called social justice, where group identity trumps the individual, and by technological surveillance. As to the former, the West is of course awash in identity politics:
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 these groups. A utopian vision drives these progressives, one that compels them to seek to rewrite history and reinvent language to reflect their ideals of social justice. Further, these utopian progressives are constantly changing the standards of thought, speech, and behavior. . . . Under the guise of “diversity,” “inclusivity,” “equity,” and other egalitarian jargon, the Left creates powerful mechanisms for controlling thought and discourse and marginalizes dissenters as evil.
That of course ties in with the latter. Dreher looks at how technology and totalitarianism combine to create Big Brother statism. The Chinese social credit system is a clear case in point: it “automatically tracks the words and actions, online and off, of every Chinese citizen, and grants rewards or demerits based on obedience.” Doing what the State approves of will get you a higher social credit score, while doing what it frowns upon will result in a downgrade.
Dreher asks if it can happen here: “Of course it can. The technological capability to implement such a system of discipline and control in the West already exists.” Simply think how states have run with corona this year: surveillance and compliance are at an all-time high. One can barely check into a shop or a restaurant for example without signing in, or using your smartphone QR code to get access to goods and services.
As one recent headline put it, “The QR code has turned COVID-19 check-ins into a golden opportunity for marketing and data companies.” Crony capitalism – the wedding of Big Business and Big Government – will ensure this data does NOT remain private. And of course all the talk of vaccine passports and the like is no longer the stuff of conspiracy theories.
All this is frightening stuff indeed. Dreher writes, “In the West today, we are living under decadent, pre-totalitarian conditions. Social atomization, widespread loneliness, the rise of ideology, widespread loss of faith in institutions, and other factors leave society vulnerable to the totalitarian temptation to which both Russia and Germany succumbed in the previous century.”