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To grasp the threat of totalitarianism, it’s important to understand the difference between it and simple authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is what you have when the state monopolizes political control. That is mere dictatorship – bad, certainly, but totalitarianism is much worse. According to Hannah Arendt… a totalitarian society is one in which an ideology seeks to displace all prior traditions and institutions, with the goal of bringing all aspects of society under control of that ideology. A totalitarian state is one that aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality. Truth is whatever the rulers decide it is. As Arendt has written, wherever totalitarianism has ruled, “[I]t has begun to destroy the essence of man.” (pages 8-9)
Many have fought and endured Hard Totalitarianism – repression at the end of a rifle – and while we may have (for now) seen the back of such regimes, Rod Dreher warns, in his new book Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, that we are facing a new form of totalitarian repression. This new form, he warns, will not (for now) come at the ends of rifle barrels and the points of bayonets, nor will it come all at once. It will come gradually, and it will attempt to corral us not with overt force, nor even fully from our government, but through the mounting pressures, nudges, and unseen pushes and constraints of the very technologies we rely on and willingly install in everything in our lives. Dreher predicts the emergence of a Soft Totalitarianism which will resemble the Social Credit System of the People’s Republic of China, created by an alliance of ideological interests from the technology, information, and banking industries. This new totalitarianism will be radically hostile to any religion, creed, or understanding of the world that conflicts with its own, and especially towards Christianity, which it slanders as repressive and “hateful”, especially on matters of sex and race. How can we recognize it? Can we fight it? How do we survive and endure it without compromising? Rod has much to say.
Rod Dreher is, by his own frequent admission, something of an odd duck in American conservatism. His first book, Crunchy Cons, was about people very like himself – the heterodox conservatives who find themselves on the political right, usually for deep-seated social concerns (religion, family, tradition, anti-corporatism), but who also find that these core values are ignored, or else clash with other conservative orthodoxies on matters like free markets or foreign policy. Dreher is also especially known for being one the leading reporters to blow open the sexual abuse scandals of the Roman Catholic Church, and unearth how deeply that rot actually ran – the integrity of the Christian faith is important to Dreher. His prior book, The Benedict Option, was a statement to Christians that they have lost the culture war and need to rebuild the foundations of faith and society, with instructions on how to begin this process through intentional community formation – as such it is like a book warning on how to prepare for a cultural tornado, and clean up afterward. Live Not By Lies can be therefore likened to a warning on what cultural tornado will do, how it will act, what it will try to destroy, and how to survive during it with one’s soul intact.