In February of 1974, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn published an open letter to the Russian people, one that has come to be known by its core message: “Live not by lies.” That same day, he was arrested; shortly thereafter, because of his international reputation, he was exiled from the Soviet Union, not to return until almost 20 years later with the fall of the communist government.
Conservative writer and columnist Rod Dreher, in homage to Solzhenitsyn, has used the message for the title of his latest book, Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents. The difference is that Dreher’s book is not aimed at the Soviet Union; instead, it is aimed at what he sees as a growing “soft totalitarianism” in the United States among the political, media, entertainment, academic, and corporate elites. His primary concern is Christians in the United States, the people who cannot accept the madness engulfing American elites but are largely unprepared for the consequences that will inevitably follow.
For guidance, he turns to the Christian community of Eastern Europe that survived communist rule and helped to bring it down, but which also paid an often terrible price for following their conscience and their faith. He asks if Western and particularly American Christians are prepared for that sacrifice. And he believes that much can be learned from the dissidents of Eastern Europe and Russia because what is happening in the United States mirrors the Bolshevik / Marxist takeover of Russia; it’s only happening here in slow motion and in a “softer” way. But the end result threatens to be the same – a society that brooks no dissent and one that will eradicate dissent wherever it might emerge.
Live Not by Lies is divided into two parts. The first part concerns understanding what soft totalitarianism is all about: a developing totalitarian culture, how progressivism has taken on all the trappings of a religion, and how these ideas and trends have been facilitated by capitalism, and especially the largest corporations. The second part is the manual for Christians: how it is possible to live in truth, how to cultivate cultural memory, the importance of the family (the institution that has been under siege since at least the 1960s), how faith forms the basis for resistance, how Christians can support one another, and how to understand and accept the suffering that is to come.
The book is highly readable and accessible; Dreher has a compelling writing style that keeps the reader engaged. Unlike his previous book, The Benedict Option, this one has been largely ignored by all the major new and literary media other than those that are conservative. This, too, one might argue, is a form of soft totalitarianism – ignore what makes you uncomfortable and points out your less-than-democratic leanings.
Dreher, who writes for American Conservative, is the author of Crunchy Cons (2006); The Little Way of Ruthie Leming (2013); How Dante Can Save Your Life (2015), and The Benedict Option (2017). He is a Greek Orthodox, and lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Some might say that Dreher can often be borderline hysterical, exaggerating or overstating his case. That might be, but recall Flannery O’Connor, who once explained her stories by saying you write large for the nearly blind and shout for the nearly deaf. The future may not unfold exactly as Dreher is predicting, but the evidence is all around us that it’s unfolding closely enough to what’s presented in Live Not by Lies.