Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, (Sentinel: New York, 2020), 256 pages.
reviewed by Karl Dahlfred
Rod Dreher’s latest book has a compelling origin: people who lived under communist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe told Dreher that some trends in the West remind them of the practices of the totalitarian regimes under which they suffered. Dreher sees a type of “soft” totalitarianism emerging in the West and believes that Western Christians would do well to learn from those lived through the evils of Soviet-style communism.
Western countries claim to value freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, but they are becoming increasingly unliberal as people who disagree with progressive ideologies of race, sexuality, etc. are finding themselves losing jobs, de-platformed, censored, and having to hide their religious and political views lest they be branded as bigots, racists, homophobes and so forth. Conservative objections that such actions represent a danger to democracy fall on deaf ears. However, those who actually lived under totalitarian regimes think differently and it is to them that Dreher turns the microphone in order to learn how Christians can prepare themselves to live in an increasingly hostile environment.
Dreher’s book is divided into two parts. In part one, Dreher emphasizes the importance of recognizing and preparing for increasing totalitarianism in the West. The first chapter illustrates this point through the story of a Jesuit priest name Kolakovic who studied in the Soviet Union and subsequentially dedicated himself to warning and preparing the Catholic community of post-World War II Czechoslovakia for the coming Soviet puppet regime that would take over the country. Kolakovic founded a lay movement among Catholics, establishing cells of believers for prayer, bible study, and fellowship. His motto was “See, Judge, Act”, meaning one must observe the realities around you, judge those realities in light of what you know to be true, and then act in order to resist evil. Kolakovic’s warnings turned out to be prophetic when a harsh communist regime came to power, and many believers were enabled to endure persecution because of how Kolakovic had prepared them. With this story about the importance of preparation in mind, Dreher spends the remainder of part one in a brisk analysis of Western culture, especially American culture, with chapter titles like “Our Pre-Totalitarian Culture”, “Progressivism as Religion”, and “Capitalism, Woke and Watchful.” His analysis is insightful but not overly academic as he combines warnings about what’s happening in America with stories of what actually happened under Soviet regimes. Dreher wants to make sure his readers recognize that hard times are coming. The “soft totalitarianism” that is coming to the U.S. won’t look the same as the “hard totalitarianism” of Soviet Russia, but there will be a severe testing of our faith all the same. We must be ready. Dreher thinks that the emerging soft totalitarianism in the West will bear more resemblance to Huxley’s Brave New World, where people’s desire for truth was smothered by worldly pleasures, than Orwell’s 1984, where a Big Brother police state kept people from truth by the threat of force.