Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies (New York City: Sentinel Books, 2020), 240 pp.
When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was annexed from the country he loved, he published a parting message to the Russian people. “Live Not by Lies” was a bold challenge to the brutal totalitarian system that raved countless thousands of people.
Rod Dreher picks up where Solzhenitsyn left off in his new book, Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents. This riveting work helps readers discover what it means to live not by lies. The author interviews Christians who endured the days of totalitarianism behind the Iron Curtain and gains a wealth of information that both inform and inspire us today.
Part One: Understanding Soft Totalitarianism
Part one explores the underbelly of what Dreher refers to as soft totalitarianism. “A totalitarian state,” according to Hannah Arendt, “is one that aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality. Truth is whatever the rules decide it is.” Mussolini defined totalitarianism as, “Everything within the state, nothing outside the sate, nothing against the state.” Wherever this worldview reigns, mankind declines, and decays.
The author explains the essence of soft totalitarianism:
A cursory glance at culture reveals the rise of social justice, the “woke revolution,” radical environmentalism, acceptance of sexual deviancy, reverse racism, and identity politics. Soft totalitarianism includes educational propaganda like the “1619 Project,” an attempt to brainwash students and cause them to abandon the principles that help birth the United States of America. The list goes on and on. Yet more and more people are willing to accept this radical ideology for the sake of convenience.
Dreher adds, “And this is the thing about soft totalitarianism: It seduces those – even Christians – who have lost the capacity to love enduringly, for better or for worse. They think love, but they merely desire. They think they follow Jesus, but in fact, they merely admire him.”
The author warns that Christians who refuse to speak up and resist soft totalitarianism will pay a heavy price. Literary critic and poet, Czeslaw Milosz agrees: “Their silence will not save them and will instead corrode them.”
Part Two: How to Live in Truth
Part two helps readers respond biblically and decisively. It shows them how to “live in truth.” The principles that Dreher shares are invaluable and will be a great encouragement as Christians navigate their way through the social sludge.
Dreher encourages readers to fight for and defend free speech. “To grow indifferent, even hostile to free speech is suicidal for a free people,” writes the author. He encourages truth-telling that is wisdom-based and prudent.
Dreher admonishes readers to foster cultural memory. He says, “Everything about modern society is designed to make memory – historical, social, and cultural – hard to cultivate. Christians must understand this not only to resist soft totalitarianism but also to transmit the faith to the coming generations.”
The author urges Christians to cultivate strong family units. “Christian parents”, writes Dreher, “must be intentionally countercultural in their approach to family dynamics. The days of living like everybody else and hoping our children turn out for the best are over.” Fathers, in particular, must lead their families and help them exercise biblical discernment. They must fight for the truth.
Dreher promotes religion as the “bedrock of resistance.” He continues, “This is the uncompromising rival religion that the post-Christian world will not long tolerate. If you are not rock-solid in your commitment to traditional Christianity, then the world will break you. But if you are, then this is the solid rock in which that world will be broken. And if those solid rocks are joined together, they form a wall of solidarity that is very hard for the enemy to breach.”
We must stand in solidarity. “Only in solidarity with others can we find the spiritual and communal strength to resist,” says Dreher. He adds:
There is much more to explore in this fascinating book. I challenge readers to dig deeply into this “treasure chest.” In the end, both varieties of totalitarianism enslave people. Dreher reminds us, “Hard totalitarianism depends on terrorizing us into surrendering our free consciences; soft totalitarianism uses fear as well, but mostly it bewitches us with therapeutic promises of entertainment, pleasure, and comfort.” It is to this end that we must resist soft totalitarianism with all our might or we, along with the proverbial frog in the kettle will slowly boil in a kettle that appears safe but will, in the final analysis, result in a grizzly death.
Live Not By Lies delivers a powerful and unforgettable message. The price of liberty is costly. This much is true. “There is no escape from the struggle,” writes Dreher. “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance – first of all, over our own hearts.” Live Not By Lies is a must-read book for freedom-loving Christians. To ignore the principles that Dreher sets forth would be foolhardy at best. Heeding the warning of the author will help pave the way for fruitful discussion and greater liberty in the coming days.