Live Not By Lies by Rod Dreher

What Live Not By Lies Is About

The coming soft totalitarianism of woke progressivism will release a wave of persecution against Christians (and other dissidents) that the West hasn’t seen since the days of communism. This is the fundamental claim of Rod Dreher’s latest book, Live Not By Lies. Granted, this persecution may not be as overtly harsh, physically torturous, or psychologically cruel as the horrors meted out in the gulags of the Soviet system, but it is coming nonetheless. Already, the Wokesheviks (my term, not Dreher’s) are making lists of those who should not be allowed to work, and therefore live, in the post-Trump United States. Today’s Left has a totalitarian impulse that is unchecked by any religious sentiment, like the necessity for forgiveness or the foundation of agape love, because the Left’s politics are its religion. Therefore, we can expect the areligious Left of today to do what the areligious Left has already done, particularly under communist rule.

The memory of the evil of communism is lost on those under 30 because they never experienced it (just 57% of millennials believe that the Declaration of Independence better guarantees “freedom and equality” than the Communist Manifesto), but there are many alive today who bore the weight of these oppressive regimes and lived to tell about it. Live Not By Lies reads like a long, well-researched, and engaging newspaper article or magazine feature, as Dreher frequently relies on the first hand testimony of those who stood up to communism and were persecuted for it. Many of the communist survivors Dreher interviewed for the book express grave concern for the West, because they hear in our culture the echoes of the totalitarian lies that claimed tens of millions of lives in the twentieth century. They offer us invaluable lessons in perseverance and faithfulness, but we must also hear their calls to wake up and get prepared for what is coming.

What unnerves those who lived under Soviet communism is this similarity: Elites and elite institutions are abandoning old-fashioned liberalism, based in defending the rights of the individual, and replacing it with a progressive creed that regards justice in terms of groups. 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 the 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.
…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.
Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies, p. xi

Live Not By Lies takes its title from an essay of the same name by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and in many ways the book is a less gut-wrenching, less horror-inducing version of Solzhenitsyn’s vital work, The Gulag Archipelago. To live by lies, Solzhenitsyn wrote, meant “accepting without protest all the falsehoods and propaganda that the state compelled its citizens to affirm…. Everybody says that they have no choice but to conform…and to accept powerlessness. But that is the lie that gives all the other lies their malign force. The ordinary man may not be able to overturn the kingdom of lies, but he can at least say that he is not going to be its loyal subject.” (17) Dreher warns that we are being taught to practice a form of ketman, which is “the Persian word for the practice of maintaining an outward appearance of Islamic orthodoxy while inwardly dissenting.” (16) Ketman is a sort of hypocrisy where one outwardly assents to wokeness but inwardly rejects it. This is dishonest, and ultimately corrupts the individual as he attempts to conform to the system while maintaining traditional or biblical convictions. Ketman is the fiction practiced by those cowardly souls who, under Soviet totalitarianism, turned in their neighbors to save their own skin.

The ever-woke and -watchful masters of our data are engaged in a massive experiment of human engineering with the aim toward changing how we make our daily decisions.

Many Americans may take solace in the thought that such things could never happen here, but Dreher lays out a convincing case for how it is already happening. Corporate giants like Amazon, Samsung, Google, and Apple now control not only the storehouses of public information, but, increasingly, our private data as well. These massive, international organizations are fully bought into the woke narrative of social justice, meaning that the people who control the information of the world hold that “the beliefs of social conservatives and religious traditionalists are obstacles to the social good.” (75) The ever-woke and -watchful masters of our data are engaged in a massive experiment of human engineering with the aim toward changing how we make our daily decisions. Combined with the powers of federal governments, these “powerful corporate and state actors will control populations by massaging them with digital velvet gloves, and by convincing them to surrender political liberties for security and convenience.” (83)

Intellectual, cultural, academic, and corporate elites are under the sway of a left-wing political cult built around social justice. It is a militantly illiberal ideology that shares alarming commonalities with Bolshevism, including dividing humanity between the Good and the Evil. This pseudoreligion appears to meet a need for meaning and moral purpose in a post-Christian society and seeks to build a just society by demonizing, excluding, and even persecuting all who resist its harsh dogmas.
Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies, p. 93

Dreher offers many prescriptions for believers and other dissidents living under the velvet thumb of the soft totalitarianism of the Wokesheviks. To begin with, a person must love the truth above all else. There is no substitute for a love of and commitment to the truth — and not just to “my truth” or “your truth,” but to “the truth.” The one who loves the truth may yet live in a world of lives, but that world will not live in him.

The one who loves the truth may yet live in a world of lies, but that world will not live in him.
Once you perceive how the system runs on lies, stand as firmly as you can on what you know to be true and real when confronted by those lies. Refuse to let the media and institutions propagandize your children. Teach them how to identify lies and to refuse them. Do your best not to be party to the lie — not for the sake of professional advantage, personal status, or any other reason. Sometimes you will have to act openly to confront the lie directly. Other times you will fight it by remaining silent and withholding the approval authorities request. You might have to raise your voice to defend someone who is being slandered by propagandists.
Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies, p. 108

What I Learned from Live Not By Lies

The beauty and brilliance of Live Not By Lies are the many stories, some of them first-hand accounts, of Christian dissidents to totalitarianism. Readers are introduced to remarkable people who suffered under communism but overcame it, like Vaclav Havel, Alexander Ogorodnikov, the Benda family, Zofia Romaszewska, and many more. These people refused to live by the lies of the totalitarian governments that oppressed them, and ultimately overcame those evil regimes by their faithful and patient Christian witness. These are the people whose stories need to be told so that all who live under the thumb of any totalitarianism, whether soft or hard, can resist its lies. Resistance is not futile. These people proved that resisting these regimes unmasked them and ultimately led to their downfall.

The family is the crucible in which is formed the love of truth and the strength of conviction that it is better to face prison, or even death, than to surrender one’s conscience to deception.

Families are especially important cells of resistance to lying totalitarians. The family is the crucible in which is formed the love of truth and the strength of conviction that it is better to face prison, or even death, than to surrender one’s conscience to deception. In today’s world, however, precious few families function according to this design. “The loosening of family ties and of traditional commitments to marriage has left Americans without the kind of refuge in the home that anti-communist dissidents had.” (129) Resisting the lies of the Wokesheviks will be more difficult for us because the sexual revolution has run roughshod over our marriages and families, with illegitimacy rates skyrocketing across all groups. The family, in the fallout of the sexual revolution’s divorce explosion, has become a social problem to solve with political solutions rather than the answer to social problems that cannot be solved by expensive and counterproductive political solutions.

The modern family will not hold together if the father and mother consider divorce an easy solution to marriage’s difficulties. Nor…can a family endure if the children make a mockery of the idea of marriage. When a family’s members accept a culture of ‘sexual extravagance, promiscuity, relationships easily entered into and broken off, and disrespect for life” (that is, abortion), then they cannot expect the family to be what it is supposed to be and to do what it must do.
Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies, p. 133

Resisting the soft totalitarianism of our time begins by rejecting the lies of the sexual revolution. A truthful resistance is predicated upon a return to the centrality and importance of the traditional family. The aim of the sexual revolution has always been, right from the very beginning, to delegitimize and even eradicate the family. But what the Wokesheviks fail to realize, in an act of stunning ignorance, is that the destruction of the family is the destruction of the social order itself. No society can endure whose families are not healthy and strong. As we have seen over the past fifty years, the State is a spectacularly failed substitute for the family. As we are seeing today, the same is true of corporate digital consumerism and social media.

Using Vaclav and Kamila Benda as an example, Dreher gives readers a guide to building a strong family that can resist totalitarian lies. The advice of the Bendas is simple, but profound:

  • Model moral courage to your children.
  • Fill your children’s moral imaginations with the Good.
  • Don’t be afraid to be weird in society’s eyes.
  • Prepare to make great sacrifices for the greater good.
  • Teach your children they are part of a wider movement.
  • Practice hospitality and serve others.

Totalitarianism cannot survive where families are strong and loving.

Totalitarianism cannot survive where families are strong and loving. Only when families are broken and dysfunctional will the masses look to the state, massive corporations, or common-interest social groups for meaning, identity, and truth. Maria Komaromi’s warning is urgent for us today: “It’s no accident that every dictatorship always tries to break down the family, because it’s in the family that you get the strength to be able to fight.” (148)

My Recommendation of Live Not By Lies

There is no limit to the evil we can do when we believe our intentions are pure and our cause is righteous, especially when we are convinced that we are fighting on behalf of oppressed groups and we are on the right side of history. This is the position of the group I am calling the Wokesheviks, who believe themselves to be the elect inaugurators of a truly just and fair utopia. But their utopian vision is the same as all the other utopianisms to come before it, differing only in demographics. Instead of the poor and working classes of the Marxist revolution, the Woke religion of today lifts up sexual and racial minorities as the righteous and aggrieved victims on whose behalf it tears down liberal society. But the root of its righteousness is a lie, and it is as willing to cancel its dissidents as the communist regimes of the twentieth century were to imprison and torture theirs.

There is no limit to the evil we can do when we believe our intentions are pure and our cause is righteous.

Many Christians have already converted to the Woke religion, and are as fervent for its realization as they once were for the kingdom of God. Few are they who will resist the new righteousness, but if we are to be faithful to Christ, we must resist it. More than this, we must have the courage and wisdom to unmask it, to expose the lies for what they are and refuse to live by them. By telling the stories of those who have gone before us, Dreher gives us a blueprint for how we can resist the soft totalitarianism of the Wokesheviks. The specifics of our particular challenge may be new, but the challenge itself is as old as the Gospel itself. I highly recommend Live Not By Lies to anyone suspicious of the new Woke religion, whether Christian or not, so that they can prepare themselves to resist the lies and live in the truth, no matter the consequences.

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