Book reviews

Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents (Sentinel, 2020)

Masterly; essential for Americans to vaccinate themselves against Democratic Party totalitarians.

I read this book to learn steps that we could take to protect ourselves if a catastrophe like the fraud Joe Biden seizing the White House would occur.  Dreher’s mellifluous writing met that need.

The book is not perfect, though.  Some of Dreher’s statements are erroneous, misguided, or weak, especially if they critique President Trump’s policies or practices.  Dreher thinks the federal government mishandled the China Virus (29-30).  I doubt that any unbiased American (that is, someone who is not a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party, the new Communists in the nation) would claim that President Trump failed against the China Virus.  Dreher may be overgeneralizing when he criticizes President Trump for expecting loyalty from his staff and administration (39-40).  Also, it is unclear why Dreher thinks that the middle class is shrinking (44) when President Trump’s economic recovery after the gloomy Obama years lifted all Americans, especially minorities.  Referring to a prominent anti-communist Czech family’s opposition to building “walls”, Dreher glosses over the possibility that such physical walls are necessary to protect American citizens from illegal aliens (143).

Other statements by Dreher are embarrassingly naïve.  “Unlike the imperial Russians, we are not likely to face widespread rioting and armed insurrection” (30).  Has Dreher not heard of Antifa domestic terrorists who destroy private property and public monuments?

Similarly, when he writes that having an event like the Tiananmen Square massacre “memory-holed [….] is something that we will almost certainly not have to endure in the West” (88), objecting to Dreher’s claim may be logically fallacious, since YouTube announced only today, post the book’s publication, that this severely biased Big Tech megacorporation would remove videos disputing the election fraud rampant in Democratic-controlled areas.  Other social media critics like Mark Dice have discussed Big Tech’s censorship for years.

“A time of painful testing, even persecution, is coming” (162) is a statement which either displays Dreher’s ignorance or reduces his essential claim into a pithy simple-structured, one independent clause summary before advancing to the next part of his book.  I trust the latter is the case, since he alluded earlier in the work to those who were oppressed by being denied jobs and promotions, economic advances, and other opportunities over the past several decades.

Despite these few relatively minor flaws, some of Dreher’s ideas comport with the lived experiences of conservative, pro-life, or Trump-supporting Americans, and the expressions of those ideas are eminently quotable.  Consider, for example, the following sentences and phrases:

“What if we really are witnessing a turn toward totalitarianism in the Western liberal democracies, and can’t see it because it takes a form different from the old kind?” (xi).

“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” (xi).

“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” (xii).

“Soft totalitarianism exploits decadent modern man’s preference for personal pleasure over principles, including political liberties” (10).

“Under soft totalitarianism, the media, academia, corporate America, and other institutions are practicing Newspeak and compelling the rest of us to engage in doublethink every day.  Men have periods.  The woman standing in front of you is to be called ‘he’” (15; italics in original).

“One year after the proletarian revolution, the Bolsheviks introduced mass ideological killing, calling it the Red Terror.  Thus did the radical intelligentsia, with a mustard seed of faith, move the mountain that was Russia and hurl it into a sea of blood” (27).

“The parallels between a declining United States and prerevolutionary Russia are not exact, but they are unnervingly close” (29).

The 1619 Project “mak[es] race hatred central to the nation’s foundational myth” (37).

Communism is “a rival religion” to Christianity (54).

For totalitarians “accusation and guilt [are] the same thing” (57).

“[A]rguments with these [social justice] zealots are about as productive as theological disputation with a synod of Taliban divines.  For the social justice inquisitors, ‘dialogue’ is the process by which opponents confess their sins and submit in fear and trembling to the social justice creed” (60).

“Any social justice campaign that implies that the God of the Bible is an enemy of man and his happiness is fraudulent and must be rejected” (65).

“Google quietly weights its search results to return more ‘diverse’ findings” (81).

Václav Havel, humbly identified as a “mere writer”, “led a revolution that peacefully toppled the regime and became the first president of a free Czechoslovakia” (100).

A hero of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, Mária Wittner, says, “If your soul is free, then your thoughts are free, and then your words are going to be free” (105).

“Without collective memory, you have no culture, and without a culture, you have no identity” (114).

Czechs “could no longer” trust universities “to tell the truth and to transmit the cultural memories that told Czechs who they were” (122).

“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” (133).

Czech anti-communist hero Václav Benda “had the conviction that to destroy the communist regime was his mission in life” (141).

“The traditional Christian family is not merely a good idea—it is also a survival strategy for the faith in a time of persecution” (149).

“This is the core of what religion brings to anti-totalitarian resistance: a reason to die” ([151]).

“To recognize the value in suffering is to rediscover a core teaching of historical Christianity and to see clearly the pilgrim path walked by every generation of Christians since the Twelve Apostles.  There is nothing more important than this when building up Christian resistance to the coming totalitarianism” (205).

Martyrs’ accounts “form an essential part of Christian cultural memory” (206).

“Now our mission is to build the underground resistance to the occupation” (214).

Dreher’s work shows how important it is for Americans to rely on valid media outlets like Newsmax (and even other social media services, despite their bias against conservatives, pro-lifers, and Trump supporters) for updating all of us in real time on the advance of totalitarian ideas and ways that conservatives are trying to stop those ideas from destroying the nation.

Finally, since I obtained nearly three pages of notes and quotes, if you are a reader who likes to annotate important items in an author’s work, you may want to buy the book instead of transcribe relevant quotes from a library copy.  Dreher provides simply too much substantial material to regard.

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