Tyranny in Our Day Part 1

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn—Russian dissident, 10-year forced-labor Soviet Gulag inmate, Nobel Laureate, Christian—lamented the “fallacious belief” that “here such things are impossible,” that totalitarianism could not happen in one’s own country. “Alas,” he wrote, “all the evil of the twentieth century is possible everywhere on earth.”[1]

Read those words carefully. It is the point I have been building towards in the last two issues of Solid Ground.[2]

In the first article, I chronicled my own experiences behind the Iron Curtain in 1976 working with Christians living under brutal authoritarian rule in communist bloc countries like Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the former Soviet Union—places where believers suffered significant loss of personal liberty and, in some cases, severe persecution simply for following Christ.

In the next article, I pointed out that citizens in any culture will ultimately be ruled by one of two fundamental forces: either truth or power. Any nation whose people lack the liberty to pursue, discover, and live by truth will be destined to live as victims of lies and frequently crushed under the heels of powerful oppressors.

I then briefly traced the development of the first great lie—what I called “the primal heresy”—from its inception in the Garden to its current divinization of self that some have labeled “expressive individualism.” At the Fall, mankind replaced the external truth of God’s world and God’s morality with the internal “truth” of bald personal preference and naked individual desire. The act of rebellion that traded truth “out there” for truth “in here”—the outside/inside distinction—marked the birth of what has come to be known as relativism.

Remember, relativism is the ultimate negation of truth, and when truth dies, power is all that remains. The immediate payoff for relativism—the unrestrained narcissism of expressive individualism—may be satisfying for a season, but it’s a fleeting gratification. Bald force eventually fills the truth vacuum, and relativists’ values begin cannibalizing relativists’ liberties. Whoever has the power to nullify liberty ultimately gets to enforce his own preferences. Postmodern people are leaning on a bent reed.

These musings have not been idle reflections, however. Rather, the downward arc of the shifting ethos of the West has revealed a disquieting trend. Liberal democracy—in the best sense of those words—is becoming a thing of the past. America is moving rapidly toward the brink of a peculiar species of totalitarianism that promises to erode freedom, hinder our ability to proclaim the gospel, and compromise our liberty to live peacefully with our Christian convictions.

I have not been alone in my concern. Émigrés from former Soviet bloc countries who fled the totalitarianism of communism for the freedom of America are mortified at the trend. When author Rod Dreher asked if they thought America was drifting toward some type of totalitarianism, “They all said yes—often emphatically”[3] (emphasis in original).

Totalitarianism

I wrote “peculiar species of totalitarianism” above because what we are experiencing now is actually an amalgam of two forms of totalitarianism—soft and hard. First, a general description, though.

Totalitarianism is not the same as dictatorship, where an individual tyrant’s jackboot stands on the neck of liberty. That is simple authoritarianism. Totalitarianism goes further. Drawing on insight from expert Hannah Arendt, Dreher clarifies:

A totalitarian society is one in which an ideology seeks to displace all prior traditions and institutions, with the goal of bringing all aspects of society under control of that ideology. A totalitarian state is one that aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality. Truth is whatever the rulers decide it is.[4] [Emphasis added.]

Notice the militant relativism that makes totalitarianism possible. When truth comes not from the outside but from the inside, power prevails. Truth becomes “whatever the rulers decide it is.”

The indoctrination to an alternate reality at the heart of totalitarianism has a curious effect. When reality is persuasively redefined by the incessant drone of political propaganda and abetted by not-so-subtle social pressures, the populace is gradually persuaded by it and willingly embraces it in large numbers as the high moral ground. Those who do not are vilified as enemies of the good (“haters,” in the current vernacular)—the “good,” that is, as defined by the authorities. Orwell’s “Big Brother” comes immediately to mind.

At the moment, I am halfway through William Shirer’s remarkable work The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I realize it’s risky conjuring the image of fascist dictators to make a point. Some have done this so frequently and so frivolously that people are inclined not to take such allusions seriously. In this case, though, they ought to. Santayana famously warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Shirer noted the precise pattern I described above displayed by Germans in the 1930s, a dynamic (Shirer confessed) even he was vulnerable to: “A steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it.” He then referenced “the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons” who were obviously “parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers.” Opposing the nonsense was useless, he wrote, since “on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty.”[5]

And so today. The propaganda of the Left regarding sexuality, gender, the “bigotry” and “hate” of Christians, etc., is so pervasive and rhetorically clever, it has become irresistibly persuasive to many who are mystified that some—especially religious conservatives—are not falling into step with the times. Worse, they’re angry at unpersuaded dissenters who now loom as dangerous enemies of the common good.

That siren song of the new order now presses in on us from two directions, creating the peculiar amalgam of totalitarian tyranny I spoke of.

“Soft Totalitarianism”

In soft totalitarianism, compliance is not enforced by government. Rather, private cultural institutions controlled by elites accomplish that task—the academy, the press, “enlightened” corporations, Hollywood, and especially those controlling social media.

Many of us, particularly the young, live out our social lives online—through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter—and manage our lives at the behest of its aggressive stepsisters, Amazon, Apple, and Google. We post, we purchase, we tweet, we opine, we share vital information and also gather vital information using their platforms.

These enterprises provide the bulk of our access to the outside world. It has become obvious to careful observers, though, that these digital giants are not neutral players in this game. We are being watched, and we are being tracked. Corporate Goliaths are assiduously collecting every piece of information they can on our purchasing habits, our preferences, our private lives—even our travel patterns. [6]

Rod Dreher reports that this “surveillance capitalism hoovers up detailed personal data about individuals and analyzes it with sophisticated algorithms to predict people’s behavior.”[7]

The initial goal of this online data harvesting is, of course, monetization of information—profit, for short. But there is a darker side. Sophisticated algorithms have another consequence. “The rapidly growing power of information technology and its ubiquitous presence in daily life,” Dreher warns, “immensely magnifies the ability of those who control institutions to shape society according to their ideals[8] (emphasis added).

Have you noticed how frequently social media moguls have been silencing dissenters by using “community standards” guidelines that appear to guarantee civility in their domains but often serve to weed out political dissidents? Worse, many are able to economically retaliate against nonconformists by demonetizing their platforms or banning them from business access. Even offline, corporate giants are increasingly and openly indoctrinating employees with progressive politics as a de facto condition of continued employment.

This is soft totalitarianism. Left-leaning corporations and other elites are its willing agents, and we consumers are its willing subjects. They have their “bully pulpit,” but they also have their “big stick,” the not-so-subtle social pressures I mentioned earlier.

One of the strongest evidences of totalitarianism is punishment of dissent. Dissidents can be destroyed. Here are a few examples. There are many, many more.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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