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June 20, 2024
Battle of Ideas Recommended

Quiet Totalitarian Revolution

The following is an adaptation from Rod Dreher’s “Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents“, by Rod Dreher.


For some time now, naturalized American citizens who grew up in the Soviet bloc have been saying that they’re seeing in this country the rise of something that reminds them of what they left behind. It’s not Stalinism 2.0, but it is totalitarian in the sense that it is an all-encompassing system that seeks to politicize all aspects of life, demonizes people based on their identity, and will brook absolutely no dissent.

What makes this totalitarianism so difficult to see clearly is the fact that it is soft. Unlike in Stalin’s Russia, it does not depend on inflicting pain and terror to eliminate its opponents. Rather, it seeks to control by manipulating access to comfort and status. It’s less Nineteen Eighty-Four and more Brave New World. Two decades ago, the intellectual and critic René Girard — not a refugee from Communism — saw it coming.

“The current process of spiritual demagoguery and rhetorical overkill has transformed the concern for victims into a totalitarian command and a permanent inquisition,” he wrote. Survivors of Communism are saying the same thing: that liberalism’s admirable care for the weak and marginalized is fast turning into a monstrous ideology that, if it is not stopped, will transform liberal democracy into a therapeutic form of totalitarianism.

Why have conservatives been so blind to this quiet revolution? Here are some reasons.

1. Conservatives did not take leftist elites seriously

It is not news to conservatives that universities, especially Ivy League schools and others that form the next generation of the ruling class, are hotbeds of leftism. For some time, though, many conservatives have operated under the illusion that students will move to the right once they descend from the ivory tower and the designated safe spaces of campus, and start paying taxes in the so-called real world.

That ceased to be true with the Millennial generation, and Generation Z. They held on to their progressive indoctrination and marched with it through the institutions of American society. Now, these radicals are transforming them, in part because the older stewards of corporations, universities, media, and professions are capitulating before the ferocity of the young militants.

Conservatives have not generally understood that cultural change happens through elites and their networks. Nor have they grasped the fragility of liberal institutions. The dissident Polish intellectual Czeslaw Milosz observed in the early 1950s, shortly after his defection, that the people of eastern Europe did not realize until it was too late “that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy.” Similarly, the kinds of ideas that used to be restricted to grievance studies faculties in left-wing universities are now ruling the Human Resources departments in major US corporations.

2. Conservatives were too materialistic

Reagan-era conservatives, seeing how cynical many 1960s campus radicals became about careers and consumption, assumed that leftist utopianism would not survive the allure of moneymaking. Religious conservatives, in particular, focused their passions on achieving political and legal power and failed to pass on the faith to the Millennials and Generation Z, who are the most secular generations in American history.

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