It's really two books.
The stories of how (mostly) Christians survived and resisted (mostly) Communist tyranny in Russia and Eastern Europe in the bad old days. The author, Rod Dreher, visits and interviews survivors and descendents. These are valuable stories that need to be told.
The title of the book is taken from an essay by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, released on the occasion of his 1974 exile from the USSR to the West.
Dreher's warning against the "soft totalitarianism" rising in the US and Europe as we slide toward a Brave New World dystopia. That's also a promising subject, and Dreher hits a number of deserving targets.
There are a couple of big problems, though.
First, Dreher doesn't seem to do a good job of connecting up these two books into a whole argument.
Second, Dreher's critique of our modern age is fusty and illiberal. (He might take that latter adjective as a compliment.) He's very concerned about Alexa/Siri/Cortana listening in on our conversations, reporting them back to their respective mother ships. But also about declining church attendance, family stability, faith in institutions. Rising porn, drug use, cancel culture.
Fine, those are all arguably problems. (But of widely differing importance.) But do they really point to an inevitable decline into that soft totalitarianism? One where religious liberty will be put in serious jeopardy? I am unconvinced.
But (good news) Dreher quotes (partially) Solzhenitsyn's recommendations for people who choose to resist. One can't help but note their relevance today. The person who lives not by lies:
- Will not write, sign, nor publish in any way, a single line distorting, so far as he can see, the truth;
- Will not utter such a line in private or in public conversation, nor read it from a crib sheet, nor speak it in the role of educator, canvasser, teacher, actor;
- Will not in painting, sculpture, photograph, technology, or music depict, support, or broadcast a single false thought, a single distortion of the truth as he discerns it;
- Will not cite in writing or in speech a single “guiding” quote for gratification, insurance, for his success at work, unless he fully shares the cited thought and believes that it fits the context precisely;
- Will not be forced to a demonstration or a rally if it runs counter to his desire and his will; will not take up and raise a banner or slogan in which he does not fully believe;
- Will not raise a hand in vote for a proposal which he does not sincerely support; will not vote openly or in secret ballot for a candidate whom he deems dubious or unworthy;
- Will not be impelled to a meeting where a forced and distorted discussion is expected to take place;
- Will at once walk out from a session, meeting, lecture, play, or film as soon as he hears the speaker utter a lie, ideological drivel, or shameless propaganda;
- Will not subscribe to, nor buy in retail, a newspaper or journal that distorts or hides the underlying facts.
Readers, that's a difficult way to live. But (as Solzhenitsyn says) it's the way of the "honest man, worthy of the respect of his children and contemporaries."
And I'm pretty sure the New York Times would go out of business pretty quickly if a lot of people started following that last rule.