How To Fight Cancel Culture? First ‘Live Not By Lies’

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There always is this fallacious belief:  “It would not be the same here. Here such things are impossible.” Alas, all the evil of the twentieth century is possible everywhere on earth.

                                                                        Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


Rod Dreher, the popular author of The Benedict Option, has written a new book called Live Not By Lies:  A Manual for Christian Dissidents. The main theme is that America is moving rapidly from political correctness and the Cancel Culture to a form of “soft totalitarianism.” He writes that “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.” 

For those not familiar with the term, Cancel Culture is a powerful form of ostracism in which an individual who does not agree with the dictates of the “woke” mob is fired by, or forced to resign from, a company or a medical or educational institution. Another form of the Cancel Culture is when progressives use online social media to destroy a person’s reputation.

The Cancel Culture is also an attempt to rewrite history, changing how Americans see themselves and their historic traditions. This has been going on for several decades in schools and on college campuses, but it has now moved into the broader society. A good example of this is The New York Times’s 1619 Project, a massive attempt to reframe America’s founding not by the millions who came to this country in search of religious freedom and political liberty (as reflected in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution), but rather by the institution of slavery. The Cancel Culture has led recently to the removal of a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Boston, and San Francisco is considering renaming the city’s Abraham Lincoln High School.

Dreher writes that “soft totalitarianism” emerges from the utopian vision that motivates progressives – one that leads them to rewrite history and reinvent language. A good example is the transgender movement. Less than two decades ago, those who felt, despite the biological reality of their bodies, that that they were members of the opposite sex were treated by psychiatrists for the mental illness called gender dysphoria. But in the recent past, the elites – the educational establishment, the so-called mainstream and social media, and the corporate world – have endorsed this madness and mandated changes in personal pronouns.

Less than three weeks ago, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, announced a new version of the House rules that govern the chamber that removes words such as father, mother, son, and daughter, replacing them with gender-free words like parent and child. Her office played up the wording changes as a move to “honor all gender identities by changing pronouns and familial relationships in the House rules to be gender neutral.”

The title of Dreher’s book comes from an essay that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn published called Live Not by Lies, a final message to the Russian people before his forced exile in 1974. Solzhenitsyn wrote that totalitarianism is an ideology based on lies, and that the system depends for its existence on people’s fear of challenging lies. Solzhenitsyn wrote:  “Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies.”

Each of us must stand up and confront the lies, and if that can’t be done, refuse in your own mind to affirm the lie. How many lies are the elites forcing on us today in America? Many! They are everywhere. One can’t even watch televised NFL games, played largely by millionaire black players, without being told that 2021 America is a racist society – this after Barack Obama was elected president not once but twice by a predominantly white population – the only country to do so in the developed world.     

In Live Not by Lies, Dreher explores the sources of left-wing totalitarianism, showing how it appeals to the hunger that we all have for a just society, vindicating and liberating the historical victims of oppression. The ideology masquerades as kindness but in reality demonizes dissenters and out-of-favor demographic groups who do not accept the radical plans of the social justice warriors focusing on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Dreher also examines the surveillance technology in America that comes now not from the government but through the power of consumer capitalism, in which giant technologically savvy corporations can use consumer habits to amass vast amounts of data on every facet on one’s life. He shows, too, how the power of these corporations and the media use the unmatched propaganda resources of the advertising industry to send the message that the beliefs of social conservatives and committed Christians are obstacles to the social good. Remember when then-Boston Mayor Tom Menino broadcast that Chick-fil-A was not welcome in Boston after the CEO affirmed the traditional Christian view that marriage is between one man and one woman?

Having explored the “soft totalitarianism” that pervades American society, Dreher recounts the histories of Vaclav Havel and many others who resisted Communist totalitarianism in Eastern Europe during the Russian occupation following World War II which lasted until 1989-1990. Many of them were jailed for their resistance; many were also tortured. But most came through the persecution even stronger. Havel, for one, became president of the Czech Republic. Through the stories of these courageous dissenters, Dreher shows the importance of cultivating truthful cultural and historical memories. He also interviews many of these brave souls who emphasize the importance of faith and strong families to counter the power of totalitarianism.

In America, we are encountering “soft totalitarianism” – not the hard totalitarian power of the Communist state as in the former Soviet Union or currently in North Korea, Cuba, and China. But the collective power of the elites in the United States – the colleges and universities, the mainstream and social media, and the corporate world combined with blue state governments – is enormous. Dreher’s book is a must-read for conservatives and for those who value the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty and who wish to counter the pernicious trends that appear to be gaining ground in America.


Robert H. Bradley is Chairman of Bradley, Foster & Sargent Inc., a $4.8 billion wealth management firm that has offices in Hartford, Connecticut and Wellesley, Massachusetts. Read other articles by him here.