# Rod Dreher's Cold War Imagination ![rw-book-cover](https://readwise-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/static/images/article1.be68295a7e40.png) ## Metadata - Author: [[cardus.ca]] - Full Title: Rod Dreher's Cold War Imagination - Category: #articles - URL: https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/rod-drehers-cold-war-imagination/ ## Highlights - In spite of Dreher’s breathless claims to the contrary, Live Not by Lies is reflective not of the theological imagination of the Christian church, nor of the democratic imagination of the Soviet dissidents, but of the self-protective imagination of the American cold warrior. Histrionic, misleading, and vindictive, this book is bound together not by a clear account of history, a generous view of enemies, a close reading of sources, or a compelling vision of the church, but merely by what has come to be Dreher’s central theme: fear. - Dreher’s gauzy invocation of liberalism is reflective not of the rigorous complexities of history but of the simplistic nostalgia of Cracker Barrel. - What Dreher presents, then, is not the haphazard and at times beautiful liberal order that actually exists, but the mythologized version that his argument requires: a version nourished by an idealism that privileges the ideas of a social order while willfully ignoring its actual material conditions. - In sum, Dreher’s gauzy invocation of liberalism is reflective not of the rigorous complexities of history but of the simplistic nostalgia of Cracker Barrel. - While in the world of entertainment punditry such a transparently reductive manner of speaking about one’s cultural enemies may be indulged and even celebrated, in a work that claims the intellectual mantle of liberalism and the moral mantle of the Christian church, such an account is a disgrace. - That is, they understood themselves to be struggling for more freedom, not less; not for the reduction of individual liberty but for its extension to those beyond its reach. - What was—and remains—at issue for the American progressive is not the moral aspirations of the liberal order, but the selective scope of their application. - In the end, Dreher’s account is the fruit of neither careful labour nor of chaste discernment, but of curated anxiety. And all who seek to clearly understand and faithfully engage our own cultural moment ought to renounce it. - in addition to being historically reductive and rhetorically self-interested, it is finally self-defeating. Why? Because it places Dreher in the position of cultivating hysterical fear over a hypothetical totalitarian regime while remaining utterly silent about the illiberalism of the regime that we actually have. And this, of course, is not dissidence. It is complicity. - What I do intend, however, is to note the extraordinary narrowness of Dreher’s horizon of victimization. - In Dreher’s telling, the only victims of our heated public square are cultural conservatives like Dreher himself. They are the ones, it is alleged, who are living under a regime of terror. - As for Christianity’s insistence that they are made in the image of God and deserve honour? Or wisdom’s knowledge that they might see things that he does not? Or liberalism’s conviction that others are necessary for the creation of a wise society? Or basic humanity’s understanding that they too bear both the beauty and the wounds of life in this world? These are nowhere to be found. What is found instead is an utterly unchristian exercise in dehumanization and an adolescent orgy of name calling. - If the victimizers are the villainous, anti-religious warlocks of illiberalism, then the victims are those noble souls who—in Dreher’s telling—seek nothing more than simply to live the convictions of their faith under the free conditions of a liberal order. Which convictions of their faith, exactly? The Trinity? The imago Dei? The incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus? The communion of saints? The commandment to love? The hope of glory? No, silly. Not those. It’s “the traditional family, male and female gender roles, and the sanctity of [unborn] human life.” - Not only does Dreher—through valorizing himself and vilifying his enemies—claim the status of the noble victim, he does this while denying the victimization of other people. - The sad truth is that for Rod Dreher, when suffering happens to his enemies, he dismisses it by calling it “oppression.” But when suffering—real or imagined—happens to him or his tribe, he divinizes it by calling it “persecution.” - Sadly, while the Scriptures tell us that love drives out fear, Dreher’s book is evidence that the opposite is also true: fear can drive out love. - This ideological approach to human beings—and to their suffering—is a disgrace. And it is so not only because it manifestly betrays the very faith that Dreher presumes to represent, but it also performs the very totalitarianism that he pretends to protest. After all, one of the universally recognized features of a totalitarian regime is that it begins with dehumanization of other people. And yet Dreher, in a book whose stated goal is to resist totalitarianism enacts its most basic moral impulse. It is a deeply dehumanizing book, a masterclass in the indulgence of identitarian anxiety, an account of human beings that, rather than illuminating the reality of our public life, simply illustrates the depth of Dreher’s tribal prejudices. - My basic concern is that Dreher, like the American cold warriors before him, continues this essentially instrumental approach to the Soviet dissident tradition: evoking that tradition when it suits his personal cultural goals and setting it aside when it does not. - But, as with Dreher’s previous engagement with St. Benedict, his treatment of the dissident tradition struck me as strangely superficial, selective, and self-interested. - In the end, Dreher’s account is the fruit of neither careful labour nor of chaste discernment, but of curated anxiety. - However, the most important—and I believe, telling—example of Dreher’s instrumental approach is found not in those whom he selectively evokes in his story, but in those whom he completely excludes from it. - Unlike Dreher, they know that a totalitarian state fuelled by ideology and maintained by state violence is not a future potential but a past and present reality. - This is our story, our joy, our hope—that God has come to us, not out of self-interest, but out of love. And the work of the church is to embody that love by itself moving into the world. It would, in other words, never occur to us to hide. - The distressing effect of this reinterpretation is that at the very moment when our culture most needs a missional church, a self-sacrificial community driven by the joy of the resurrection, Dreher prescribes its virtual opposite: a self-protective community driven by a fear of the cross. - Because it nurses fears of propaganda even as it misrepresents history. Because it invokes liberalism while holding others in contempt. Because it denies the oppression of others while heralding its own victimization. Because it decries therapeutic culture while indulging in self-actualization. Because it affects dissidence while remaining silent before a destructive regime. Because it assumes a Christian identity while failing to embody Christian practice. Because, in sum, Dreher has produced a historically reductive, relationally tribal, intellectually superficial, and profoundly self-absorbed work that actually performs what it protests. In the end, this is not a work of Christian dissidence, but of Cold War anxiety.