A Quiet Walk to the Gulag
Polite Society in the Face of Evil
I recently started reading The Gulag Archipelago, and I’m hooked. I’ve always found the history of Stalinist Russia to be both terrifying and captivating, and Solzhenitsyn’s meticulous accounting of it should sound the alarm for all of us in earshot of its echoes.
For anyone who’s paying attention, it’s easy to apply Solzhenitsyn’s prophetic observations to our own era of politicized agencies, surveillance, leftist institutional control, and demonization of various categories of Americans. We, too, have intelligence tasked with monitoring speech and enforcing illiberal rules. New and invented accusations are levied to keep people in line. Are you transphobic? Are you a “white Christian nationalist”? Many innocuous things are now expressions of white supremacy. Maybe you are are a threat to democracy.
The Bolshevik reign of terror found early success because victims didn’t create a loud scene when they were led away to arrest. Solzhenitsyn describes the way even he walked along with the SMERSH agents who arrested him, without arguing, and even at times providing helpful directions for the shortest route to the prison. He hoped in vain that they’d recognize their mistake and release him sooner if he was easygoing and cooperative.
In that quietly stalking terror, so many were arrested in privacy, or in small settings—after showing up for a meeting, or in the course of a trip—that no general outcry occurred; even as the underground system claimed more prisoners, and murders claimed more victims, the masses moved along with life in ignorance or complicit silence.
As the campaign intensified, though, people learned that he wrong opinions, associations, past memberships, or even acts of kindness were now liabilities. In the eyes of the wicked Bolsheviks, all those not completely absorbed by their dogma were suspect—church members, managers, property owners, small farmers and the like, and anyone who’d been in their circle of friendly rapport.
It is just as it was within Stalinist Russia; those on the right and on the left are in the global left’s crosshairs. The hard left even finds enemies within its own faithful, cannibalizing those who fail to bow low enough, get radical enough, or use the approved lexicon of leftism. Still there are stubbornly hopeful on both sides who go along with this position and that proposal, thinking it buys them a bit of grace down the road. It doesn’t; it makes them into a useful idiots until a better tool comes along.
Pretend for a moment that we in America have now realized Solzhenitsyn’s wise prophecies, and that you are now suspected of being an enemy of the state. You are a threat to the government’s ugly project of turning every city into a third-world encampment, because you like safety and sanitation. You are privileged because you think you should reap the harvest you sowed in your labor. Your Christian beliefs are a threat to the humanistic fantasies of an omnipotent state run by politicized organs of artificial intelligence.
The list of possible offenses are many: you’re a member of a conservative church; you’ve “liked” social media posts critical of transgenderism; you follow The Babylon Bee; you donate to a conservative think tank; you live in a red state; you have more than three kids; you didn’t receive a Covid “vaccination”; you have an American flag flying in your yard; or maybe you download a lot of country music. Aren’t all of these things pleasures of those on the right?
These who hamper progress must be charged with various crimes, such as racism, transphobia, religious hate or even insurrection; your employer must therefore fire you or face troubles, and you must go through a lengthy (and doomed) court process. If you will just cooperate, though—perhaps say the right things, donate to the right causes, or stay silent in the face of insanity—your life doesn’t have to be so hellish; at least, not just yet.
In fact, all of these things are true now. Already, our government eyes Christians, homeowners, taxpayers, farmers, tradesmen, gun owners, and a host of others as nuisances, barely tolerable aside from the funds they provide. We are blanketed with regulations and agencies that breach government’s proper boundaries, unaccountable to voters. We have a state media built of unholy alliances with tech companies and the press. We don’t have to imagine or conjure up images of an oppressive government; we already have one.
Even though we feel the growing shadow of oppression, there are still those who imagine it’s possible to stave off the American gulag for a little while; they are correct. If you refrain from getting too serious about your faith or your country, you will have an easier time in the darkness. Let the experts do their thing, and just mind your business; yes, some of their ideas are chaotic, weird, and downright dangerous, but remember that times are changing, and so must we, if we enjoy our comforts.
If you have children in schools, you may choose to stay silent when your school hosts a transgender assembly, or when teachers wear “pride” attire to school, or when your chapel—with a cross in it— hosts an Islamic worship lesson. If you instead decide to rock the boat, you will be isolated and informed that you’re the only one who has complained, and in truth, you might be among only a handful. Further, you will be reminded that Jesus was inclusive; the narrow path, the exclusive claims of Christ—those must not be mentioned or believed.
And for those of you living in one of the wealthy enclaves that enjoy the fruits of the capitalistic, free market system demonized by teachers, you will be comforted to know that nobody at the important cocktail parties and galas cares at all! You may cringe as you write your annual fund checks, but that’s okay, because it’s your golden opportunity to show you’re truly part of the campus family. Teachers will be teachers, you know—let them do their crusading on your dime. What really matters is how your name looks in the beautiful annual report, and which buildings in the compound bear the imprint of your name. People will remember that—at least until the school is finally repurposed for more equitable ends.
You can also ignore all the changes that have transformed your venerable, old church so completely that it is now a stained-glass cadaver. If you want your church to be relevant in the 21st century’s influencer culture, it must distance itself from the Bible and its inconvenient and offensive revelations. Now’s the time to be ecumenical. One must denounce Biblical Christians and their patriotic impulses, above all; they are the most irritating to the secular state’s aims, holding scripture higher than sacred pronouncements of even the United Nations! In fact, the worst of these holdouts have not rubber-stamped the left’s gender revolution, making them the most abhorrent of all.
Yes, all these things can be ignored for a while. You can mix it up with headmasters over drinks in Sea Island. You can get behind the football team, since the coaching staff may be an island of normalcy. You can make many polite professions amid the clever deceptions. You can continue to donate and host parties and equivocate when things get controversial. For a while, these things will make you tolerable, even likeable by those who hate the belief system that you have embraced for your entire life.
Things will seem quiet; nothing is heard but the sounds of clinking glasses, vague speeches of good will and inclusivity, and celebrations—philanthropic funds, sports victories, graduations, and the like. You are useful because your money funds the revolution. In this way, you can glide through these tumultuous times and enjoy the softer side of life. Those who break the pretended tranquility with their noisy moral hangups can be quieted through groveling promises of listening and learning, or by denouncing their hateful speech—this denunciation being for those brutes on the right.
For a while, you can enjoy life’s simpler pleasures and observe its absurdities from the sidelines. Elites will find it remarkable that some people sacrifice their good standing and popularity by publicly embracing their faith or defending the hateful truths of biology. One day, though, the polite silence of sophisticates will give way to piercing despair, despite their past good will, cash, and all the bronze plaques; and there are no cocktail parties or galas in the gulag.
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