As techno-totalitarianism really gets into gear, it is up to each one of us to root our lives, our homes, our schools, and our parishes in the eternal values of the Christian faith and classical learning—and we need to do so with imagination and realism, avoiding the temptation to become nostalgic dreamers.
When I lived in England, I discovered that one of the differences between the New World and the Old Country was advertising.
In America we were constantly told that a product was “New and Improved.” More scoops of raisins were forever being added to the raisin bran. The peanut butter was always crunchier than before. Every year the cars were sleeker, safer, more luxurious, had more gadgets, and were cheaper to buy. Nearly everything, from sandwiches to skyscrapers, was constantly being updated, improved, renovated, and re-styled. New was always better.
In the Old Country it was the reverse. Rather than advertising a product as “New and Improved,” advertisers were likely to bill it as “Old Fashioned.” Labels were printed in Ye Olde English style. Traditional British images of Big Ben, Tower Bridge, crowns, and coronets were everywhere. If you want to sell something in England, put it in an old tin box with a picture of a thatched cottage on the front.
One of the favorite advertising tricks was to get a royal warrant for your product. If Her Majesty the Queen would only purchase your waxed jacket, your marmalade, shoe polish, or pickles, you could print the royal coat of arms on your label, and (let’s say you produced axes) you could brag, “Purveyors of fine cutlery to the Royal Executioner since the reign of Henry VIII.”
The English addiction to nostalgia is a trait shared by most conservatives. By nature, we are inclined to look back with affection and look forward with fear. Rod Dreher’s recent book Live Not By Lies is a good example of looking forward with fear. His earlier volume The Benedict Option is a good example of looking back with affection. Both reactions to the modern world are understandable, but are they realistic?
In Live Not By Lies, Mr. Dreher quotes Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s words and warns us of the coming totalitarian state. In a typically well-researched book written in Mr. Dreher’s urgent style, we are told by survivors of the communist regimes how the current situation in the United States echoes the communist surveillance and police state. One of the most gripping pieces of experiential evidence Mr. Dreher offers is to ask us if we have ever been in a situation where we have had to bite our tongue—not out of good manners or the need not to offend Aunt Betty, but because we were afraid.
Perhaps we were afraid to say what we really think about supporting “Pride Month” at work. Maybe we were afraid to express support for President Trump. After big tech’s recent censorship campaign and the concern that “they know more than we think they know and they’re going to use it,” anybody can admit to have some second thoughts about speaking up.