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Home/Rod Dreher/Our War Of Religion

Our War Of Religion

Greetings from northern Alabama, where I just rolled in after eight hours on the road. I had assumed that the feelings behind last night’s grim “The Whale And The Net” post would dissipate in the sunlight, but they didn’t, and I don’t think they should, to be honest, because they’re based on something real and important. Our country really is falling apart, or rather, to be more honest, is being torn apart by elites. Read this urgent piece by Bari Weiss today about what the most economically elite high school students in the US are being taught. She starts out at a clandestine meeting of parents whose kids attend L.A.’s prestigious Harvard-Westlake school. They have to meet in secret, because if the school found out, there would be trouble. Excerpt:

By normal American standards, they are quite wealthy. By the standards of Harvard-Westlake, they are average. These are two-career couples who credit their own success not to family connections or inherited wealth but to their own education. So it strikes them as something more than ironic that a school that costs more than $40,000 a year—a school with Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s right hand, and Sarah Murdoch, wife of Lachlan and Rupert’s daughter-in-law, on its board—is teaching students that capitalism is evil.

For most parents, the demonization of capitalism is the least of it. They say that their children tell them they’re afraid to speak up in class. Most of all, they worry that the school’s new plan to become an “anti-racist institution”—unveiled this July, in a 20-page document—is making their kids fixate on race and attach importance to it in ways that strike them as grotesque.

“I grew up in L.A., and the Harvard School definitely struggled with diversity issues. The stories some have expressed since the summer seem totally legitimate,” says one of the fathers. He says he doesn’t have a problem with the school making greater efforts to redress past wrongs, including by bringing more minority voices into the curriculum. What he has a problem with is a movement that tells his children that America is a bad country and that they bear collective racial guilt.

“They are making my son feel like a racist because of the pigmentation of his skin,” one mother says. Another poses a question to the group: “How does focusing a spotlight on race fix how kids talk to one another? Why can’t they just all be Wolverines?” (Harvard-Westlake has declined to comment.)

More:

The parents in the backyard say that for every one of them, there are many more, too afraid to speak up. “I’ve talked to at least five couples who say: I get it. I think the way you do. I just don’t want the controversy right now,” related one mother. They are all eager for their story to be told—but not a single one would let me use their name. They worry about losing their jobs or hurting their children if their opposition to this ideology were known.

“The school can ask you to leave for any reason,” said one mother at Brentwood, another Los Angeles prep school. “Then you’ll be blacklisted from all the private schools and you’ll be known as a racist, which is worse than being called a murderer.”

One private school parent, born in a Communist nation, tells me: “I came to this country escaping the very same fear of retaliation that now my own child feels.” Another joked: “We need to feed our families. Oh, and pay $50,000 a year to have our children get indoctrinated.” A teacher in New York City put it most concisely: “To speak against this is to put all of your moral capital at risk.”

These parents — Weiss talks to parents whose kids go to elite prep schools on both coasts — won’t speak up is because they desperately want their kids to get into Ivy League colleges. More:

These are America’s elites—the families who can afford to pay some $50,000 a year for their children to be groomed for the eating clubs of Princeton and the secret societies of Yale, the glide path to becoming masters—sorry, masterx—of the universe. The ideas and values instilled in them influence the rest of us.

That is not the only reason this story matters. These schools are called prep schools because they prepare America’s princelings to take their place in what we’re told is our meritocracy. Nothing happens at a top prep school that is not a mirror of what happens at an elite college.

What does it say about the current state of that meritocracy, then, that it wants kids fluent in critical race theory and “white fragility,” even if such knowledge comes at the expense of Shakespeare? “The colleges want children—customers—that are going to be pre-aligned to certain ideologies that originally came out of those colleges,” says a STEM teacher at one of New York’s prestigious prep schools. “I call it woke-weening. And that’s the product schools like mine are offering.”

To say that “the ideas and values instilled” in students at Ivy League colleges “influence the rest of us” is to understate matters. When I moved to New York City in 1998 and worked in media there, I was surprised to find that the cliche about Ivy League elite networks running things really is close to accurate. The real value of an Ivy education is not what you learn, but who you meet. People who graduate from elite colleges, even non-Ivy elites colleges, are tomorrow’s American ruling class. You cannot afford to ignore that fact! As I write in Live Not By Lies:

In our populist era, politicians and talk-radio polemicists can rile up a crowd by denouncing elites. Nevertheless, in most societies, intellectual and cultural elites determine its long-term direction. “[T]he key actor in history is not individual genius but rather the network and the new institutions that are created out of those networks,” writes sociologist James Davison Hunter. Though a revolutionary idea might emerge from the masses, says Hunter, “it does not gain traction until it is embraced and propagated by elites” working through their “well-developed networks and powerful institutions.”

This is why it is critically important to keep an eye on intellectual discourse. Those who do not will leave the gates unguarded. As the Polish dissident and émigré Czesław Miłosz put it, “It was only toward the middle of the twentieth century that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy.”

Arendt warns that the twentieth-century totalitarian experience shows how a determined and skillful minority can come to rule over an indifferent and disengaged majority. In our time, most people regard the politically correct insanity of campus radicals as not worthy of attention. They mock them as “snowflakes” and “social justice warriors.”

This is a serious mistake. In radicalizing the broader class of elites, social justice warriors (SJWs) are playing a similar historic role to the Bolsheviks in prerevolutionary Russia. SJW ranks are full of middle-class, secular, educated young people wracked by guilt and anxiety over their own privilege, alienated from their own traditions, and desperate to identify with something, or someone, to give them a sense of wholeness and purpose. For them, the ideology of social justice—as defined not by church teaching but by critical theorists in the academy—functions as a pseudo-religion. Far from being confined to campuses and dry intellectual journals, SJW ideals are transforming elite institutions and networks of power and influence.

More Bari Weiss:

“I am in a cult. Well, that’s not exactly right. It’s that the cult is all around me and I am trying to save kids from becoming members.” He sounds like a Scientology defector, but he is a math teacher at one of the most elite high schools in New York City. He is not politically conservative. “I studied critical theory; I saw Derrida speak when I was in college,” he says, “so when this ideology arrived at our school over the past few years, I recognized the language and I knew what it was. But it was in a mutated form.”

This teacher is talking with me because he is alarmed by the toll this ideology is taking on his students. “I started seeing what was happening to the kids. And that’s what I couldn’t take. They are being educated in resentment and fear. It’s extremely dangerous.”

This is exactly the thing! The kids who are going to be running the country are being taught to resent Americans who don’t share their radical ideology, and to fear them. These kids are being prepared to use their power to wage war on their own countrymen. Weiss continues:

It’s not just Dalton, a school that has committed to being “visibly, vocally and structurally antiracist.” Bain & Company is tweeting about “Womxn’s History Month.” The Cartoon Network is imploring children to “see color.” Coca-Cola employees were recently instructed to “be less white.” You cannot buy or sell the newly problematic Dr. Seuss titles on eBay. This ideology isn’t speaking truth to power. It is the power.

Most alarmingly, the ideology is increasingly prevalent at the local public school. The incoming New York City schools chancellor is a vocal proponent of critical race theory. In Burbank, the school district just told middle- and high school teachers to stop teaching To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men. The Sacramento school district is promoting racial segregation by way of “racial affinity groups,” where students can “cultivate racial solidarity and compassion and support each other in sitting with the discomfort, confusion, and numbness that often accompany white racial awakening.” The San Diego school district recently held a training in which white teachers were told that they “spirit murder” black children.

“I don’t mean to get emotional, I just feel helpless,” said one mother through tears. “I look at the public school and I am equally mortified. I can’t believe what they are doing to everybody. I’m too afraid. I’m too afraid to speak too loudly. I feel cowardly. I just make little waves.” Another tells me: “It’s fear of retribution. Would it cause our daughter to be ostracized? Would it cause people to ostracize us? It already has.”

Read it all. I cannot urge you strongly enough to do so, and to share it.

These woke totalitarians are doing the thing that all totalitarian regimes do: memory-holing a culture’s art and literature. This is not coming tomorrow; this is happening right now. And if it’s not happening where your kids go to school, hang on, it will. If this is not stopped, and stopped stone cold right now, we are going to have a civil war in America, or we will have techno-totalitarianism, in the Chinese social credit system style.

Earlier today, I urged you to read John McWhorter’s passionate and devastating attack on the woke militants, especially the people he calls “neoracists” (Kendi, DiAngelo, and the rest). McWhorter also calls them “the Elect,” highlighting the fact that these people are best understood as followers of a new religion. Wars of religion are the bloodiest wars, but this is what they are pushing the rest of us into. They are stoking race war from the Left. Beyond that, they are destroying classic American liberalism. Our tradition of free speech and freedom of religion, they hate. Our legal system’s focus on individual guilt or innocence — they despise it. They believe the color-blindness that generations of liberals, most especially Dr. Martin Luther King, fought for is in fact racist. They believe that the idea that everybody should be able to go as far as his or her talents and hard work can take them is bigotry. Excellence is bigotry too.

We are not going to recognize this country if these people aren’t stopped.

On the drive up today, I left my audiobook a couple of times to listen to NPR. So much oppression. It has become unlistenable now. I heard a report there that the Pentagon is extending the deployment of 2,300 National Guard troops around the US Capitol till May 23. Who are they protecting the Capitol from? That ridiculous January 6 mob is being rounded up and prosecuted, as well they should be. But 2,300 Guardsmen have to be away from their homes to militarize the US Capitol even now? What is this regime afraid of? The Pentagon says it’s a non-specified threat. Maybe so. They would know. But I don’t know that I trust the government to tell the truth on this. Remember how an earlier administration lied us into Iraq? This is the same US Government that has American soldiers still in Afghanistan, twenty years later, doing things like (according to official documents cited here by Richard Hanania) trying to teach a bunch of barely literate Muslim hill people to be good American feminists.

The regime — by which I mean the Biden administration, but also private power centers (academia, the media, corporate America, et al.) — are trying to teach us to fear and loathe each other by race. The regime is trying to convince our daughters that maybe they need to chop off their breasts and jack themselves up with male hormones, and our sons the opposite. They are trying to destroy any sense of normalcy. The propaganda never ends. And if you object — well, you’re a hater, and your family is going to pay the price.

What is it going to take for these wealthy parents to say screw it, my kids’ dignity and my kids’ souls are not worth going to a damn Ivy League school. What’s it going to take for them to decide that they don’t want to raise servile conformists? What’s it going to take to make them realize that they don’t want to be servile conformists either? If you read the Bari Weiss article, these parents know that these schools are warping their children, and they have every reason to believe that the Ivies will too. Why are they allowing these monsters to do this to their children?!

And not just the wealthy — what about all of us? What is it going to take to compel us to live as Havel’s greengrocer, and say that we’ll take whatever they throw at us, as long as we don’t have to live by these damned lies any longer? From Live Not By Lies:

Consider, [Vaclav Havel] said, the case of the greengrocer who posts a sign in his shop bearing the well-known slogan from the Communist Manifesto, “Workers of the world, unite!” He doesn’t believe in it. He hangs it in his shop as a signal of his own conformity. He just wants to be left alone. His action is not meaningless though: the greengrocer’s act not only confirms that this is what is expected of one in a communist society but also perpetuates the belief that this is what it means to be a good citizen.

Havel goes on:

Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth.

This costs him. He loses his shop, his salary is cut, and he won’t be able to travel abroad. Maybe his children won’t be able to get into college. People persecute him and those around him—not necessarily because they oppose his stance but because they know that this is what they have to do to keep the authorities off their backs.

The poor little greengrocer, who testifies to the truth by refusing to mouth a lie, suffers. But there is a deeper meaning to his gesture.

By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal. The principle must embrace and permeate everything. There are no terms whatsoever on which it can co-exist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety.

It is not easy to do this, but it is never, ever going to be easier to do this than it is right now. 

Here’s something unsettling: a reader sent me this essay by someone called Lomez, titled “Our Generation’s War.” Check this part out:

When vast swaths of non-compliant Americans are declared domestic insurgents, it behooves us to conduct ourselves accordingly. This is not to say that whatever might broadly be called the ‘Dissident Right’ ought to assume a defensive crouch, or retreat into passive quietism until the regime exhausts itself. Though we may be in the midst of a 5th Generation war, some of the old rules still apply, and the insurgent, however diminished, however outgunned  metaphorically, of course  has certain advantages he can make use of.

Another war historian, David Gallula, describing the Cold War spasms breaking apart and reforming the global map after World War II, wrote in 1965 what has become the textbook on the nature of insurgencies. Gallula was a man of his time, and most of his examples are superficially outdated, Communist rebels from Greece to North Africa to Southeast Asia asserting themselves with greater and lesser effectiveness throughout the Third World. We are not Communists, and this is not the Cold War, no matter how much our State Department might wish it were so. Nonetheless, Gallula provides a few key insights that broadly apply to our fight, and that we ought to keep in mind as we ask the question of what comes next.

To begin, the site of contestation in the 5th Generation war against our decrepit regime is not firstly the halls of power, certainly not the Capitol building, and not even really the formal political arena at all. Borrowing from Yarvin, I’d echo that Republican electoral victories are not sufficient for breaking the regime until the Republican candidate sees himself as an outsider prepared to tell the regime that it must submit. Still, contra Yarvin, winning political fights is good, where we can get them, and there are ways of engaging in local politics, especially, that may achieve certain desired effects. But ultimately, political victories are downstream of a more fundamental fight, which is winning the support of what Gullala coarsely calls “the population.”

To put it in more accessible terms, the right will win if and only if it can infiltrate the mind of the ‘normie’ and exterminate the parasitic brainworms sucking the life from his better judgment and the resolve to do anything about his rapidly declining prospects.

His relative material comfort, despite the economic headwinds brought on by Corona and the ongoing outflow of resources from the middle-class, make this a difficult, though not impossible sell. The normie must be prodded. The normie must be pulled along. The normie must be given the opportunity and incentive to cross the rubicon into what for him is forbidden, and potentially hostile, intellectual and moral territory. He must be granted the license to self-consciously rebuke the epistemic authorities and expert class he has for a lifetime been conditioned to trust with his self-understanding. [Emphasis mine — RD]

That is, the normie must be given a cause. This cause must exist outside the political paradigm within which he has been accustomed to understanding these conflicts. Scott Alexander is not entirely wrong to propose that Republicans wage a “class conflict” against the strata of elite sense-makers who despise them. It is indeed a righteous cause, and an effective message. He is wrong however that Republicans, as such, ought to do this. No. This is not a partisan conflict against Democrats, though there is much overlap. This is a conflict of insurgents against a failing regime. That is the way it must be framed and its campaigns prosecuted.

I am cautiously optimistic that Americans understand this cause and the nature of their enemy instinctively. There is no denying the rot at the heart of American life, of Western life. There is no denying the ever-presence of the bugman and his sickly designs for us. The energy leaking out against this is everywhere in sight. However misdirected, however frenetic and decoupled from meaningful objectives, a spirit of disobedience obtains. They feel the quickening incursion of the public life into the private, no doubt accelerated by Zoom World and the bright eye of our screens watching and recording our every thought. Americans can feel caught in a straightjacket of preference falsification and coercive moral decrees, the stultifying HRization of their inner universe. What a bleak and limited existence!

And where they can’t feel it, we must guide them. We must articulate the shape of the enemy so he can see and understand its character. Human life versus pod life. This is an easy choice, but only once you understand it as the nature of the proposition before you.

More:

Finally, as Gullala observes, an insurgent movement in its infancy is necessarily small. It is necessarily weak. It needs time to build. It cannot on day one confront the regime on its turf and presume to use the regime’s own weapons against it. Again, this is not to advocate for quietism, but rather to recognize the limited usefulness of operating within the domains of social and political activity the regime already controls. You are not going to take back the universities or Hollywood or the news desk. Infiltrate these places and expose them for what they are, but to destroy them rather than to save them.

Before anything else, we must build a culture of our own. Any meaningful insurgency will be downstream from its capacity to imagine. Direct action politics will flail and follow, rather than lead, if it is not tethered to the kind of self-understanding that can only be achieved through art. The regime understands this, if only intuitively, and the ban waves and censorship are an attempt to tear apart the communities where this art can be cultivated and shared. But they are not yet omnipresent. They have not yet, as in Havel’s Czechoslovakia, managed to altogether “nihilize life.” There are cracks still to penetrate. There is, deep in the American soul, a resilience that is not yet extinguished. Build the communities, forge the relationships, online and off, where this resilience can manifest and triumph over the enemy and its machines.

This is how we win.

I would like to know more about that. In the meantime, we Christians have to start right now building the Kolakovic network, from Live Not By Lies. It’s not an either-or. Build a resistance for now, and one that is capable of supporting underground churches if the Regime cracks down, as it ultimately will. Remember, this is a War of Religion, whether you are religious or not.

UPDATE: A Romanian reader wrote to me today to say that today is the day his country celebrates the Orthodox saints of the Communist prisons. He sends this quote from one of them, the late Ioan Ionalide, who wrote this in 1985:

The sorrows of a detainee

The detainee feels that in the foreseeable future the communist power will be annihilated. And yet he is sad and worried. It is sad because he sees that those who have had the power of communization the country are shaping themselves as masters of the world to come.
He is concerned that he understands that the prospects for an unprecedented and without opponents world tyranny are opening up. The golden calf, the ancient god, shows itself today as an all-powerful factory in the spirit of mankind. People worship the machine. It is a pseudo-religion of material dogmas, material meaning and unanticipated finality. The state that will have a monopoly on sophisticated weapons, genetic engineering and the technique of determining consciousness will be omnipotent and will destroy humanity. No one guarantees the freedom of the people in this civilization, no one can govern the technological forces in this civilization.
That is why humanity lives on the heights of despair. All the problems of the world are in the Cross of Christ and of Christians, whenever we get lost or lazy on the way, let us go back to the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. The sufferings that are caused to us have the purpose of whipping our laziness and enlightening our minds.
That’s him on the second row, fifth from right, with the mustache. And that’s Constantin Oprisan (you’ll remember him from Live Not By Lies), third row, sixth from left:

 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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