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Rules For Everyday Rebels

My new book will explore the experience of anti-communist dissidents, seeking practical lessons for building resistance to the West's emerging soft totalitarianism
Ján Čarnogurský (L) and František Mikloško (R), two leading members of the anti-communist resistance in Slovakia

Hey everybody, I apologize for not having blogged much of anything in the past couple of days. I’ve been incredibly busy here in Bratislava, both speaking at the awesome Bratislava Hanus Days ideas festival, and in meeting important figures in the underground church anti-communist resistance movement. These conversations and interviews for my next book have been among the most moving of my entire career. I have a long train ride from Bratislava to Prague on Sunday, so I hope to be able to tell you about the things I’ve seen and heard. These are not things I can tell you in a quick hit blog entry.

I am now able to share some good news with you. I told you that recently I came to an agreement with a publisher for my next book; now I can give you the whole story. The book will be published by Sentinel, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and will be edited by Bria Sandford, who also acquired and edited The Benedict Option. The book doesn’t have a firm title yet, but for now, we’re going with Rules For Everyday Rebels: Twenty Lessons In Resisting The Cultural Revolution. This is likely to change, especially as my reporting might suggest something else.

The gist of the book is twofold: first, to explore evidence that emigres to the West from the Soviet bloc say tells them that Western democracies are sliding into soft totalitarianism; and second, to investigate practical strategies for resisting this soft totalitarianism from the lives and stories of Soviet bloc men and women who endured hard totalitarianism without losing their minds, their integrity, or their hope.

For example, the most important thing I’ve learned from talking to the underground church community in Slovakia is the absolutely critical importance of small, strong communities. Standing in a hidden samizdat production room underneath a secret basement, a historian who had distributed Christian samizdat as a college student explained that his tight friendships with others in the resistance gave him hope, courage, and sustenance. I’ve heard the same thing from others, including especially Frantisek Miklosko (see above), who told me yesterday never, ever to minimize the importance of small community. That’s the kind of thing I’ll be writing about in this book. It’s going to be a book of storytelling.

Listening to these people talk about what it was like in the old days, and how they responded to the immense challenges of the time, is very, very humbling — but also absolutely inspiring. In the tiny, airless samizdat room, where Christians labored for hours on end to print materials intended to keep the faith alive during totalitarianism, I found myself getting angry at the American Christians who won’t stand up to the Social Justice Warriors in their midst — especially tenured professors. But then, feeling more generous, I thought that perhaps telling the stories of Christian men and women who risked prison and even torture for the sake of the faith might inspire timid US Christians to find their voice. I particularly loved how Frantisek Miklosko told me over lunch yesterday how important it is to develop and maintain friendships with people who don’t agree with you on everything, but who are decent folks. He told me that he’s not a liberal, but he has learned so much from honest liberals over the years, and is grateful for their friendship.

I’m not sure when the book is going to be published. I think we’re shooting for Autumn 2020. I’m thrilled to be back with Bria Sandford and Sentinel, and I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to write this particular book, and to tell the stories of everyday heroes of our time. A Slovak journalist said to me a couple of days ago, “For so many years, I’ve watched Americans come here to tell us what to do. This is the first time I’ve seen an American come to listen.”

The privilege is mine, friends.

UPDATE: You might be interested to know why I moved away from the socialism hook. It’s because of questions Bria asked me as we were talking through my proposal back in January. She basically asked me (I’m paraphrasing):

If we elected nothing but Republicans from here till kingdom come, would that change your thesis?

If we kept the free-market status quo permanently, would that change your thesis?

If not, does it make sense to say the threat comes from socialism?

She was right about that. What’s emerging is hard to name, and socialism is probably part of it, but it’s not socialism. Zuboff’s book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (thanks, Rob G. for the recommendation), makes it very, very clear that one of the greatest threats to liberty is the new economic model pioneered by Google in the early 2000s, and now common. What’s coming is not going to be a re-run of communism, but talking to people who lived through hard totalitarianism will give us some good ideas about the habits and ways of thinking that all of us should be developing to help us defend ourselves.

By the way, though I’ve been talking to underground church folks in Slovakia, because that is the primary form that anti-communist resistance took in this country, I don’t intend for this to be a narrowly Christian book. The resistance in what is today the Czech Republic (or Czechia) was heavily secular, and I’ll be talking to a prominent dissident there on Monday (as well as interviewing members of the Catholic Benda family). I will also interview non-religious anti-communist dissidents, as well as Protestants, Orthodox Christians, and non-Christian religious minorities, if I meet any in my travels.

This is also not going to be a strictly conservative book. It’s true that many liberals will not agree with me fully on all threats to our liberty that I identify, but I want to write a book that a non-conformist secular liberal the brave Bret Weinstein, formerly of Evergreen State, can read and mostly agree with, and learn from. The list of “lessons” I have — a list that will no doubt change a bit depending on what my reporting turns up — is already one that I think most old-school, Nat Hentoff-style liberals can endorse in good conscience.



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