Researchers synthesize room temperature superconducting material

Friday, October 16th, 2020

When I heard that a team from the University of Rochester had synthesized a room-temperature superconductor, I was not expecting this footnote:

The carbonaceous sulfur hydride exhibited superconductivity at about 58 degrees Fahrenheit and a pressure of about 39 million psi.

Dias’s lab at Rochester used hydrogen-rich materials that metalize at lower pressures than pure hydrogen, producing picoliters of superconductor in a diamond anvil cell:

First the lab combined yttrium and hydrogen. The resulting yttrium superhydride exhibited superconductivity at what was then a record high temperature of about 12 degrees Fahrenheit and a pressure of about 26 million pounds per square inch.

Next the lab explored covalent hydrogen-rich organic-derived materials.

This work resulted in the carbonaceous sulfur hydride. “This presence of carbon is of tantamount importance here,” the researchers report. Further “compositional tuning” of this combination of elements may be the key to achieving superconductivity at even higher temperatures, they add.

Only peasants have any political importance

Thursday, October 15th, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachFrom the first, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the Communists understood that in a nation almost wholly peasant, only peasants have any political importance:

Within two years, they won not only the war but the peasants’ minds. For the peasants would not understand, until too late, that the Communists wanted not justice for them, but to overthrow the entire fabric of Chinese life.

The popular morality of what the Communist Chinese have done will probably be judged only in the light of whether or not they made China a great power, and only the future will tell that. If they fail, history will condemn them for the enormous suffering they inflicted upon their land; if they succeed, their own history will largely regard them as heroes, even as Soviet history regards Peter the Great of Russia as a hero, or as the French revolutionists or the Irish Sinn Fein, who resorted to naked force and political murder, are looked upon favorably by millions of their countrymen.

It will never happen, and when it does, you will deserve it

Wednesday, October 14th, 2020

Two years ago, Handle reviewed Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option:

Almost all Dreher’s critics accuse him of crying wolf or being a Chicken Little at best… Meanwhile, I’m saying that Dreher is underestimating his enemy, painting an overly rosy picture, and not being nearly alarmist enough.

Now he reviews Dreher’s Live Not By Lies:

“Live Not By Lies” is a sequel of sorts to “The Benedict Option”, in what I’m sure will one day be called “Volume 2 of Dreher’s Benedict Option Trilogy.” It’s is a good book, you should read it, and Dreher is in general right about the soft totalitarianism, and if anything, not right enough.


As a friend of mine put it, “The single biggest problem is lag-seriousness. We are always just at best about grim enough for yesterday’s battle.”

That is where “Dreher’s Law of Merited Impossibility” comes from. “It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.” If it were possible, despite denials, and by pointing out a clear logical implication of progressive ideology — and even going so far as to supplement with the early appearances of those explicit proposals — to scare conservatives enough, early enough, to do whatever it takes to avoid it, then the impossible wouldn’t keep happening to them, over and over again.


The anti-audience already believes Dreher is far more of a kook and Chicken Little than his Christian critics do, and just a continuation of “The Paranoid Style In American Politics.” To them, Dreher can get in the back of the line behind the McCarthyists, “Eisenhower was a Commie!” John Birchers, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and low-status judgment-day-is-just-around-the-corner-all-the-signs-are-actually-happening prepper types. They are once again proclaiming the first half of the law, “It will never happen.”

And without the list of lies, their argument wins the day. It seems fully plausible and convincing. It sounds like this:

Oh look at these idiots going off again. Here we are, just trying to make sure love wins and hate loses. Our ‘radical ideology’ amounts to “Don’t be a bigot, help your fellow man, and keep your toxic hatefulness to yourself.” Everybody should be included, and nobody ought to be unjustly discriminated against. Simple, self-evident, human universals, really, do real, loving Christians really disagree so much with any of those? And because the white supremacist homophobes can’t think of anything else to say in response, the hide behind ‘Christianity’ as a pathetic rationalization for their simple irrational animus, and resort to inventing fantasies like gulags and torture rooms and KGB agents. Like *they’re* the victims! Delusional! What kind of creepy psychological problems do they have to really imagine that with all their wealth, comfort, freedom, privilege, and petty first world problems, that they are remotely spiritual kin with people who endured the worst suffering possible? Crazy!

Do you see the problem? It’s the ‘merited’ part of the law. Dreher wants to respond with the simple truth, “We’re not bigots, and we don’t deserve it.” The response would be, “Ok, let’s find out. What is it exactly that you are going to insist on believing or doing, that we would possibly think was worth throwing you into a gulag?”

He can’t beat around the bush with something general and evasive, “For being devout Christians.”

The response (at least from the rare one who knows anything about Christianity) would be as follows:

Look, we just think your religion is mostly a collection of mythological fantasies and superstitious prohibitions, but combined with a salvageable core of a worthy moral perspective that, like almost all ancient and traditional lines of philosophy, represents an incomplete and imperfect grasping toward the same ethical framework we now hold dear. That’s why Jefferson rewrote the bible, removing all those superfluous distractions. Following the actual bible seems kind of nutty and backward to us, but now that it’s in clear political retreat in terms of numbers and influence, and since most self-identified Christians don’t really seem to live like they take most of it seriously, we regard it as mostly harmless. So long as you keep it to yourselves.

So, nobody is going to throw you in the gulag for going to church. Or for believing Jesus is Lord, that he is the Savior of humanity and God’s only son, that he was born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary who in turn was immaculately conceived, that he performed miracles, made water into wine, multiplied bread and fishes, walked upon water, healed the sick, raised the dead, died for our sins, and was resurrected. That he saves his people by means of their repentance and confession to sin and commanded his followers to love each other and their neighbors and their enemies, and to spread his word and the gospel of the good news of their salvation to every soul.

Seriously now, is that not Christian enough or you? Are these not the central claims of Christianity? Is that not enough freedom to be a Christian?

And we aren’t going to do a single thing to anyone for any of that. Why would we even care? Maybe if proselytizing is done obnoxiously in an imposing manner and makes people feel unsafe and not included. But let’s face it, 99.99% of American Christians aren’t ever doing that anymore, so it’s kind of absurd to spook them, right? Now we will insist that you not discriminate against LGBTs, and not to teach people to hate them, and yes, you will indeed get merited punishment if you persist in doing so. But seriously, is Hate the hill you are choosing to die on?

As another friend of mine put it, “We do not want you to subtract from your faith, only to add to it. Just don’t be a jerk and you’ll be just fine.”

It was a march without parallel in history

Tuesday, October 13th, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachOne reason why the U.N. didn’t recognize that China would enter the war in Korea, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), is that China had had no success in war for a long, long time:

For more generations than men could count, soldiers in the Middle Kingdom had ranked low in the orders of society, far down the scale from the scholar and the poet. And for more generations than men could count, China had had no skill or success in war. For more than a hundred years, Chinese military forces had…


On 1 August 1927 the newly formed Communist Party of China began the fight against Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang. This date is still carried on CCF battle flags as the date of the Communist Army’s founding.

For decades the battle raged across China. In 1934, when it seemed that the Nationalist Army had the CCF ringed, approximately 100,000 CCF soldiers retreated north for Kiangsi Province into Shensi, to far Yenan. It was a march without parallel in history, and one almost without parallel for hardships.

One year later, after crossing 6,000 miles, eighteen mountain ranges, twenty-four rivers, and twelve provinces, 20,000 survivors under a general named Lin Piao made juncture with other Communist forces in Yenan.

During the actual time of march, Lin Piao’s forces had averaged twenty-four miles per day, on foot.

In Shensi Province, far removed from the Nationalists and the eyes of the world, the Communist Chinese began to rebuild their base of power. They began to wage guerrilla warfare against the Nationalists.

They were led by men who were now hardened soldiers, men who wanted above all else for China to be again a great power, and who felt that Marxism held out the only hope for its accomplishment.

The vast areas of China were still feudal; there had never been any true capitalism except that administered by foreigners in the coastal cities. And the pattern of Sinic culture had frozen five thousand years earlier.

The new Communist military leaders understood clearly that the pattern of Chinese culture must be thoroughly broken before China could again assume authority in the world. With cunning, courage, and great skill, aided by a centuries-old tradition of corruption that lay across China like a gray shadow, they began to break it.

Vitamin D reduced a patient’s risk of needing intensive care 25-fold

Monday, October 12th, 2020

In May, Matt Ridley notes, arguments on the link between Vitamin D deficiency and poor Covid outcomes started to gather speed:

That month, the Health Secretary’s attention was drawn to two studies showing a strong association between the incidence and severity of Covid-19 with vitamin D deficiencies in the patients. Vadim Backman of Northwestern University, one of the authors of one of those studies, said about healthy levels of vitamin D that “Our analysis shows that it might be as high as cutting the mortality rate in half.”

When asked to look at the evidence, Matt Hancock perfectly reasonably handed the question to Public Health England to answer. They attempted to analyse the statistical data and came up unconvinced. The problem is that a correlation is not a proof of cause and effect, and a correlation (albeit a very strong one) is all that we had at that point. Or almost all that we had.

The gold standard of medical research is the randomised controlled trial. Back in May, we had no such test for vitamin D and Covid-19. Now we do. The world’s first randomised control trial on vitamin D and Covid has just been published. The results are clear-cut. The trial, which took place in Spain at the Reina Sofía University Hospital, involved 76 patients suffering from Covid-19. Fifty of those patients were given vitamin D. The remaining 26 were not. Half of those not given Vitamin D became so sick that they needed to be put on intensive care. By comparison, only one person who was given Vitamin D requiring ICU admission.

Put another way, the use of Vitamin D reduced a patient’s risk of needing intensive care 25-fold.

Whatever happened the fault was Washington’s

Sunday, October 11th, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachEarly in September, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), Chinese forces began the long march from the south, where they had been deployed against Taiwan, to the mountains along the Yalu.

Chou En-lai told the Indian ambassador, “If the United States, or United Nations forces cross the 38th parallel, the Chinese People’s Republic will send troops to aid the People’s Republic of Korea. We shall not take this action, however, if only South Korean troops cross the border.” This message was passed along but was seen as diplomatic blackmail:

The Chinese had at least 38 divisions in 9 field armies garrisoned in Manchuria north of the Yalu. Of these, 24 divisions were disposed along the border in position to intervene. This estimate of CCF strength was reasonably accurate.


Willoughby’s analysis described the open failure of the North Koreans to rebuild their forces, and suggested that this indicated the CCF and Soviets had decided against further investment in a losing cause.


FECOM was at best a collective agency, not an evaluative one for matters of international policy; if Washington permitted FECOM both to collect and to make decisions, then whatever happened the fault was Washington’s.


And above all else, it was the terrain and a complete failure of Intelligence that brought disaster. Marching north, the U.N. trumpeted to the world its composition, its battle plan, and even the hour of its execution.

Without effort, the enemy knew everything there was to know about the U.N. forces.

The U.N., in turn, never knew the enemy existed — until it was much too late.

It does not present a grand universal rational system

Saturday, October 10th, 2020

A progressive (but non-woke) friend asked Razib Khan why the bench of conservative intellectuals is much shallower than that of the Left:

First, if you are a high IQ individual you are more amenable and comfortable with abstraction, system-building, and rationality. Various forms of Leftism, liberalism, and libertarianism have something to offer you immediately since they start with rationalized systems. Historical materialism, Rawlsian political philosophy, and neoclassical economics or Natural Rights. Conservatism is a less clear and distinct option because it does not present a grand universal rational system. Rather, it leans on custom, tradition, and disposition. History in an empirical sense, not theoretical. There is suspicion of excessive rationalization of cultural practices and mores. Conservatives argue that you shouldn’t overthink things! You don’t understand the ultimate big picture. Intellectual conservatism, ironically, cautions against dense, clear, and compact answers.

That’s pretty infuriating for someone whose raison d’etre is to understand in a rational manner. Thinking is exactly what intellectuals are good at. Making systems where they have reflective access to the guts of the machine and the chains of cause and effect.

The conservative argument would be that this is not really possible in a deep way when comes to human affairs, as opposed to the natural sciences. Social and cultural practices have within them embedded wisdom accrued through trial and error. That is, it’s a natural Darwinian process. Bottom-up, not top-down “intelligent design.”


Professors themselves are overwhelming on the liberal/Left today. Far more so than in the past. What happened?

I think this goes to my second reason for why intellectuals are mostly progressive: humans tend to conform to their ingroup. All things equal progressivism appeals to the cognitive comforts and experiences of intellectuals more than conservatism. But there will be deviations from this expectation. But, in a group where 60% start out as progressive, over time more and more will become progressive due to pressures to align oneself to group identity. Only the most disagreeable will hold out, at least in public. I’ve seen this myself over the last ten years, as many people who were centrists or moderately liberal have now gone fully “woke.” There was no particular moment, rather, the whole subculture simply changed and most people moved along with it. These “woke” intellectuals often express great displeasure when I bring up their old pagan beliefs, before their baptism. They have been born anew in Justice.

The Americans had tacitly accepted war at secondhand with the Communist center of power

Friday, October 9th, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachThe punishment the U.N. and its agent, the United States, proposed to visit upon the Communist world was greater than the Communist world was willing to accept, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War):

Just as the United States had not been able to stand idly by in June as a friendly dependency was overwhelmed, in October the men of Peiping and the Kremlin felt they could not permit the forcible separation of North Korea from their own sphere.


If the U.S.S.R.’s stance were different from America’s, if it could not cease pushing, probing, and risking, it was because Soviet foreign policy was aggressive and expansionist. Communist ideology was far more than a tool to such expansion. It remained a taskmaster forcing the Soviets to it. Unless, with time, Communist ideology could be diluted, or diverted from the narrow precepts of Lenin, there could never be any true peace between Communists and the West. Westerners, tending to be pragmatic and liberal in viewpoint, often miscounted the driving reality of Communist dogmatism.

Russians, determined to oppose the American action in Korea, saw clearly that a confrontation of American troops with Russian, a direct clash, must inevitably escalate into general war, whether the governments wanted it or not. But the West had accepted Soviet arms in the hands of a satellite people; even though they had been drawn into the bloodletting themselves, the Americans had tacitly accepted war at secondhand with the Communist center of power. To substitute another Communist people, the Chinese, for the North Koreans, was not to change materially the tenuous…

The Communist leaders, desperate to save both their face and North Korea, felt that if new forces were hurled into the Korean cockpit, so long as the move did not seem to be a direct confrontation of the major powers, the conflict could still be limited to the peninsula.

And on the peninsula they felt they still might win.

Equally important, Red China was ready and spoiling for war.

The Chinese Communists, newly come to power, were driven by that dynamic puritanism that accompanies all great revolutions. Like the French in 1793, they not only desired conflict with the “evil” surrounding them; they needed it. Their hold on the millions of the sprawling Middle Kingdom was far from consolidated, and a controlled, limited war would consolidate it as nothing else could do.


Just as the northern states of the American Union have overlooked and forgotten their occupation and reconstruction of the southern states, the West has dismissed the painful humiliations repeatedly visited upon the ancient Sinic culture in the past hundred years.

People like to earn miles on business trips and spend them on vacation

Thursday, October 8th, 2020

Frequent flyer miles are worth big money — to the airlines:

The Financial Times pegs the value of Delta’s loyalty program at a whopping $26 billion, American Airlines at $24 billion, and United at $20 billion. All of these valuations are comfortably above the market capitalization of the airlines themselves — Delta is worth $19 billion, American $6 billion, and United $10 billion. In other words, if you take away the loyalty program, Delta’s real-world airline operation — with hundreds of planes, a world-beating maintenance operation, landing rights, brand recognition, and experienced executives — is worth roughly negative $7 billion. But economics of the loyalty program don’t work without a robust airline operation.


Spending money on a Delta-branded American Express card to earn points feels like getting free money, and redeeming it feels like getting a free flight. Since consumers mentally double count their points, they’re willing to accumulate them, which means banks and other counterparties have found it valuable to offer those points to consumers.

Typically, the airline will sell points to banks, who then offer those points to cardholders in exchange for spending. Once someone has picked out a loyalty program, they’re incentivized to be loyal and rack up points, so the bank knows they’ve acquired a credit card customer for the long haul. Exclusive partnerships between airlines and credit card issuers can be quite lucrative: Delta’s deal for American Express to be the sole issuer of its SkyMiles credit card was worth $3.4 billion in 2018, and the contract has since been extended to 2029. It’s a classic fintech play: provide a novel way to help exchange money now for money later at favorable rates. Since the loyalty rewards business is asset-light, grows fast, and is not as sensitive to economic cycles as the core airline business — United revealed that loyalty revenues dropped just 2% in 2009 — it raises the question: Why not just spin them off? That’s harder than it looks, and it gets to the crux of the airline industry’s problems.

Loyalty programs acquire customers because those customers want to earn and spend points with a particular airline that has flight routes optimized for their needs. That means they’re ultimately dependent on an airline’s route network. For example, if you do a lot of business in Atlanta, Delta’s your go-to airline; if work takes you up and down the West Coast, you’ll probably choose Alaska. When airlines decide which routes to expand and which to cut, they’re not just thinking about ticket prices — they’re also thinking about their loyalty members. Abandoning a major city, or even reducing routes to it, is a good way to permanently lose those lucrative customers.

That problem is especially hard because people like to earn miles on business trips and spend them on vacation. So an airline that cuts a route to the Bahamas or Vail might lose business in New York and Chicago.

No one, civilian or military, disagreed with MacArthur’s view

Wednesday, October 7th, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachJust as the Korean War was turning into a sort of American fox hunt, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), President Truman flew halfway across the Pacific to discuss the final phases of the action with his patrician proconsul of American power in the East, Douglas MacArthur:

There was very little talk about the fighting. It was taken for granted that the conflict was almost over and that now the main concern was the rehabilitation of Korea, north and south, most of which lay in ruins.


Then the talk came around to a different matter. “What,” asked Harry Truman, “are the chances for Chinese or Soviet intervention?”

Sonorously, MacArthur replied, “Very little.”

He went on to say that had they interfered during the first or second months it would have been decisive. “But we are no longer fearful of their intervention. We longer stand with hat in hand.”

He mentioned that the Chinese had 300,000 men in Manchuria, of which not more than 200,000 were along the Yalu River. Of these, not more than 60,000 could be got across.

“The Chinese have no air force. If the Chinese try to get down to P’yongyang there will be the greatest slaughter.”

No one, civilian or military, disagreed with MacArthur’s view.


General MacArthur was operating on purely military assumptions that the Chinese did not have the ability to intervene. And one of these assumptions was that, if the Chinese dared oppose the righteous march of U.N. forces, the United States would retaliate with all its righteous wrath and fury — that American air would strike at China, interdict its long and painfully vulnerable supply lines across Manchuria, destroy the fledgling industry of which the Chinese were so proud.

He firmly believed such a fear would deter the Chinese from action. He firmly believed, also, that upon a Chinese move, America would cry havoc and loose the dogs of war. China, even with its millions, could not hope to gain by general war with the West.

These things he believed, but did not mention.

Quiet, modest Omar Bradley, with one of the best military brains in the business, was thinking of the massive Soviet divisions — at least 175 in the Satellite countries alone — positioned in Europe. To him, all-out war with China would be war with the wrong enemy, at the wrong place, at the wrong time. The United States had to bear the load in Asia, true, but its vital interest lay in Europe, and its greatest danger in Soviet Russia.

It’s a teacher’s dream

Tuesday, October 6th, 2020

The Wall Street Journal notes that teachers are finding higher pay and growing options in Covid pods:

Krissy Rand has more than a decade of experience teaching special education to elementary school students, most recently in the Salem, Mass., public school district. She calls last spring’s remote teaching a nightmare, and was disheartened to learn about her school’s Covid-19 fall guidelines. With no library or gym time, “you’re basically a prisoner in your classroom,” she says.

The 39-year-old Ms. Rand put out her résumé. Eight groups of families contacted her within three days. She now makes more money teaching six first-graders from six families in Wellesley, Mass. They are following their public school’s curriculum, and she’s added cooking, yoga and earth sciences, with lots of hands-on experiments. She loves that there are no rules and administrative red tape, and no sitting through long meetings.

“It’s a teacher’s dream,” she says. “The day flies by.”


Depending on qualifications and experience, pod size and region, teachers can earn hourly rates starting at $40 in learning pods, ranging from a few hours a day to a full-time, five-day a week position, says Waine Tam, CEO of Selected. That company helps families and schools source and hire teachers, and has placed teachers in pods in 42 states.

The national average public school teacher salary for 2018–19 was $62,304, according to the National Education Association.

I’m reminded of Michael Strong’s How to Give Your Child an Expensive Private Education — For Less Than $3,000 per Year.

They crowded around the ugly steel monsters

Monday, October 5th, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachTo fight the North Koreans, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the Americans needed tanks, which they had never planned on bringing to the peninsula:

Roberson and Phelps had arrived during the bad days, when the crumbling 24th held onto the Perimeter by a nail. They would never forget their arrival into the lines of the division with the new M-46 90mm-gun tanks, shipped hastily from Detroit Arsenal. It had been hell to get the big tanks to Oakland, aboard ship, and on land again at Pusan. At Pusan there had been no port facilities to handle a 92,000-pound tank; the ship’s officers had groaned and turned pale while the ship’s winches and cargo booms strained under the extreme load. But lives, after all, were more valuable than winches, and one by one the 76 tanks had crashed down on the dock.

When the armor growled and roared up to the Naktong, men from the Taro Leaf Division ran forward to meet them, many of them openly sobbing. They crowded around the ugly steel monsters and patted them as if they had been blooded horses.

Under Lieutenant Colonel John Growden, West Point 1937, who had been with Patton, the 6th Tank soon had its baptism of fire.

To Growden came a radio flash from a leading tank: “We have sighted enemy. What are our orders?”

Growden radioed back: “Are they definitely enemy?” “Affirmative!” “Then fire—that’s why the hell we’re here!” In each and every war, Americans must learn the hard way.

What if the virus had made its appearance in 1990

Sunday, October 4th, 2020

Arnold Kling asks, What if the virus had made its appearance in 1990?

  • I don’t think people would have self-quarantined. We didn’t have the infrastructure for low-cost direct-to-home delivery. We didn’t have the technology to allow people to work from home.
  • I don’t think we would have had lockdowns. We didn’t have a generation of people raised to believe that it was unsafe for children to play without adult supervision. Shelter-in-place orders from the government would have been too unpopular for elected leaders to contemplate.
  • We would not have been promised a vaccine. No one could have announced “We already sequenced the virus genome!” as if that meant a vaccine was coming any day now.
  • We would not have had all of the treatment options available today.
  • Our population would have had a lower proportion of high-risk individuals — fewer elderly, obese, and diabetic individuals.
  • We would not have had social media to fill our heads with statistics and model forecasts and expert pronouncements to keep the virus foremost in our minds.

ROK troops had already gone north days before

Saturday, October 3rd, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachThe Republic of Korea, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), had never seriously intended to halt at the old border:

It is very doubtful if Syngman Rhee, who lived to reunite his country, would have obeyed a U.N. order to stop short of the parallel, any more than Abraham Lincoln would have favored an order from foreigners to stop the Grand Army of the Republic on the Potomac after Gettysburg. Rhee issued orders to his field commanders, now serving under American command, to move north north no matter what the Americans did.

Whatever the ploy and counterploy of the great powers, it was in the vital interests of the Taehan Minkuk to expand to the Yalu.

On 1 October, MacArthur demanded the surrender of North Korea. Kim Il Sung made no reply.

At noon, 7 October, American units of the Eighth Army went across the parallel at Kaesong. ROK troops had already gone north days before.


There is every indication that, just as they had not expected that the United States would intervene in Korea in June, the North Koreans did not anticipate the U.N. offensive over the parallel. The shattered Inmun Gun had not been reconstituted after its retreat, and the extensively prepared positions along the border were not heavily defended.

That’s more pleasant to live through than Nineteen Eighty-Four

Friday, October 2nd, 2020

Rod Dreher discusses his new book, Live Not By Lies:

Let’s start with some basic definitions. Authoritarianism is when a non-democratic government has a monopoly on politics. Totalitarianism is when an authoritarian government expands its claim to power to cover every aspect of life – including the inner life of its citizens. Stalinism, or hard totalitarianism, achieved that through terror and pain. This kind of system is what every American high school student read about in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. I wouldn’t say it could never come here, but I don’t really think it will.

Instead, we are building a kinder, gentler version. What awakened the Soviet-bloc emigres is the way political correctness has jumped over the walls of the universities and is both intensifying and spreading through society’s institutions. The forms it takes, the language that it uses to justify itself, and the way that it tolerates absolutely no dissent – all of this is truly totalitarian.

What makes it soft? A couple of things. First, it is emerging within a democratic system, within the institutions of liberal democracy, without a state monopoly on power. Second, and more importantly, the emerging totalitarian system will not coerce compliance through pain and terror, but more from manipulating our comforts, including status. It will be more like the dystopia in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. That’s more pleasant to live through than Nineteen Eighty-Four, but it’s still totalitarian, and it will still have major long-term effects.


In 1951, the great political theorist Hannah Arendt published The Origins of Totalitarianism, the results of her investigation into how Nazism and Communism arose. Though the two ideologies were very different in most respects, they appealed to the same longings in the masses, who saw in them a solution to their grave problems. Reading Arendt in our time was shocking to me, because I realized that most of the signs of a pre-totalitarian society are flashing strongly in ours.

For example, Arendt said that loneliness was the greatest source of totalitarianism – that desperately lonely people were looking for meaning, purpose, and solidarity with others. They found it in totalitarian political ideology. Sociologists have been warning for years now that we have reached dangerously unhealthy levels of loneliness and atomization in our “Bowling Alone” society.

Also, the loss of respect for hierarchy, traditional authority, and the decline of the institutions of civil society, opened the door for totalitarianism. The desire to transgress – that is, to destroy things for the sake of destroying them – were key factors. Another: the willingness of the masses to believe things they knew were untrue, or probably untrue, but that made them feel good.

There are others. None of this means that totalitarianism is inevitable, but it means we are especially susceptible to it. Arendt said that liberal societies will always have to contend with an inner voice that says it can’t happen here, when the 20th century proves that yes, it actually can.


[Father Tomislav Kolakovic, to whom the book is dedicated] was a Catholic priest who arrived in Slovakia in 1943, fleeing the Gestapo. He told students at the Catholic university that their country was going to fall to Communism after the war, and that as Christians, they needed to prepare themselves. The Communists were going to severely persecute the Church. Some bishops thought he was alarmist, but Father Kolakovic got busy organizing young people into cells for prayer and study – including studying the art of building a resistance.

In 1948, the Iron Curtain fell over their country. Everything Father Kolakovic predicted came true. But the network of faithful Christians he had built around Slovakia became the backbone of the underground church. I dedicate Live Not By Lies to him because I think it’s 1943 in America today, and we all need to look to his example for guidance and inspiration.

In fact, it’s strange how history moves. When I was in the Soviet bloc interviewing people who survived Communism, some of them talked about how grateful they were to Americans for standing with them during the Cold War, and offering them hope. Now, as a very different kind of totalitarianism threatens us in the West, they are in a position to return the gift of solidarity and hope. The stories these people trusted me with, and that I tell in the book, are going to be seen one day as a lifeline to truth, to sanity, and to hope.