The difficulty a serious Christian writer faces in this country, when speaking of the cultural revolution (or coup d’état?) that displaces the spontaneous flowering of authentic culture, is that there are no gulags or torture chambers we can point to as evidence that anything remotely like suppression afflicts us. The tragedy, the high drama of the writer’s struggle under overt totalitarianism, is in such stark contrast to the minor trials of the Western writer, that most people consider our situation benign, and our complaints grossly exaggerated. In my opinion, it is precisely our situation that may in the long run prove more deadly to the preservation of “the national heart, the national memory.”
The word totalitarianism usually generates impressions of dictatorial systems which crush civic freedoms and negate the humanity of their subjects in an effort to achieve complete control. Images of barbed wire, jack-boots and thought-control are conjured up in our minds. 20th century literature has given us some powerful works of fiction which suggest a variety of possible totalitarian futures: one thinks immediately of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. Common to these dystopias (utopias which have collapsed into tyranny) is the absolutizing of the power of the State, or systems controlled by the State.
Totalitarianism invariably strives to do away with genuine absolutes and to establish false absolutes in their place. Genuine absolutes are fundamental, ultimate, unqualified truths, independent of the ebb and flow of cultures, fashions, myths and prejudices.