Some old friends were in town recently, so I joined them for lunch. Among their number was Miroslav Marinov, a Bulgarian intellectual who fled his communist homeland long ago and settled in Canada, where he still resides today. One of the most erudite people I know, Miro, as we often call him, follows the news very closely. He also has a delightful sense of humor.
I had last seen Miro a few years ago, before the pandemic, when he and I enjoyed another lunch and shared a few laughs over the absurdities of the world. This time, however, the conversation was sober. The world is even more absurd now than it was pre-Covid, but there isn’t much left to laugh about. Mandates, lockdowns, surging crime—authoritarianism and license are mixing, it seems, in a toxic brew designed to dissolve society itself into chaos.
Canada, Miro tells me, is in very bad shape.
For example, we discuss a Polish pastor in Calgary whose church was stormed by Canadian police in April 2021—during Holy Week—for his alleged failure to comply with draconian mask rules. One month later, the same man, Pastor Artur Pawlowski, was arrested by a “heavily-armed SWAT team” for, as Canadian media mainstay Ezra Levant put it, “‘inciting’ people to go to church.” This is authoritarianism, I think, as Miro recounts Pastor Pawlowski’s plight.
Our conversation turns to Canada’s transgender and anti-conversion-therapy laws. Last November, the Canadian government passed legislation to ban conversion therapy. In early January, the ban went into effect. It is now essentially a matter of state orthodoxy that homosexuality is an unalterable feature of the human landscape. Conversion therapy for gays and lesbians is banned, but transgender conversion therapy is promoted, even recommended. While your sexual inclinations can’t be altered, your body can be. The spirit is concrete, the flesh subject to mutilation to match the spirit’s whims. Authoritarianism bleeds over into totalitarian license.
Miro mentions that some young Canadians have been put through transgender treatments without their parents’ consent or knowledge. One man in British Columbia was thrown into prison for contempt of court after referring to his own daughter as “she”—an offense since his daughter now officially “identifies” as a transgender male. As is happening also in the United States, parents are steadily losing to the state the right to care and make decisions for their children.
We next discuss the churches—more than sixty of them, Miro tells me—burned down throughout Canada after news outlets reported that an unmarked mass grave had been discovered on the grounds of a former government residential school for Indigenous children run by the Catholic church. Then Miro reveals something even more shocking. “It seems much of the evidence for those unmarked graves has been called into question,” he tells me. “What seemed to be graves were, in some cases, simply disturbances in the earth, or tree roots which looked on ground-penetrating radar to be holes which had been filled in, like graves.”
It appears Miro is correct. As John Daniel Davidson reports in a recent column in The Federalist, “Not one corpse has been found in the ‘mass grave’ of Indigenous children in Canada.” The conclusions he draws are mine, too: “The whole story, it seems, was concocted to stir up hatred against Christians and stoke outrage. It succeeded.”
This is license, the wanton desire to create chaos in society. The government of Canada did precious little to stop the arson (including the burning of a church used by Vietnamese immigrants and a Coptic Orthodox church). Harsha Walia, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, cheered the crime spree: “Burn it all down,” she tweeted. Civil liberties, or the libertine destruction of civil society? I wonder if anyone in Canada can tell the difference anymore.
I ask Miro if this is what life under communism had been like back in Bulgaria. Did the state sanction social chaos the way we see Western governments doing today? “No,” he tells me flatly. “During the early stages of the Russian Revolution, Lenin—who took seriously Engels’ view of the family as a form of institutionalized prostitution—did everything he could to destroy what he saw as bourgeoisie morality. He decriminalized homosexual acts and made divorces much easier to obtain.”
“But,” Miro continued, “this led to endless problems. Stalin recriminalized homosexual practices and made divorcing more difficult. Society stabilized somewhat after that. In Bulgaria, after Stalin did these things, we had basically the same kind of system and laws. It was totalitarian and authoritarian, repressive, built on lies. But there was a social order. Society did not function efficiently at all. But it was still a society for all that. What we have in the West today is total anarchy. It is not possible to live like a human being when totalitarianism and license have been combined.”
Miro’s words strike me deeply. As our lunch ends and our conversation winds down, I ask Miro what he thinks is coming next for Canada, for America, for the rest of the world. “America lives on debt,” he replies. “That cannot go on forever, or even for very much longer. Western society is falling apart, and the idea that the superpower in Washington is going to hold the world together by force of arms is also rapidly losing credence. I think often of Thomas Kuhn,” Miro goes on, “the scientific philosopher who argued that scientific thinking undergoes paradigm shifts rather than incremental change. In the case of the West,” he adds, “I think the paradigm shift is here. China is not falling apart. China has totalitarianism, but not license. China will probably outlast the current Western paradigm. The United States may collapse in a very violent way,” he closes. “Total anarchy cannot be sustained.”
After our lunch, I return to my office and think about what Miro has said. Human beings need a society in which to live. The future seems to be offering people today the choice between anarchy and totalitarianism. Can the human person flourish in either?
What I have seen emerging from the ashes of the pandemic seems to be something worse than either totalitarianism or anarchy: a hybrid of the two. For instance, I have been shocked to see on the news raw video of shoplifters and looters casually carting bags full of stolen merchandise out of stores. Carjackers operate in parts of some cities now with virtual impunity. District attorneys in major metropolitan areas have become, I think it is fair to say, pro-criminal and pro-crime. Repeat offenders, even those with histories of sexual assault or murder, are routinely released on lowballed bail. The media treat violent criminals as heroes, and make excuses for even the most heinous acts. “Systemic racism” has become a catch-all explanation for anti-social behavior of the worst kind. Tom Wolfe’s predictions in his 1970 essay “Radical Chic” appear to be coming true. The elites are working hard to inflame society and destroy the social fabric—all while protecting their own kind, of course.
Bookended by this anarchy at the top and the bottom is the great mass of ordinary people, those who get up and go to work every day and pay their bills on time. These people are the objects of the totalitarianism that is a corollary of the elite-driven anarchy boiling in society’s underclasses. Citizens who try to protect themselves from the elite-concocted crime wave are prosecuted as murderers, for example, while wanton murderers routinely go free. Mask and vaccine mandates are imposed on the middle class, while elites and the anarchic underclass flaunt the rules that everyone else must follow. The government and its organs surveil the middle class, rooting out “extremism” and portraying anyone who disagrees with the government narrative—even when that narrative flies in the face of science and fact—as “conspiracy theorists.” Totalitarianism in the middle, anarchy on both ends. Not quite the China model, and not quite the San Francisco Tenderloin model, but a combination of the two.
Humans are faced with a challenge perhaps unprecedented in history: namely, finding a way to live a human life in a society marked by license and anarchy parasitic on totalitarian order enforced by a massive elite-run government, media, and academic complex.
But in this challenge, I see great hope. I think of Miro, of his quiet faith which has sustained him across oceans and continents of exile. The Polish pastor in Canada hauled off by the police for his Christian witness, and the churches burned over what appears to be hateful fake news, and the man jailed for refusing to call his daughter “he”—these are examples of societal darkness, but in the social breakdown I think a great renaissance is aborning. People are tasting the bitter consequences of a society in which human beings have long been scorned. As in Bulgaria long ago, today people seem to have stopped believing much of what they hear from politicians or on the evening news. That is a very good thing. For, as Miro knows, it is not the political capital or the university or the newspaper that saves us. God abides with the human race and suffers as we do. And God is always waiting to be rediscovered, always ready to help us rebuild what our foolish rejection of the divine order has led to ruin.