How ‘The Man In The High Castle’ Actually Reveals America’s Totalitarian Trends

How ‘The Man In The High Castle’ Actually Reveals America’s Totalitarian Trends

Scarily, the permanent lies of totalitarianism — 'survive at any price' and 'only material results matter' — seem ascendant today in American politics.
Alfred Siewers
By

In a meaningful coincidence, both the fourth season of “The Man in the High Castle” on TV and the new English translation of the climactic volume in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “The Red Wheel” cycle of historical novels, March 1917 Book 2, recently came out the same day on Amazon.

Maybe the overlap audience wasn’t large. But one couldn’t ask for a better contrast between the direction of American political culture evident in the TV series and Solzhenitsyn’s warnings to the West implicit in the book. It’s sad that Amazon missed the marketing opportunity of packaging them together as “Spring 1917 Meets Fall 2019.”

The trajectory of the forced abdication of Russia’s last tsar, unleashing totalitarian forces leading to the largest mass murders of human beings in global history, shows eerie parallels to U.S. trends today, on display culturally in the series.

‘The Man in the High Castle’ Parallels Antifa

The final season of “The Man in the High Castle,” based loosely on a 1962 alternative history novel by American sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, ends with a literal bang. The Black Communist Resistance drives Japan out of the American West Coast, and the East Coast Resistance kills the Nazi leadership as a military coup marks the end of the North American Reich. (In the series’ alternative history of the early 1960s, the Nazis and imperial Japan had won World War II, with the Germans dropping an A-bomb on Washington, D.C.)

The plot glorifies terroristic violence and Antifa philosophy in resistance to Nazism and Japanese fascism, which parallels “the resistance” to the Trump administration from 2016 to the present. A climactic moment in the final episode of the series comes when members of the Black Communist Resistance (BCR), an African American separatist movement apparently based on a meld of critical race theory, cultural Marxism, and the Black Panthers, rejects the American flag as a symbol of resistance to the American Reich and the Japanese Pacific States colony.

BCR leaders look at a contraband American flag brought by those fleeing the Reich and disavow its use for their cause in words that could come from today’s Antifa and social justice movements.

“All those white Americans are Nazis now,” one BCR leader says. “This flag ain’t never done sh-t for us, that ain’t what we fought for.”

“We can never go back,” says Bell Mallory, a female BCR leader, who — as one of two modern media SJW Disney princesses in the series finales — does it all, from leading a violent resistance to cooking soul food and being “sex positive.”

“Fair enough,” says another BCR leader, folding up the American flag for apparent disposal.

Finding an Alternative to Christian Ideas

This scene reminded me of radical faculty criticizing Princeton Professor Allen Guelzo, one of America’s preeminent Civil War historians. Guelzo appeared on our campus to speak on “Lincoln at Gettysburg” and American national identity.

He’s prompted criticism because Guelzo argues that the U.S. Constitution and, more generally, the founding of the republic was not pro-slavery. Those arguing America was not a racist project from the start should be erased from academia, according to a growing number of voices, who probably would also agree with an administrator on our campus who reportedly recently associated “Christian values” of family with “white supremacism.”

Significantly, the Antifa resistance in the alternative history of “The Man in the High Castle” series receives weapons and aid from communist China. At the purported alt-history time of the series in the early 1960s, real-life China was winding up the Great Leap Forward and headed toward the Cultural Revolution.

Mao Zedong, according to scholars in “The Black Book of Communism,” presided over the most murderous single regime in human history. Unlike the Nazi Party in Germany or the Communist Party in Russia, Mao’s party continues to rule China today, a country where Amazon has engaged its for-profit “woke” tentacles as Chinese leaders persecute religious minorities and Hong Kong protesters. One need not look to alternative history to find 20th-century totalitarianism weirdly continuing. Yet the series tellingly marks China as ally to the American anti-Nazi “resistance.”

In the finale, after the resistance has seized control, the Nazi portal to alternative worlds of the secular multiverse suddenly produces an immense crowd of people coming into America from different worlds, “from everywhere,” as the super-feminist resistance leader of the white SJWs, Juliana Crain, exultingly notes. Apparently a commentary on the need for open borders in the United States as an Antifa strategy, the finale also offers a secular multicultural alternative to otherworldly Christian ideas, as Solzhenitsyn articulated in tales of faith in the Soviet gulag.

How Totalitarianism Leads to Terror

But “The Man in the High Castle” series, in spite of itself, provides ironic insight into the current totalitarian spirit of “woke” academics, media, corporations, and administrative states in the United States. (See this interview with the cast, sponsored by Toyota Corolla.)

Unlike the situation in Solzhenitsyn’s gripping account of three days in March 1917 (using the Gregorian calendar chronology of the February Revolution), America’s current totalitarian brew does not target an autocratic monarchy and established church. It does, however, target the U.S. Constitution — especially the First and Second Amendments, the Electoral College, the Senate, and the Supreme Court — as racist and fascist, along with traditional networks of faith, the liberal arts, and ideas of objective truth in media and science. Today’s vanguard targets these authority structures.

Solzhenitsyn’s novel grippingly tells of the chaos overwhelming Russia across three key days leading up to the tsar’s abdication in a military coup. The intellectual class and elites had flipped toward revolution or moral paralysis. Leaders went into hiding or tolerated the new politically correct progressivism or justified it and cheered it on. The lack of decisive counteraction against the revolution was as telling as the silence of today’s American elites regarding the growing oppression of dissent on college campuses, in the corporate world, and in public service, together with the growing justification of “preemptive” violence in Antifa theory.

All the characters in the novel are surprised by how quickly the country flips from the old order to a new regime of terror. Many had hoped for a progressive democracy. But the radical vanguard of the Bolsheviks, aided by Russia’s military enemy, Germany, moved with breakneck speed toward establishing the world’s first truly totalitarian regime.

Its class, ideological, and ethnic genocides would kill tens of millions and inspire Nazi Germany’s system of concentration camps and state terrorism. By contrast, the old tyranny had killed at most a few thousand political prisoners across decades. Even pre-revolutionary Russian society’s justly decried antisemitic pogroms (which the tsarist state had opposed as contributing to disorder) paled in comparison by numbers of victims with those pogroms that erupted after the revolution when imperial order was shattered.

Russian Orthodox Christian philosophers influential on Solzhenitsyn have a history of strong Western criticism, some of it directed against Western racism associated with ideas of an objectified and “scientistic” sense of being. But, ironically, such Western objectification of human beings and the world rides rampant in radical progressive ideology with its strong critique of Western racism.

By contrast, today in the West, traditions such as the U.S. Constitution provide context of a higher authority than the human “will to power” as a stopgap to modern technocracy and its tendencies toward cultural totalitarianism.

Surrounded by Treason, Cowardice, and Deceit

At the end of Solzhenitsyn’s newly translated novel (part of his meticulously researched masterwork chronicling the trajectory of revolution from 1914 through 1917), Nicholas II, just after his abdication, is alone in his train car facing a lamplit icon of Christ. Formerly Tsar Nicholas, soon to be citizen Romanov, now commemorated by many Orthodox Christians worldwide as the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas, he poignantly ponders the mysterious face of his Lord.

Nikolai immediately stepped into this warm little gloom and saw only the bluish edges of the lamp above the oil, the small spear of flame barely flickering — and in a convergence of sternness and kindness, the eternally unknowable face of the Savior, holding in one hand an open Testament for us — open, but we can only read and grasp the first few letters.

Locking the door behind him with a final movement of his fingers, now completely uncoupled from everyone, from all men, alone with Him — to relax and weep — Nikolai felt a blissful grief. He dropped to his hard bed as if cut down, fell forward on one elbow — and wept. …

We cannot guess the Savior’s ways, but He understands us immediately, every part of us, and in everything we do, contemplate, and omit. This full and instantaneous understanding makes you feel suddenly like a child, weak but defended.

Later, Nicholas adds a final line to his diary, in the novel as he did in real life: “Surrounded by treason and cowardice and deceit!”

Those qualities are paramount in what Solzhenitsyn, in his nonfiction masterwork “The Gulag Archipelago,” called the “permanent lie” of totalitarianism. In that permanent lie, the values of “survive at any price” and “only material results matter” take preeminence. Scarily, they seem ascendant today in American politics on many sides.

Dr. Alfred Kentigern Siewers is associate professor of English at Bucknell University and was the 2018-2019 William E. Simon visiting fellow in religion and public life at the James Madison Program, Princeton University. He is also an ordained subdeacon and warden at St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Russian Orthodox Mission Church in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. He teaches and writes on Christian literature and ideas of nature, and on literary resistance to totalitarianism. His views are his own.

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