Standing up for the truth is a rare phenomenon. Many refuse to stand up in the first place, and it seems that those who do have no concept of what is true.
This lack is realized on all sides of the ideological spectrum. This has resulted in perhaps the strangest combination of academics in today’s university coalescing around one particular text: Vaclav Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless.”
In this manifesto of truth, courage, and conscience, many can understand the plight of Havel’s protagonist. Havel relates the story of a simple greengrocer who places the communist slogan “Workers of the World, Unite!” in his shop window without any understanding of the concept, belief in the regime, or trust in his state leaders. By doing so, he unthinkingly shapes the powerful totalitarian system of which he is a part.
He did not go out of his way to procure the sign. The government officials delivered it to his door along with the produce which he is to sell, and he displays it with the rest of his goods.
The greengrocer, and the other individuals who comply in promoting the regime through visible signage, form a landscape of allegiance that dominates the periphery of all. They do not believe in the governmental system, but no one has the courage to say so. Through their consent, the authoritarian regime receives the ability to become totalitarian. The state is not strong enough to invade the lives of each, so they employ the weak-willed—which includes nearly every citizen—in tacitly reenforcing its strength.
We can all relate to this initial picture of the greengrocer. In today’s world, promoting a progressive agenda does not require active participation but, rather, mere passive acceptance. In one instance, this took the form of bookstore workers stocking the shelves with what they are given—“Queer Heroes” and “Pride 1-2-3” were not sought by any Notre Dame employee. Barnes and Noble delivered it, and the workers merely “did their job.”
“Welcome Week Ambassadors” are handed rainbow pins at the door as they invite the incoming class to campus every fall. Wearing the LGBTQ+ “Ally” pins does not take any effort. It is far more difficult to refuse.
The values of the broader world bleed into the university.
The prescient nature of this discussion of courage increases our admiration for those like Havel who cast off this first visage of the greengrocer. Havel relays the alternative story of the greengrocer who refuses to promote the regime. “He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game … His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth.” He is an isolated individual and is swiftly punished.
In this picture, the individual is powerless against the regime, but he reveals his ability to act according to moral conviction. His act has the potency to break the spell of mindless compliance.
The message of resistance resonates with nearly all. In years now bygone, I have heard liberal peers insist that Havel is necessary in the “Age of Trump.” The former president’s promotion of a strong executive branch and socially conservative policy brought cries of fascism and totalitarianism that, his adversaries argued, must be resisted at a grassroots level.
On the other hand, many of my conservative peers invoke Havel as an answer to a uniform corporate media replete with boilerplate slogans, asserting seemingly coordinated, uniform messaging at a national scale. Resisting the common “narrative” requires more than silent dissatisfaction. Rejection of the regime must be expressed through action and public statements.
Notre Dame does not uniformly reflect the national progressive consensus. It has capitulated on many questions of sexuality and gender—as was manifest in the vociferous outcry against the Rover’s former editor-in-chief upon the publication of her editorial “No Man Can Serve Two Masters” last fall.
Nevertheless, the Catholic ethos of a strong sacramental life, and, to a slightly lesser degree, belief in the sanctity of unborn life still remains.
This creates a unique juxtaposition of pressure to self-censor on both sides of the ideological aisle. Yet, despite the current fascination with Havel’s call for individuals to “Live in the truth,” courage to do so in any meaningful way is in short supply.
Those on the right, who hold views contrary to the progressive monoculture and adherent to the Catholic faith, ought to question whether they will sacrifice as much for their faith as a progressive will sacrifice for theirs.
I recently reported on the actions of Professor Tamara Kay in the pages of the Rover. Despite the school’s pro-life ethos and policy, she has been loudly advocating for abortion rights and access for students and those in the South Bend area. She is living—if not for the truth—at least for what she believes in. In doing so, she has been far more courageous than the majority of the students and professors who view such advocacy as despicable.
The history of the Church is replete with martyrs. Today, “conservative Catholics” dub themselves warriors in the face of the hostile culture. But if we will sacrifice less for Christ than others will for the right to sacrifice their children, a cultural revival unequivocally will not begin in our lifetime.
The gates of the netherworld will not prevail against the work of Christ, but how many lives and souls will be lost through the silence of the well-intentioned?
W. Joseph DeReuil is a junior studying philosophy and classics. Email him with questions, concerns, or condemnations at firstname.lastname@example.org.