The Totalitarian Lie

Les Sillars | December 1, 2016

Hitler, Stalin, and Mao murdered millions in their day yet attracted even more millions of devoted followers. Today we wonder how totalitarians could have amassed such power—even as many this week consider the brutal legacy of Fidel Castro—but we forget what they all offered: the vision of a perfect world, one without God.

The best example might be Pol Pot, whose Khmer Rouge regime took over Cambodia on April 17, 1975. He turned his brand of Communism into a national religion, enforced by a revolutionary organization called “Angka.” With the promise of an agrarian utopia he justified the murder of about 1.7 million people—nearly a quarter of the population—through execution, torture, starvation, and disease.

To many of us in the West, such violence seems a distant threat, and Pol Pot a Cold War relic. But the Khmer Rouge remind us that totalitarians gain power after the ideas that justify them have taken root.

Radha Manickam, a Cambodian Christian who survived the Khmer Rouge, encountered such ideas firsthand. Here are three truths about totalitarians that are profoundly relevant for today.

1. Totalitarians control thought and action by controlling speech.

Manickam was 22, a new believer, and living in Phnom Penh when the Khmer…

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