Life under Compulsion, Esolen's follow-up to Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, is a prolonged jeremiad on Western civilization's moral, spiritual, intellectual, and aesthetic decay. Esolen describes a world where children are shuttled to drab institutions to be taught inhuman doctrines by uncaring civil servants. Where work is subject to the schedule and the clock rather than the needs of craft. Where reason is subordinated to appetite, and unthinking appetite is the engine of the economy. Where everything is tolerated and nothing is forgiven. Where vice is liberation and virtue slavery. Where the greatest fear is of silence and solitude. In short, the world many people live in today. Then Esolen offers an opportunity for reformation - a real reformation, a return to form - through the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
The book overall lacks focus - the "ten ways" correspond to the ten chapters, but there is no programmatic unity. Esolen's arcadian yearnings for a simpler time at times resemble naive nostalgia. Weighed against this, there are sections that are table-thumpingly good, passages where the true order of things stands nakedly exposed, where we can really see what is on the end of every fork.