Book: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

Cover of On Tyranny

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
by Timothy Snyder
published by Tim Duggan Books (Penguin Random House)
2017

This pocket-sized book of about 125 pages is written by a Yale History professor specializing in the Holocaust. Snyder relies upon this historical expertise to compare the language, speech, rallies, actions, and slogans of the US president elected in 2016 to those used by Nazis, Communists, and Fascists in a prior century. He finds many commonalities, and summarizes appropriate responses into twenty themes intended to support civil society over repressive authorities.

I read this when it was quite new, and found its warnings insightful; I read it again recently, and found it to be understated relative to our current circumstances.

What struck me more on the second reading is the idea that we are formally taught to believe that “progress” is inevitable; that the future is bright; that the seeds of the future were planted long ago, and all we need to do is step back and let it naturally grow. I recall being in high school and believing this, despite known systemic flaws in that plan. The idea is appealing, because it requires no real effort on any one individual’s part. If the future takes care of itself – how convenient is that? But I grew up, and could see clearly that having a future I’d actually want to live in requires effort.

Progress is NOT inevitable. Democratic institutions DO NOT defend themselves. People DO commit terrible crimes in the names of ideologies they can barely explain. Civilizations DO collapse.

Effort is always required to maintain good things. Always.

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