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The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America Hardcover – Illustrated, April 3, 2018
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From the Publisher
Shortlisted for the 2019 Lionel Gelber Prize
“A brilliant and disturbing analysis, which should be read by anyone wishing to understand the political crisis currently engulfing the world.” —Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens
“Combining topical reporting with delvings into the history of ideas and some political-philosophical musing in the author’s own voice, this relatively short book covers a vast canvas. . . . A roller-coaster world calls for a news editor’s skill in processing facts and a philosopher’s ability to dissect ideologies. Snyder has both.” —The Economist
“The Road to Unfreedom is a rich and complex book, punctuated by epigrams that cast heroic clarity upon the disturbing distance the United States has already traveled to the sinister destination in Snyder’s title. If some of Snyder’s assessment seems overstated or premature, he can powerfully reply: He has perceived more accurately than his critics what has already happened. He has earned the right to be heard on what may lie ahead.” —David Frum, The Atlantic
“The Road to Unfreedom offers a brief, potent and carefully documented history of Vladimir Putin’s consolidation of power in Russia, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” —The Chicago Tribune
“We are living in dangerous times, Timothy Snyder argues forcefully and eloquently in his new book. . . . To understand Putin, Snyder argues persuasively, you must understand his ideas. . . . The Road to Unfreedom is a good wake-up call.” —Margaret MacMillan, The New York Times Book Review
“Deluged by ugly headlines, readers need books that force us to pause, step back and understand how America arrived at this chaotic moment. One of the best such books this year is historian Timothy Snyder’s essential, penetrating look at how toxic ideas, autocratic power and fake news spread from Russia into Ukraine, Western Europe and now to the White House. At a time when the politics of apocalypse haunt American democracy, Snyder helps unpack how we got here—and, maybe, how we can get out.” —Lucas Wittmann, TIME
"Snyder’s horror at what has happened in Russia—and at the risks to the US and Europe—gives his writing energy and passion. He is unsparing in his indictment of Putin’s Russia. . . .But he is also clear-eyed about the weaknesses of American society that have made the US vulnerable to Russian intervention and domestic populism." —Gideon Rachman, The Financial Times
"Essential reading. . . . Chilling and unignorable." —The Guardian
“Of all the books that seek to explain the current crisis of Western liberal democracy, none is more eloquent or frightening than Snyder’s The Road to Unfreedom.” —Foreign Affairs
“Brilliant. . . . Bleak and eloquent. . . . Snyder’s account of the Trump ascendancy, and the many helping hands given from Russia, is vividly and insightfully told.” —Edward Lucas, The Times (London)
Praise for Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny
“We are rapidly ripening for fascism. This American writer leaves us with no illusions about ourselves.” —Svetlana Alexievich, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
“A slim book that fits alongside your pocket Constitution and feels only slightly less vital. . . . Grounded in history yet imbued with the fierce urgency of what now.” —Carlos Lozada, The Washington Post
“Snyder reasons with unparalleled clarity, throwing the past and future into sharp relief. He has written the rare kind of book that can be read in one sitting but will keep you coming back to help regain your bearings.” —Masha Gessen, author of The Future Is History
“As Timothy Snyder explains in his fine and frightening On Tyranny, a minority party now has near-total power and is therefore understandably frightened of awakening the actual will of the people.” —Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker
“Snyder knows this subject cold. . . . It is impossible to read aphorisms like ‘post-truth is pre-fascism’ and not feel a small chill about the current state of the Republic.” —Daniel W. Drezner, The New York Times Book Review
“Snyder draws an unbroken line between the darkest events and personalities of the past and the ones that confront us in the here and now. . . . As he did in On Tyranny, Snyder argues that we are facing a challenge of potentially catastrophic proportions, but he refuses to despair.” –Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal
About the Author
- ASIN : 0525574468
- Publisher : Tim Duggan Books; Illustrated edition (April 3, 2018)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780525574460
- ISBN-13 : 978-0525574460
- Item Weight : 1.35 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.39 x 1.21 x 9.57 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #206,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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Snyder has a peculiarly insightful analysis of events. It can be both revealing and confusing at the same time. His prose ranges from clear and concise to intertwined and difficult. I had to double back often to track some thoughts (something I almost never have to do). The short ending epilogue is particularly obtuse.
All that said, the man has done his homework remarkably well (with help from his grad students). His accumulation of specific facts and his tying them together make the book a compelling read and a punch to the gut. You get insights not found elsewhere. Just three examples...1. The influence of the political philosopher Ivan Ilyn on Putin and contemporary Russia, 2. The truth behind the war in Ukraine especially it's cyber and propaganda elements, 3. The links between Russian oligarchical and criminal money and Donald Trump's business ventures. Snyder makes a strong case that Trump is at best a Russian patsy if not much worse. Trump lovers will gag on the facts he lays out.
If you want to get more on Trump and where America is headed, I recommend reading "Trumpocracy" and "Killing Democracy." You may also like Snyder's very short book "On Tyranny." If you get caught up in his idea of the "politics of eternity," you might find "The Fourth Turning" worth reading. It's a bit bizarre, but it espouses a cyclical form of history that complements Snyder's description. This last book has been deemed "Steve Bannon's Bible" by some. All thee books are on Amazon.
(Spoiler alert - stop here unless you want to find out more about the content.) There are some inescapable conclusions from the book. Russian media is managed to present the story the government wants presented and bears absolutely no connection to the truth. It is the ultimate in "fake news." This is so blatant that Americans really cannot imagine the breadth and depth of its lies. Russia is actively workjng to destabilize America and Europe in order to bring them down to the economic and undemocratic level of Russia. Since Russia cannot improve due to its kleptocracy and oligarchy, it's only option is to ruin the West. The Russians have financed Trump to cover his failed businesses and massive debts putting him in their pocket. The ties between the government and the oligarchs enable Putin to use them as intermediaries so that support is not directly tied to the government. Hence, "no collusion." Russia back Trump because they realized how destructive his personality and illogical actions would be to U.S. government. Snyder lays out the fact that all of Russia's efforts were for Trump and against Clinton to make that point. America is in an information war for the truth in order to save it's democracy. Fox News and the far left are not helping as both get baited and ensnared by Russia misinformation.
Snyder spends the first section of his book detailing the differences between the politics of inevitability, in which progress is believed to be unstoppable and democracy and capitalism the certain future for all; and the politics of eternity, in which progress is temporary and history is cyclical, favoring elites and abandoning any concern for the masses. He identifies the Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin as a high priest of the politics of eternity. An anti-Bolshevik who was exiled from Soviet Russia in 1922, Ilyin called for a Fascist counter-revolution and portrayed Russia as the innocent victim of foreign intriguers. Although Ilyin died in the 1950s his writings were to have enormous influence on the Russian politicians of the 2010s who oversaw their country's descent into kleptocracy, including Vladimir Putin himself. It was thanks to Ilyin's influence that Putin took steps to destabilize the regions he perceived to be Russia's enemies, primarily the European Union and the United States.
Snyder spends a great deal of time detailing the events of 2014-15 in Ukraine, which the Russians invaded while denying they were doing so, spreading confusion with the assistance of the government-controlled Russian media as well as more reputable Western outlets like the Guardian and the Nation. I found these chapters most eye-opening because like most Westerners I remember being extremely confused over what exactly was taking place between Ukraine and Russia. As I read, I realized that in many respects what happened to Ukraine in 2014 was a practice round for what was to occur in the European Union and the United States in 2016. Snyder goes on to expose Russian efforts to influence the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the United States. Much of his material here has already been covered, but it's still important to reread it and be forewarned for the future. As I read, I found my memory returning again and again to an old TV mini-series from the 1980s called "Amerika," about a Soviet takeover of the United States. Reading of Kremlin conspiracies and conversations between Russian oligarchs and their European and American stooges making plans to defeat the West I realized that that old series has actually come to fruition thirty years after its broadcast.
The Road to Unfreedom ends bleakly, though the last lines from the epilogue does allow some hope: "If we see history as it is, we see our places in it, what we might change, and how we might do better. We halt our thoughtless journey from inevitability to eternity, and exit the road to unfreedom. We begin a politics of responsibility. To take part in its creation is to see a world for a second time. Students of the virtues that history reveals, we become the makers of a renewal that no one can foresee."
This is a brief work of less than 300 pages followed by an extensive End notes section. It is one of the most important works concerned Americans and Europeans can read in 2018.
Top reviews from other countries
Snyder's main premise is that Russia has become a corrupt authoritarian oligarchical dictatorship in which social mobility has collapsed and poverty is endemic for the vast majority of the population. Russia, under Putin, has given up on the basic task of looking after its citizens welfare and is only concerned about maintaining the power of the few at the top of the table. Lip service is given to democratic institutions but in reality these are a mere sham.
In order to keep his hold on power, Putin needed to discredit alternatives abroad. All democratic countries and political systems were presented as inherently corrupt and decadent and engaged in a vast conspiracy to keep Russia down forever. Strategies such as "managed democracy" at home, keeping the population constantly disorientated, blurring the boundaries between truth and fiction and extreme nationalism were all used to manipulate and control domestic Russian opinion.
These strategies were given an ideological context by the rehabilitation of long-dead Russian Christian fascist thinker: Ivan Ilyin, whose ideas about Russia's special place in the world, its inherent innocence, and a pure society ruled over by a "Redeemer" figure (i.e. Putin).
Pressing the Russian nationalist button was always going to be a good strategy for any dictator like Putin - pushing a narrative of being surrounded by a vast conspiracy with enemies everywhere has always worked to prevent dissent at home. Personally I think that Ilyin was used more to retrospectively justify a course of action that was already planned, rather than guiding his actions in the first place. But that is only my view. Nevertheless, Ilyin and his supporters, served to provide a narrative of Russian national exceptionalism that provides solace to a population still grieving from a loss of national pride after the cold war. It is illuminating to read his odious fascist ideas to say the least.
The collapse of the neo-liberal project launched in the aftermath of the cold war in the west (the end of history and all that trite nonsense) discredited politicians and institutions in the Western democracies. It stoked anger and grievances of all kinds. These were the foundations that Putin built upon.
By deliberately exporting chaos and disinformation, by exploiting the differences within democracies, by stoking grievances, by muddying the boundaries between reality and fiction, by supporting fringe candidates and extremist views, Putin used the profound political, social and economic shock caused by the financial crisis to further destabilize democratic societies and stoke the crisis of legitimacy that we now face.
The result was chaos, shock and disorientation in the West. This could be exploited to Russia's advantage.
The basic idea in the book is that Putin wants to drag every other country and society down into the mud with him.
After all, if every other country is as bad as Putin's Russia then there is no point in the Russian people trying to change things. There is no future so give up thinking of alternatives or possibilities. Accept your place as a poor, but obedient, pawn ruled over by a wise dictator figure. In return, you receive the consolation that Russia is a great power, respected and feared once again.
It is no coincidence that Trump has adopted similar strategies to exploit the fractures in American society. By keeping people constantly off-balance, always reacting to his latest utterance or tweet, undermining anybody who challenges his version of reality, and stoking a sense of national grievance (in which foreign allies are all untrustworthy leeches who have exploited the purity and generosity of America), Trump maintains his hold over the anger and chaos.
We live in interesting times.
The book is essentially the story of how Putin is and his oligarchic clan have spread their fascist ideology through Europe by invading and annexing southern and southeastern Ukraine and successfully developed hybrid information-warfare to support right-wing parties in Britain, France (Putin lavishly & openly supported le Pen financially), Germany & Poland, interfering in the electoral systems of western democracies by exploiting their vulnerabilities and complacency.
The long closing chapter is an extremely detailed forensic analysis of how Trump is owned financially by Russian oligarchs and, according to Snyder, how the US presidency is now owned by Putin.
One of Snyder’s most interesting ideas centres around how what he refers to as ‘the politics of inevitability’, the prevailing zetitgeist in the years following the end of the Cold War in 1989, have been overtaken by ‘the politics of eternity’ which is essentially how fascist regimes operate. These complex concepts are explained succinctly in Snyder’s public lectures and to-camera online monologues, which I recommend to the prospective reader prior to tackling this challenging but excellent academic thesis.
The POE work like this. When all political power is held by 0.1% of the population who together own circa 80% of a country’s wealth, this privileged minority cannot allow democracy or rule of law to flourish as this will lead to diminishment of their wealth through the high taxation necessary to enact progressive legislation to improve life chances for the many and move society forward. So an alternative reality is created, a different sense of time; by connecting emotionally with a sector of the population (‘the base’) and looping back to a non-specific former time, promising to “make Germany/Russia/America great again” (the language & message is always the same). The idea is fostered that there is no truth other than the purity of ‘the people’, ‘the nation’, who are under threat by contamination from outside: Jews, moslems, ‘western degeneracy’, homosexuality, Mexicans, liberals, people from “s***hole countries”.
The purpose of government then changes from ‘doing’ – i.e. improving society by moving it forward and making everyone’s lives better – to ‘being’, guarding the purity of ‘the true people’. All politicians lie, but you may choose our lies, our alternative reality, over ‘theirs’: the others, the outsiders, the ‘them’ who are not us. During this process, political opposition is eliminated in stages, elections become a rigged and managed ritual, investigative journalism is eliminated and replaced by state propaganda (i.e. RT, Sputnik & Fox News), and politics is reduced to a theatrical spectacle of rabble-rousing rallies and the manufacture of artificial crises one after another to keep the population off-balance and continuously emotionally enraged.
While it’s possible to nit-pick at the edges of Prof Snyder’s thesis and take issue with a few insufficiently supported claims, as a writer overall he displays a knowledge of history and clarity of original thought without parallel. It’s scary stuff which may change the way you understand the current and future political landscape, particularly how the forces of neo-fascism (Putin, Le Pen, AFD, Trump) manipulate reality to their advantage in their thirst for personal wealth, power and status.
I’ve never read Ilyin, but the author makes him sound like a complete fool, which seems unlikely regardless of what you may think of his worldview. People are not stupid simply because you disagree with them, and ilyin would not be the first thinker who’s ideas have been used by unscrupulous politicians.
Heard the author is a professor of history at Harvard - really?
And so what could have been an insightful collation of hard evidence about the depredations of Putin's regime is totally undermined by his insistence on putting it into the context of his own version of the 'truth'. A bit jarring, really. All that assertiveness.