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On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century Kindle Edition
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"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
"Timothy 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. Put a copy in your pocket and one on your bedside table, and it will help you keep going for the next four years or however long it takes." —Masha Gessen
"Please read this book. So smart, so timely." —George Saunders
“Easily the most compelling volume among the early resistance literature. . . . A slim book that fits alongside your pocket Constitution and feels only slightly less vital. . . . Clarifying and unnerving. . . . A memorable work that is grounded in history yet imbued with the fierce urgency of what now.” —Carlos Lozada, The Washington Post
“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. . . . Approach this short book the same you would a medical pamphlet warning about an infectious disease. Read it carefully and be on the lookout for symptoms.” —Daniel W. Drezner, The New York Times Book Review
"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 is superbly positioned to bring historical thinking to bear on the current political scene. . . . These unpretentious words remind us that political resistance isn’t a matter of action-movie heroics, but starts from a willingness to break from social expectations.” —Jeet Heer, The New Republic
“The perfect clear-eyed antidote to Trump’s deliberate philistinism. . . . These 128 pages are a brief primer in every important thing we might have learned from the history of the last century, and all that we appear to have forgotten.” —Tim Adams, The Guardian
“On Tyranny demands to be read.” —The Forward
“The manifesto we need. . . . Snyder detects dangerous trends in American politics that may be less visible to most citizens who cannot believe that our country, with its system of checks and balances, could succumb to illiberalism or authoritarianism.” —Darryl Holter, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Bracing. . . . On Tyranny is a call to action. . . . A brisk read packed with lucid prose.” —Vox
About the Author
- File size : 3801 KB
- Publication date : February 28, 2017
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 130 pages
- ASIN : B01N4M1BQY
- Publisher : Tim Duggan Books; 1st edition (February 28, 2017)
- Language: : English
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #19,500 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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This is not some idle "leftist-slanted" speculation or assertion
Note especially Chapter 10: "Believe in Truth," which is prefaced with this keynote:
"To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, the no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights."
What is more shocking than the assaults on our democracy is the amount of negative reviews evident here. Please, people, wake up and open your eyes.
If he were to draw conclusions on tyranny from the 20th Century he would look at North Korea, China, Russia, Germany, Italy, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, South Africa and the many other countries that have failed under the guise of socialism which devolves to autocracy and totalitarianism, not to mention economic failure.
Don't waste your time or your money on this one. Yale? Really?
For those of you not acquainted with Snyder, he's a historian of Eastern Europe and has written extensively on the turmoil--the killing fields--of Eastern Europe in the 20th century. He knows whereof he speaks.
I will offer you a couple of his thoughts from his concluding remarks. In addressing what he terms "the politics of inevitability," he notes
Until recently, we Americans had convinced ourselves that there was nothing in the future but more of the same. The seemingly distant traumas of fascism, Nazism, and communism seemed to be receding into irrelevance. We allowed ourselves to accept the politics of inevitability, the sense that history could move in only one direction: toward liberal democracy. After communism in eastern Europe came to an end in 1989–91, we imbibed the myth of an “end of history.” In doing so, we lowered our defenses, constrained our imagination, and opened the way for precisely the kinds of regimes we told ourselves could never return.
Snyder, Timothy. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (Kindle Locations 765-769). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.
But he then addresses the converse attitude, what he calls "the politics of eternity." About this attitude, he states
In the politics of eternity, the seduction by a mythicized past prevents us from thinking about possible futures. The habit of dwelling on victimhood dulls the impulse of self-correction. Since the nation is defined by its inherent virtue rather than by its future potential, politics becomes a discussion of good and evil rather than a discussion of possible solutions to real problems. Since the crisis is permanent, the sense of emergency is always present; planning for the future seems impossible or even disloyal. How can we even think of reform when the enemy is always at the gate?
Id. at 810-815
In contrast to both of these attitudes, he places history (an encomium with which I could not agree more):
Both of these positions, inevitability and eternity, are antihistorical. The only thing that stands between them is history itself. History allows us to see patterns and make judgments. It sketches for us the structures within which we can seek freedom. It reveals moments, each one of them different, none entirely unique. To understand one moment is to see the possibility of being the cocreator of another. History permits us to be responsible: not for everything, but for something. The Polish poet Czesław Miłosz thought that such a notion of responsibility worked against loneliness and indifference. History gives us the company of those who have done and suffered more than we have.
Id. at 822-827
In his peroration, he exhorts young people especially (although it applies to all of us)
One thing is certain: If young people do not begin to make history, politicians of eternity and inevitability will destroy it. And to make history, young Americans will have to know some.
This is not the end, but a beginning. “The time is out of joint. O cursed spite,/That ever I was born to set it right!” Thus Hamlet. Yet he concludes: “Nay, come, let’s go together.”
Id. at 830-834
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Top reviews from other countries
This brief 128-page book is a guide for the responsible citizen to help maintain their democratic society’s institutions and norms in the age of rising authoritarian populism, in 20 short chapters with titles like ‘Beware the One-Party State’, ‘Remember Professional Ethics’ and ‘Believe in Truth.’ Snyder illustrates each chapter with examples from history of how autocrats took control in stages in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and communist states in eastern Europe such as Czechoslovakia and Poland.
The writing is punchy, literate and of impressive brevity. There may be little new here for the intelligent and history-aware reader, but Snyder nevertheless reveals some gems: an explanation of the autocratic practice of ‘terror management’; the mechanism of how ‘truth dies in four modes’ (i.e. stages, each with a name and defining characteristics), and the subtle but important differences between a narrative based on “the politics of inevitability” and one firmly rooted in “the politics of eternity”; both are essentially ahistorical, but the latter far more dangerous.
Some reviewers claim the book is about Donald Trump as president. In fact, Trump is hardly mentioned and this book is not about Trump as president per se, but about principled actions each citizen might undertake to support democracy in the face of those in power who would seek to undermine or destroy it. If many of these calls to action are more pertinent in the age of Trumpism, the timing of the book’s publication may be no coincidence.
In his chapter on how nationalism is different to patriotism, the author explains that a nationalist fooled by an aspiring autocrat/tyrant ‘will say “it can’t happen here”, which is the first step to disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it.’
The book was published primarily in response to the presidency of Trump, but also in response to the many populist and far-right movements that seem to be springing up all over the globe. Trump is not a dictator, and there is every possibility that he will get bored and go away of his own volition, but the precedents that he is setting in his time in office are already starting to erode American – and indeed world – democracy: the aggressive nationalism, the cries of ‘fake news’, the demonising of minority groups, foreigners and experts, … If Trump goes, will that necessarily mean a return to sanity and a free country? Or will the damage already done be too deep? What could come next?
Likewise, in Britain a populist movement encouraged by lies, misdirection and a vain hope that any change will be better than the status quo, has lumbered us with an ill-conceived Brexit that will damage the country for at least decades to come – economically and spiritually. As Remoaners, we, who oppose Brexit, are daily, forcefully reminded that ‘the PEOPLE have spoken’, and that it is undemocratic to question the WILL OF THE PEOPLE. There is talk of there being riots and civil war if the WILL OF THE PEOPLE is not obeyed. Unfortunately, nobody actually knows what the will of the people is, apart from a nebulous desire of 38% of the potential voting public to leave the EU – but not how nor why we should leave.
Two quotes I particularly liked were: “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true then no-one can criticize power”, and “A nationalist will say ‘it can’t happen here’, which is the first step towards disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it.” To oppose tyranny requires many, many people being aware of the danger signs and acting on them.
I am reminded of a poem by Pastor Niemöller, who was imprisoned in Dachau:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
I only have one problem with the book. It perpetuates the myth that “When Winston Churchill became prime minister in 1940, Great Britain was alone”. NO IT WAS NOT. It was fully backed by the Commonwealth: New Zealand, Australia, Canada, India, and many African and Pacific nations, … That is not to forget the Free French under de Gaulle, the large remnants of the Polish military stationed in Britain, and the resistance movements across Europe. Winston Churchill was an imposing and inspirational leader – but he was never alone, and neither should anyone be, who is fighting against tyranny in all its guises.
The book is well-written and very thought-provoking. It needs to be widely read and acted on, but – as one other reviewer pointed out, the people who most need to read this book, probably won’t. It is a call to watchfulness and a reminder of the dangers of apathy.
No one I spoke to thought Brexit would really happen. It did. (This has done more to split Britain than I ever thought possible)
No one I spoke to thought Trump would really win. He did.
The last few years have seen Twitter being used as a platform for hate and propaganda, not reasonable debate. Journalists have been derided for spreading 'fake news' for doing their job - and our duty as human beings - which is to question, challenge, verify, find the fact instead of just repeating what someone said and blindly believing it because it suits how you wish the world to be, not how it is.
We are all responsible for what happens. Collectively. Timothy Snyder presents so clearly our willingness to hide under the covers and think that what happens to our neighbour does not concern us.
Please read this book. Examine how it makes you feel. How you communicate. How you consider your friends, authority, government, your role in society. How important we all are. How every small thing that we do, no matter how insignificant, has vital importance.