A Review of Professor Timothy Snyder’s “On Tyranny”

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth CenturyOn Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A short read from Professor Snyder, who tells us that “history does not repeat, but it does instruct.” Professor Snyder gives us some historical perspective on how tyranny arose in the 20th century, and how we as citizens can learn from, and try to avoid the traps that history has shown lead others down the road to horrific outcomes.

The book makes some points that may seem obvious, but need to be contemplated. I took out a couple that I consider important. Professor Snyder’s reference to the “politics of inevitability” stuck with me because, like many Americans, I have always considered the future of the United States to be a democratic one, with our system of government destined to remain a constitutional republic. Never really gave it much thought beyond the struggles that occur within the four corners of our current system. Professor Snyder refers to this as “a self-induced intellectual coma.” If that coma makes us less vigilant to the threats to the very core of our political system then the Professor believes we need to come out of that coma. I agree. The idea that our institutions can survive just because they are there today is not true, especially in light of the assault they are under today.

The second critical point for me is “Believe in Truth.” Professor Snyder tells us “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then 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.” If I have been shocked by one thing about 2016 and beyond it is that “truth” does not mean what I have always understood it to mean. Truth is a partisan thing now, with empirical data being laughed off by partisans, who cling to the “truth” of the day being propagated by their tribe. Discussion, as far as I am concerned, cannot proceed without recognizing that verifiable facts do exist. If our political discourse cannot get us to accept that then we truly are in the danger zone as a country. As the Professor points out “Post-truth is pre-fascism.”

I would recommend the book, and hope we as citizens remain vigilant against threats to our democracy.

View all my reviews

The Strobe Talbott look at “Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives” as well as “On Tyranny”

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