On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

An historian of fascism offers a guide for surviving and resisting America’s turn towards authoritarianism.On November 9th, millions of Americans woke up to the impossible: the election of Donald Trump as president. Against all predictions, one of the most-disliked presidential candidates in history had swept the electoral college, elevating a man with open contempt for de...

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Title:On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
Author:Timothy Snyder
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Edition Language:English

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century Reviews

  • Matt

    (from a recent

    ; worth reading!)

    Reading this book is imperative. You may not get another chance.

    In twenty small lessons Timothy Snyder, history professor at Yale university and specialized in East European history and the holocaust, illustrates how oppressive regimes and authoritarian governments worked in the past and what might be done to avoid and crush them in the present. The

    (from a recent

    ; worth reading!)

    Reading this book is imperative. You may not get another chance.

    In twenty small lessons Timothy Snyder, history professor at Yale university and specialized in East European history and the holocaust, illustrates how oppressive regimes and authoritarian governments worked in the past and what might be done to avoid and crush them in the present. The book is clearly addressed at the American people, but anyone anywhere with any sense of freedom

    security for themselves and for their loved ones now or in the future must read it too. The book has a sense of urgency which can hardly be ignored and which I actually didn’t expect from a historian.

    This is not a scientific work. It is noticeable that the author has sought a language which is understandable to laymen and I think he found it. Whoever, after reading the book, does not yet understand what hour the clock of the world has struck, can not be helped. The chapter headings correspond to instructions and the text contains reasons why it is important to act on them. And acting now is crucial; before it gets too late. That’s the author’s opinion and that’s the opinion of the reviewer as well.

    #readingagainsttrump

    This work is licensed under a

    .

  • Lisa

    “If young people do not begin to make history, politicians of eternity and inevitability will destroy it. And to make history, they need to know some. This is not the end, but a beginning.”

    The closing lines of this extended essay, divided into twenty lessons on history in its relation to current happenings, speak to me on a personal level. That is what I have been thinking about, and working for, as long as I can remember. Learning from the past is not only a widely neglected subject in school,

    “If young people do not begin to make history, politicians of eternity and inevitability will destroy it. And to make history, they need to know some. This is not the end, but a beginning.”

    The closing lines of this extended essay, divided into twenty lessons on history in its relation to current happenings, speak to me on a personal level. That is what I have been thinking about, and working for, as long as I can remember. Learning from the past is not only a widely neglected subject in school, it is a necessity for democratic society to survive.

    Step by step, Snyder approaches the various undermining factors of fascist propaganda that have proven successful over and over again in the world. He keeps it short, and simple, and refers to standard books by famous authors, both fiction writers and philosophers, for deeper understanding of the birth and maintenance of tyranny.

    He also suggests different ways of resisting the political brainwashing tendencies, and of keeping an independent mind in the midst of mob behaviour. One root of fascist success is the general human need to belong, and to conform, and go with the crowd. In a chilling example, he describes the terror that Nazi functionaries were able to create with the help of countless regular people:

    “Some killed of murderous conviction. But many others who killed were just afraid to stand out. Other forces were at work besides conformism. But without the conformists, the great atrocities would have been impossible.”

    Hannah Arendt is cited, describing the moment after the Reichstagsbrand, when she realised that you could no longer be a bystander, watching terror and misinformation hypnotise a whole nation.

    Another important topic, often raised with my students in class, is the dehumanising effect of internet traffic. Inhibitions are cast off, people forget that what they say is extreme, and extremely hurtful. They are feeling strong in a selected collective, and need “an opposition” to fuel their discussions. A simple suggestion is to get out in the real world, make eye contact with real people, and dare engaging in small talk with people outside your comfort zone. This is a vital point, especially in our Swedish environment, where people naturally shy away even from basic forms of polite greetings. The danger of disappearing in an unreal internet community feeding conspiracy fears and distorting reality is omnipresent. My parents, living on the continent for almost 30 years, are shocked whenever they visit their home country and realise the complete isolation from other human beings in Sweden.

    The tyrannies of the 20th century used the mass media available to them at the time - radio, and later television - to transmit their messages, and now the internet fills that function. We have one enormous advantage (which of course has its negative aspects as well), and that is our active participation in it. Even though the flow of (mis)information is part of the root of the new fascist success in the world, it can also be used by people to gently bring more nuance and knowledge into the debate:

    “Since in the age of the internet we are all publishers, each of us bears some private responsibility for the public’s sense of truth.”

    I think that is of massive importance. Think before you write, reflect on consequences, for yourself and others, and be careful not to add to the populist agenda by using the reductionist vocabulary and simplified, nationalist fear tactics to convince people.

    Snyder’s essay is short, and only scratches the surface of a huge topic, which deserves more reflection than the author can possibly deliver given the format. I nonetheless think it has a valuable place in the current debate for its clear introduction and reference to further literature, as well as for the remarkable historical parallels which make the fault lines of history visible. I can imagine reading it with teenage students as a point of departure for overarching discussions, but also to read it privately as a simple reminder of what a powerless individual can do to intellectually survive in an increasingly poisoned political atmosphere.

    A good, solid recommendation! Thank you, Matt for encouraging me to read it - I am passing it on to my own teenage son!

  • Kevin

    Probably the most important book you could read this year. Please read it, then give your copy to someone else to read.

  • Julie

    On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder is a 2017 Tim Duggan Books publication.

    As a Professor of History at Yale University, Professor Snyder uses his expertise to lay out the importance of learning from the mistakes made throughout history, and to warn against a cavalier attitude towards the strength of our own democracy.

    The author lists habits we need to develop, and continually practice, in order to protect ourselves and our country, from falling prey to tyra

    On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder is a 2017 Tim Duggan Books publication.

    As a Professor of History at Yale University, Professor Snyder uses his expertise to lay out the importance of learning from the mistakes made throughout history, and to warn against a cavalier attitude towards the strength of our own democracy.

    The author lists habits we need to develop, and continually practice, in order to protect ourselves and our country, from falling prey to tyrannical regimes. He teaches us how to pick up on subtle changes, and how to recognize the signs and symptoms of tyranny and authoritarianism. He also advises us on what to do or not to do if the worst does happen.

    Naturally, the release of this book begs many people in the United States to make comparisons to our current political climate. But, the trouble isn’t simply one for America. The current trend towards nationalism will remind many of another time when “America First” was a slogan and how the isolationism the world was gripped in was the perfect set up for powerful dictators and of course, we all know how that turned out. Still, we have often believed those days are long over with, and our democracy would never again regress or weaken.

    Many have used this book to make comparisons between Trump and Hitler, which the author doesn’t discourage out of hand, but, the book was not written solely for that purpose. The book teaches that democracies can fail, and how they fail, and the lessons we should learn from those failures.

    The lessons outlined here include many habits we should form and stick to, no matter how progressive or peaceful things are in our country or with our relationships with other countries.

    I personally believe our complacency in taking for granted our democracy is safe, is a dangerous attitude to adopt.

    I didn’t always agree with everything the author suggested. I’m an extreme introvert, so I doubt I will ever force myself to 'get out there' and 'engage in small talk'. I also enjoy social media, like Goodreads, for example, and I love technologies and the internet, so again, I doubt I will ever deliberately dial back my time spent online.

    However, many of the other suggestions the author urges the reader to try, are things I already do. I don’t have cable, so mainstream media aren’t constantly infiltrating my head, which keeps those trendy catchphrases out of my vocabulary as well. I read print papers, and read lots of books, which is advice I can get behind.

    The author does offer up a few suggested fiction and nonfiction titles that tie into his philosophies, and I do intend to read a few of them.

    I believe the author offers sound advice, no matter which side of the political debate you are on. If you learn the mistakes made by failed democracies, learn your history, make yourself aware, learn to think for yourself, I believe you will have equipped yourself with enough intellect and armor to make informed choices and be prepared for the worst case scenario.

    “If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die under tyranny”

    I hope people will not view this book simply as a comparison between Trump and Hitler, because while it may be difficult not to make those parallels right now, this book is one that reminds us that ‘History doesn’t repeat, but it does instruct’. It is a book that will be important, and relevant, not just for the here and now, but for all future eras of time, as well.

    4 stars

  • Bill  Kerwin

    As Duncan Black ("Atrios" at

    ) phrased it a few days ago, “I veer from ‘haha Trump's a big dumdum’ to ‘oh shit we're all going to die.’” Is Trump a clown or an autocrat? A buffoon, or a despot-in-training?

    I can’t give you a definitive answer, but I am sure of one thing: for those worried about totalitarianism in the good ole USA, historian Timothy Snyder’s little book

    is an excellent guide to what to do and what to watch out for.

    Snyder is an excellent source for such advice, f

    As Duncan Black ("Atrios" at

    ) phrased it a few days ago, “I veer from ‘haha Trump's a big dumdum’ to ‘oh shit we're all going to die.’” Is Trump a clown or an autocrat? A buffoon, or a despot-in-training?

    I can’t give you a definitive answer, but I am sure of one thing: for those worried about totalitarianism in the good ole USA, historian Timothy Snyder’s little book

    is an excellent guide to what to do and what to watch out for.

    Snyder is an excellent source for such advice, for his major works are

    and

    . Thus he spent a good portion of his academic career cataloging the increments that lead to tyranny and the harbingers that can alert us to its coming.

    This pocket-sized 125 page book consists of twenty “lessons” Timothy Snyder believes are helpful both for observing and for preserving our republic, and also keeping democracy alive within it. Five I found most helpful were “1. Do not obey in advance” (Don’t be like Austria, anticipating Hitler’s wishes, just to get along), “2. Defend institutions” (Don’t just assume newspapers, courts, and NGO’s are strong enough to survive), “5.Remember professional ethics (if lawyers behave with honor, it will be harder for totalitarianism to take hold), “9. “Be kind of our language” (avoid cant, speak in your own voice, read books), and “14. Establish a private life” (keep off the internet, avoid “hooks” they may use to hang you.”

    There are two others worth quoting at some length. First, “6. Be wary of paramilitaries”

    Second, “13. Pracitice corporeal politics”:

    is a useful little book, both disturbing and strangely comforting. I’m laughing at Trump less since I read it, and I’m less scared of him too.

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