Wednesday, September 6, 2017

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

Paperback, 128 pgs Pub March 28th 2017 by Tim Duggan Books Orig TitleOn Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century ISBN13: 9780804190114

Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University, has written a pamphlet reminiscent of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense written in 1776, at America’s beginning. Snyder’s pamphlet contains twenty admonitions for us to consider as we pay attention to the political environment we see right now in the United States. The first sentence of Snyder’s Prologue brings us right back to our founding fathers, the Constitution, and the democratic republic they envisioned.

It’s a small book, the quarter-page size running slightly more than one hundred pages. A word about the publisher, Tim Duggan Books of Crown Publishing: Duggan's list is fascinating and diverse, and heavily international. This is the kind of work I crave, and gravitate towards. In any case, the relative brevity of this particular book may leave a few notions unclear that Snyder fully intended to illuminate for us. We need to be careful in reading, combing it over until our questions are clarified, calling them out and talking with others about them if not.

There is no reason for me to deny I agree with Snyder’s take on the present administration and the henchmen that carry out the damaging policies dreamed up by our thoughtless, fearful leader. For that reason I was all set to clap through a review, stamping it with my approval. Imagine my surprise, then, to find myself slowing down and viewing what Snyder has decided to spotlight with a critical eye.

The very first point Snyder makes caused me to back up, circle around, scratch my head until it finally dawned on me that we probably agree. What Snyder says is 1. Do Not Obey in Advance which in my parlance would be, “Do not anticipate your leader’s orders.” The example he gives is
“In 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the SS took the initiative to devise the methods of mass killing without orders to do so. They guessed what their superiors wanted and demonstrated what was possible. It was far more than Hitler had thought.”
Snyder goes on to say that “anticipatory obedience means adapting instinctively, without reflection.” Yes, I agree that the eagerness to be agreeable can make fools of us. Even if we are in the uniformed services, Snyder argues, we have the responsibility to 7. Be Reflective if You Must Be Armed. “Be ready to say no” and stand up for our values.

19. Be a Patriot. The word patriot has been so bandied about we are no longer sure what it means any more. Snyder tries to help us think critically about this concept. In addition, he exhorts us to remain skeptical and 11. Investigate and still 10. Believe in Truth. The world is changing rapidly and dangers are all around us. We must 17. Listen for Dangerous Words and do not allow words to be hijacked and used against us. We can reclaim our vocabulary and the language of reason, but it requires speech, action, dissent.

To give us feel a measure of stability and solidarity in a political world in which we no longer have faith, Snyder suggests we 2. Defend Institutions: we created institutions to protect citizens from changes in attitudes and government. We must defend them now, when they come under attack, so that they continue to be able to protect us when needed.

And when Snyder exhorts us to 3. Beware the One-Party State, he means
“We believe we have checks and balances [in government], but have rarely faced a situation like the present: when the less popular of the two parties controls every lever of power at the federal level, as well as the majority of statehouses. The party that exercises such control proposes few policies that are popular with the society at large, and several that are generally unpopular—and thus must either fear democracy or weaken it.”
We must be strong, 18. Be Calm When the Unthinkable Arrives, and 20. Be As Courageous As You Can. "If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die under tyranny." When I read these words I thought of the bravery of the man during the Tiananmen Incident in 1989 who was wearing a white shirt and holding grocery bags in each hand as he stood in front of rolling tanks. It wasn’t just that man who showed extraordinary bravery, but the soldier in the tank whose orders were to reach the square. He stopped, disobeying orders, and for all he knew, would bear the wrath of his superiors. That’s when we know the values hold.

This book is also available on audio, produced by Random House Audio and read by the author. A sample is given below. #Resist





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2 comments:

  1. I listened to this one and it's been a while, but I remember it packed a big punch in such a small book.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, Snyder did a good job making us think.

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