Book Review

On Tyranny

By: Timothy Snyder | Category: Unkown category | Year: 2017 ISBN: 9780804190114

In previous books, Holocaust historian Timothy Snyder dissected the events and values that enabled the rise of Hitler and Stalin and the execution of their catastrophic policies. With Twenty Lessons, Snyder draws from the darkest hours of the twentieth century to provide hope for the twenty-first. As he writes, "Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism and communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience."

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Review:

Sue C.
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October 22, 2020 1:51 am
Hi Everyone: I was inspired by Mary's format of commenting in a wide-ranging way on Snyder's points, making related observations, both personal and impersonal. I am going to try to discuss some of the points that were most salient for me. So, my thoughts on the ideas in this book are sti...
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ll lingering: It's a simple book, but also quite profound
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Sue C.
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October 22, 2020 1:37 am
Important ANNOUNEMENT to everyone! I finally got our software engineer to give us PARAGRAPHING capability for the comments section, so that we do not have to express ourselves in one long unbroken block of writing. I am so happy that he was able to do it in a timely fashion, See these beautif...
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ul paragraphs!
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Sue C.
rated it
October 5, 2020 3:34 am
Gladwyn: Thank you for this comprehensive critical analysis of Snyder's book. I agree with most of your points --particularly his omission of important homegrown thinkers like Sinclair Lewis, James Baldwin, Naomi Klein, et al. and his over-simplification of a complex subject matter. It a...
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lmost seems like Snyder is dumbing down the subject of how to resist tyranny in order to appeal to a mass audience. The most important point that you have raised is Snyder's failure to delineate an alternative to the "democracy" he appears to be trying to save from the "tyranny" he warns us about. However, if we read his last chapter carefully, I think he is aware of the lack of solutions at this point. He points out the gross inadequacies or dangers of both the "politics of inevitability" and the "politics of eternity." He isn't very clear about what exactly constitutes both, but having read a lot of academic texts, I know this is what he means: The inevitability perspective is the neoliberal (unregulated capitalism) global capitalist empire mindset (let's just call this the GCE) while the politics of eternity is used to refer to the meme perpetrated by fascists/tyrants that alludes to a mythical idyllic age in the past that never was. He states that neither is acceptable and suggests that the inevitability mindset has given rise to the eternity reaction--global unregulated capitalism has caused the rise of fascism/eternity myth. Above all, both mindsets prevent us from thinking about other possible futures. This brings us to one of your main points--that just the democratic process by itself as it has been practiced is simply the continuation of the Global Capitalist Empire. So, let's explore better pathways or solutions. I am going to suggest that we read the book you recommended, All We Can Save (Anaya Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson), that discusses other alternatives. In addition, let's try to read "Reimagining Capitalism" by Rebecca Henderson, a Harvard Business School publication that tries to introduce a more humane form of capitalism, one that does not just serve shareholders' interest. Since On Tyranny was so short and All We can Save is an engaging and easy read, shall we try to read both of these in addition to Snyder (for those who haven't finished it yet)? We can post our thoughts here on Enlight21.com as we're reading and also meet via phone or Zoom in early December to discuss all three
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Gladwyn d'Souza October 8, 2020 2:28 am
Thanks for that terminology and it's explanation. The democratic process has ended up simply being the continuation of the Global Capitalist Empire. But we should take note that there are places w...
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here the democratic process has worked as far apart as Bhutan, Namibia, and Costa Rica where carbon continues to be sequestered. It may be that they are too small or don't have sufficient resources for the GCE to bother about. The question for us is what is the alternative or the changes that will get us to a better world? From an environmental perspective the answers seems easy- get off fossil fuels. From a practical perspective its' fraught with GCD business as usual and the liberal propensity for gradual change- the belief being that we have all the time in the world to address "legitimate" problems. The other two books will make a good compendium to this discussion. Can you add them to the current read section of this book blog? All We Can Save has created a foundation similar to Drawdown called AllWeCanSave.Earth which has started reading circles around the world that began this week and will run for ten weeks. I've signed this blog up to be a reading circle on their page
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Susan Lessin October 10, 2020 8:52 am
I have read with interest Gladwyn's, Sue's, and Mary's comments. In terms of the simplicity of the book (it reads like Cliff Notes with 20 bullet points which is how we get our news/headl...
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ines today)--I thought the book was written for undergraduates in college who do not know much history (a plea by Snyder on the last page of the epilogue) "young Americans could become a historical generation, rejecting the traps of inevitability and eternity that older generations have laid before them. 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." I agree with what you all have written that the "balance of powers" of our democracy has been corrupted by multiple political forces (executive branch too strong bordering on a kingdom, legislative branch ineffective, and the judicial branch no longer independent, but unfortunately I fear for a generation, kow-towing to the conservative executive/legislative branch of government and segment of society). Using the "strict" wording of the Constitution to justify limiting our freedom of choice (I worry that the Supreme Court will overrule Roe v Wade and ACA). I agree with everyone that capitalism/greed has led to inequalities in our society in terms of finances, education, health, housing, representation (gerrymandering congressional districts, for example), climate, and food/survival. Trump ironically appealed to the forgotten man (mostly white) not so well off or educated and looked to him as a businessman (the captialist) to save this segment of society by buying into the "art of the deal" (the myth of eternity) without regard for respect, decency, truth, civil rights or character. The next generation may very well be screwed as Snyder has written, if we continue the status quo and keep our heads in the sand. I am planning on reading the books that you have suggested (All We Can Save, Re-imagining Capitalism, We're Still Here, America for Americans).
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Mary Buxton
rated it
October 20, 2020 12:41 pm
Gladwyn: I was awed by your post on this book, On Tyranny. I will follow up in the domestic examples and readings that you cited. I also will reread what you wrote. M
Mary Buxton
rated it
October 20, 2020 12:40 pm
I will follow Gladwyn's lead and start All We Can Save, right? M
Sue C. October 22, 2020 1:33 am
Yes, please do, Mary. I have already started reading it too, and I'm looking forward to our online discussions.
Mary Buxton
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October 20, 2020 12:40 pm
I'm back... 17. Listen for dangerous words ...extremism, terrorism, emergency and exception and be cautious about patriotic vocabulary - I read this on the day they busted the armed white supremacy groups that were plotting a kidnap of Gov. Whitmer. These negative labels are appropriate in this ...
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case but can also be used on people who are exercising free speech and protest as well as on dissidents under authoritarian regimes. So, again, watch word use by self and others. Themes from this book for me are: security AND liberty, the need to call out injustice, legitimized use of force by governments needs to be govered by laws and those public servants need to be ever mindful of the numbing of their empathy and values caused by the constant threat of their job. The judicial use of legitimized force keeps society safe and stable so people can live and prosper. Chapter 18 Be Calm when the unthinkable arrives. When danger does strike ( terrorist attack, etc.) don't allow that to justify power to be consolidated int he hands of a few. This is the dark side of the Chinese proverb: In every danger is an opportunity. It seems like we gave away civil liberties and privacy after 9-11 with the permanent Homeland Security agendy. I see cyber hacking and lack of cyber security as a major crisis for personal and national security. I am taking a course on this so maybe I will know more in the future. Chapter 19: Be a patriot. What this means to me 1) learn about my government, past and present. 2) be informed 3) act and be engaged 4) speak out 5) vote and 6) exercise the privelege of democratic rights. Modeling, or what you do over what you say, is a powerful influence on others and has been on me. There is a difference between being a nationalist like President Trump and a patriot. Chapter 20: Be as courageous as you can If none are prepared to die for freedom, all will perish under tyranny. This sacrifice is much easier to imagine as an older person and one who is actively involved in democracy to a much greater degree. On a micro sacrifice level, thinking about my rights and privileges does motivate me to get up from my armchair and stay engaged. This is a choice to invest time and energy in protecting things of value to me in our democracy. I balance this with trying to say no enough to avoid burn out. In summary, this book has helped me label all that's wrong with the last four years and how it's progress down a slippery slope to newly accepted negative norms and a dangerously eroded democracy. Being able to name these aspects of tyranny is power. Thanks for reading. Over and out.
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Mary Buxton
rated it
October 19, 2020 10:51 am
This NYT Opinion piece by the Editors summed up what I am learning in this book. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/10/16/opinion/donald-trump-worst-president.html However, I will complete my comments in the shadown of this incisive summary and critique of how Donald Trump's influence is c...
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ausing our democracy to crumble. Chapter 7: Be reflective if you must be armed. Civics and the ethics of use of force needs to be taught in schools. Additionally, training on the ethics of use of force needs to be taught to those who are armed by the government and tasked to protect citizens. As an outsider, it seems that the police culture develops a tight knit bond within the ranks. It may grow from the institutional structure and facing danger together. There's probably a psychic numbing and accomodation that goes with facing danger on a daily basis. Objectifying the citizens they need to police helps quell fears of danger that might get overwhelming if you thought about that all of the time. I think there's a general profile for police officers that shows a trend towards more rigidity in views. This makes it harder to speak up. Being tasked by the governement with the use of force requires a values base and judgment that is hard to achieve. It seems like one would have to balance following orders and being swayed by peer pressure and remain guided by human rights. A police officer would need a strong sense of values and self security to stand apart. So, learning when and how to stand up and resist needs to be taught in theory and practice. It needs to be fostered as an honorable act instead of shameful act. This is very difficult to do when you have a psychology of "bullying" those who stand apart. Chapter 8 Stand out. See my comments above. Going against the status quo, speaking up, and standing out is obviously very difficult to do. Chpater 9 Be kind to our language. It's a good reminder to be careful and specific in the meaning of the words I use and always a good thing to read, read, read. My 2016 election class at Stanford opened with a critique of the new lows for respectful debate in the US. It's now four years later, and it's only gone downhill from that time. It is easier to only talk to people who agree with me. I do not talk to a close family member who is a conservative voter. It is so uncomfortable to face the condescension and defensiveness on both sides of the conversation. So, I am guilty of avoidance of debate. To remedy this, I need to become better at articulating my views. I am already a good listener. Chapter 10: Believe in Truth In marriage counseling, I often said that if you don't have trust, you don't have a relationship. So, in governing, "without truth there's no freedom as there's no basis from which power can be criticized" makes sense to me. Truth dies by 1) presenting falsehoods as facts, 2) magical thinking and the abandonment of reason, 3) deified faith in leadership allowing a personal laziness of abdicating personal effort, and individual judgment and responsibility and 4) Manipulation by appeal to emotion, particularly fear. People don't process as well with heightened anxiety and fight/flight as they think their security is at risk. Chapter 11: Investigate - In 2018, I took a continuing ed class at Stanford: Journalism Under Siege? Truth and Trust in a Time of Turmoil. Since then, I have subscribed to more newspapers and read more books on journalism. Ten years ago, the Merc used to have 400 reporters in the newsroom and now they have 40. Cell phones used by citizen journalists do capture the truth. Op eds, LTE's by citizens are helpful. Trained journalists who abide by their training are needed for the objective truth on events and issues. This is necessary and dwindling. It's being replaced by conspiracy theories, influencers, and manipulation of the truth. When Trump and cohorts repeat "witchhunt" type labeling again and again, it becomes the truth in people's minds. Without the pillar of journalistic investigation, where does one go to counter this influence. Chapter 12: Make eye contact and small talk. 1) Connectedness takes regular small deposits to build trust and relationship. I am one who likes zoom and have actually deepened and made many of my relationships more immediate with regular zoom meetings. However, personal contact is lost and offers many other dimensions not possible over online engagement. I do not engage on Facebook and other social media. It's fragmented and superficial and prone to flare ups. 2) President Trump's "loyalty" means obeisance. He punishes independent thinking, limits and questions from others. As a narcissist, he sees others as an extension of himself and can't tolerate the anxiety that comes with those in relationship to be separate from him in any way. It is so false but I guess political that republican senators are starting to condemn him now that his political power is in question with the election. Chapter 13: Practice corporeal politics. I participate in legislative advocacy but am weak on engaging one to one with individuals of different beliefs. I used to just listen as I felt it was not possible to say anything that would change anyone's mind. I sometimes avoid reading articles for a bit and having discussions with certain people altogether. For instance, I had to turn off the VP debate a few times for a few minutes as I could not handle VP Pence overtalking Sen. Harris. I did listen to the Supreme Court nomination hearings without having to pause...but I was driving so being engaged in an activity helped. I often avoid because I just can't handle the negative emotions that come up for me. I do a lot on other fronts so I justify this. I need to be more articulate about my beliefs. Chapter 14: Establish a private life: For me, we are living in an age of disinformation and that does weaken democracy. Investigative journalist needs to be more widespread again. The truth is often sacrificed for profit. Boundaries between work and personal lives has always been a SV issue but may be more so post COVID. People need practice with boundary setting. Chapter 15: Community participation is one of our important democratic rights to exercise. It is very difficult for families with young children, older relatives and jobs to be involved. They just run out of time. I took a course on the de Toqueville book, Democracy in America, and was so inspired to exercise this right in action and donation. Fast fact: Community connectedness is more important to longetivity than having a spouse, so it's also good for your health! Chapter 16: Learn from peers in other countries - The US is getting more isolationist in the past 4 years. I had the benefit of travel and study abroad which definitely widens my world view. I also grew up moving around a LOT which taught me that there are many different world views and increased my empathy and reduced my ability to be rigid and set boundaries. Almost done..
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Susan Lessin
rated it
October 11, 2020 11:15 am
We should check out UNAFF (online documentary film festival from Stanford) October 15-October 25. Each film is available for 24 hours. There are films on the environment, social injustice, politics (including films on the concepts described in On Tyranny), civil rights, woman's rights, workers...
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' rights, food, etc. Prior to Covid, the films were shown at Mitchell Library in Palo Alto among other venues. Its a terrific film festival--please support it and tell your friends!!
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Sue C. October 12, 2020 12:57 pm
Yes, let's do that! Thanks for telling us about this film festival. I'm going to see if we can get permission to show some of them on Enlight21, at least for a limited period of time.
Mary Buxton October 19, 2020 9:38 am
HI Susan: This looks great! Thanks for the heads up. Mary B
Mary Buxton
rated it
October 11, 2020 10:15 am
Sue: We ahve 2 books in the line up of books to read. Let's wait on choosing a 3rd book. I also just found a list of books recommended in one of the chapters by on the Tyranny author. We can come back to this in 2021. We may want to focus on future oriented books..like I just heard of one that c...
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overs women's essays on climate, including one overlooked woman scientist. I do not have the title. Thanks for the offer, though.
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Gladwyn d'Souza October 11, 2020 11:05 am
That's the book that Sue selected. It's by women on the climate- All We Can Save. This week read chapter 1 Begin, next week Section 1 Roots. It features over 50 women write on the climate. And...
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there is a national effort to read the book. More here AllWeCanSave.Eart
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Sue C. October 12, 2020 1:20 am
Mary, Susan and Gladwyn: Let's decide jointly what we would like to read next. I was just thinking along the lines of exploring solutions but I am open to all kinds of other books.
Mary Buxton
rated it
October 9, 2020 10:53 am
The beware of paramilitaries chapter was a chilling read yesterday when "after law enforcement officials charged 13 men with a violent plot that included storming the Michigan State Capitol and kidnapping Gov. Gretchen Whitmer." (NYT) When those against the law have guns, it emboldens them in forcin...
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g their views on others. Weaker followers are attracted to the power and control. The concept that "the government should be able to utilize force as a legitimate means of ensuring proper societal function" and that this ability should be limited by the rule of law was new to me. It makes sense but obviously can be misused against 'the people' as we have seen in Seattle, Portland and Trump's clearing away peaceful protesters before his walk to the D.C. church for a photo op with the Bible. Why are there no consequences for Trump in this move towards being a dictator? This has to do with corrupt leadership in power. The other leak in this concept is the use of force by police against minorities which stems from a culture of secrecy, loyalty over law, and racism in some police and police departments. Additionally, the use of mercenary military forces now seems like a risk to democracy. These forces have highly trained retired special forces and ex-military and probably those who have not been trained. Atrocities happen. And the private prisons exploit their role for profit while providing substandard prison conditions. This all brings to mind Zimbardo's Stanford prision experiment in 1971. They had to stop the experiment early because the guards were abusing power. Add guns to that mix and the tendency escalates. And finally, on more of a values level, I see Trump's NAVY physician breaching his professional ethics as a doctor and as a public servant by hiding information and lying in order to accomodate Trump's wishes. This is not paramilitary but it is military. This behavior destroys trust and democrcy
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Sue C. October 12, 2020 1:29 am
Yes, the chapter on paramilitaries was very chilling because we see the parallels right now. The Proud Boys and as you mentioned, the groups that kidnapped Governor Whitmer--they will be the at the f...
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orefront of a fascist army should the election devolve into a naked power grab by Trump. Another frightening scenario that could develop is the Trumpification (or Nazification) of our police forces; in the book Snyder talks about how, in Nazi Germany, the nazification of local police was an important factor in Hitler's success. You covered a lot of important and scary points, Mary. Why was there no punitive responses to Trump's use of anonymous military personnel (stripped of identification) to disperse peaceful protesters? You go on to ask "why are there no consequences for Trump in this move towards being a dictator?" Then you sort of answered it by invoking the Zimbardo prison experiment that illustrated how relatively benign people can be induced to engage in unthinkably cruel actions under the right circumstances. The "right circumstances" are what Trump is trying to seed in our country, including his propagating of fake news whenever reality flies in the face of what he wants people to think--this includes his insistence that the pandemic disappearing, his myth of mail-in ballot fraud, his insistence that the left is engaged in terrorism when FBI director Wray has stated repeatedly that domestic terrorism is mainly carried out by white supremacists, and lately, we have seen how Trump has manipulated his so-called White House "physician" to present whatever version of his health that Trump dictates to him. Most frightening of all is that Trump knows he cannot win since an overwhelming majority of Americans hate him, so he is becoming extremely desperate and will destroy our democracy in his quest for absolute power
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