The lessons in this book are solid. If you want to protect your community against tyranny you will find useful guidelines here. Protect your institutions by joining a labor union or supporting a university for example. Maintain a private life. Dictatorships have a tendency to eradicate all private life. Don’t roll over. Don’t agree just because when oppressive authority figures come along. Resisting was possible, even in Nazi-Germany. Don’t agree with the oppressive forces, not even symbolically, so you can just get on with your life. Keep doing your own thing. Be open to engage in conversations with everyone, so nobody becomes invisible and is then vulnerable to being victimized. Investigate. Honor facts and the truth.
That’s where the author starts sinning against his own guidelines. The lessons on their own are good as a recipe against tyranny, but then the bias kicks in. The author gives examples to back up his advice and it’s a little strange to say the least.
Apparently the only thing wrong with the US is Donald Trump. There is no explanation as to why Donald Trump ever had a chance to rise to power. At the same time Russia is the source of all evil. It’s apparently also the only country that bombs civilians, namely in Syria. There is no mention of the long list of US crimes. The US bombs civilians. A lot of them. Especially if they are brown. And am not talking about World War Two. Am talking about its entire history to today. Timothy Snyder is not a nitwit. He must be aware of this. It’s therefore even sadder that he fails to mention this. Just look at the US and their support of the criminal regime in Saudi-Arabia. We know that the media will let you get away with bombing people as long as the oil flows the right way. Timothy Snyder’s failure to mention this and his almost cartoonish portrayal of Russia undermines his reputation as a serious scholar.
An other problem with the book is the general idea that we as individuals can always oppose the coming of tyranny as long as we just oppose those that spread fake news, isolate the vulnerable, wreck institutions, etc. First of all, Timothy Snyder himself spreads propaganda. Russia is Satan. The US is great, except for Donald Trump.
There is a lesson missing here. Tyrants need a certain climate to operate in.
That climate is: enormous economic inequality.
Donald Trump, just like Hitler, thrives on uniting the powerless, the paranoid, the people cluthing at everything to give them back at least a little bit of self-worth, of pride.
Donald Trump is – luckily – too chaotic, too lazy, too stupid and too egocentric to build the organization to effectively stage a coup and centralize government under him.
The important point is that the US does have a climate that favors a Hitler or Franco or Mussolini type dictator.
Violence grows in a society of glaring inequality. It makes people angry. A clever and disciplined dictator can use that anger and the hope to have more and to have strong feelings of self-worth to establish his rule.
I actually think that this is the main prerequisite to get a dicatorship. Economic crisis, lack of opportunity, an elite that spits on the plebs, on the vulgar masses….
If we want to protect ourselves against tyranny we need to level the playing field and give people opportunities. The gap between the 99 percent and the 1 percent is the most dangerous trend we are facing today. Today’s mainstream news and mainstream politicians who sprinkle us with platitudes are doing nothing to seriously tackle that problem.
We are at risk of seeing the rise of more dictatorships, but not because of Donald Trump and not because of Russia.
Timothy Snyder would also come away as much more principled if he had also condemned the actions of Israel. He keeps going back to Nazi-Germany and the holocaust to illustrate his lessons. He could have mentioned that similar things are still happening today. The way Israel treats the Palestinians is not that different from what the Nazis did to the Jews. The Gaza strip now eerily resembles the Warshaw ghetto.
Timothy Snyder has written a book to prevent tyranny and does not realize he plays a part in fostering evil, because of his bias. By combatting some wrongs and choosing to ignore a lot of other injustices.
One more lesson to include would be: question your own bias.
Dedicated to Marianne Vanderauwera, a lady who incorporates all these lessons in everything she does.