Book Review of ‘On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century’ by Timothy Snyder

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even though Trump lost the 2020 election, we have much work to do in restoring/expanding electoral democracy into a truly accessible and representative system. This book provides practical and essential signposts and steps to resist tyranny/authoritarianism and evermore live-into our representative democracy.

‘On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century’ by Timothy Snyder is a MUST read that is concise, direct, and pocket sized!

“Any election can be the last, or at least the last in the lifetime of the person casting the vote” (Snyder 29).

“We believe that we have checks and balances, 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 state houses. 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” (Snyder 30).

“You submit to tyranny when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case….As observers of totalitarianism…noticed, truth dies in four modes. The first mode is the open hostility to verifiable reality, which takes the form of presenting inventions and lies as if they were facts. The president does this at a high rate and at a fast pace. One attempt during the 2016 campaign to track his utterances found that 78% of his factual claims were false. This proportion is so high that it makes the correct assertions seem like unintended oversights on the path toward total fiction. Demeaning the world as it is begins the creation of a fictional counter world” (Snyder 66).

“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. If we are serious about seeking the facts, we can each make a small revolution in the way the Internet works. If you are verifying information for yourself, you will not send on fake news to others. If you choose to follow reporters whom you have reason to trust, you can also transmit what they have learned to others. If you retweet only the work of humans who have followed journalistic protocols, you are less likely to debase your brain interacting with bots and trolls. We do not see the minds that we hurt when we publish falsehoods, but that does not mean we do not harm. Think of driving a car. We may not see the other driver, but we know not to run into their car. We know that the damage will be mutual. We protect the other person without seeing him, dozens of times every day. Likewise, although we may not see the other person in front of his or her computer, we have our share of responsibility for what is on the screen. If we can avoid doing violence to the minds of unseen others on the Internet, others will learn to do the same. And then perhaps our Internet traffic will cease to look like one great, bloody accident” (Snyder 79-80).

“When the American president speaks of fighting terrorism alongside Russia, what he is proposing to the American people is terror management: the exploitation of real, dubious, and simulated terror attacks to bring down democracy. The Russian recap of the first telephone call between the president and Vladimir Putin is telling: the two men “shared the opinion that it is necessary to join forces against the common enemy number one: international terrorism and extremism” (Snyder 109-110).

“A nationalist will say that “it can’t happen here,” which is the first step toward disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it” (Snyder 114).

“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. This is not the end, but a beginning” (Snyder 126).

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