by Timothy Snyder
“The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.”
So writes this humbly daring author. The book, published in 2017, after just one year of the Trump administration, is even more chilling when read today (February 2020). But, in contrast to authors who see cracks overhead and yell that the sky is falling, Snyder does not limit his work to warnings. He gives practical suggestions for the ordinary citizen to outface — defeat — what at this point seems almost inevitable — the consummation of Orwell’s 1984.
“Do not obey in advance. Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.” (This is the first lesson.)
What a way to begin your theses — who would do such a toady thing? However, as Snyder makes plain, “anticipatory obedience” laid the tracks for Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, the Soviet Union . . . LOTS of ordinary citizens stepped into line, performing heinous deeds even before there was a line. And do so today.
* Defend institutions
* Remember professional ethics
* Be wary of paramilitaries
* Be reflective if you must be armed
* Believe in truth
It’s tempting to write out all twenty lessons. In fact, it’s tempting to copy out the whole book (126 pungent pages). (Tim Duggan Books, New York, 2017)
But, just one final quote, from “Believe in truth.”
“To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.”