Do Not Obey in Advance

This is the sentence which starts Timothy Snyder’s sadly necessary book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, a thoughtful compilation of daily precautions to take in a disorienting and threatening time.

Believe in Truth, is another short chapter.  It begins:

“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 fro the most blinding lights.”

[Reading On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt as well,  would be a good way to strengthen this particular muscle.]

Despite his prestigious career as an historian of terrible times, written in voluminous detail —Bloodlands: Europe Between Stalin and Hitler and Black Earth: The Holocaust and History and Warning being just two–  Snyder opts for the short form here, distilling from his reading and immediate experience of the United States right now. None of the “lessons” are over 7 pages. Most are 2-3. Very useful to read one a night, several times and then to sleep on, as though preparing for the most consequential exam of your life.

Despite some protests I have read, this is not a polemic against Donald Trump, whose name does not appear.  His ominous shadow, however, is over eleven of the thirteen times “president” is used.

“As a candidate, the president ordered a private security detail to clear opponents from rallies, [and] also encouraged  the audience itself to remove people who expressed different opinions.”

A fair statement of facts, not an attack.

Though the past several months of this administration have clearly motivated Snyder, On Tyranny, is useful much more widely.  The array of cautions, and actions he offers are based on what he has seen of history,  the incremental, participated-in slide away from societies with stable histories into murderous, small-group led dictatorships. Not all follow an identical template but similar sequences and mile-stones are observable in all, some of which we are seeing today.

Be Calm When the Unthinkable Arrives, is another chapter heading

Be as courageous as you can.

Recommended, for your To Do list and as a gift to several friends. At $7.99 it’s a gift worth giving.