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


A friend and I have been having a debate on Facebook about talking about Trump. He’s under the firm belief that putting labels on the president only serves to alienate those who support him and makes it more difficult to have rational political discussions. I’m not so sure. I’ve never called Trump a fascist and I try to be careful to avoid Godwin’s law which states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” It’s an easy reach in an argument, especially to those whose knowledge of history pretty much begins and ends with The History Channel.

There were lots of people on the other side lobbing Godwin bombs about Obama during his eight years … over gun control laws that never materialized and … um … easy access to health care? I dunno. Anyway, when I see a candidate cheering on followers to beat up people holding signs at his rallies (plus calling them rallies) and reaching back to Lindberg’s pro-Nazi stance with “America First” I have more sympathy for the comparison even if I don’t make it myself.

That’s not a problem for Timothy Snyder, who is happy to dig into comparisons of Germany, Austria, eastern Europe, and the late Soviet Union to spot comparisons of strategy and behavior and to lay out a plan for resistance.

If you don’t like, or even detest, his analogies there are some serious citizen thoughts in what is less of a book than an extended essay on resisting tyranny. Some statements also have an emotional punch, such as: “Don’t trade real freedom for fake safety.” Here he warns against reaching out to support a strong candidate in times of 9-11-like turmoil and looks back to the Reichstag as well as Putin’s rise to power after Chechen terrorism. So whether you want to relate Snyder’s apocalyptic signs to Trump or not he does list important things to watch for.

Each short chapter title expresses an action to take along with an argument and explanation. These include ideas like: Defend institutions, Be wary of paramilitaries, Contribute to good causes, and Be a patriot.

Snyder clearly wants his book to be a guidebook for anti-Trump resistance, especially if things do go pear-shaped, as they say. It will undoubtedly irritate those on the right and may make moderates nervous. For those on the left it should be a topic of discussion.