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Tyranny – We’re in Danger but We Can Act, and Had Better – 20 Short Lessons.

Very short book, and very valuable!
“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 …

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder. Fascism. Nazism.… not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century.”

“We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democrcy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.” (quote on back cover)

This book – On Tyranny: 20 Lessons From the 20th Century – is awesome! (Click title to see it on Amazon.)

  1. It’s much needed.
  2. It’s brief. A little over 100 pages, but they are SMALL pages (about 4” x 6”). 20 chapters, but their average length is 4 or 5 of those small pages.
  3. And it’s inexpensive. 😊
  4. It’s very accessible. That is, readable, easy to follow.
  5. Very solid, useable lessons!
  6. A truthful treatment of the history that he sees as so relevant.
  7. He’s paying attention to what’s going on here and now.

Here are 8 of the 20 chapter titles with his chapter intro-summaries:

Prologue: History and Tyranny

[First sentence of the book] History does not repeat, but it does instruct.

Ch 2: Defend Institutions

It is institutions that help us to preserve decency.  They need our help … Institutions do not protect themselves. They fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning.  So choose an institution you care about – a court, a newspaper, a law, a labor union – and take its side.

Ch 3: Beware the One-Party State

The parties that remade states and suppressed rivals were not omnipotent from the start. They exploited a historic moment to make political life impossible for their opponents. So support the multi-party system and defend the rules of democratic elections. Vote in local and state elections while you can. Consider running for office.

Ch 5: Remember Professional Ethics

When political leaders set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become more important.  It is hard to subvert a rule-of-law state without lawyers, or to hold show trials without judges.  Authoritarians need obedient civil servants, and concentration camp directors seek businessmen interested in cheap labor.

Ch 8: Stand Out.

Someone has to. It is easy to follow along. It can feel strnge to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom.  Remember Rosa Parks. The moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

Ch 10: 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.

Ch 12: Make Eye Contact and Small Talk

This is not just polite. It is part of being a citizen and a responsible member of society. It is also a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down social barriers, and understand whom you should and should not trust.

Ch 18: Be Calm When the Unthinkable Arrives  …

When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consoldate power.  The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of opposition parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest tick in the Hitlerian book.  Do not fall for it.

Ch 19: Be a Patriot

Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.

Epilogue: History and Liberty

[2d paragraph] Until recently we Americans had convinced ourselves that there was nothing in the future but more of the same … we lowered our defenses.


Graphic Edition

Timothy Snyder has the credentials, and he’s done the work. We are grateful.  Let’s take advantage of it!  (There is a graphic version  for those who’d like that.)  The work we needed done he has done for us:

  • in isolating these 20 lessons,
  • presenting them succinctly,
  • making their meanings clear,
  • giving brief examples,
  • and even in writing quotable sentences.

Tyranny seems to be attracted to humans – to human history.  Let’s send it packing.
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(See also:
Hitler Pretended to Respect “My Lord and Savior”Jesus
Christofascism – It’s Real, It’s Deadly, And It Intends to Dominate Us All )

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