After Trump was elected, Timothy Snyder tweeted that “Americans 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. Now is a good time to do so.” It turned out to be a quote from the prologue of his book On Tyranny.
As a math and political science student, I had not taken a history class since high school. It never felt like an important subject. It was just something you memorized for the exam and then forgot the day after. But, this class has helped me realize how wrong I was and On Tyranny is the perfect conclusion to the message. Not only is knowledge of history essential but knowledge is only half the battle, actions are required.
Snyder also helps you focus your actions. While he wrote his book for an American audience, and Canada does not face the same threats to our institutions, his suggestions can help us keep it that way. Lesson 12 stuck with me most as it seems so simple. It also reinforced how weak societies can be when people don’t trust each other, and I believe that political divisions have eaten into that trust too much for comfort over the past few years.
However, I still found a few criticisms. Snyder’s lessons lacked consistency in the level of difficulty and complexity. For example, as mentioned before lesson 12 is a simple as smiling and making small talk. Yet, lesson 6 discusses the intricacies of paramilitary groups and such. He also does not give a suggestion of how to deal with these groups. He just states that you should be worried when they become the military and police, which appeared a bit obvious to me.
But on the whole, it is worrisome that a historian felt the need to write this book, but it is comforting that at least some people have been paying attention to the democracies of the world while I wasn’t. Let us hope we never need to use these lessons other than discussion in history class.