Snyder’s Tyrant A-Z

My first impression after reading Tim Snyder’s book on Tyranny was that Tyranny does not arise out of the actions of one person seeking power. It is a collective effort of the aspiring tyrant and the people of that country. Conversely, there is thus so much that an individual can do to stop their country from descending into Tyranny: stand out, speak out, see the bigger picture. Although one person alone seems insignificant, a whole country committed to these ideas would make a difference. Snyder accentuates that we are the ones that can ensure our own freedom by limiting our use of the internet (ensuring our private lives are private), by reading books, by recognising untruthfulness- the list goes on.

Point 18 is something that really struck me: that totalitarian leaders use awful events to consolidate power in their country. People become scared of a exterior force, and unite under one person to ensure its eradication. This is a basic human extinct. Putin has done this in Russia- he has made himself indispensable to the Russian people by victimising Russia against the West. Trump could reactively do this in America. It would not be surprising. Snyder is right that in the current climate we must be measured in our response. If we are erratic, we could reignite the Cold War or even start a nuclear war.

One criticism of the book is that Snyder makes it seem easy; if people would have known these 20 things in the 1930s, hitler would not have come to power and started WW2. Everyone who reads his book will be well aware of the importance of each of his points. However, in practise, it is more difficult that he lets on. Our human nature gets in the way. Fear gets in the way. For example, point 8 asks people to stand out. I agree with what he is saying, but most people who stood out in Stalin’s Russia or against the Nazi party probably ended up dead.

Snyder’s book was effective in clearly pointing out the tyrannical features of Trump’s presidency and his election campaign. I think he is right about many of the points: that we need to uphold a multi-party system and preserve our institutions to save democracy and that recognise Trump is using tactics used by Hitler (particularly) to consolidate power (firing colleagues who did not agree with him is effectively salami tactics) . I realised from Snyder’s book that one of the main things that differed Trump was the fact that he has no military backing. He does not have the full support of the FBI- who recently subpoena’ed his lawyer to find out more about Stormi Daniels and the role of Russia in the 2016 election. This makes it far more difficult for him to go down the same route as tyrants such as Hitler. But he has mobilised people not previously interested in politics through his use of simplistic and repetitive vocabulary.

Snyder is right to draw these 20 factors to our attention. It gives us a chance to avoid the repetition or the utilisation of history to destroy our democracy as it did in Europe in the 20th century numerous times.

Sweeper: Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe is currently a hotbed for authoritarian leaders, even in the aftermath of the Cold War. We focussed particularly on situations in Poland and Hungary and how their political systems have not evolved into the Liberal Democracy of the West.

The discussion in today’s lecture established that this because neither countries had a real transitional process from part of the Eastern Bloc, to part of a united Europe.

Furthermore, both countries have been subjected, throughout the 20th century alone, to numerous invasions. This has created a heightened sense of nationalism at a time where they have full control over their country. This is the reason Hungary’s Orban is almost declaring war on immigration and Poland has reignited its quest against Anti-semites. Both countries wish to have full control over their country and ensure that these multiple invasions (whether it be by immigrants or tyrannical leaders) do not happen in the 21st century.

The role of the EU is interesting in Eastern Europe. Both Poland and Hungary are part of it but both are going against the fundamentals of western democracy; Hungary is trying to close the European University in Budapest as it encourages the influence of liberalism Judaism, and Poland have dramatically limited free speech and thinking. Yet the EU continues to let these policies thrive. People do fear that a stand-off between Western Europe Liberal Democracies and Eastern One-Party states could lead to the break up of the EU.

On reflection, although it may seem wrong to Westerners that they are rejecting Liberal Democracy in favour of Authoritarianism, I think their reaction is unsurprising; the political parties in power want to take hold of their own destiny rather than be at the hands of others (although both are undoubtedly influenced by both the US and Russia- more considerably the latter). This is a clear example where it is important to understand the history of a country to fathom the direction it is now going in. Both countries are reacting to the 20th century in order to find their path for the 21st.


First Response: Brexit

This week the readings focussed on why a referendum emerged in 2015 and why Britain voted the way it did in its 2015 referendum on Brexit:

Enoch Power’s speech in 1967 shows that there has always been a fear of mass-immigration to the UK. As the UK is not connected to any other countries, immigration has not previously been a huge fear. Enoch shows that there has always been an anti-immigration atmosphere in the UK since WW2 and that it has not merely emerged in the last decade in response to the economic crash and the rise of populist parties in mainland Europe.

Hobolt accounts Brexit to demographics- a population which is split between young and old, educated and uneducated and which lives in a very divided North-South sphere.

Brian Lewis put it down to a long trend of political conservatism and related that to the recent history of same sex relationships in the UK, something which I had not really considered. He always touched on some interesting ideas; namely that right-wing politicians, such as Le Penn, became supporters of same sex marriage, to safeguard western values from Islam, who primarily do not support it.

I think that the most interesting message to come from Brian Lewis’ talk on Brexit is that Britain are nostalgic for their past as a world superpower. There is a generation that is still alive that remembers Britain as a powerhouse of the world. Since the cessation of the Soviet Bloc from 1989, Britain have no longer needed to be a part of the EU as a communist obstacle. It is now just a union of countries, many of which Britain sees as inferior to them. It is important to remember that Britain was Eurosceptic from the outset in 1973, and although I agree that a fear of immigration was an important element in creating the demographic separatism, the foundations of scepticism have always existed amongst that same demographic who voted out. Furthermore, I agree with Lewis in saying that the only reason the referendum occurred was due to a Tory ploy to unify the party. Cameron ‘sacrificed the nation to save his party’.

So my questions for the group this week are:

  • Does Brexit represent a changing revolutionary tide in the UK and Europe or simple continuity with feeling the 1970s?
  • Despite being inherently more Pro-European, is there a possibility that the Brexit domino effect will occur in the rest of Europe, especially where there is already evidence of populist growth?

The Age of Social Surveillance

How would you feel if I said I was following your every move?

What if I was stalking you and eavesdropping on all your conversations?

The idea of the state controlling society through a ‘secret police’ constantly onlooking the lives of citizens seems ridiculous in our modern Western society. We believe that it is something we can confine to history: either to the Gestapo in Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Russia, who established an informant state to eliminate opposition. We have free speech, whereas these people did not. We are a free country.

The informative nature of Nazi Germany is something that we learn about in the classroom, scoff at and question: how could one possibly live in a state that spies on people to control its people and get information?

Yes, we may have freedom of speech, but do we have freedom of thought? Freedom of speech is considered a basic human right and people fight for it every day, all over the world. But since we have achieved such a high level of freedom in the West, society has found other ways to manipulate and control us- and this method is far more dangerous than the former.

We live in the most monitored and surveyed society that has ever existed. We are monitored far more than the people of Germany ever were. CCTV cameras line most public streets. Your personal information is passed from social media site to news site to a different social media site, with little anxiety from the everyday person. And not only do we accept it, we actively encourage it.

Most social platforms have moved into location identity- this is the form of control that concerns me the most.

They have done this because they know the human race loves to boast; we love to show how our life is better than others’; primarily by the number of holidays we have been on, or the places we have eaten. So, we voluntarily allow our location to be determined by Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. Every time you open up an application on your smartphone, which you once quickly accepted a location sharing request from, it can log exactly where you are and store that information strategically. They use algorithms to utilise and sell this information to companies seeking to promote their product.

This may seem harmless on the surface. This may actually appear quite useful. Good enterprise if anything. But what it indicates about the way our society observes our lives is scary.

Last month, my friend and I had a drink at Darcy McGees opposite Parliament in Ottawa. Our phones remained in our pockets for the 20 minutes we were there. I carried on with the rest of my day thinking nothing of it. However, the next day my friend and I were both bombarded with commercial advertisement on Facebook and Instagram for this same bar. We were both baffled by how this had happened. We were confused but more importantly, a little concerned.

These companies use our information to manipulate us into buying products or attending particular restaurants: they are making us consume what we are consuming, without us even realising it.

When we put it on the larger scale, it becomes clearer how social media is becoming dangerous and distorting our lives, especially when put in the hands of the wrong people. There are numerous investigations going on currently which incriminate the Russian Kremlin over manipulating social media to foster conflict in the United States during the 2016 elections. The New York Times reported that they used algorithms for systematically targeting users of social media sites to receive certain content to influence their opinion and damage their faith in democracy. The people being targeted are completely unaware. No one know how these algorithms translate into such manipulation; we are being controlled without knowing it. Italy’s 5-star movement too, a right wing group vying for power in Italy, has also been a perpetrator of issuing fake news, influenced by Russia, reported The Guardian. Surveillance and control is seeping into every aspect of our lives. It is no better than having a ‘secret police’ reporting our every word to society. It is worse. There should be more checks and balances in place to avoid jeopardising our freedom further.

And this surveillance is only getting more advanced: Alexa and Google, intelligent personal systems, supposedly only listen when you address them. But who really knows? There are online theories that they listen to everything. They then create tailored algorithms to sell you specific items related to this. And this is only going to get worse. Effectively, we are investing in losing more of our freedom each day; something that thousands of people have died for.

Sweeper: Europe’s Multiculturalism

Europe’s history is more integrated than we think it is. This also extends to much of the middle east and North Africa, in countries such as Turkey and Egypt. I think that we often fall into the trap of forgetting that Europe as a collective is a very new entity and that its history is far richer than the last 500 years. Because of this, multiculturalism is far more prevalent in Europe than it is elsewhere. It has emerged less because of immigration and cultural assimilation, as exists in the America, but of cultural history. For example, the dispute over the name ‘Macedonia’ between Greece and the Macedonian Republic began because Phillip II of Macedon was king of the Greeks. Thus, they do not want Macedonia to claim their cultural heritage. Phillip II lived in the mid 4th century BC, yet it still affects inter-country relations. This is something that uniquely affects Europe and explains their multicultural issues, which is something we focussed on in class briefly.

Another thing I found interesting was our discussion on which traditions we support despite being secularised. These include public holidays such a Easter and Christmas, and the use of blasphemies such as ‘Oh my God’. I believe that we have to remove the religious dimension out of our assessment of these things and see it as tradition. The article on Zwarte Piet- the tradition of the black doll in The Netherlands- really frustrated me as, although it could be seen and might once have been seen as prejudice against blacks, now it fosters tradition in the country that isn’t racist but celebratory of their oldest traditions. I believe that immigrants shouldn’t get angry about traditions that have existed for hundreds of years in the countries they are moving to, unless they negatively impact them. If they do get offended by Europe’s rich history, which has changed unbelievably over the years, they will meet issues at every turn.

Overall, what I learnt from this weeks lecture and readings was that Europe is a unique example and should not be compared to the Americas in multi-culturalism. They are both integrated and un-integrated in history, which makes the discourse on Europe’s massive racial problem, particularly at the moment, very interesting.

How should we remember Tragedy?

What struck me most from the readings on Chile and the torture state created by the military taking power was that there is no right way to deal with tragedy.

In Germany, they have decided to commemorate the deceased by maintaining concentration camps and administering tours to teach people of their tumultuous past. They have chosen to remember to ensure that it never happens again. In Chile, however, the government have tried to minimalize the commemoration of those who disappeared, who were tortured and raped, and murdered by the police regime. But the people have gone about commemorating themselves by the writing of books, publishing newspaper articles and making sure there witness accounts are published to show the world what actually happened in the 1970s in Chile. This struck me particularly when reading about the ‘Peace Park’ in Santiago at the old Villa Grimaldi, which was a torture site for activists and Socialist/democratic sympathisers. Meade noted that without Matta, an ex-prisoner, as a tour guide, she would have been able to gain little insight into what once lay inside Villa Grimaldi. This was because the ‘Peace park’ was marked vaguely and had no intent to teach when it was established. Originally they tried to convert the site into condos, and it was only when the media picked up on its heritage were they stopped. Matta received no institutional funding and  no government assistance, but decided to commit his life to ensuring people know about Chilean torture.

Why Chile has decided to react in this way to the debaucheries of their past? Even when a socialist, Ricardo Lagos, returned to power in 2001, the war criminals remained unprosecuted and the ‘disappeared’ was contained to a wall of mausoleums.

In reading about Nieves Ayress and the documentation of her torture in Chile, I also thought it was interesting how it was not until her story was published in the Washington Post that it gained importance. Her story got refused in Chile. This makes me question the corruption that must exist within Chile- the leader of the military coup, Pinochet, got disposed by referendum rather than overthrown by force, making the prosecution of war criminals less prolific. However, now there has been so much literature published surrounding Chilean atrocities, I do not understand how these villains still walk free.

What is stopping Chile from exposing its past and its war criminals? Is there still tension in the country surrounding the decade of the disappearing people?

Op-Ed: The Women who cried wolf?

2017: the year feminists captured a golden opportunity to fight and silent victims flocked out of their closets; the ‘me too’ campaign gave women a pedestal to wreak havoc on their male counterpart. It was a year in which Harvey Weinstein went from hero to zero. It was the year in which Kevin Spacey got exposed as being his own creepy character from House of Cards. The names do not stop emerging.

But, where will it end? First things first: I am an ardent supporter of all campaigns against sexual assault, as any self-respecting human would be. The men who have been convicted this year deserve their due comeuppance.

What I am against is the use of social media to ruin the careers or reputation of actors, politicians, presenters and many men in between by making vague, unsubstantiated claims that equate them to the heinous Weinstein.

The defamation of Ed Westwick, star of TV series Gossip Girl, in November of 2017 has been a fitting example of this.

He has been accused of sexual assault by three women, all of which he has denied. In January 2018, two months after the allegations, he was fired from his role in BBC’s ‘Ordeal By Innocence’. Since, they have stopped filming television comedy ‘White Gold’ which he starred in. Yet, this is the least of his problems. His name has been defiled, regardless of whether or not he committed the crimes. Many, including myself, have always admired and respected Ed Westwick as an actor, but our opinion is being criticised by fellow ‘me too’ campaigners for being ‘anti-feminist’, despite the claims being untested. Twitter has attacked anyone who still holds these once proliferated opinions of him; the hashtag #EdWestwick trended on twitter, with one tweet reading ‘RIP Ed Westwick, he ain’t dead but he is dead to me’. In our current climate, to be accused is to be convicted.


Why should the media and the public treat him in a differently to how the supreme court treats its criminals: innocent until proven guilty? Ed has been a victim of a hate campaign. If his name is cleared, the media has made him a monster. His life has been turned upside down, his reputation slaughtered. He will struggle to get back on to mainstream television.

Women have begun jumping on the ‘me too’ bandwagon as victims of incomparable claims to those who have been sexually abused. Lucy Hall from London responded to a NY times Op/ed on the matter. I quote: ‘as a recent survivor of rape, I have felt infuriated and confused by the laziness in the language of the topic’. What Lucy is trying to convey is that you cannot conflate rape with everyday sexual advances. To lump together sexual assault, sexual harassment and even unreciprocated flirting is to draw focus away from the true victims.

In my opinion, the campaign has lost the credibility it initially thrived on; women are using the hashtag as a method of legitimisation over men. They are personifying the cliché ‘give them an inch and they’ll take a mile’. If we are not careful we will lose all the gains that have been made by turning it into a farce.

One only needs to look back to the 1970s to see how prominent feminists, such as Andrea Dworkin, polarized the effort by taking it in an extreme direction that lost the popular vote. She became a symbol for ‘anti-sex’ and found enemies in free speech campaigners. After the publication of an open letter in French publication Le Monde, signed by 100 influential French females, the ‘me-too’ campaign is set to go the same way. It is losing integrity. But at its core it carries an incredibly important message which we need to save from distinction: that women should not be objectified and disrespected by men at any level.

The campaign has gone too far but it has not gone far enough. The Weinstein revelations highlighted how power and influence can be utilised by men, but also by women when they are in positions of power. This continues to happens every day we talk about it. However, what we should not do, which the campaign is doing, is create a taboo around sexuality. We live in a sexualised society in which men are predominantly expected to make advances on women first. If this has the capacity to be reported as ‘sexual assault’ just because a female does not replicate the feeling, the line will become increasingly hazy and uncomfortable for both sexes.

Sexual assault needs to continue to be treated with the utmost severity and the mobilisation of all women against all men is only going to worsen our situation rather than improve it. The ‘me-too’ campaign must change and adapt if it wants to make a lasting difference to women’s rights.

Sweeping the American 1930s

I have studied US in the 1930s in great depth throughout my academic career, and I have never come across the opinion that it was an inherently populist decade until this lecture. The suggestion that FDR’s government intervention to stabilise the American economy was populist and authoritarian was completely alien to me- I have always considered FDR as an influential, progressive leader who reacted to a situation in a way to avoid the country turning to extremist parties. Yet I found it interesting looking at how his numerous social policies could be seen as a hyper-extension of government power. With hindsight we can see that ‘extremism’ was not the direction which FDR was trying to take. However, if I was writing in the mid 1930s there would have been a lot of evidence suggesting a changing political landscape that might have made people uncomfortable.

When reflecting on the readings this week, our discussion became most interesting when we debated on whether it was write for Gordon to refer to the KKK as populist. She is labelling something with modern connotations something that reached its zenith 100 years ago. The KKK were a group of white supremacists who existed due to their hatred of minorities gaining power in ‘their’ country. Although it could be argued that they could be classified under a four or five of Gordon’s defining aspects of populism, this does not make them populists. The question of what defines populism seems to appear in every lecture yet we are not one-step closer at disclosing the answer. Thus I believe that we should stop trying to define populism completely and focus more on why countries or people decide to turn to a populist way of thinking and whether it is always permanent and for to the detriment of society- FDR proved in the 1930s that by turning to the New Deal, he saved an economy and a society plummeting into extremism and alienation.

First Response: Fascism, an Italian reaction to a loss in supremacy

Fascism in Italy appears to have stemmed from a deep-seated sense of a loss of international supremacy and world power. Twice in Italy’s long and respected history has it gained unquestionable world prestige and power and twice squandered it in a failure to adapt with the ages. By this I am referring to the the fall of the infamous Roman Empire, and their demise from their central position in the economic advancement and the Renaissance in the 16th and 17th century in Florence and Venice. By the 1930s, Italy had lost a World War and was being comprehensively punished by the Paris Peace treaty of 1919. After reading Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s chapter of the emergence and progression of Italian fascism, it appears clear that fascism was a reaction to their repeated falls from power in history. The Abyssinian crisis in 1936 exacerbated this: it led to them leaving the League of Nations and creating an Axis-Alliance with Germany. Originally, this led to a feeling of empowerment in Italy, as it was as if they had acquired central Europe in an equal alliance with Germany. However, this was not the case: the alliance made Italy even more extreme fascists (evident by the increase in anti-semitic laws and the increase in support for Mussolini in this year) and Germany had no intention of making Italy an equal. Italians saw this Axis alliance as a success for Italy as a fascist nation. However Hitler, who had gained a lot of his insight from the ideas of Mussolini, made sure that this was not the case.

A couple of questions clearly appeared for me from the reading from Ben-Ghiat, and these were:

Was the alliance between Italy and Germany beneficial or obstructive for the progression of fascism?

Is Fascism inherently anti-semitic or was it something that was developed with the atmosphere of the 1930s?

I found Finkelstein’s chapter also particularly interesting in observing how the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917, which made it the communist Soviet Union, increased the popularity of fascism in Italy and in other places, such as Ireland. This was because it did not reject the idea of capitalism or the free market, but it made it a totalitarian state.

Had the Bolshevik revolution not happened, do you think that fascism would have spread as quickly and as powerfully as it did in the interwar period?

Sweeper: reflection on the impact of the Middle Ages on Populism/Fascism today

In today’s session we talked about our perception of the Middle Ages and its place in history. We recognised, through the help of guest speaker Marc Saurette, that the Middle Ages is either romanticised in literature and art, or it is referred to as a Dark Age, during which nothing good managed to occurr. Marc drew up a number of interesting comparative propaganda posters from different totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, each of which used the crusades or medieval times as a beacon of inspiration. This is something that I had not come across previously, so I found it particularly interesting.

In our group discussion, we started by discussing the clear continuity that exists between the Middle Ages and the modern era. This is rarely drawn upon but clearly evident. There existed equal problems of inequality and religious persecution that occur today, which is often overlooked when historians reflect on this period as a whole. However, white supremacy did not mean harmony; there were numerous other problems that destabilised society, unbalancing this idealised perception of the period. From here, we discussed the role of nostalgia in creating this skewed interpretation of the Middle Ages. We concluded that countries try to selectively forget history that portrays them in a negative light in order to see themselves as superior to other troubled countries.

At this point we turned to look at the impact of nationhood and tradition on our society. People forget that tradition and Nation-hood was created only in the 19th century, at a time when most countries consisted a numerous different cultures and even languages. Today, those rejecting immigrants argue that they are disrupting there traditions and culture. However, it is a modern idea to believe that traditions stay the same and one nation should speak the same language. This was not the case in medieval times nor in the early modern period. This highlights how people idealise the past to legitimise the past, often incorrectly.

Lastly, what I found most interesting was our discussion on Federico Finchelstein’s idea, that Populism and Fascism should not be defined or confined to any parameters in the modern age. Parties or people often use both words as a weapon to denounce the opposition, rather to portray any substantiative meaning. One should be more hesitant when using such divisive words, as through such blasphemy we lose the meaning and relevance of phrases that have had a place in history.