Final Response: On Tyranny

Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny, asks us to reflect on a lot of the issues we have discussed over the course of the semester. I think that there is an overlying message in this small book, which addresses issues from the necessary defence of democratic institutions to fake news. Overall what this book is asking people to do is to think, and to think critically at that.

This book highlights the fact that nothing happens in a vacuum. It asks people to be aware of historical precedents and to question the things going on around them. For example, the tenth thing Snyder asks is that people “Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.” I think this request is a very logical one considering the barrage of ‘fake news’ and accusatory stories in today’s media. Facts are important because they prevent people from taking power who will likely abuse it. We have seen this over the course of the semester, as people spread misinformation that helps them create a sense of an Other.

Snyder’s book is clearly a reaction to the recent election in the United States. I think what he does in the book is important in light of this, because he puts the onus back on individuals. By asking average citizens to think about these things, it is possible to prevent the rising of dictators and authoritarian governments. As we have seen, these regimes require extensive manpower, so if people don’t buy in it will be harder for them to succeed.

In conclusion, this book was an appropriate way to tie up everything we have discussed this semester because it asks us to reflect on how these issues have unfolded over the course of the 20thcentury. It also asks us to look back and consider the actions we can take in the future to prevent history from repeating itself again.

On Tyranny: Power, politics, and people

There’s an old adage that says that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Most people take that statement to mean that leaders with absolute power inevitably become corrupt, which historically has tended towards being true.

But what if what that statement really means is that anything in the presence of absolute power will become absolutely corrupt? In this case, the people who are under the authority of totalitarian leaders are destined to became corrupt simply by association?

I am not arguing that every person who has ever been under the influence of an authoritarian leader is inwardly or outwardly a corrupt and evil person, simply that an authoritarian environment can breed corrupt displays of power even among average people.

In On Tyranny Timothy Snyder comments on the experiments done by Stanley Milgram, and the idea that under the influence of an authority figure people will do almost anything, even things they know to be morally wrong.

I think that Snyder in his book and history in general show us a lot of examples of people just needing to be given the opportunity in order for them to do evil things. Think of the French police (even the French people for that matter) during the Holocaust, think of all of the military personnel  in the South American Dirty Wars who tortured, raped, and killed innocent people, think of the white supremacists who have been rearing their ugly skinheads since Trump’s election. All that any of these people needed was a nudge in order to do evil things. They weren’t coaxed or cajoled. They openly and often enthusiastically chose to participate.

I don’t think that “evil” authoritarian governments can be blamed for all the bad that happens during their reign. Because without the complicity of at least some of the people, without what Snyder refers to as obeying in advance, their power would hardly exist at all. They are simply giving people an opportunity to express something that deep down they’ve been wanting to for a while, whether that’s a desire to please or something more sinister.

Final Response: On Tyranny This

My reading of “On Tyranny” made me see this short novel as almost a culmination of the things we learned this semester, in particular his 9th suggestion regarding language. This course is heavily focused on helping us develop the blog form of writing, which in the modern age can have a large impact on the conception of democracy.

Snyder tells his readers to “think up their own ways of thinking”, which is a hallmark of democracy and what we know as freedom of speech. In the modern age, blogs such as this one are vital in broadcasting our opinions when the rest of the world doesn’t seem to listen.

This can be controversial as well though, because blogs, tweets, Facebook posts, and more can also be drowned out as informal or irrelevant. Due to the openness of social media everyone having a voice means that those with legitimate arguments can be drowned out or ignored due to the actions of those who de-legitimize blogs as a platform.

Language is historically what makes or breaks people in power. Hitler was known for how well-spoken and careful he was with his words. Trump is known for not being as well-spoken but uses language that will rally his demographic of followers. How we use language determines how we are remembered.

So in our modern age, what is the value in a personal opinion? If our voice gets lost in the masses, why should we try to be heard?

In my opinion what this book and this class has helped me develop the most is the value in making your voice heard. You might get lost, but you can never know if it will be you who starts a change. Democracy is not perfect, but the most valuable part of it is the ability to have a voice and not be just a face in the crowd.


Final Reaction: “On Tyranny”

I had picked up a copy of “On Tyranny” before the semester had started because Timothy Snyder had been making his rounds on various media platforms–Bill Maher’s show in particular. However, it was when Snyder had made an appearance on Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast that I had decided to go out and grab a copy of my own. Despite its size, this concise little book held quite a bit of intellectual heft. In particular, my favorite section involves messages about “subsidizing” journalism and spending time with long-form journalism:

“9.  Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.”

In an age where any moron with access to the internet and Photoshop can take information and transform it to the point where the Earth can appear flat or that the skies are streaked with chemtrails, seeking out and supporting news media outlets that have a track record of impeccable journalism is of great importance. Moreover, finding journalists that are dedicated to the telling of truth in the same way that suicide bombers are dedicated to their religion is important. This makes me miss figures of the media like Christopher Hitchens, somebody whom you could trust to provide accurate media coverage, sans propaganda. (Douglas Murray might be one of the few candidates for taking Hitch’s place). That being said, there are more than a few outlets that are deserving of subsidization from the public–The New Yorker is a particular favorite of mine along with Foreign Affairs, Vanity Fair, The Spectator, all of whom provide excellent long-form journalism pieces.

In an age where conservatives (not only the child-like billionaire would-be autocrats that they seem to levitate toward) decry everything as fake news, we should impress on those who wish to have the privilege of reporting the daily news the importance of their jobs. Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Press, if anything, are two of the most important characteristics of a democracy.

Final Response: On Tyranny

In my opinion, On Tyranny is the Buzzfeed ‘listicle’ for the politically engaged. Timothy Snyder’s book, which includes 20 succinct chapters, discuss and understand tyrannical rule.

The book, which clearly takes place in an American context. He uses language like “our President” far to often to say otherwise. Yet, in the context of this course, there is this a broad definition of of the behaviour under the spectrum of fascism.

While there are 20 chapters, there are several key themes that he highlights. The first is institutions. He wants people to understand that the ideas of tyranny take place within democratic societies. Rulers will use these built up institutions to consolidate power. Therefore, when it comes to political institutions like elections, one has to be wary about one-state parties and electoral rigging.

The second key theme is information. Media plays a major role in keeping the government accountable to the people. Therefore, it is important to watch for hateful language, slogans and propaganda. Also, it is important to educate yourself on the facts and not take information for gospel. In an era of the 24-hour news cycle, false news stories are easier to create and spread.

Finally, is to treat everyone with kindness. As we have discovered in this course, tyrannical regimes use inferiority complexes and the friend-enemy distinction to gain power. In Chapter 12, he encourages making eye contact and small talk, as a way of connecting with those around you , even in the most basic way, in order to break down social barriers and create trust.

In conclusion, Snyder states that history does not repeat, but it does instruct. These ideas that he presents encapsulates these historic principles of fascist, tyrannical regimes, and makes their elements transparent to all forms of tyranny. This way, we as a society are able to detect them and address them in all of its form.

On Tyranny: Final Reflection

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder is very clearly a book written in the wake of the Trump election, Brexit and other worrying events by a historian with experience studying fascist/authoritarian governments. Even without being able to gain that information easily, the book is a combination of useful advice to prevent and survive fascist governments and a look back at influences in societies that allowed this to happen.

He primarily uses the experiences of other survivors of fascist governments to provide examples of effective resistance. There are twenty main pieces of advice, most of which get a few pages of elaboration, but several main themes emerge, especially towards the end of the book.

Snyder stresses that complacency has oftentimes been a major component of fascist states. The first piece of advice warns against ‘pre-emptive obedience’. If citizens allow or ignore the first steps fascist states take towards undermining democracy or dehumanizing their enemies, it has emboldened them to be able to continue down that path. In the later parts of the book, he turns this more to the idea of ‘exceptionalism’ within American society. To believe that fascism will be held back by American institutions and that there is no way that similar corruptions would happen within the American electoral system is disregarding history. While this was not discussed in the book, his examples of how an ‘emergency’ gives an opportunity for a fascist state to implement anti-democratic measures reminded me of the Patriot Act after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. While the Bush administration did not perpetuate this attack and did comply with election results, they were allowed to implement state actions that disregarded both American and international laws, while massively increasing government invasion into the privacy of citizens.

This theory of complacency aiding fascism culminates in his critique of views of society and history. After the end of the Cold War, according to Snyder, ideas about ‘the end of history’ emerged and created a narrative that history always progressed to a positive end. This idea has been disproven by the continued conflict of world politics, therefore giving space for fascists to push the idea of history as cyclical to support their aims.

Overall, this is an ideas-heavy book and therefore hard to sum up. These were just a few of the ideas that I felt were most present and therefore worth exploring.