On Tyranny - Timothy Snyder
A quick read discussing the 20 ways to look at authoritarian regimes.
The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.
Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.
human nature is such that American democracy must be defended from Americans who would exploit its freedoms to bring about its end. The American abolitionist Wendell Phillips did in fact say that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. He added that the manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten.
Any election can be the last, or at least the last in the lifetime of the person casting the vote.
What might seem like a gesture of pride can be a source of exclusion. In the Europe of the 1930s and 40s, some people chose to wear swastikas, and then others had to wear yellow stars.
Professional ethics must guide us precisely when we are told that the situation is exceptional. Then there is no such thing as just following orders. If members of the professions confuse their specific ethics with the emotions of the moment, however, they can find themselves saying and doing things that they might previously have thought unimaginable.
Politicians in our times feed their cliches to television, where even those who wish to disagree repeat them.
Post-truth is pre-fascism.
What is truth? Sometimes people ask this question because they wish to do nothing. Generic cynicism makes us feel hip and alternative even as we slip along with our fellow citizens into a morass of indifference. It is your ability to discern facts that makes you an individual, and our collective trust in common knowledge that makes us a society. The individual who investigates is also the citizen who builds. The leader who dislikes the investigators is a potential tyrant.
We find it natural that we pay for a plumber or a mechanic, but demand our news for free. If we did not pay for plumbing or auto repair, we would not expect to drink water or drive cars. Why then should we form our political judgment on the basis of zero investment? We get what we pay for.
In the most dangerous of times, those who escape and survive generally know people whom they can trust. Having old friends is the politics of last resort. And making new ones is the first step toward change.
The choice to be in public depends on the ability to maintain a private sphere of life. We are free only when it is we ourselves who draw the line between when we are seen and when we are not seen.
In the politics of eternity, the seduction by a mythicized past prevents us from thinking about possible futures. The habit of dwelling on victimhood dulls the impulse of self-correction. Since the nation is defined by its inherent virtue rather than by its future potential, politics becomes a discussion of good and evil rather than a discussion of possible solutions to real problems. Since the crisis is permanent, the sense of emergency is always present; planning for the future seems impossible or even disloyal. How can we even think of reform when the enemy is always at the gate?
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