On Tyranny

On Tyranny

Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century

eBook - 2017
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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, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We 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. from On Tyranny.
Publisher: New York :, Tim Duggan Books,, [2017]
Copyright Date: ♭2017
ISBN: 9780804190121
Characteristics: 1 online resource (126 pages)


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Sep 17, 2018

This is a great book, and I wish it was required reading. Not just in this country, but everywhere. Some of it gets a little abstract, and I wish the writing was a little more direct, and less academic, but it is an excellent resource in guarding against tyranny, and a great handbook when one is living under tyranny.

Jun 13, 2018

I think Shamas has missed the point of this book. This book is a short, readable warning for the average Joe to watch out for signs that tyranny is taking over their societies and government systems. People who can't get past the view that their own little segment of society is the only important segment are going to be so busy navel gazing that they will miss all of those signs.

squib Jun 10, 2018

short, to the point, timely, necessary. Check it out, read it, remember it, share it.

Jun 07, 2018

Toni Morrison gave three lectures at Harvard University in 1991 entitled “Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination” (published in 1993).
She writes – There seems to be a more or less tacit agreement among literary scholars that, because American literature has been clearly the preserve of white male views, genius, and power, those views, genius, and power are without relationship to and removed from the overwhelming presence of black people in the United States…
The tacit agreement is made about a population that preceded every American writer of renown. With the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemmingway, and others, Toni Morrison illustrates how the consensus works. She also notes that some powerful literary critics in the United States have never read, and are proud to say so, any African-American text!

Fast foreword – 26 years later there is this book “On Tyranny: 20 lessons from the 20th century” by an American historian. Centuries of slavery are missing (Rosa Parks gets a mention). How many millions killed? Centuries of dispossession of Indigenous peoples are also left by the wayside. How many millions killed?
Apparently, there are no lessons to be learnt from American experiments in democracy on this continent. In any century. There is a list of recommended readings on pages 61-63 featuring nearly 20 writers and texts. Only two are women. The Bible concludes the list. There are no African-American writers, men or women. There are no Indigenous writers, men or women.

What happened to libraries filled with these authors? What happened to Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Ida B Wells-Barnett, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King? Apparently these writers/activists, some world-famous, have nothing to say about tyranny.

Try EPL for a start... Exploring Reconciliation is one gateway to people, books, talks, and web resources. Many thanks to EPL for this series. As Howard Zinn noted, there’s nothing like a library (in his lecture “Three Holy Wars”, 2009).

Here are a few suggestions that would make for a more enlightening conversation on tyranny. They are listed in alphabetical order by first name. Most are available at EPL.

>> Bryan Stevenson – Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
>> Cornel West – many books. Listen to his 2006 lectures – The Gifts of Black Folk in the Age of Terrorism
>> Dawn Lavell-Harvard and Jennifer Brant – Forever Loved: Exposing the Hidden Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada
>> Lisa Monchalin – The Colonial Problem: An Indigenous Perspective on Crime and Injustice in Canada
>> Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
>> Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele – When They Call you a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir
>> Reni Eddo-Lodge – Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People about Race
>> Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz – An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
>> Tanya Talaga – Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City
>> Thomas King – many books including The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative

There are others – Angela Davis, bell hooks, Bill Bigelow, Biloine Young, Brittney Cooper, Carl Anthony, Claudia Rankine, Colin Kaepernick, David Stannard, Eduardo Galeano, Edward Said, Franz Fanon, Harry Belafonte, James Anaya, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kimberle Crenshaw, Michael Eric Dyson, Muhammad Ali, Paul Gilroy, Paul VanDevelder, Serena Williams, Sylviane Diouf, Ta-Nehisi Coates, W.E.B. Dubois... this can be a long list. Add your own selections.

Finally, the focus of “On Tyranny” on European tyranny in Europe also leaves out the European powers’ exercise of tyranny in Africa, Asia and South America. But then why should writers from all those countries with visible minorities be allowed to have a voice in this little book?

Feb 21, 2018

So I picked up this book after seeing a (too) short interview that The National did with him. I found it rather interesting. It is certainly thought provoking; he has packed a lot into a few pages on each of the twenty lessons. Because of this, I am curious to read some of his other works where I suspect the details leading to him to his conclusions are expanded.

It is not time-consuming to read, but because of the the essence of each distilled lesson, there is lots to think about, discuss, and consider. Even when he is drawing comparisons or mentions a few books that he feels are worth reading (some of which I probably would never pick up), it was interesting to realize how some of the same points play out in the fictional worlds of books and movies (the rise of Palpatine in Star Wars came to mind).

Whether you agree with him or not, it is a booklet that can challenge you to understand the influences that want to shape your opinion and compliance. If you read it, perhaps you will be inspired to examine what your stances and beliefs are founded on and solidify that foundation.

Jan 30, 2018

Just one word: WOW!

Jan 18, 2018

This cautionary book is in the form of a little handbook. The title of each of the 20 short chapters is an instruction for protecting against one aspect of approaching tyranny. The chapter then cites historical examples from the 20th century (Stalin, Hitler and Putin) of the consequences of ignoring these warnings.

The book is obviously a response to the success of Donald Trump in achieving the presidency. While many of us have observed Trump’s obvious tendencies towards nationalism and tyranny and the parallels with Nazism, fascism and communism, this book explores the subject in well-informed, well-organized and easily-digestible detail.

Anyone who thinks “it can’t happen here” needs to read this book and take its admonishments seriously. It is an excellent handbook for thoughtful and vigilant citizenship in a democracy.

5 stars.

ArapahoeLesley Jan 16, 2018

I got to start 2018 with a 5 star book! A wonderfully simple and strikingly spot on little book about what we can and should do to defend ourselves from tyranny. People tend to believe that Nazism, Franco, Stalin, Milosevic etc were a long time ago but it wasn't at all and democracy is never a forgone conclusion. This should be required reading for adulthood.

Jan 10, 2018

One commentator said "nothing new here." This isn't a book about presenting new information. This is a concise handbook helping the reader understand and watch out for policies and behaviours that help a tyranny form in a society. Snyder has studied how tyrants and oppressive regimes took root in the 20th century and wants everyone to be on the lookout for these signs now that Trump has been elected. It is a very good, important quick read. It reminds us that we cannot be complacent and cannot take our freedoms for granted. Any society and time is susceptible to knowingly and unknowingly handing over power to a tyrant. Snyder is thoughtful and concerned. It is a good book. Read it.

Dec 31, 2017

This is a thoughtful, thought-provoking set of aphorisms and reflections. As much as I enjoyed it – and believe that I benefited from reading it three times – I have to ask if the author would have written it had Hillary Clinton been elected president.

Snyder’s thesis is that Donald Trump represents a new fascism. Snyder includes aspects of communism and Nazism, as well, acknowledging that all three are variants of the same collectivism of the early 20th century. A couple of warnings do apply to Democrat Party politicians; and at least one nice nod went to the unnamed George H. W. Bush for his “thousand points of light.” But Snyder’s target is Donald Trump. And I have to agree, if only because Trump is the President, and, whatever her foibles, Clinton is not.

None of the quotations or citations are referenced; the book has no footnotes or end notes. However, the writing is unassailable with nice segues across the chapters. Snyder counsels us to be our own investigative reporters, to check stories, rather than just accepting what we want to view and believe. Snyder also warns us to be wary of sound-bites out of context. He then commits both errors near the end of the book.

Explaining why Donald Trump is a nationalist, but not a patriot (which I accept), Snyder writes that Trump wants to return to the economic chaos of the 1930s:
"The president himself has described a regime change in the style of the 1930s as the solution to the problems of the present: “You know what solves it? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster.” What we need, he thinks, are “riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.” (page 123)

So, I googled the statement, and found that it was made on February 10, 2014 about 6:36 AM on "Fox & Friends." Then, I found a plausible interpretation from Snopes. I checked four other claims Snyder made, and all of them were true. In any case, the quote above was unreferenced and taken out of context

About the liberal teleology of inevitable history he writes: “Yet they portray the present simply as a step toward a future that we already know, one of expanding globalization, deepening reason, and growing prosperity. This is what is called teleology: a narration of time that leads toward a certain, usually desirable, goal. Communism also offered a teleology, promising an inevitable socialist utopia. When that story was shattered a quarter century ago, we drew the wrong conclusion: Rather than rejecting teleologies, we imagined that our own story was true.” (119)

About the conservatives and the politics of eternity:
“It is concerned with the past, but in a self-absorbed way, free of any real concern with facts.
Its mood is a longing for past moments that never really happened during epochs that were, in fact, disastrous. Eternity politicians bring us the past as a vast misty courtyard of illegible monuments to national victimhood, all of them equally distant from the present, all of them equally accessible for manipulation. Every reference to the past seems to involve an attack by some external enemy upon the purity of the nation.” (121)

This is a book to carry around and read when you have a moment. More to the point, it is a book to discuss with your friends.

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Apr 18, 2018

Since in the age of the internet we are all publishers, each of us bears some private responsibility for the public's sense of truth.

Apr 18, 2018

Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate 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 trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.

Apr 18, 2018

People who assure you that you can only gain security at the price of liberty usually want to deny you both.

Apr 18, 2018

Our appetite for the secret, thought [political writer Hannah] Arendt, is dangerously political. Totalitarianism removes the difference between private and public not just to make individuals unfree, but also to draw the whole society away from normal politics and toward conspiracy theories. Rather than defining facts or generating interpretations, we are seduced by the notion of hidden realities and dark conspiracies that explain everything.

Apr 18, 2018

Protest can be organized through social media, but nothing is real that does not end on the streets. If tyrants feel no consequences for their actions in the three-dimensional world, nothing will change.

Apr 18, 2018

Post-truth is pre-fascism.

Apr 18, 2018

"Professions can create forms of ethical conversation that are impossible between a lonely individual and a distant government. [...] 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'."

Jul 21, 2017

The mistake is to assume that rulers who come to power through institutions cannot change or destroy those very institutions.

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MichaelECasey Apr 25, 2017

MichaelECasey thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over


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Jul 21, 2017

In On Tyranny, Yale History professor Timothy Snyder offers twenty principles for resisting authoritarian government, drawing cautionary examples from twentieth century European history. It grew out of a Facebook post Snyder made in the aftermath of America’s 2016 election. In it, he attempts to bring his wide knowledge of European history, and the collapse of democracies, to bear on the current political moment.


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