On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder


“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.”


The book is compiled of 20 lessons from the twentieth century, each lesson giving insight into how freedom is lost, often by freewill, and what we can do as citizens to protect these freedoms and rights. I chose to read this book, listen rather, because I am always in a great need for more history and more self-education. One may say, “Jessica, how many of these types of books can you possibly enjoy reading?” My answer is- there’s no limit. The author is a history professor at Yale, and overall I do highly recommend this book, with a couple of side notes I do feel I need to add. First, I was terribly disappointed that I clearly saw the author’s political preferences or leaning. Today’s political climate is so partisan; I cannot stress enough the need for unbiased writings. It is the only way individuals can make up their own minds. A point which the author himself makes in the book- hints my frustration of knowing his views and seemingly contradicting himself at times. Second, I do feel there is a lack of intellectual honesty. Mr. Snyder makes a statement at the end of the book about England that is just plain false. With that being said, I highly recommend this short book and I will go through below some of the points I found most informative and thought provoking.

In lesson one the author warns the reader to “Beware of the one party state.” When one political party controls everything, on a national and state level, the chance for freedom grabs increases. Our founders knew history and saw tyranny first hand. We wouldn’t have the USA if this wasn’t true. They formed our constitution knowing this and sought to protect the individual. Unfortunate for us, the last hundred years has been a major blow to our constitution, and that comes from Democrats and Republicans alike. In the past 15 years alone you can find a multitude of ways our constitution has been chipped away at, from Bush and Obama to our current President. I read Our Lost Constitution by Mike Lee last year and suggest you all pick it up. We HAVE to stop thinking that unconstitutional policies are OK as long as it’s our guy doing it. We are part of the problem. We have to be the ones who fix it.   We are no wiser than the peoples of Europe who fell prey to Fascism and Communism in the 20th century. The author mentions Stanley Milgram in this lesson, and I highly suggest you watch the movie The Experimenter which was based on his life and experiment. I watched it on Netflix, and I suggest everyone take the time to watch.

In lessons eight and nine he tells us all to “Stand out.” Don’t be afraid to be different, we are not sheep and we should stop acting like we are. Do you follow your party blindly? Do you vote based on party lines alone? Stand out and stand up, even if it’s against your own party. There are extremes on both sides of the political aisle and sometimes we can be blinded by policy agreements and ignore the extremes. Snyder gave the example of Winston Churchill, and how he refused to concede to peace talks during WWII. That was the hardest choice at the time, but as history has shown, the wisest. The author also asks us to separate from the internet. READ BOOKS. And he gives some great recommendations. We are not getting the whole truth from cable news. No matter what your preferred channel is. Educate yourself and take time to look up pros and cons of EVERY issue. Don’t just agree with whatever stance your preferred party takes. We’re putting ourselves into bubbles and the larger the bubble the more uneducated and divided we become. We need to “develop a mental armory” which requires us to read more and not just what we agree with, but what we don’t. He gives examples of books, including the Bible.

Snyder goes on throughout the lessons and writes of believing in the truth, doing our own investigation, getting to know other people from different backgrounds/places, the importance of a private life, contributing to good causes, knowing trigger words, and so much more. If you have a hard time reading non-fiction I suggest you rent the audio version. As previously stated, it is a short read/listen. Overall, with the exception of my complaints mentioned in the first paragraph, I feel this book is one with valuable content and one that is worth the read for everyone.

If you read this one, I’d love to hear your thoughts! After all, he and I both advocate for more conversation!


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