Snyder on Tyranny

Timothy Snyder wrote ON TYRANNY and published it in 2017 – just as Trump took office. That was NOT a coincidence. Trump is a tyrant wannabe and Snyder knew it. His very short treatise on Tyranny (126 half-pages) makes for a quick read and much of it is about resisting what Snyder believes is an inevitable threat to, and an inherent weakness in, all democracies. He believes that elections and such invite aspiring tyrant-types.

But all that withstanding, that is not what he emphasized in the book. He mostly emphasized positive steps to take to thwart such tyrants and, at first glance, they seem a bit simplistic.

#1 is: Do Not obey in advance. Basically that means that many people will anticipate the next level of government stricture and follow those ‘suspected’ demands even BEFORE the jack-boots demand it of them. That seems odd…? Don’t you think? And especially so in the US where logical ‘requests’ of social distancing and mask-wearing in the time of Covid are being so often resisted. Still, Bill Barr, the AG, is a perfect example of following his leader’s wishes without the leader having to state those wishes. Same for the whole White House cabinet, the GOP and, to some extent, same for the police, the Homeland Security and the Border Patrol staff. Those folks are quick to oppress ‘the people’ and they are not being instructed on a day-to-day basis. Trump set the mood and the oppressors are eager to be let loose on the populace! In many ways, the Bubba militas are also warming up to the new regime and we are hearing of conflict within the larger society as well. Everywhere.

#2 is the instruction to defend our institutions. He claims that our institutions are decent and that rejecting them supports tyranny. We should ‘take ownership’ of our favourite institution and we should defend it. Like Sid does on Education and others do on Healthcare. I am guilty of NOT doing that. I believe part of democracy is fair criticism of ‘entrenched’ institutions and that we have to continue to remake them to keep them responsive to changing needs. Having said that, they can’t be responsive if they are gone. Trump is a wrecking ball for institutions. When he can’t attack them directly, he appoints idiots to head them up and, in that way, they will also fail. Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education and Sonny Purdue in Agriculture are classic examples of corrosive and destructive management. Hell, under Trump’s watch the citizenry is seriously considering defunding the police! And so it goes.

#3 is: Beware the one-party state. Duh. That is hardly a revelation, Tim. However, if you don’t take stating the obvious as the real lesson but, rather, variations on it, then there is something to be said for #3. In the US the hoi polloi has often not voted simply because “They are all the same crooks just with different coloured ties.” In other words: the establishment is ONE party. I half-agree with that and find another aspect of one-party tyranny also at play when the Republicans could thwart Obama on Supreme Court nominations and yet push through their own. Even as Trump dispenses with Congress and resorts to government by executive order that same one man/party rule is being exercised. Even though they and we have more than one party it doesn’t look or feel that way.

Snyder went on to write 20 separate ‘observations’ about tyranny and, as the days go by, they are all being manifested before our eyes. He was right.
I won’t bore you with the entire list but there are two more that stand out for me.

#13: practice corporeal politics. “What the Hell does that mean?” Snyder maintains that tyranny requires sloth and complacency to flourish. He advises that we get out, do stuff, volunteer, work, show up, get away from the screens and the Laz-y-boys. He advocates for community action of a physical kind. That kind of advice seems indirect and a waste of energy on the face of it. How can helping your community distribute food stop the likes of Trump? Still, as odd as it may sound, he is right. We do that out here and it it makes us stronger. We will never be strong but being active in the community is definitely empowering everyone in it.

#20 is a bit extreme and gruesome: Be courageous. “If none of us is prepared to die for freedom then all of us will die under tyranny.” I am in no position to agree or disagree with that (being alive) but, so far, he’s been right and I’ll assume he is right on this, too. I am not so sure that I am prepared to be a Patrick Henry (“Give me Liberty or give me Death!”)but I do think having the courage to speak up is a requirement. I’ll hide behind Sal if it gets scary. She has the courage.

1 thought on “Snyder on Tyranny

  1. Chomsky’s book “Manufacturing Consent” discusses the roles of all types of the media striving to give one group hegemony over the others. QAnon pushes its views, others use bots to perpetuate memes on social media, Twitter has been employed to attack politicians on all points of the political spectrum. Main stream media is constantly attacked as fake news. Unproven allegations are given the gloss of truth without due process. A society must have enough unity to have “Social Cohesion.” A society that has room for individuals. A society that is not robotic. A society that values its institutions is vital. Without functioning institutions a possible path to various tyrannies lies ahead. ‘’Many would like to throw the baby out with the bath water.” But the existence of institutions, flawed as they might be, are the glue of our social contract. The institutions that democracy created are products of our consent as voters. Voters could withdraw their consent by voting for some other choice. For example women were given the vote as an act of parliament. Change is possible and a process for change exists through the ballot box. Consider this question, how does a bill become a law? The processes of parliament are taught in Social Studies classes. There was a move to eliminate Social Studies from the B.C. school curriculum. It appeared that topics like the functionIng of parliament was…perhaps too boring, discussions of the role of media, censorship, critical thinking and so on. The meme of some that B.C. Education is lacking. Yes, it is lacking and Education in the public system is often underfunded. With the pandemic students may be expected to take courses on-line. Brilliant thought except that thousands of students do not have the technology at home. This thinking is called “bring your own device.” Some students might have telephones but might not have the software on their telephones to deal with the software used is a particular course. This is not an inconsequential deficiency in school planning and funding. Yes our institutions need improvement…a given. Layer upon layer of complexity does obscure these issues.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.