I highly recommend reading On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder. It is only 126 pages and four by six inches in size but the content of this little book is enormous.
A few months ago we visited Duke’s sister Jo Ann, and her husband. After dinner we were discussing our present political situation and how dangerous and frightening it is. I was bemoaning the fact that it is hard to know what we as individuals can do about our current danger. Jo Ann reached up to her bookshelf and picked out a book. The book she loaned me was On Tyranny.
This brief little book written by a Yale University History professor answers my question and tells of the lessons from recent history that we need to be mindful of if we want to protect our democracy and freedom.
I just finished listening to the audio book of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. One of the things I was struck by was how concerned the founders were with the possibility of tyranny reasserting itself in our country. In On Tyranny Snyder points out that we have forgotten history. We believed that tyranny couldn’t happen here, that our freedom was safe and that we didn’t need to do anything to protect it. For me the shock of the last election was a wake up call.
Many of Snyder’s lessons are not surprising. For example, Figure things out for yourself, Take responsibility for what you communicate with others, and Read! But other lessons made me think. Here’s an example from chapter fourteen, Establish a Private Life. In it Snyder says, “When we take an active interest in matters of doubtful relevance at moments that are chosen by tyrants and spooks, we participate in the demolition of our own political order.”
And finally I have to say that I found On Tyranny fun to read and hopeful. I have friends and family that enjoy brewing beer. Snyder said “Be active in organizations, political or not that express your own view of life.” I laughed when he said that Vaclav Haevl, the Czech dissident thinker, gave the example of brewing good beer.
The twenty lessons from the twentieth century in On Tyranny resonated with me. I intend to take them to heart and try to learn from these lessons to make my own small efforts to protect our freedom.