On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century consists of 20 admonitions which can inform resistance in this scary time, enveloped between a prologue and an epilogue that asserts the necessity of appreciating rigorous historical knowledge.
No one who reads here will be surprised when I rejoice -- this is my kind of book. It's accessible and even concrete. In all likelihood, I'll be drawing on the 20 lessons in future posts about discrete current events and circumstances.
But here I want to reflect on what Snyder writes about our society's relationship to history. He indicts us for embracing two opposite fallacies. The first he calls inevitability:
I read this and I can identify with it. Often enough, meditating on some past or present atrocity, I've called to mind Theodore Parker's eloquent formulation made famous by Dr. King: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." I've labeled Steven Pinker an "arrogant twit" but conceded that I've learned something from his insistence that, on the whole, the world is becoming kinder and gentler. It's probably true that I'm a determined optimist about the positive potential in human societies.
But that only makes me more determined to "learn the details." It is in the details that the hints of hope are hidden. I don't think that dooms me to an "intellectual coma."
Snyder's second fallacy is what he calls eternity.
I wish Snyder had been more specific about where eternity politics is located in U.S. society. That is, about this I crave details. Does he mean the white supremacist politics of the Confederate Lost Cause, the impulse that led to Alabama's new law outlawing removal of statutes of slavery's defenders? Okay, point taken, this is a remarkably durable thread in our history. But where else? In nostalgia for a romanticized 1950s when (white) men were men and women stayed in our place? Perhaps, but do even the nostalgists really believe anymore this existed? I doubt it. He says the reference decade for eternity politics is the 1930s, but aside from a few right wing crackpots, I think we'd be hard put to find anyone who lives within any picture of that decade.
But though I'm unsure about Snyder's two sided polarity, I resonate with his plea for the necessity of knowing some history if we are to find a way forward.
Let us resist and protect much.
Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin
Thinking the Twentieth Century