CIC Book Club — “On Tyranny” (noon edition)

May 29, 2018

12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Center for Interfaith Cooperation, Indiana Interchurch Center suite 125, 1100 W. 42nd St. Indianapolis IN 46208


CIC’s book club is back by popular demand. We will read the short yet profound book by Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Said Daniel Drezner of the NYT last year:

The months after Donald Trump was elected president have been boom times for scholars of authoritarianism. Masha Gessen wrote a widely circulated essay on the New York Review of Books website entitled “Autocracy: Rules for Survival.”

In that vein, Snyder offers practical advice to #TheResistance in “On Tyranny,” a brief book that started life as a Facebook post. Unlike public intellectuals who casually toss around the word “fascist” to describe a disappointing restaurant salad, Snyder knows this subject cold. He is a Yale University historian who has written at length on fascism, Communism and the Holocaust. That gives “On Tyranny” a particular urgency. It is littered with vignettes of how Germans in the 1930s aided and abetted Hitler’s rise to power. It is impossible to read aphorisms like “post-truth is pre-fascism” and not feel a small chill about the current state of the Republic.

Snyder warns, “Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism or Communism in the 20th century.” He offers political advice ranging from straightforward (“Defend institutions”) to insightful (“Be calm when the unthinkable arrives”). For such a small book, Snyder invests “On Tyranny” with considerable heft.

At times, though, “On Tyranny” veers toward overwrought. Trump’s brand of populist nationalism may be illiberal, but it is also not very popular. Since his inauguration, a critical free press, independent judiciary, patriotic Civil Service and robust social movements have placed significant constraints on Trump’s actions. When Snyder intimates that 2016 might be the last free election in the United States for a while, one wonders if the book will become self-defeating because of its hyperbole.

Of course, just as I was pondering whether “On Tyranny” exaggerates, Trump tweeted that the press is the enemy of the American people. That sounds awfully pre-fascist to me. So approach this short book the same way you would a medical pamphlet warning about an infectious disease. Read it carefully and be on the lookout for symptoms.Daniel Drezner

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