Yale’s Timothy Snyder has a warning for us: Fascism can happen here, too

Historians in the News
tags: Yale, fascism, Timothy Snyder, Trump



Isaac Chotiner is a Slate staff writer.

Timothy Snyder’s short new book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century, is more a resistance manual than a history lesson. Snyder made a name for himself as a historian of Eastern Europe in the 20th century and particularly during the Holocaust—notably with Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. But his new work deploys his historical knowledge in the service of a warning: Americans are currently facing unprecedented danger from our own government. By examining what worked to combat tyranny—and what didn’t—over the past 100 years, Snyder offers 20 means of resistance, ranging from “Defend Institutions” to “Be Kind to Our Language.”

I spoke with Snyder by phone last week to discuss the book and to get his opinion on the first several weeks of resistance to President Trump. During our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed why the concept of an “end” to history is so dangerous, the ways in which the opposition to Trump has surpassed expectations, and the autocratic ruler Trump most resembles.

Isaac Chotiner: What specific lessons does the 20th century teach us about fighting tyranny?

Timothy Snyder: The 20th century is special because it’s really not so distant. People who lived in the 1920s and ’30s and ’40s were not so different from us. In some ways, they were probably better citizens than we are. They had longer attention spans, for example. Educated people tended to read a bit more than we did. Because we declared that history was over in 1989, we have as a society deliberately chosen to break the connections with those experiences and to break the connections with the thinkers who grew out of those experiences, people like Havel and Arendt, who I try to resuscitate in these pages.

The 20th century shows that the form of government that we take for granted, a constitutional democratic republic with checks and balances and a rule of law—that form of government is usually temporary. The 20th century gives examples of how that particular kind of regime can be changed into another. The book is about those examples of regime change and about how they might be resisted. ...




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