Book Review: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

Timothy Snyder’s short book “On Tyranny”, started out as a facebook post, then due to its popularity, became a book, topping the New York bestseller list. His book is a response to Trump’s election and presents twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to fight the threat of authoritarian government in America. In essence, the short book sets out to defend the fragility of democracy in the 21st century.

Winston Churchill once famously declared: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” It feels that once again, our states are tiring of the fragile governing system, opting for something new. However, democracy allows us to explore the freedom of speech, enjoy living without being wrongfully arrested, wrongfully tortured or extorted. But as with all balances of power and lawful governance, there is fragility.

Our fundamental freedoms are coming under attack with the rise of more extremist politics, so in defence, this short book On Tyranny rises to protect us. The teachings in the book are supported by historical facts, mainly looking at the tyranny from the Nazi party and other fascists movements. Making the work a must-read in terms of political history and general politics.

“Do not obey in advance, most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given.”

-Timothy Snyder

On Tyranny is written in a way to not sound forceful or intimidating, more of a caution sign or as an “i-spy authoritarianism” guide. In this sense, you could take the contents page of the twenty lessons as a guide, the chapters merely being a background and more information on why they are important.

However as the book is so short, there are some details that aren’t mentioned in the explanations, so reading this book would not be recommended if you are looking for the whole picture. For example, the quote above is supported by the evidence of the Nazi party. Yet in this instance, majority obedience only came after the implementation of the tyrannical regime. Those who were standing in opposition in the streets as socialists and supporters of the communist party were hunted down by Nazi stormtroopers and related paramilitary, oppressing the country into total obedience. Overall, that being said, it is still an important lesson in the sense that you need not blindly submit to a higher power, without realizing the full extent of its might.

Overall, this books is a great read and arguably important in this day and age, to survive a tyrannical regime and how to look out for them.

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