On Tyranny

Timothy Snyder

On Tyranny



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Not that much time has passed since the reign of twentieth century totalitarian regimes came to an end: we can learn from history, through fascism, nazism, and communism, and take lessons from them to help us retain our freedom in an era, such as the present one, where democracy is constantly being put to the test. On Tyranny, by Timothy Snyder, references regimes of the past through reflections and anecdotes, to provide a small manual for modern-day citizens, to help them become more aware, proactive, responsible, but above all, trained to recognise tyranny from the very first warning signs, and not give in to it. The book provides 20 lessons, each one focussing on a fundamentally important concept, such as patriotism, information, institutions, language, symbols, resistance, and truth.

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Analysis and key concepts


Look to history for warning signs, and avoid repeating past mistakes


Obedience, opposition, oppressive parties: there needs to be a fair dose of mistrust and determination amongst citizens


Democracy is defended by institutions, non-governmental organisations, and people's open-mindedness


From professional ethics, to the use of symbols: support for democracy is also a matter of responsibility


The symbology of language: finding your own voice, and not falling into the trap of words


Truth, and the constant search for facts and sources, are the real weapon against tyranny


An active political life must be led in and among the people, but without ever compromising our privacy


Those who have guns have great power: it is important to oppose ambiguous or exceptional demands


Courage and patriotism are the two key concepts to fighting for freedom




Take-home message

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Many useful tips to:

  • Understand how looking to the past can help us shape a future based on freedom and democracy.
  • Learn about the value of concepts, such as truth, resistance, information, and patriotism.
  • Become more aware, and ready to oppose anyone who wants to undermine human rights.

A native of Ohio, Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at the US University of Yale, and a permanent member of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. Specialising in the Holocaust and Central and Eastern European history, he has written several books on twentieth-century European history, some of which, such as Bloodlands and Black Earth, have received literary awards. Snyder also writes for the Times Literary Supplement and the New York Review, and is part of the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research.

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