On Tyranny | Timothy Snyder

Summary of: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
By: Timothy Snyder


In the era of growing political turmoil, the book ‘On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century’ by Timothy Snyder offers valuable insights to safeguard democratic values and resist authoritarian influence. In this summary, readers are enlightened about the inherent internal threats that jeopardize democratic governments and the importance of protecting freedom. Through evocative examples and anecdotes, the summary highlights warning signs of tyranny, the significance of political symbolism, and the elevation of truth.

Vigilance Against the Threats from Within

The book highlights that a single political party taking control of the government poses a grave threat to democracy, as seen in past collapses of democratic regimes. History shows that Nazis, communists and fascists have employed spectacle and repression to attain power and used salami tactics to slice away at oppositions’ power. Political activism and supporting a multiparty system are required to prevent such a takeover, and the use of paper ballots is advocated over electronic ones. Additionally, people must remain wary of paramilitary forces as they can act as a paramilitary wing for the political party and wield dangerous power. Donald Trump’s formation of a private security force to remove dissenting voices from political rallies is cited as an example of concerning behavior.`

The Importance of Taking Symbolism Seriously

The power and danger of political symbolism is not to be underestimated, especially when it comes to exclusionary actions. The marking of storefronts in Nazi Germany served as a tool for exploitation, racism, and greed. Those who remained passive were complicit in the murders that followed. Similarly, accepting and displaying symbols of exclusionary parties enables their harmful actions to continue. The only way to prevent this is to refuse to participate.

Fighting Tyranny Through Words

The book summary explores George Orwell’s premise that programmed thinking and repeating political slogans result in a lack of independent thought, making an individual susceptible to tyranny. The ruling party in Orwell’s 1984 eliminate words from the dictionary to weaken people’s minds and accept their contradictory slogan. Orwell’s premise highlights the importance of using words to resist tyranny and preserve independent thought. Reading books provides the best means to sustain genuine thinking since books offer context and knowledge about the gray areas between good and bad. In contrast to the mainstream media, books provide valuable insight into other people’s lives. Popular novels like Harry Potter have worthwhile messages including resistance to tyranny.

Eye Contact in Politics

Making eye contact is a responsible act of connectedness that resists tyranny. This is exemplified in the successful Solidarity labor movement of Poland, where people of diverse backgrounds banding together led to a coalition of change. The resistance to tyranny initiates when different social circles come together.

Have you ever wondered what making eye contact has to do with politics? According to the book, eye contact is not just about being polite; it is about being a responsible citizen who is a connected part of the community. Tyranny prevails when it separates communities by putting up social barriers that distract and isolate people. However, resistance to tyranny can succeed by breaking those barriers down and bringing people from different backgrounds together to exchange ideas about how they can move forward together.

The book demonstrates how the Polish Solidarity labor movement was successful in resisting communism by building a coalition of diverse people. In 1968, the Communist regime turned workers against students who were protesting for change. Even when striking workers in Gdansk in 1970 were met with violent suppression, it took the intellectuals and workers coming together in 1976 to finally change the government. It’s important to note that these people were not united by religion or political orientation; they bonded over common goals.

The alliance grew stronger in 1980 when Polish workers in Gdansk came out on strike again, this time with lawyers, students, and other workers to tip the scales in their favor. This coalition created a free labor union, and the Solidarity movement became 10 million strong. Despite lasting for only 16 months, it marked the beginning of the end for communism in Poland. The Communist regime finally declared martial law to crush the movement, but ironically, in 1989, the Communists were forced to seek help from Solidarity leaders, who won free elections in return for their alliance.

In conclusion, breaking down social barriers and coming together is the start of any resistance to tyranny. Eye contact is a simple way to make a connection and contribute to a responsible community.

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