Boris Smus

interaction engineering

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

More of a pamphlet than a book, both in brevity and in alarmist urgency.

Structured as a strange combination of trends that lead to tyranny and general life tips. Dangerous trends include the destruction of institutions and paramilitary rule. As for life tips, the author suggests reading more books and longer articles, donating to charities, and having more conversations in person, and remaining calm in the face of terror.

The last point I think is a good one and I agree that there is good reason to be deeply concerned about the political impact of a major terror attack on US soil.

Overall quite heavy handed. Despite not calling out Trump by name, some passages like this one are overly didactic:

What is patriotism? Let us begin with what patriotism is not. It is not patriotic to dodge the draft and to mock war heroes and their families. It is not patriotic to discriminate against active-duty members of the armed forces in one's companies or to campaign to keep disabled veterans away from one's property. It is not patriotic to ... (etc)

Each "It is not patriotic" sentence refers to something deplorable Trump did in the last 6 months. And it continues for a page and a half. A thought flashed across my mind: how is this better than reading Twitter?

The author draws many false analogies to Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany. He then normalizes extremist terror as just another thing by claiming that those resisting fascists and communist regimes were also billed extremists (therefore what?). He plays with words, uncharitably redefining a "nationalist" in contrast to "patriot" as one "that encourages us to be the worst and the tells us we are the best", whereas the two words are often used interchangeably.

The conclusion starts well written, with choice words criticizing "end of history" narratives that helped get us here. But ends in conspiratorial hand wringing.

In liberal cities like Seattle, the opposition is the majority and there are no signs that things will flip any time soon. Most of Trump's policies are signaling and most of them are counteracted with opposition signaling. He is an awful leader for this country and I'm ashamed of his words and actions. But as for actual policy changes or prosecution of specific people, he has (so far) been stopped at every turn. I agree that these are unusual times, and that extra vigilance cannot hurt, but hyperbole can be dangerous too. This book feels like a classic case of crying wolf. I find it hard to believe that it will stand the test of time.