Although a short book, this is a very important read. Timothy Snyder is an American historian who is able to pull together lessons from history on how to recognise and resist dictatorships and facism. Some reviewers feel that it is essential reading for all Americans. I disagree. I think it would be good if people of all nations could read it and learn from it.
Because it is a short book I don’t want to rob the author of his thunder by outlining all the content. However, just to give you a flavour of what it contains, I will summarise the chapter that had most resonance for me – Chapter 10 Believe in Truth.
Synder states that submission to tyranny happens when you renounce the difference between what you hear and see and what is actually the case. He then goes on to outline four ways in which truth has died in various societies, and how it is dying in America as you read this.
Open Hostility to Verifiable Reality
Inventions and lies are presented as facts. One attempt during the 2016 American Presidential campaign to track Trump’s utterances found that 78 per cent of them were false. The real world is demeaned and an attempt is made to create a fictional counterworld. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, millions still claim that more people came to Trump’s inauguration rather than to Obama’s. Counter facts are apparently lies.
The fascist style depends on endless repetition designed to make the fictional plausible and the criminal desirable. “Build that wall”, “Lock her up”, “Drain the swamp”, “Crooked Hillary”. Individuals and complexities become stereotypes and policies without realistic plans.
Magical Thinking, or The Open Embrace of Contradiction
This involves the blatant abandonment of reason. You can’t cut taxes and eliminate the national debt and increase spending on social policy and defense. It is frightening to see Trump’s supporters, who are normally sane people and who apparently secretly recognise that it doesn’t make sense, defend him with platitudes in the hope that it will one day make sense. “It’s his style … you have to give him chance … you shouldn’t be so negative …”
The dictator starts to make self-deifying claims: “I alone can solve this”, “I alone am your voice”. We are exhorted to stop being critical and have faith in the saviour. Anything contrary to what the saviour says, or attempts to investigate his competence in being a deity, are denounced as unpatriotic lying. Once truth becomes what the president claims rather than factual, evidence becomes irrelevant. Post-truth is pre-fascism.
Read the book!