…we learned the final results of the U.S. Presidential election. Many of us were up late the night before watching the election results roll-in in utter disbelief. Many of us were shocked; some in tears; many chagrined and deeply concerned. The grief came not only from Hillary’s loss, but at some level many were registering the breakdown of a functioning democracy (and educational system) in the United States.
I join those who have a serious concern about the integrity and health of democracy in the United States and in other countries around the world where a rise in “alt-right,” mostly white, nationalist agendas are gaining ground. Timothy Snyder is one who shares that concern and I’d like to recommend to you his concise book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017, Tim Duggan Books).
Mr. Snyder, a Professor of History at Yale University and respected author, reminds the reader that democracies fail. They’ve failed in the past, some are failing now. Fortunately, to one who knows a little history, there’s a pattern that can be read from democracies that de-evolve to authoritarian regimes (think, for example, Germany in the 1920’s). This brief book, more like an extended essay, really, highlights the pattern for us and then with keen insight Mr. Snyder lists twenty things we can do to protect democracy and break the downward spiral he sees propelling U.S. politics now. The suggestions are not general; they’re not for “everyone out there” but for everyone right here – you and me – to practice as we’re able.
Each suggestion gets its own chapter; some suggestions include:
- Do not obey in advance
- Defend institutions
- Remember professional ethics
- Believe in truth
- Contribute to good causes
- Learn from peers in other countries
- Listen for dangerous words
- Be calm when the unthinkable arrives
- Be as courageous as you can
This book was loaned to me by a parishioner who said, “You should read this.” Since then I’ve passed the book on to others; on a recent trip to the bookstore my partner, Janet, bought 3 copies and has already given those away. It’s that kind of book: the message is urgent and clear. A copy will be included in the church library. I hope you have a chance to read it and then I hope we support each other as we each find ways to put the book into practice.
I’ll close with the opening quote of the book from Oxford historian, Leszek Kolakowski, exiled from Poland for his critique of Marxist thought:
In politics, being deceived is no excuse.