Timothy Snyder - A Guide to Maintaining Democracy in "On Tyranny"

May 15, 2017 - Timothy Snyder 05/15/2017 Views: 40,620

Yale history professor and "On Tyranny" author Timothy Snyder weighs in on what the rise of European fascism can teach Americans about preserving democracy. (5:09)

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Timothy Snyder.

-♪ -(cheering, applause)

-Welcome to the show.-So glad to be here.

You have written a book

about tyranny... now.

I don't understand why.

-Why would you do this now?-(laughter)

I can't thinkof one good reason.

Yeah. The reason is everythingthat we know about history,

and the reason isthe best American tradition,

which is that when you're ina moment of peril like this one,

you look around for howother people have failed,

and you learn from them.

So that's what the Framersof our Constitution did.

But now we have 200 more yearsof failed democracy,

and 200 years of smart peoplewe can learn from.

The book tries to get thatacross in about 20 minutes.

You know, I will saywhat I enjoy about the book is

it's tiny,it's easy to get through,

and it's super interesting.

You've got a lot of historyin this field.

I mean, excuse the pun,but you've studied

the rise of fascismin the 1930s,

you know, you've publishedI think a dozen books or so.

If you were to lookat the Trump administration,

not to be hyperbolic, but whatsimilarities would you see

or would you say you seebetween, uh,

the rise of fascism in,you know...

pre-World War II Germanyand in the U.S. right now?

Yeah. History's great,'cause history's bracing.

On the one hand,it's bracing because it tells us

-how bad things can get.-Right.

So we're in the secondglobalization now.

The first globalizationhad opponents,

it had crises,it had contradictions,

like the First World War,the Second World War,

the Great Depression.

Hitler, Stalin.

On the other hand, Hitler is...

history is bracing 'causeit tells us what we can learn

and what we can do,that there are alternatives.

So, how are we like the 1930s?

-Globalizationis being challenged. -Right.

That's similar.There are people coming

from the far right and sayingglobalization has a face--

maybe a Jewish face,maybe a dark face.

That's also similar.

Mr. Trump, in particular,in his rallies

and his habits of speech,is a bit like a fascist.

-There are things here we haveto watch out for. -Mm-hmm.

But history also empowers.

It helps usto get out of these traps.

So we have to look at it first.

So if we're looking at history,

and we're lookingat the core differences,

what-what are the differences?

Are the differences that...

Hitler knew whenhe was leaking information?

-(laughter) -Like, what wouldyou say the core differences are

in terms of whatAmerica's dealing with now

versus any leader,not just Hitler, in the past?

So, there's a reasonwhy I don't use Mr. Trump's name

in the book, which is thatit's not really about Mr. Trump.

It's really about us.

History is there for us,it expands what we can see,

it expands what we can learn.

-Right. -So althoughit is really important

that Mr. Trump invites Russiansto the Oval Office

with digital equipmentat their side,

and then spills nationalsecurity secrets. Right?

-Yes.-That's important.

-That is important.-Yeah. Right?

So I'm agreeingwith your opening.

-Okay. -But it may beeven more important

that the Germans and the Sovietsand the other people

of the 20th centurywho saw democracy collapse

were just as smart as we are,or maybe smarter.

So it may be time for usto learn from them

what we can doto defend democracy.

-That's the book. -It'sinteresting that you say that,

'cause, I mean, like,some of these chapters

are really fascinatingin what they say.

Like, for instance,chapter ten here is

"Believe in Truth,"and you write,

"To abandon factsis to abandon freedom.

"If nothing is true,then no one can criticize power,

"because there is no basisupon which to do so.

"If nothing is true,then all is spectacle.

The biggest wallet paysfor the most blinding lights."

That's a powerful statementto make.

Why is pos... post-truthso powerful?

Because-- back to yourother question about fascism.

So, fascism says--nothing's true,

your daily lifeis not important,

the facts that you think youunderstand are not important--

all that matters is the myth,

the myth of one nationthat's together,

the myth of the mysticalconnection with the leader.

-Uh-huh.-When we think of post-truth,

we think it's something new,

we think it's somethingat campuses,

we think it'ssomething irrelevant.

Actually, what post-truth doesis it paves the way

for regime change.

If we don't have accessto facts,

we can't trust each other.

Without trust, there's no law.

Without law,there's no democracy.

So if you want to rip the heartout of a democracy directly,

if you want to go right at itand kill it,

what you do isyou go after facts.

And that's whatmodern authoritarians do.

Step one: you lie yourself,all the time.

Step two:you say it's your opponents

and the journalists who lie.

Step three: everyone looksaround and says, "What is truth?

There is no truth." And thenresistance is impossible,

-and the game's over.-Wow.


You know, my favorite thingabout the book,

other than the stepsthat are in it

and the stories you tell,is that it's tiny,

so you can keep itin your pocket,

and then, when the tyrannyis chasing you,

you can be like, "Aah!What did he say again? Aah!"

Oh, you got one as well.

I like your style.

Thank you so muchfor being here.

On Tyranny is available now.

Timothy Snyder, everybody.

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