Authoritarian Alert

20 Lessons from the 20th Century About How to Defend Democracy from Authoritarianism, According to Yale Historian Timothy Snyder…




From Open Culture

Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History at Yale University, is one of the foremost scholars in the U.S. and Europe on the rise and fall of totalitarianism during the 1930s and 40s. Among his long list of appointments and publications, he has won multiple awards for his recent international bestsellers Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin and last year’s Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and WarningThat book in part makes the argument that Nazism wasn’t only a German nationalist movement but had global colonialist origins—in Russia, Africa, and in the U.S., the nation that pioneered so many methods of human extermination, racist dehumanization, and ideologically-justified land grabs.

The hyper-capitalism portrayed in the U.S.—even during the Depression—Snyder writes, fueled Hitler’s imagination, such that he promised Germans “a life comparable to that of the American people,” whose “racially pure and uncorrupted” German population he described as “world class.” Snyder describes Hitler’s ideology as a myth of racialist struggle in which “there are really no values in the world except for the stark reality that we are born in order to take things from other people.” Or as we often hear these days, that acting in accordance with this principle is the “smart” thing to do. Like many far right figures before and after, Hitler aimed to restore a state of nature that for him was a perpetual state of race war for imperial dominance.

After the November election, Snyder wrote a profile of Hitler, a short piece that made no direct comparisons to any contemporary figure. But reading the facts of the historical case alarmed most readers. A few days later, the historian appeared on a Slate podcast to discuss the article, saying that after he submitted it, “I realized there was more…. there are an awful lot of echoes.” Snyder admits that history doesn’t actually repeat itself. But we’re far too quick, he says, to dismiss that idea as a cliché “and not think about history at all. History shows a range of possibilities.” Similar events occur across time under similar kinds of conditions. And it is, of course, possible to learn from the past.