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Event Summaries
October 20, 2017

Event Summary: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

Henry Jackson Society

On 19 October 2017, the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) hosted the renowned American historian Timothy Snyder — the Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University, and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna — who discussed his new book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.

Hosted by Timothy Stafford of HJS, Professor Snyder emphasised the West grew complacent after the Cold War because of the choice to propitiate the end of history narrative. According to Snyder, this development was metaphysically lazy, failing to account for the arcs and flows of history (as well as the structural underpinning forces) which periodically deliver surprise shocks to the system. And, the end of history was itself historical, reflecting a choice to be ignorant of past precedent. In consequence, the West disarmed itself to dangers and threats, notably: jihadist Islam; a recrudescent fascism in Europe; Iraqi aggression under the insane dictatorship of Saddam Hussein; the Great Recession; and, democratic backsliding as a tide of ethnic authoritarianism hijacked populist tumult in reaction to these issues.

“History does not repeat, but it does instruct.” Snyder insists that learning from the experiences of those in the twentieth century arms modern society with twenty key lessons with which to resist the advent of tyranny; summarily:

  • Do not obey in advance;
  • Defend institutions;
  • Beware the one-party state;
  • Take responsibility for the face of the world;
  • Remember professional ethics;
  • Be wary of paramilitaries;
  • Be reflective if you must be armed;
  • Stand out;
  • Be kind to our language;
  • Believe in truth;
  • Investigate;
  • Make eye contact and small talk;
  • Practice corporeal politics;
  • Establish a private life;
  • Contribute to good causes;
  • Learn from peers in other countries;
  • Listen for dangerous words;
  • Be calm when the unthinkable arrives;
  • Be a patriot;
  • Be as courageous as you can.