The Road to Unfreedom
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The Road to Unfreedom
5th November 2018 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Long before the election of Donald Trump, Timothy Snyder began to issue warnings concerning threats to American democracy. A leading expert in European history, he is well-versed in the events that saw early-twentieth-century Europe yield to fascism, Nazism, and communism. Snyder does not believe history repeats itself, but he does believe it instructs—and what he has been seeing are patterns and trends here in the U.S. that have caused him great alarm. When the Cold War ended, Americans and Europeans were lulled into a false sense of security, convinced that democracy and globalization would guarantee peace and prosperity indefinitely. As Snyder shows in ‘The Road to Unfreedom’ this generated inequality and opened the door to fascism and authoritarianism.
The Henry Jackson Society is delighted to invite you to join Professor Timothy Snyder in a timely discussion about the state of our current political order and what can be done to change it.
Professor Timothy Snyder – a historian of Europe and one of the leading American historians and public intellectuals. He is the Richard Levin Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. He received his doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1997. Among his publications are seven single-authored award-winning books, all of which have been translated: Nationalism, Marxism, and Modern Central Europe: A Biography of Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz (1998, second edition 2016); The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999 (2003); Sketches from a Secret War: A Polish Artist’s Mission to Liberate Soviet Ukraine (2005); The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke (2008); Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010); and Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning; and The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America (2018). Snyder sits on the editorial boards of the Journal of Modern European History and East European Politics and Societies. Snyder was the recipient of an inaugural Andrew Carnegie Fellowship in 2015 and received the Havel Foundation prize the same year. He has received state orders from Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland. He is a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, is the faculty advisor for the Fortunoff Collection of Holocaust Testimonies at Yale, and sits on the advisory councils of the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research and other organizations. He speaks five and reads 10 European languages.
On the 5th of November, the Henry Jackson Society was pleased to host Professor Timothy Snyder for a discussion on his new book “The Road To Unfreedom – Russia, Europe, America”. The discussion surrounded authoritarianism, populism and combined the author’s historical knowledge and international affairs expertise. Snyder is the Richard Levin Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. He received his doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1997. He has received state orders from Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland. He is a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, is the faculty advisor for the Fortunoff Collection of Holocaust Testimonies at Yale, and sits on the advisory councils of the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research and other organizations. He speaks five and reads 10 European languages.
Professor Snyder began be explaining two key concepts in his book – the politics of eternity and the politics of inevitability. The politics of inevitability, he argued, was a belief characterized by Fracis Fukuyama’s “End of History Thesis”. This stated that since the collapse of the Soviet Union, society was on linear progression path where a wide range of aspects from democracy to civil rights was inevitably improving. Professor Synder highlighted that the problem with this it removed societies focus on contemporary politics. If society is inevitably ameliorating then little motivation exists to advance policy and focus on the present. As this the politics of inevitability fractures, it becomes replaced by the politics of eternity.
The politics of eternity is characterised as a general suspension in the belief that the future will even exist. This means that focus is placed upon a successful, often mythical past. Using the example of Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, Make America Great Again, Professor Snyder underlined the how the “again” part referred to a cyclical loop which encouraged society to return to and to emulate a brighter, more prosperous and successful past.
Focusing on the Trump campaign. Professor Synder underlined the nefariousness of the politics of eternity. Once people are made nostalgic for a mythical past, an authoritarian ruler can create nonexistent barriers which are ostensibly preventing societies returning to their former state. These barriers are often immigrants, blacks, Jews and Muslims. These groups are portrayed as having unfairly taken what does not belong to them. Thus, they appear to be preventing the rest of society’s general amelioration and a return to its former state of glory.
Such a situation creates an eternal present which is characterized by those trying to make a better future clashing with those who struggle against these non-existent barriers in order to return to a non-existent past. The creation of the politics of eternity, is the aim of authoritarian rulers, who have no need to create policy for the future as separate societal groups clash over not only the eternal present, but also the past.
Professor Snyder developed this point by highlighting how the politics of eternity benefitted Putin’s Regime which, according to him, faced a bleak future. Russia being a commodity dominated economy, faces numerous problems with dwindling supplies, global warming and renewable energy. Secondly, with income inequality being worse in Russia than almost any other developed country, social advance has been severely undermined which has eviscerated much of the Russian public’s future. Finally, Putin faces his most severe threat originating from his inheritance problem. Therefore Putin has a direct stake in governing through “futurelessness”.
Moreover, by advancing the politics of eternity, Russia has strengthened its own position by undermining western democracies. Professor Snyder focused on Russia’s employment of social media to exacerbate the politics of eternity in the U.S by inflaming tensions over race, income inequality and climate change. This point was expanded to include Russia’s influence over Brexit. Professor Snyder underlined how Russian propaganda was aimed to create a false historical paradigm of Britain standing alone against Europe. A paradigm which advanced Russia’s interests by dividing Europe.
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