On Tyranny

Two years ago, nearly to the date of this writing, Timothy Snyder released this little book.


I write ‘little’ as a reference to its size, a four inch by five inch paperback. It’s cute, fits in your jeans back pocket. But, don’t let its size deceive you. This little book is, or should be, the BIGGEST book of our time. In 20 short tightly written chapters, Snyder reminds us of the essentials of democracy. He outlines the wisdom of the founding fathers of these United States of America, by pointing to its fragility.

Hamilton (have you seen the musical?) Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Franklin understood our human proclivity to acquire power. They designed a government that included competing institutions that would balance each other in order to protect the larger vision of governing. That wisdom is on full display today as we see the various branches of government and society holding each other accountable.

On Tyranny demonstrates what can happen if one person or a small group of persons are left to an unchecked access to power. The titles almost tell the story themselves: Do not obey in advance, Be kind to our language, Investigate, Contribute to good causes, Listen for dangerous words, Be a Patriot. On this last one, I think he is speaking not of Super Bowls.

I had read this book when it was first released. Today, it dropped into my hands again. I’m reminded of our responsibility as citizens. Pick it up, read it. Carry it around with you. Give it to friends, and those who you disagree.

Then, act…or as the title of chapter twenty “Be as Courageous as You can.”