On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Short book by historian Timothy Snyder, the author of "Bloodlands" about the atrocities of Hitler and Stalin, about the lessons that can be learned from history about resisting tyrants.
Somewhat interesting. Makes some good points about trying to protect institutions and professional standards. Also good to see someone actually paying attention to the rise of Blackshirt-like paramiltaries.
However, it would have been good to see a wider historical focus. Snyder concentrates very much on his own field of Germany/Eastern Europe/Russia in the 20th century, which apart from the rise of Solidarity in Poland doesn't offer much that actual success in resisting tyranny. s.
Minor example: Lesson 5 is "Be wary of paramilitaries". In the UK for example, Mosley's blackshirts were banned from marching in uniform, which my father always said was what finished them: in their shabby normal clothes they suddenly looked pathetic rather than menacing. We could really do with more specific advice than "be wary".
Snyder also shares some of the usual centrist blindness to the causes of dissatisfaction:
"Both fascism and communism were responses to globalization: to the real and perceived inequalities it created, and the apparent helplessness of the democracies in addressing them. Fascists... put a face on globalization, arguing that its complex challenges were the result of a conspiracy against the nation.Hyperinflation, the Great Depression and the Versailles treaty were critical to the rise of the Nazis. The colossal bloodbath of the First World War and the oppressions of Czarist rule were critical to the rise of the Bolsheviks. If our own era leads to something similar, future historians will look back to post-credit-crunch economic stagnation, the housing crisis, inequality and precarity as the causes.
A serious attempt to protect us from tyranny would involve a serious and systematic programme to resolve the problems that fascism feeds off. Snyder doesn't consider anything like that as a potential solution. He also doesn't talk about the creation of anti-fascist and anti-racist organisations like Searchlight or Unite Against Fascism.
As such, while there's some interesting content, the book has a frustratingly narrow focus. We really could really do with positive examples of how tyranny was succesfully resisted; examples from Latin America, Asia and Africa. We could do with discussions of how people are resisting it today as well as how they failed 80 to 100 years ago.
What I'm Reading 2
Dunkirk: A Miracle of Deliverance by David Boyle. Short book about the Dunkirk evacuation. Crisp and informative. Doesn't sugarcoat things, for instance the simmering conflict between British and French troops which on one occasion had a British warship firing by mistake on French artillery, and the French responding with their own fire.
Also briefly mentions that the decision by the commander on the spot to retreat to Dunkirk meant a planned, combined counter-attack could not take place. That raises the possibilty that the war could have been kept going in France. However the casualties and losses of ships and planes were greater than I'd realised, would have been difficult to keep it going.
Overall, a good book, crisp and informative, but nothing particulary new.
What I'm Watching
Saw The Last Jedi at the cinema. Liked it a lot: fast paced, large scale, good balance of humour and drama. It was very frenetic, I wouldn't have minded it slowing down a bit. Compared with The Force Awakens the plotting was a lot better, didn't just follow the most obvious and well-worn grooves. It also seems to have stuck more in my mind, TFA was enjoyable but I didn't think that much about it afterwards. Well worth seeing.
What I'm Watching 2
Saw Mindhorn at home, comedy about a washed-up actor who used to star in a TV detective show who has to assist police when a lunatic wants to speak to the character. Not bad but relies heavily on the humour of embarassment, and is very like a lot of other humour about washed-up celebrites such as Alan Partidge. Diverting but nothing that special.
I agreed to go to Germany to spend the holidays with my wife's mother. Was hoping for snow but the weather forecast just looks grim and rainy like here. With weather like that it's going to be pretty hard going: the house isn't very child safe and we'll be stuck in the middle of nowhere with transport difficult and not much entertainment. I'm taking some presents but we'll have to leave the bigger things till we get home.
If you're a top earner, you can always buy what you need. The question is can you buy what you want? Can you buy that penthouse apartment with a view of Central Park or whatever it is? To get those things, it's purely an auction process. Other rich people also want these things, and the high bidders end up with them. But if everyone's taxes increase in the same way, what we bring to the bidding process is left completely unaffected in relative terms.
So rich people could pay more taxes and scarcely feel it, but nobody thinks about it that way.
Ted Chiang on runaway AI: Silicon Valley Is Turning Into Its Own Worst Fear. Can psychedelics make you a better person? Related: Is Ayahuasca an Antidote to Modern Life? A plan to rescue the Web from the Internet. Orwell on Dickens Sir Morien: Not All the Knights of the Round Table Were White. Coconuts in medieval Europe.
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