The Jackson Foundation and the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies were fortunate to have brought major scholar and public intellectual Timothy Snyder, the Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University, to Seattle to give a lecture. His recent book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, has resonated with a world-wide audience and has been published in a dozen countries. Along with this #1 New York Times Bestseller, he has written several other award-winning books on World War II and the Holocaust.
Snyder has become something of a rock star historian and activist with “On Tyranny,” since it speaks about the current threat to our democracy and the need to be aware, active, and on guard. Talking to an overflow crowd that had to be accommodated in a second large room at the University of Washington on a beautiful spring evening in late April, Snyder stressed that all of us share a duty to understand events and resist when warranted. Drawing lessons from Germany in 1933, he warned, “If we just react, it will be too late.” “People normalizing the new reality” is one of the hazards of today’s highly charged political environment. “Politics involves consent,” Snyder cautioned. “If you decide this is just fine, it is hard to go back.”
Drawing on American history – and our founding fathers – he told the crowd to be wary of complacently assuming that our institutions can withstand any assault. He said, “Institutions won’t protect us on their own.” He encouraged the many students and community members present to ask themselves, “What can I do for institutions to make them stronger?”
As a historian steeped in European history, Snyder takes a broad view of what he sees as the diminution of democracy across the globe and the lapsing of democratic norms. “Swastikas on the wall matter today – even if they are on the Internet,” he reminded us. He voiced particular concerns about focusing on social media as opposed to true journalism, suggesting, “Find an investigative journalist and follow him or her. Subscribe to newspapers.”
Snyder riveted the crowd with his twenty lessons for today’s world and his description of the slide towards tyranny. He invited students to ask questions and they did. It was heartening to see the interaction and to witness the power of scholarship, activism, and this call to be awake and present in the real world rather than a virtual one.
We are proud to have partnered with the Jackson School to host this important scholar here in the Pacific Northwest.