History as a Guide

19 06 2017

9 June 2017

Snyder and organizersTimothy Snyder gives an engaging lecture, full of well-worded descriptions and definitions that make instantaneous sense. His recent presentation, attended by more than 200 in the shoreline town of Guilford, was eye-opening, thought provoking, inspiring, and terrifying.

Snyder, the Levin Professor of History at Yale University, has immersed himself in the culture, history, language, and stories of Eastern Europe and Russia for the past few decades. His specialty is studying the twentieth century and the related rise of Hitler, fascism, and communism, with efforts to understand how history has happened, what can be learned from it, and ways to move forward. He recently published a small book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, as a resource.  A strong proponent of democracy and continuation of our United States republic, Snyder donated his speaking fee to the Holocaust Museum, which added to the sense that he walks his talk.

Snyder audienceDuring his lecture, he differentiated between a patriot and nationalist. Reading from one of his book lessons, Be a patriot: “A patriot…wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves…..A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well—and wishing that it would do better.” On the other hand, “A nationalist ‘brood[s] on power, victory, defeat, revenge’ …[and] encourages us to be our worst, and then tell us that we are the best.”

Snyder also spoke eloquently about the danger of asking for loyalty over using the rule of law. All US officials swear to uphold the Constitution, which means no individual has the power to be above the law of the land and laws apply equally to everyone. His bias against Donald Trump was obvious, and his audience was supportive, but his points are relevant, regardless of one’s political persuasion.

Snyder booksOne of Snyder’s lessons is Make eye contact and small talk. Keep connected to others in the community, especially those who are under attack. During Hitler’s time, a turning point occurred when citizens would cross the street to avoid their Jewish neighbors. We need to recognize each other’s humanity and right to exist, regardless of our different opinions. That’s what has made this country so amazing: freedom of speech and pursuit of happiness, people with many views living here in relative freedom and peace. Snyder believes these points are currently under threat and that those of us who cherish these values can take action, make steps, and keep the United States a democratic republic “with liberty and justice for all.”

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