Timothy Snyder has laid out a thesis, in the beginning of his book, that has me constantly in thought. That’s a great way to start a book. I’ll elaborate in a moment.
This is the 8th book I’ve started since early February and I’m happy to say I’ve finished the other 7. That’s a pretty good clip for me since I managed only 9 complete tomes in all of 2018. Admittedly, last year was a tumultuous one.
The books I’ve tackled this year have been mostly elucidating ones. Concept books, and almost entirely nonfiction. I’ve read Harari’s 21 Lessons. The Righteous Mind, by Haidt. The Global Minotaur by Yanis Varoufakis. Bregman’s Utopia for Realists. By accident I started the Corrosion of Conservatism by Max Boot, and it proved more interesting than I expected. The only fiction book I made time for, so far, was To Kill A Mockingbird, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Worthy of the praise. I just finished Bill Bryson’s At Home, a 450-page hardcover that sat on my bookshelf for the last ten years. Bryson can take any subject, break it down into its various parts, expound upon each part voluminously, and make the whole thing interconnected with human ideas in an enthralling and enchanting manner. His gift is miles beyond mine.
All the books I’ve read this year are worthy page-turners. Enlightening tomes. I can’t give you any one above the others to refer but I can hope that, as soon as possible, you do read all of Harari if you haven’t, and take the time for Varoufakis and Bregman. I believe all three to be world-class thinkers and intellectual revolutionaries.
I don’t know yet whether I can place Snyder in that classification. I took his book from a list of Harari’s favorites, and the book qualified for a discount I received through my Prime account. Strong recommendations from admired thinkers coupled with low monetary investment? That’s just my thing.
Snyder has a scholarly philosophical approach to writing, and at times I even feel a hint of Joseph Campbell in his prose. If you’ve ever read Joseph Campbell you know that this can be a powerful but at times tedious approach to relaying information. Still, thus far, I am enjoying his words.
I’m 42 pages into Snyder’s The Road to Unfreedom after two days. Those of you who read me in the “old days” know that I promised 20 pages a day at the beginning of 2018, a prospect that proved to be unwieldy. For whatever reason, my propensity to embrace distraction defeated my desire to absorb data. Well, this year, I am slightly over that 20-page/day mark, so therein lies at least one triumph.
The thesis that Snyder lays out, that I hinted at earlier in this piece, is the prospect of a world divided by two political entities, nations really, guided by either the politics of inevitability or the politics of eternity, terms it appears he coined. Rather simply, for expedience, I will tell you that the politics of inevitability promises an ever-evolving progression of a better future for all and there’s nothing we can do to stop that. It is somewhat related to the idea I have been expressing for months about the arc of history being a determinate march towards ever-increasing liberalism. In fact, it is almost exactly that idea taken to the extreme (with the further idea that we cannot stop that march no matter what we do).
The politics of eternity, by comparison, issues forth the premise that things have stayed relatively the same, should stay relatively the same, and that the ever-present “enemy” is always threatening to upend our world. The politics of eternity embraces nationalism and conservatism and, in Snyder’s thesis, the singularly all-powerful individual redeemer (Stalin, Hitler, Putin, Trump, etc). The politics of inevitability leads to democratization; the politics of eternity to totalitarianism.
Like I said, one (perhaps both) of these ideas are similar to my own, to ones I have laid out in the past here. The terms may be different, but the underlying premise remains the same. By this I mean that there are two ways to look at the world, and each leads us down a decidedly different path.
We can choose the path of hope, believing that the world can and will be better tomorrow.
Or we can choose the path of fear, dreading that unless someone comes along to save us we will all die.
As always there are nuances, my friends. But I reiterate what I have said a thousand times: the arc of history does show that, through conviction and perseverance, the plight of humanity continuously improves. Hope is a worthwhile emotion. The “other” is not our eternal enemy, whether that other is across our border or outside our personal spiritual faith. Donald Trump is not a redeemer but instead a petty, self-serving man with designs for power, not salvation. And, anyways, we do not need salvation from the enemies that he perceives. They are phantoms, fictions created to frighten the populace, embolden the politics of eternity, and create an authoritarian savior.
We don’t need one. What we need instead is hope, and leaders that believe enough in the politics of inevitability to create an ever-better tomorrow not for one man, or one class of people, but for all of us and the planet on which we reside.
Timothy Snyder is off to a great start, one I can wrap my head around and even agree with. Let’s see if he can maintain that momentum and continue to flourish. 👍🏼