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Beware of "Exceptions" to Freedom

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Yale University historian Timothy Snyder wrote a short book called On Tyranny that's quite good. Each of its 20 chapters explains a way to preserve freedom and civilized society in the face of attacks by tyrannical government.

The book came out in 2017, so it's clearly meant as a warning about The Devil Trump. But apart from the author's bad case of political partisanship, the content is valid. And it's a quick read.

None of it is about 2021, of course, but a lot of it could be:

  • "Do not obey in advance."
  • "Be wary of paramilitaries."
  • "Believe in truth."
  • "Investigate."
  • "Make eye contact and small talk."
  • "Be a patriot."

Chapter 17 isn't about 2021, but it almost sounds like it is:

"The most intelligent of the Nazis, legal theorist Carl Schmitt, explained fascist government. The way to destroy all rules, he explained, was to focus on the idea of the exception. A Nazi leader outmaneuvers his opponents by manufacturing a general conviction that the present moment is exceptional, and then transforming that state into a permanent emergency. Citizens will then trade real freedom for fake safety."

That sounds uncomfortably recent and familiar. It's worth pondering.

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