Timothy Snyder: 20 Things Americans Can Learn From Countries Who Lost Their Democracy

Since this important list by historian Timothy Snyder is only posted on Facebook, I want to publish it here in full.

Snyder is one of the leading American historians and public intellectuals, and enjoys perhaps greater prominence in Europe, the subject of most of his work.  He is the Housum Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. His focus is modern Europe and the rise of nationalist movements.

20 Things American Can Learn From Countries Who Lost Their Democracy

by Timothy Snyder

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.
2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.
3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.
4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.
5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.
Continue reading “Timothy Snyder: 20 Things Americans Can Learn From Countries Who Lost Their Democracy”

Pope Francis: ‘The Holy People of God Living On the Peripheries of History’

Woman portraying figure in Nativity scene puts lamb around neck of Pope Francis during visit to Rome churchThis morning Pope Francis met with the participants in the national assembly of the Italian Confederation of Major Superiors (CISM).

“Charisms [spiritual gifts],” he said, “are not to be conserved like bottles of distilled water, but to be put to the service of history.”

Below is an excerpt from his presentation:

“Faced with the witness of a brother or a sister who truly lives a religious life, people ask themselves, What is there here? What is it that leads this person beyond a worldly horizon? This is the first issue: helping the body of Christ grow by attraction. Without proselytizing: attraction.

The second point is that radicality, in different forms, is required of every Christian, but in the case of religious persons it assumes the form of prophetic witness. The testimony of an evangelical life is what distinguishes the missionary disciple and in particular those who follow the Lord in consecrated life. And prophetic witness coincides with sanctity. True prophecy is never ideological, it does not oppose the institution: it is institution. Prophecy is institutional, it does not follow fashion, but is always a sign of contradiction according to the Gospel, like Jesus was. Jesus, for example, was a sign of contradiction to the religious authorities of His time: to the heads of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the doctors of the Law, but also to the others, such as the Essenes, Zealots, etc.

“We do not want to fight rearguard battles in defense, but rather to spend ourselves among the people,” to quote the [president of the Italian Major Superiors of Men’s Orders], “certain of the faith that God has always made germinate and grow in His Kingdom.” This is not easy, it is not to be taken for granted; it requires conversion; it requires, first and foremost, prayer and worship; and it means sharing with the holy people of God who live in the peripheries of history. Removing oneself from the center. Every charism, to live and to be fruitful, is required to decentralize, because at the center there is only Jesus Christ. The charism is not to be conserved like a bottle of distilled water, but must instead be made to bear fruit, with courage, placed at the service of current reality, of cultures, of history, as the great missionaries of our institutes teach us.”–Pope Francis, 7 November 2014

Thank You, Saul Landau!

Saul Landau in Chile
Saul Landau in Chile
Saul Landau, professor, activist, and author, died yesterday (see more below).

He died on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Chilean coup that ousted democratically elected Allende and led to Gen. Pinochet’s reign of terror, atrocious Dirty Wars, turned the verb “disappeared” into a noun, and into which Landau was a leading investigator of human rights abuses.

In 1984, I had the great honor of studying Latin American History under Landau at the University of California, Davis. It was the height of the U.S.-funded wars in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. I was involved locally through my church in  the Sanctuary movement to illegally harbor war refugees and the Pledge of Resistance movement that vowed to risk arrest if the U.S. invaded Nicaragua. It was Professor Landau that helped me put what I was doing at church into the context of U.S. history and the mechanics of Empire. I’ve still got the “text books” he assigned.

Thank you, Saul. Presente!

Democracy Now! has a brief recap of Professor Landau’s life and work:

The award-winning journalist, filmmaker, author and professor Saul Landau has died at the age of 77. His death was confirmed by the Institute for Policy Studies where he was a senior fellow and vice chair of the IPS board. Landau made more than 45 films and wrote 14 books, many about Cuba. “He stood up to dictators, right-wing Cuban assassins, pompous politicians, and critics from both the left and the right,” IPS Director John Cavanagh said in a statement from the group. “When he believed in something, nobody could make him back down. Those who tried would typically find themselves on the receiving end of a withering but humorous insult.”

Landau’s recent film, “Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up?” exposed U.S. support for violent anti-Castro militants. Last year, Landau appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss the history of the Cuban Five and U.S. support for a group of anti-Castro militants who have been behind the bombing of airplanes, the blowing up of hotels and assassinations. Today, they are allowed to live freely in the United States. “What did Cuba do to us?,” Landau asks. “Well, the answer, I think, is that they were disobedient, in our hemisphere. And they did not ask permission to take away property. They took it away. They nationalized property. And the United States … has never forgiven them.”

See more from Democracy Now! on Landau.

Activist Filmmaker Saul Landau Dies, 77 (Washington Post)

Falleció reconocido intelectual norteamericano Saul Landau (CubaDebate)

Have You Done Your ‘State of the Union’ Homework?

Tonight, President Obama is slated to “go populist” on America in his third State of the Union address. Insiders say he’s going to lay out a “blueprint for an economy that’s built to last.”

The speech will continue a theme President Obama laid out in Kansas last month – that in today’s economy the game has been rigged against the nation’s middle class.

On December 6, Obama gave an important and revealing speech in Osawatomie, Kansas — the best we’ve heard from him since the campaign trail. Building on Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism language from Roosevelt’s Aug. 31, 1910, speech in Osawatomie honoring abolitionist John Brown, Obama reprises his platform of populist economics. But Obama is not yet Roosevelt. (See The Osawatomie Speech: Obama and Roosevelt.)

“We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have gained without doing damage to the community,” Roosevelt said in his speech. “We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.”

Before watching tonight’s State of the Union address, read up on its historical context. Read Roosevelt’s original speech and President Obama’s December address. Here are some quotes from both:

“One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows.”–President Theodore Roosevelt

“Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefited from that success. Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and their investments – wealthier than ever before. But everybody else struggled with costs that were growing and paycheques that weren’t – and too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt just to keep up.”–President Barack Obama

Continue reading “Have You Done Your ‘State of the Union’ Homework?”

Remembering Zinn: ‘You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train’

howardzinnI’m celebrating the life of Howard Zinn today. The New York Times obit is worth a read to recall his days with with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and, later, traveling to Vietnam with Daniel Berrigan.

Zinn was a wonderful example of the old adage that “teaching is just learning in public.” He put his considerable intellect and passion at the service of popular movements and generated a magical space for new life to come forth. The title of his memoir reflects his personal philosophy: You can’t be neutral on a moving train.

There’s a nice reflection on Zinn by Rabbi Art Waskow over at Sojourners. Waskow writes to Howard:

“If ever the memories, the teachings, of a tzaddik — a practitioner of tzedek, justice — could bring blessing to those who are still scrabbling for justice on this stricken earth, it’s the memories and teachings you left us.”

Below is an excerpt a lovely essay remembering Zinn by Henry A. Giroux, It’s titled Howard Zinn: A Public Intellectual Who Mattered:

Howard refused to separate what he taught in the university classroom, or any forum for that matter, from the most important problems and issues facing the larger society. But he never demanded that students follow his own actions; he simply provided a model of what a combination of knowledge, teaching and social commitment meant. Central to Howard’s pedagogy was the belief that teaching students how to critically understand a text or any other form of knowledge was not enough. They also had to engage such knowledge as part of a broader engagement with matters of civic agency and social responsibility. How they did that was up to them, but, most importantly, they had to link what they learned to a self-reflective understanding of their own responsibility as engaged individuals and social actors.

Read Giroux’s whole essay here.

Library of Congress Seeking Sermons on Obama Inauguration

On Jan. 20, 2009, the United States will inaugurate Barack Obama, the country’s first African-American smallpresident. In anticipation of citizens’ efforts to mark this historic time around the country, the American Folklife Center (AFC) at the Library of Congress will be collecting audio and video recordings of sermons and orations that comment on the significance of the inauguration of 2009. It is expected that such sermons and orations will be delivered at churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship, as well as before humanist congregations and other secular gatherings. The AFC is seeking as wide a representation of orations as possible. This collection is one of many oral history and spoken word collections at the AFC that preserve American emotions and memories of important cultural events.

Congregations and groups interested in contributing to this once-in-a-lifetime documentary project are asked to record sermons and orations delivered during Inauguration Week 2009 and donate them to the Library of Congress. The donated recordings will be preserved at the AFC in order to enhance the nation’s historical record and preserve the voices of religious leaders other orators for researchers and scholars of the future. After being processed by archivists, the collection will be made available to scholars, students and the general public.
See all the information here: http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2008/08-234.html

Jesus Bees and Street Honey

I love bees. I took a semester of bee-keeping when I was studying biology at the University of California, Davis. It was always a great adventure to ride my bike out to the veterinary medicine school where there was a “study hive.” I would spend hours tracking particular bees in the large glass-walled hive. For extra credit in that course, I wrote a collection of “bee poems” to submit with my research.

Someday, I’ll take up the renegade art of urban beekeeping and sell street honey in the inner city. (It’s actually illegal to keep bees inside the District of Columbia.) Read  here for more on the joys of backyard beekeeping.

Bees also have a time-honored place in Christian history. There are several mentions of bees in the Bible. And they are considered to have attributes of Jesus due to their honey and sting. According to an interesting article by Croatian vet students about animal symbolism in Christian art:

Honey symbolizes gentleness and charity, and sting symbolizes justice. Furthermore, bees are of the symbols of resurrection. Three winter months during which it does not come out from the bee-hive remind us of three days after Christ’s death when his body was invisible, then appeared again and was resurrected. The organisation of life in the bees community, with perfectly defined interrelations and relation to the queen-bee, became almost the ideal of Christian virtues. On the other hand, bees and bee hive symbolise eloquence, and are presented with the three known holy orators called “Doctores melliflui” (scholars sweet as honey). They are: St. Ambrosius, St. Bernard of Clariveaux, and St. John Chrysostom.

There’s also a fascinating bible study out there somewhere on Judges 14 where a hive of bees in the carcass of the lion distracts Sampson as he is on his way to “take” his enemy wife. Tell me what you find. The Hebrew word for bee is: devorah. It’s etymologically related to the words for “speaking” and “choosing a direction.” It’s associated with prophecy.

Of course, most folks have heard that bees are under attack from climate change and mono-crop agriculture. So eat your honey, plant native wildflowers, don’t use pesticides, and love your bees..