Quotes to Think By: Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny

Understanding the politics of the everyday and the choices we make

Timothy Snyder’s small book has a big mission. Each chapter of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century delivers advice for recognizing and resisting tyranny. The chapters include lessons you might expect:

  1. Do not obey in advance.
  2. Defend institutions.
  3. Beware the one-party state.

But this quote comes from a different chapter. Snyder titled Chapter 4: Take responsibility for the face of the world.

Life is political, not because the world cares about how you feel, but because the world reacts to what you do. The minor choices we make are themselves a kind of vote, making it more or less likely that free and fair elections will be held in the future. In the politics of the everyday, our words and gestures, or their absence, count very much.

—Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century


 In the chapter, he urges readers to remove symbols and signs of hate when they see them. Snyder reminds us that it’s important not to look away or get used to them because “The symbols of today enable the reality of tomorrow.”

This quote first appeared in our Questions of Civic Proportions newsletter. Read the whole issue here. It features the work of several women whose words and gestures have made a difference—Elizabeth Warren, Dolores Huerta, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Those three voices align well with Snyder’s advice at the end of Chapter 4: You might one day be offered the opportunity to display symbols of loyalty. Make sure that such symbols include your fellow citizens rather than exclude them.

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