Timothy D. Snyder

American author and historian
Snyder in Lviv, Ukraine, September 2014

Timothy David Snyder (born August 18, 1969) is an American author, historian and academic specializing in the history of Central and Eastern Europe, and the Holocaust. He is a professor at Yale University and is affiliated with the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna and the College of Europe in Natolin, Warsaw, Poland. Snyder is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.


  • The Belarusian failure therefore provides a useful test. Here we have an “ethnic group” which is the largest by far in the area in question. According to the Russian imperial census of 1897, more people spoke Belarusian in Vil’na province than all other languages combined. In Vil’na, Minsk, Grodno, Mogilev, and Vitebsk provinces, contiguous territories of historic Lithuania, speakers of Belarusian were three quarters of the population. In the twentieth century, this “ethnic group” did not become a modern nation. In combination with Lithuanian and Polish successes, this Belarusian failure helps us to perceive what national movements actually need.
    • The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999 (Yale University Press, 2003)

On Tyranny (2017)Edit

: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
  • As they knew, Aristotle warned that inequality brought instability, while Plato believed that demagogues exploited free speech to install themselves as tyrants. In founding a democratic republic upon law and establishing a system of checks and balances, the Founding Fathers sought to avoid the evil that they, like the ancient philosophers, called tyranny.
    • Prologue: History and Tyranny
  • Since the American colonies declared their independence... [m]any... democracies... failed, in circumstances that in some important respects resemble our own.
    • Prologue: History and Tyranny
  • European democracies collapsed into right-wing authoritarianism and fascism in the 1920s and '30s. The communist Soviet Union, established in 1922, extended its model into Europe in the 1940s. ...[S]ocieties can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits...
    • Prologue: History and Tyranny
  • Fascists rejected reason... denying objective truth in favor of glorious myth articulated by leaders who claimed to give voice to the people.
    • Prologue: History and Tyranny
  • Americans today are no wiser than than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century.
    • Prologue: History and Tyranny
  • The mistake is to assume that rulers who came to power through institutions cannot change or destroy those very institutions...
    • 2 Defend Institutions
  • "[E]ternal vigilance is the price of liberty,"...We see ourselves as a city on the hill, a stronghold for democracy, looking for threats from abroad. But the sense of the saying was entirely different: that human nature is such that American democracy must be defended from Americans who would exploit its freedoms to bring about its end.
    • 3 Beware of the one-party state

The Road to Unfreedom (2018)Edit

: Russia, Europe, America
  • [A] turning point of the twentieth century: the Nazi-Soviet alliance... In September 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union both invaded Poland... In April 1940, the Soviet secret police murdered 21,892 Polish prisoners of war... shot in the back of the head at five killing sites, one of them the Katyn Forest... Only after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 could historians clarify... the mass murder had been deliberate policy, personally approved by Joseph Stalin. ...On February 3, 2010... the Russian prime minister made a surprising proposal: a joint commemoration... on the seventieth anniversary of the crime. On the seventh of April a Polish government delegation... arrived in Russia.
    Two days after that, a second Polish delegation set out... One of its members was my friend Tomek Merta... April 10... Tomek boarded an airplane. It crashed... short of a landing strip at the Russian military airfield at Smolensk. There were no survivors.
  • Our Vienna maternity ward, where inexpensive insurance covered everything, was a reminder of the success of the European project. It exemplified services that were taken for granted in much of Europe, unattainable in the United States. The same might be said of the quick and reliable subway that brought me to the hospital...
  • By 2015, Russia had extended an extraordinary campaign of cyberwarfare beyond Ukraine to Europe and the United States, with the assistance of numerous Europeans and Americans. In 2016, the British voted to leave the European Union, as Moscow had long advocated, and Americans elected Donald Trump... an outcome the Russians had worked to achieve. Among other shortcomings, the new U.S. president could not reflect upon history: he was unable to commemorate the Holocuast... nor condemn Nazis in his own country.
  • The twentieth century was well and truly over, its lessons unlearned. A new form of politics was emerging in Russia, Europe, and America, a new unfreedom to suit a new time.
  • Americans reasoned that the failure of the communist story confirmed the truth of the capitalist one. Americans and Europeans kept telling themselves their tales of inevitability for a quarter century after the end of communism, and so raise a millennial generation without history.
  • The financial crisis of 2008 and the deregulation of campaign contributions in the United States in 2010 magnified the influence of the wealthy and reduced that of the voters.

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