This book explains how to tell when your country's going to hell and how to stop it

Originally published at:


Timothy Snyder is an amazing writer and scholar. His ability to research sources in several languages and then integrate them in Bloodlands has opened up the scholarship about the authoritarian period of the 1930s and 40s, and his thesis in Black Earth is an intriguing one that ties in directly to modern climate change and its geopolitical consequences (especially in the absence of legitimate legal institutions).

Which is to say, sold!


We are no wider than the Europeans…

Should that maybe say “wiser?” I’m pretty sure Americans are, on average, wider than Europeans.


This book explains how to tell when your country’s going to hell


I know this book is very well-regarded, as well as popular (I work in a bookstore, though it pays little enough that I rarely have time for actually reading books any more), but I’m a little frustrated as to how this review dances around the supposed solutions the books presents. Unless there’s some secret formula for making a massive percent of the nation’s population stop being racists, sexists, Nazis, theocrats, hypocrites, and all-around unbelievably horrible people, I don’t see how we’re getting out of this short of another civil war. I’ll try and get the book soon (it is short, after all, so I’ll make time), but I really hope it’s not another “These are all the warning signs that are blindingly obvious to half the nation and which the other half denies even exist, and this is the horrible nightmare we’re inevitably heading towards. Well, good luck!” sort of thing.


Sounds like an interesting book, thanks for bringing it to my attention.
I’m Canadian and I don’t think anyone in the world would wish fascism on the USA. Americans have gone through rough times before and bounced back. By exposing themselves, the racists, nazis etc. may have done you a favor by pointing out the folly of complacency.

You may have noticed of late that things in America are becoming less, well, American.

A cruel misogynist with dangerously racist beliefs is running the show.

I mean, America was founded on racist and misogynistic principles. America has the distinction of perfecting large-scale slavery (and subsequently apartheid) in the modern era, so let’s not get overly wistful about the founding fathers.

It’s funny how when the right gets into power, liberals become conservative, in the sense that they long to go back to “the way things were”, back when we had true democracy, before the country lost its way.

America was never great.


If you think your country is going to literal hell, you maybe have the wrong book.

1 Like

Although many ‘white supremacists’ are correctly seen as disaffected losers without any cogent political program, there are actual ‘National Socialists’ in America. Their platform is here:

The ‘National Socialist Movement’ is a descendant of the ‘German American Bund’, ( which despite what is shown in the above, had ultimately limited traction.

While there has been historically considerable success by ‘white supremacist’ groups (especially the KKK) in the past, they differed significantly from the ‘National Socialists’ in that they also attracted those who wanted to be left alone by ‘big government’. In contrast a reading of the NSM’s platform besides appealing to losers who regard they should be entitled by dint of their ‘race’, is also significantly ‘statist’ (“we demand the creation of a strong central national government for the nation; the unconditional authority of the political central parliament over the entire nation and its organizations”) and somewhat ‘socialist’ ("We demand the nationalization of all businesses which have been formed into corporations ").

How likely is it for such movement to come to power in a country with a tradition of distrust of central government and little perception of ‘society’ beyond the local? Sheldon Wolins ‘Inverted Totalitarianism’ may still be a possibility ( but ultimately why would a plutocratic ruling class in one of the world’s more retarded attempts at democracy countenance the need to change a system that has worked so well for them for the best part of two and a half centuries?


@boundegar: Yeah, and Snyder… ‘cites’, not “sites”, but whatever.


Plenty of times we’ve sucked less than your nationstate and we’ve only been at it 250-odd years! :stuck_out_tongue:

1 Like

less More.


Fun fact: 2/3 of The Founding FathersTM were lawyers, judges or had comparable legal training.

1 Like

Would have been wonderful if Snyder went into the forces making what he writes about happen.
Fascist (or neoliberal) politicians aren’t doing what they’re doing on their own. They’re doing it because let’s say they’re being paid to do so by special interests. Too, this march towards fascism started after WWII (to a degree in reaction to the New Deal), greatly accelerated under the beloved Ronnie Reagan, and here we are.
Of course, being a sort of democracy, much blame has to go as well to a lazy, ignorant, disinterested electorate.
That said, Snyder’s been doing great work within his area of focus.


America was founded on the principle of “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. That absolute power was bad, and therefor power had to be divided into a system of checks and balances. And that taxation was only lawful when tax disbursement was controlled by the people paying them, i.e. not rentiers interests.

Implementation may have fallen short, and the founders prejudices may not have lived up to these ideas, but it is dangerous to dismiss the actual ideals that inspired the break from the British monarchy.


Snyder is an especially problematic historian since he tends to collapse anti fascism into being no different than fascism.

Sure, that was one principle, and it was the one that they were most excited about, probably because it was the most high-minded. It’s pretty cool, relevant even today.

But there were other principles too, less celebrated but equally important to the national foundation. Manifest destiny. Patriarchy. These were not just blind spots or oversights, they were key elements in the creation, expansion, and success of the thing we call America. And being a part of our national heritage, they are still with us today.

This should be distressing, but not surprising. This isn’t an invasion of foreign ideology, we are seeing the expression of values that have been a part of this country since the beginning, and still seem to be at its core even now. So why do we try so hard to redeem “America” - why not just abandon it and try something new?


And members in good standing at their local Masonic Temples.

1 Like

Because it will never end. No matter where you go, there you are, an imperfect being in an imperfect universe dealing with other imperfect beings. We will never destroy corruption and greed so long as we are human beings, just as kindness and love will never be completely erased. There are systems which empower certain modes of thought, yes, and America is built around such systems, but we have not fought for two hundred some years just to surrender this nation. Every day the battle continues, in every person, where we fight our darker impulses and struggle against the tide. Sometimes we lose, sometimes we win, sometimes we learn, and that is the key to everything, to learn, to transform ourselves into the people we want to be, not just by stabbing into the dark, but by coming to understand why its there and what it wants, by learning to see the world not as black and white, but a spectrum of color, with some decidedly unfriendly shades. Of course, that struggle isn’t unique to Americans, it’s in every human being, and that’s a part of the point, you can’t escape it.

But those systems, those damned systems that raise up the greedy and the ruthless at our expense, they do make me think of leaving, but there is a problem.

Regardless of how we got here, we (Americans) are here now, and to be honest, there’s not a whole lot of other places we can go. The world has been charted, it’s surface mapped, and the frontier lies in the heavens, but we are contained on this island Earth. There are the oceans, international waters and what not, but any effort we make to leave is thwarted by a lack of resources. The means to build anew are tied up by the old. We have an option though; the systems were laid out in such a way that we can change them. It’s not easy, it’s uncomfortable, it’s downright hard and takes more than a little faith.

America is like a person, because it is it’s people. It is everything we allow it to be. If we want it to change, then we must change.

We must learn and we must teach and these things we must do our utmost simply to keep pace.

1 Like

I’d like to think @zikzak was speaking figuratively, of something akin to the ‘ego death’ that can occur during a heavy acid trip. Revolution.

1 Like