2024–2025 Common Read: On Tyranny

“Post-truth is pre-fascism.” – Timothy Snyder

The search for truth is not only an academic exercise, but a foundation of democracy. Autocrats rely on the spread of misinformation to gain and hold power. Those who wish to undermine democratic systems deliberately suppress access to history. We find ourselves in a “post-truth” era, in which democracies across the globe are in decline. As a university community, we must take responsibility for the role that the exchange of facts and ideas plays in the pursuit of a more equal and just society. As a starting point, we invite you to read Timothy Snyder’s in preparation for our Common Theme, Defending Democracy, and related conversations in the fall.

On Tyranny - Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

Every discipline on campus plays a unique role in shaping our understanding of the world and each field of study contains a diversity of viewpoints. To study is not to seek confirmation of what you already know, but to be open to answers to questions you don’t yet know how to ask. This is how we develop as thinkers, but also how we maintain a free and democratic society. We hope you’ll keep this in mind as you pursue your major and minor fields. You’ll also have the chance to focus specifically on these issues in your Freshman Seminars. Using Snyder’s book as a starting point, these classes and accompanying programming will explore the ways in which learning about history can help us shape our present and future.Using Snyder’s book as a starting point, these classes and accompanying programming will explore the ways in which learning about history can help us shape our present and future.

We live in an era not only of widespread distrust in and dissatisfaction with government, but also of growing socioeconomic inequalities. We know from the violent history of the previous century that this is precisely the environment in which antidemocratic parties thrive and seize power. It is this history from which Snyder draws his lessons for our current age, providing the reader with concrete steps we can take to help uphold democratic values. Perhaps best known for his work Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Timothy Snyder has spent a career studying the murderous regimes of the last century not simply to ٲDzܱhorrors, but to understand how tyranny functions and how it can be stopped.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we all experienced the anxiety and trauma of an era “unprecedented” in recent history. The threat we face now does not induce fear because we cannot know what is at stake; it is terrifying precisely because we know exactly what can happen. We have clear records of what follows when exclusionist, antidemocratic ideologies take hold, if only we choose to look. We must not look away from knowledge and truth. Instead, we must fulfill our duty as a community of learners to face difficult histories, engage with challenging ideas, and respect the differences that exist in a pluralist democracy.

Dr. Emma Woelk,Associate Professor of German, Director of Honors Program & Global Initiatives