How to survive Fascism

Few Americans have experienced a blatantly corrupt political reality with a possibility that our achievements in civility and human rights could fly away like cinders from a hot, destructive fire. I was so glad to discover these clarifying guidelines for moral and mortal courage from historian and Holocaust expert, Timothy Snyder. I am publishing them here as an archive of instructions for citizens under repressive regimes – lest any of us needs them:

  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.
  6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.)
  7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.
  8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.
  9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.
  10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.
  11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.
  12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.
  13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.
  14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.
  15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.
  16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.
  17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.
  18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)
  19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.
  20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.”

 

4 thoughts on “How to survive Fascism

  1. Thank you for sharing these wise words. We will need to be vigilant against repression in the days and years to come!

  2. This is NOT how to survive fascism for an individual. This is how to fight fascism on a collective level maybe. The title is misleading for people of real fascist countries looking for tips. In a real fascist country, you should be afraid of even voting for the wrong side openly. You have to keep your opinion to yourself.

    1. this is very interesting. Where are you from? Where have you lived through fascism? I can see from your comment that the post could be titled “how to keep your soul alive through fascism” or “how to survive after fascism has taken over your country”.

  3. Thank you for sharing these. I feel terrified of the future, barely functioning because I am frozen in fear. In all directions, I see suffering and death when I think about the future. I am afraid of my own seemingly inevitable suffering once we no longer have access to healthcare, safe (regulated) food and medicine, protection from discrimination, and access to the fundamental rights and protections created by our founders. I feel so angry at the religious groups that have fueled a lot of the hatred and oppression. Hope is hard to find. Having concrete advice is helpful. I wish my mom were still alive. I’m supposed to be an adult who is ready to stand and fight, yet I feel like a child who has lost all security.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *