10 Books To Educate Yourself On Authoritarianism

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You've probably heard a lot of talk about "authoritarianism" lately, and you're likely aware that 1) it's bad, and 2) it's maybe got something to do with our current political climate. If you aren't really sure what, exactly, this political ideology entails, I have a short reading list for you below, comprised of 10 books to educate yourself on authoritarianism.

On Feb. 7, Bloodlands author and Yale history professor Timothy Snyder told Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that "we have at most a year to defend the Republic [from autocracy], perhaps less." That sounds pretty terrifying, but Snyder has laid out a 20-point plan of resistance to the new regime, which begins:

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.

(Snyder also includes a short reading list in that Facebook post, and only one of those books appears below. Read his other suggestions, too.)

The 45th POTUS and his administration have already tried to implement a temporary refugee ban that would block religious minorities, including those who are legal residents, from entering the country. Who's to say that political opponents and other "undesirables" won't be next?

We must be prepared to resist and to keep fighting. Your education in authoritarianism begins with the 10 books below.


'The Origins of Totalitarianism' by Hannah Arendt

Interned briefly in France before leaving for the U.S., the German-born political theorist Hannah Arendt narrowly escaped Hitler and the Third Reich. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, she details the preconditions necessary to facilitate the rise of Nazism and Stalinism.

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'The Anatomy of Fascism' by Robert O. Paxton

The words "fascism" and "fascist" get tossed around a lot, but what is fascism, really, and who are the fascists? That question, as Robert O. Paxton demonstrates in The Anatomy of Fascism, is easier asked than answered.

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'Dictators and Dictatorships' by Natasha Ezrow and Erica Frantz

Not all dictatorships are created equally, but all can be equally understood. In Dictators and Dictatorships, Natasha Ezrow and Erica Frantz examine authoritarian regimes across the globe, and how their differences in origin and policy dictate their futures.

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'Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics' by Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler

Written in 2009, Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics examines how, since President Bill Clinton's election in 1992, U.S. voters have moved to the political poles along a single line: their personal views on authoritarianism.

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'Dark Money' by Jane Mayer

You've probably heard of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and the Koch brothers, but do you know what role Charles and David Koch played in that 2010 Supreme Court decision? In Dark Money, Jane Mayer examines how billionaires bought their way into U.S. politics in the late-20th century.

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'Hitler's Beneficiaries' by Götz Aly

We'd all like to think that, if we were alive in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s, we would have been part of the resistance, but opposing the Third Reich was more difficult than you might think. Götz Aly examines how Hitler and the Nazis managed to persuade tens of millions of civilians to support the brutal ostracization and murder of their neighbors in Hitler's Beneficiaries.

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'Static' by Amy Goodman and David Goodman

Co-written by Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman and her brother, investigative journalist David Goodman, Static uncovers how certain politicians, corporate moguls, and media outlets have colluded to cover up egregious crimes and government corruption over the last several decades.

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'They Thought They Were Free' by Milton Mayer

When we imagine authoritarian regimes, we often think of bleak concrete structures, starvation, and secret police raids. But is this always the case? How aware of the real state of things are the people who live in totalitarian states? Milton Mayer explores the average German's relationship with the Nazi government in They Thought They Were Free.

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'The Dictator's Handbook' by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith

The Wall Street Journal compared this book from Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith to Steven Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner's Freakonomics. The Dictator's Handbook contrasts autocratic and democratic rulers, examining how politicians in different political systems attempt to remain in power.

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'Empire of Illusion' by Chris Hedges

The last election cycle proved that media literacy — or rather, media illiteracy — is a huge problem in the U.S. In Empire of Illusion, Chris Hedges compares the growing crowd of fantasy-obsessed folks to their dwindling opposites: those who can separate truth from fiction.

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