This year’s assigned book

I assign all Americans but a single book a year, and they must discuss it with their neighbors as part of an effort to reconstitute the local. I don’t think this is too much to ask. (Past assigned works have included Reinhold Niebuhr‘s The Irony of American History, James Baldwin‘s Notes of a Native Son, James Agee and Walker Evans‘s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and Hannah Arendt‘s Between Past and Future.) This year’s book is the first new release ever assigned: Timothy Snyder’s The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America.


  1. Read it a few months back and found it timely and frightening. Snyder’s theory of the politics of eternity vs. the politics of inevitably is (like most binaries) probably too convenient, and I suspect a bit too abstract for most people to “discuss it with their neighbors.” Nevertheless, my thoughts keep returning to Snyder’s argument in considering Putin’s posturing as the guardian of Western, Christian civilization and the ease with which large portions of our electorate are transferring their loyalties toward an historic (and very real) adversary. I can see why you’d want to assign it. At the time I read it, I thought, perhaps I ought to send this book to everyone on my Christmas list this year.

    1. Kurt, thank you. The book is probably a bit too abstract for a block party. And I must reconcile myself to the irony in a central authority’s assignment of a neighborhood’s reading. Surely the “reconstitution of the local” won’t be a top-down affair.

      I didn’t see Snyder’s juxtaposition of the politics of eternity with the politics of inevitability to be a binary theory ultimately. The two operate as binaries (crudely speaking, modern liberalism vs. the closed society), and, like all binaries, they are in opposition, and one (here, eternity) ultimately feeds off of the weaknesses of the other. That, I think, is the problem. I think he suggests a third way, something like triadic thinking (in semiotic terms), that could break our movement to the politics of eternity. As an historian, he seems to believe that an open reading of history would wean us from both extremes.

      His book reminded me of a paragraph on political time that I read in Philip Gorski’s book American Covenant: instead of a circle (much like Snyder’s politics of eternity) or a vector (his politics of inevitability), how about a spiral? “The point was not to return to the eternal social order of a bygone golden age, nor even to recover the original meaning of the founding principles; rather, it was to more fully realize the moral meaning of those principles, even when that meant abandoning established interpretations” (page 96). Gorski finds such a spiral in the thinking of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

  2. I am grinning! Druidry! Thinking beyond the binary. I am really balking at the idea of leaving my peace and my tea to go look, however I do LOVE library loot. I will see if they have this, and if not, I shall request that they get it.

    1. ooo they have it NOW, I’ll go check it out this afternoon! contempt prior to investigation sigh

  3. Ah! I remember this man! The teaching behind his thoughts is expressed in The Kybalion and can be read here: Masons use these premises. So do many other groups. What Ivan did with it is a helpful to him delusion and perception error. It is a common one with narcissists and those wishing ‘permission’ to commit attrocities by weilding ‘will’.

    I like the book so far. It is remind me of things I know that I had forgotten or things buried.

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