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How to Stop Fascism

Five Lessons of the Nazi Takeover

by Timothy Snyder, excerpted and condensed

As the United States hovers at the edge of fascism, the history of Germany can help. Those who wish to preserve the American constitutional republic should also recall the past. A good start would be just to recall the five basic political lessons of 1933.

1. Voting matters.

In the American system, “voting” means not just going to the polls yourself, but making donations, phone-banking, and knocking on doors. We are still, happily, at the stage when unglamorous actions can make the difference.

2. Coalitions are necessary.

The left has to hold together with the the center-left, and their energies have to be directed at the goal rather than at each other.

3. Conservatives should be conservative.

As in American today, the German “old right” was less numerous than the “new right,” the fascists. But how the traditionalist center-right acts can very well make the difference.

4. Big business should support democracy.

Whether they like it or not, business leaders bear responsibility for whether a republic endures or is destroyed. Business leaders enabled the Nazi regime. This was, in the end, very bad for business.

5. Citizens should not obey in advance.

Much of fascism is a bluff — we are inevitable! American fascism is far from inevitable. The internet is much more fascist than real life, but we vote in the real world. The crucial thing is the individual decision to act, a little something each day, regardless of the atmospherics and the polls and the media and the moods.


Timothy Snyder is an American historian specializing in the history of Central and Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and the Holocaust, and a Professor of History at Yale.