The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. Timothy Snyder. New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2018. 359 pp. Reviewed by Kendall Bailey. Thursday, May 9, 2019.
The Road to Unfreedom was written to warn and inform about the predictability of the future of politics based primarily on the world’s history, or more specifically, Russia’s president, the notorious Vladimir Putin. The evidence that Snyder uses not only begins with books and videos, but also encompasses the media, news press conferences and transcripts, articles, and much more. With 60 pages of endnotes and well over a few hundred sources listed, it’s also critical to note that he gained his information in different languages such as Russian, Ukrainian, German, French, Polish, and English.
This book is separated into 11 sections, including a Prologue, six chapters, and an Epilogue (all of which I will discuss). Followed by this is the Acknowledgements, Endnotes, and an Index.
In the prologue, Snyder offers an assertion that we currently live in a time of financial and political vulnerability. The most recent couple of years have seen the preferences of Brexit and Donald Trump’s triumph as US president pass by, while extreme political groups, the so-called privileged, appear to acquire more power, more control, and more wealth each day. It used to be underestimated that the future would be a gradually advancing continuation of the present; a supposition known as the politics of inevitability. However, in present times, a move to the political issues of eternity lies seemingly within easy reach. As Snyder contends, rather than anticipating the more splendid tomorrow ensured by political advancement, the political issues of time fix us into an eternal perspective in which we trust that we are everlastingly compromised by our enemies, both genuine and unreal. It’s a dreadful and distrustful state, where we expect little else from our government than to shield us from our foes.
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In chapter one, titled Individualism or Totalitarianism, Snyder touches on the aspect of the dominant role that fascist philosopher, Ivan Ilyin, played in guiding Putin to his success of making Russia the first country to reach the politics of eternity. Although Ilvin was long dead before Putin’s rise to power, his history of writings and associations during a time when fascist and communist leaders were playing a major role in the world, would further be studied and used to employ Putin into office. Ilyin’s ideologies greatly resembled those of the Fascist state, encouraging that a beaten down society that is suppressed by socioeconomic problems needs a god-like leader to defend and guarantee to shield them from outside dangers. Snyder writes, “the politics of eternity cannot make Putin or any other man immortal. But it can make other ideas unthinkable,” and follows it by defining eternity as “… the same thing over and over again, a tedium exciting to believers because of the illusion that it is particularly theirs” (35). Thus, we are able to relate this back to the title of the chapter.
In chapter two, titled Succession or Failure, the main focus is directed towards a series of events that Snyder believes began Russia’s transition towards Ilyin’s politics of eternity. He approaches this by acknowledging that Ilyin’s conception of a dystopia Russia was certainly on the rise throughout Putin’s first few terms in power. For instance, prior to Putin being in office, Snyder gives the example of a series of bombs that was dropped throughout Russia in September of 1999. Since the country of Chechnya, independent from Russia since 1993, was seemingly a plausible possibility for this doing, Putin ran with it. He not only used propaganda and media to deceive this claim to the Russian people but went as far as to turn the people against themselves! His declaration to go to war with the Chechnian people proved “a new kind of politics, known at the time as “managed democracy,” which Russians would master and later export,” (45). This essentially yielded Putin into the office, as his deceptive propaganda tactics ensured that the Russian people knew that he was on the rise.
In chapter three, titled Integration or Empire, the main focus is centered around the concept of Putin’s actions that lead to Russia’s strength as an empire. We begin to see how Putin incrementally succeeds in his plan to take over countries and essentially, tries to become the leading world power. In order to achieve this, Snyder evaluates the political state of Russia and the European Union in the year of 2013. This was the time that a new course of action was determined. Putin’s tactic of accomplishing this goal included the idea that as opposed to Russia becoming a European nation, he would ensure that the European nations should be made more Russian. Essentially, in order to shield Russia from external dangers, he would need to apply Ilvin’s philosophy of a dystopia country to the countries that threatened it.
In chapter four, titled Novelty or Eternity, this concept of becoming a world power is strengthened when Snyder provides assertions of the measures that Putin is willing to take in order to maintain his repertoire as the leader. We similarly see the pattern that is Putin is trying to impart within other countries in leu of his already egotistical plan of taking the Eurasian continent. Amidst the disaster that is already occurring for Russia in terms of destructing the European Union from within, matters get worse when these relations develop closer to home. In short, Putin was able to manipulate the President of Ukraine, whom of which was going to join the EU prior to his discussion with Putin, and this of course turned into total turmoil for the country. It came to a matter of splitting it up, separating the independent country into two outraged nations, and one of which that was successfully overtaken by Russia.
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In chapter five, titled Truth or Lies, Snyder really harps on the argument of the use of domestic and international propaganda that was used in order to promote Ilyin’s ideology of the politics of eternity. He describes through a series of awful, horrid lies that Putin utilized his ‘purposeful publicity’ as a major aspect of his strategic plans, which reasons that in the event that you can’t obscure your enemies by means of direct fighting or financial may, you can at any rate debilitate them so as to increase relative power.
In chapter six, titled Equality or Oligarchy, Snyder refocuses the discussion towards America’s current president, Donald Trump. He describes the ways in which this so called ‘road’ was certainly paved with the help of Russians, all of which directly falls back on Vladimir Putin. Moreover, what we do come to learn is that none of this is for the sake of strengthening the United States. After Putin’s effective mediation in Brexit and his so-called half-triumph in Ukraine, his focuses shifted towards a broader, bigger accomplishment; the complete ruin and destruction of the United States. By having Donald Trump in power, the countries’ shift towards the politics of eternity will certainly be attained a lot quicker- forcing the United States to sink to Russia’s level and validate Putin’s strategic relativism. Snyder exemplifies this claim in the end of the chapter by stating, “America will have both forms of equality, racial and economic, or it will have neither. If it has neither, eternity politics will prevail, racial oligarchy will emerge, and American democracy will come to a close,” (276).
Finally, in the epilogue, Snyder reveals a call to action for the sake of people today. Are we really headed towards a world of politics of eternity? We have to stay alert and most importantly, stay informed! We need to keep looking for the facts of situations and occurrences and continue to call out the lies and falsehoods of the political realm.
This book is relevant for the general education audience. People that are concerned with the future of politics shouldn’t hinder The Road to Unfreedom for the sake that it can bring a lot of concerns to rest, or at least insight those that have a hard time of where to even begin researching. Snyder certainly provides factual proof of instances that he believes brought the world of politics to where it is today. One small problem that didn’t work for me was his use of vocabulary when doing an intense analysis of some examples. I only found this to be a minor discrepancy because I found myself needing to go back and reread the text to ensure that I gained the information from Snyder. Overall, Snyder’s evidence that he provides makes it extremely hard to negate what he has to say. He is extremely persuasive in his arguments and I highly recommend this to people that would also like to gain a new perspective.
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