The Road to Unfreedom Book Summary - The Road to Unfreedom Book explained in key points
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The Road to Unfreedom summary

Timothy Snyder

Russia, Europe, America

4.2 (248 ratings)
20 mins

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The Road to Unfreedom by Timothy Snyder investigates how Russia's political landscape shaped the rise of authoritarianism in the West. Snyder argues that Putin's regime seeks to undermine democracy by weaponizing information and destabilizing institutions.

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    The Road to Unfreedom
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    The key to the shift toward the politics of eternity in Russia was the philosophy of Ivan Ilyin.

    On March 26, 2000, the Russian Federation held presidential elections. The winner, Vladimir Putin, would go on to rule – and transform – the world’s largest country, and continues to do so to this day.

    But those who elected Putin didn’t realize how large the ideas of Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin loomed in the new administration’s political ideology. Although Ilyin had been dead since 1954, Putin was keen on reviving his ideas and putting them front and center in his political program.

    Ilyin lived through the 1917 Russian Revolution, which ushered in the Soviet Union and one-party communist rule. But he was no communist – he was a Christian fascist, inspired by Adolf Hitler and Italian fascist Benito Mussolini rather than Lenin or Stalin.

    Exiled from the Soviet Union in 1922, he began conceptualizing his ideal version of a right-wing, Christian dystopia in Russia, which he thought would follow the inevitable collapse of communism.

    Ilyin’s ideal Russia would resemble the fascist states of the 1920s and 1930s. The anxieties of a population demoralized by harsh socioeconomic conditions would be channeled into glorifying a redeeming, savior-like leader who promised to defend the nation from external threats – whether or not those threats really existed. Violence would be glorified over reason, and propaganda would triumph over rational discourse.

    But Ilyin went a step further than the one-party fascist states in Europe at the time; he thought that even one real political party was too many. A multi-party system might be useful in order to justify the ritual of holding elections, but all real power should be invested in a man, not a party, and this man would be in charge of the government, judiciary and armed forces.

    Ilyin’s writings on his ideal Russian fascism had been banned and dormant for decades. But with the liberalization of Russian media in the 1990s, his books again began to circulate.

    And after Putin’s election in 2000, this accelerated. Ilyin’s books were recommended to school pupils, and Russian civil servants were given copies of his complete writings. Putin even arranged the transport of his body from Switzerland for reburial in Moscow in 2005.

    For Putin, implementing Ilyin’s vision of a right-wing dictatorship in Russia has proven successful. But to discover how we got there, we must go back to the tragic events of September 1999, three months before Putin would be named acting president of Russia upon the resignation of Boris Yeltsin.

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    What is The Road to Unfreedom about?

    The Road to Unfreedom (2018) chronicles the extraordinary political age we are now living in. Russian expansionism, led by Vladimir Putin, threatens to encroach on the freedoms that people in Europe and America enjoy. After having successfully helping to bring about Brexit, the Kremlin set its gaze on the United States and, in doing so, played a central role in ushering in the Donald Trump presidency. And with Europe in the midst of a right-wing ascendancy, Russia is wielding a greater influence than ever before.

    Best quote from The Road to Unfreedom

    Ilyin and Putin rose together, the philosopher and the politician of fiction.

    —Timothy Snyder
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    Who should read The Road to Unfreedom?

    • Anyone hoping to understand why right-wing populism is on the rise
    • Americans looking to find out how Russia influenced the 2016 election
    • Students of political science, international relations or history

    About the Author

    Timothy Snyder is an American author and the Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University. In addition to being a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, he has authored numerous critically-acclaimed historical works such as Bloodlands and On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.

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