Snyder’s warnings

30 03 2023

Since Timothy Snyder is such a key figure in today’s debates over the Russian invasion of Ukraine (and over the larger global context in which they figure), and since I had intended to write something about him and his critics but have not done that yet, I was happy to see Robert Baird’s long-form article about him, which appeared in today’s Guardian. In “Putin, Trump, Ukraine: how Timothy Snyder became the leading interpreter of our dark times,” Baird covers all these things and more.

On the debate between “realists” and those I previously called “culturalists“, Baird writes:

This emphasis on ideas has led Snyder to be criticised by some in the realist school of international relations. Emma Ashford, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center, a thinktank, counts herself an admirer of Snyder’s historical work, but she also says that his “understanding of world affairs is almost indelibly shaped by what he thinks are the big important ideas, whereas I would say that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was motivated as much by trying to prop up its falling security in the region”. The dispute is not academic. If you believe, as Ashford does, that Russia is motivated by strategic fears, then every additional degree of western involvement risks exacerbating the original causes of the war and prolonging the conflict. By contrast, if you believe with Snyder that the war’s roots lie in Putin’s fascist worldview, then victory on the battlefield becomes imperative. “A lot of smart people have said it before me, but fascism was never discredited. It was only defeated,” he says. “The Russians have to be defeated, just like the Germans were defeated.”

The article provides an intellectual biography of Snyder including his work as a historian of Eastern Europe and of the Holocaust, as well as his writings as a “public intellectual” analyzing Trumpism, Putinism, and much more.

It can be read here.



One response

14 04 2023
Michael Dawson

Isn’t there a third possibility: Putin’s fascism and this war are both efforts to wag the kleptocratic dog? Security worries strike me as unconvincing.

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