The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America

Image of The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America
Release Date: 
April 3, 2018
Tim Duggan Books
Reviewed by: 

Robert Mueller’s investigations can stop. If they seek proof of a conspiracy between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign to determine the U.S. 2016 presidential  elections, the Special Counsel investigator and his team will find all the evidence they need in the final pages of The Road to Unfreedom by Yale historian Timothy Snyder. 

A master of analysis using multiple sources, Snyder draws on Russian, German, and other European languages as well as a wide spectrum of books and periodicals in English to make the case. His synthesis describes and documents how Putin’s agents worked with Trump’s entourage to steal the election for Trump.

Trump’s election, Snyder argues, can be understood as a victory for the “eternity” vision of world affairs over the “end of history/inevitability” thesis that emerged after the collapse of Soviet Communism. The eternity theory emerges from the writings of Ivan Ilyin (Il’in) (1883–1954), an arch conservative publicist-philosopher opposed to the Bolshevik revolution.

His lectures and books portrayed Russia as  a pure and innocent victim of Western oppression and manipulation. Despite Ilyin’s opposition to Soviet Communism, Vladimir Putin and his PR people resurrected Ilyin’s writings and even his corpse, originally buried in Switzerland, and had it reburied in Moscow in 2005.

“Eternity” means that nothing really changes, because history circles back on itself. Orthodox Christian Russia was always pure and, after some interruptions, can and will regain its innocence. The many non-Russians living in Russia or along its near-abroad periphery will find their true identity by bowing to the Moscow Kremlin.

Putin and his agents strive to undermine the confident worldview of Europeans and Americans who accept as inevitable the progress of Western democracy and capitalist/welfare state economics. To this end the Kremlin used cyberwarfare to bolster the UK “Brexit” from the European Union and to foster right-wing parties in France, Germany, and elsewhere. Russian bots and trolls exploited the dissatisfactions born of growing inequality in the United States.

Russians abetted what Snyder calls Trump’s “sado-populism”—his ostensible appeal to those left behind and subsequent demolition of their access to education and health care. Not by accident, the very states whose electoral votes won the White House for Trump are also leaders in opioid addiction and death. Their misery and despair show up in the ballot box as well as in the morbidity rankings of public health statistics.

Are Americans and the rest of humanity locked into what Sartre termed “No Exit”? Snyder calls for a politics of responsibility and virtue rather than hubristic trust that America is a predestined model of progress. His book, however, underscores the difficulty in opposing the oligarchical clans who have shaped recent politics—the Mercers (Breitbart News and Steve Bannon), Trump-Kushner, and the Koch brothers (unlimited campaign contributions).  

Demonstrating that nothing is simple, Breitbart reported on April 6, 2018, that “billionaire Charles Koch says he and his network of libertarian organizations are ’working hard against’ President Trump’s popular, pro-American trade agenda.”

Snyder’s book is quite readable—its text backed by more than 50 pages of lengthy endnotes, one or two notes in multiple languages for nearly every page of text.