Oct 24, 2021 • 10M

Lesson 5. Remember professional ethics (podcast).

On Tyranny, illustrated for the 2020s

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Timothy Snyder
The words we need for the politics of today.
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As you know, I am releasing new discussions of the twenty lessons from On Tyranny, first as videos (notifying subscribers) and then as podcasts (for everyone). We have reached the fifth of twenty podcasts. In the book, the fifth lesson reads:

“Remember professional ethics.  When political leaders set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become more important. It is hard to subvert a rule-of-law state without lawyers, or to hold show trials without judges.  Authoritarians need obedient civil servants, and concentration camp directors seek businessmen interested in cheap labor.”

We know from these and other examples (which I develop in the book) how quickly professions can adapt (and how the shame of having done so endures). But we also have hopeful signs, for example from 2020, of how professional ethics can adapt in positive ways. It mattered that reputable lawyers stayed away from Mr. Trump’s coup attempt, and that reputable judges insisted on rules of evidence. It mattered that business leaders and organized labor, in an unusual moment of unity, rejected Mr. Trump’s big lie in a timely fashion.