The Politics of Eternity

Timothy Snyder’s second difficult concept in his book The Road to Unfreedom was the politics of eternity.  This was the successor to the politics of inevitability.

As Snyder said,

“The collapse of inevitability ushers in another experience of time: the politics of eternity.  Whereas inevitability promises a better future for everyone, eternity places one nation at the center of a cyclical story of victimhood. Time is no longer a line into the future, but a circle that endlessly returns the threats from the past.  Within inevitability, no one is responsible because we all know that the details will sort themselves out for the better; within eternity, no one is responsible because we all know that the enemy is coming no matter what we do. Eternity politicians spread the conviction that government cannot aid society as a whole, but can only guard against threats. Progress gives way to doom.


In power, eternity politicians manufacture crisis and manipulate the resultant emotion. To distract from their inability or unwillingness to reform, eternity politicians instruct their citizens to experience elation  and outrage at short intervals, drowning the future in the present. In foreign policy, eternity politicians belittle and undo the achievements of countries that might seem like models to their own citizens. Using technology to transmit political fiction, both home and abroad, eternity politicians deny truth and seek to reduce life to spectacle and feeling.”


The politics of eternity follows closely behind the politics of inevitability. There are two versions of it one western the other from eastern Europe, though the lines of separation can be porous. The politics of inevitability come first. After that,

“Eternity arises from inevitability like a ghost from a corpse. The capitalist version of the politics of inevitability, the market as a substitute for policy, generates economic inequality that undermines belief in progress. As social mobility halts, inevitability gives way to eternity, and democracy gives way to oligarchy. An oligarchy spinning a tale of an innocent past, perhaps with the help of fascist ideas, offers fake protection to people with real pain. Faith that technology serves freedom opens the way to his spectacle.  As distraction replaces concentration, the future dissolves in the frustrations of the present, and eternity becomes daily life. The oligarch crosses into real politics from a world of fiction, and governs by invoking myth and manufacturing crisis. In the 2010s, one such person, Vladimir Putin escorted another, Donald Trump from fiction to power.”


Putin was Russia’s eternity leader and Trump was America’s version.

I don’t think it is fair to characterize Donald Trump as a fascist. Not quite anyway. He was an authoritarian who wanted to be a fascist, but he was held back, so far at least, and just barely, by the institutions of American democracy and honest government officials who thwarted his intentions in 2020 when he spelled out for the world to see that he wanted tyranny. The frightening thing is that more than 73 million Americans voted for him, after he made his intentions clear. After 4 years in power no American who paid any attention at all could honestly say they did not know the real Trump. Trump put himself front and forward at all times for all to see. He did not hide, he announced his intentions for all to hear. No one in the history of the world has been more in the public eye than Trump.


Yet America escaped tyranny by the thinnest of margins. It took a courageous Supreme Court packed with 3 members of Trump’s personal choosing, stalwart Republican and Democrat officials who refused to give in to his claims of a fraudulent election, solid lower courts, and a determined party of Democrats to hold Trump back from his goal—i.e. tyranny.


Of course, as we all know, Trump did not die. He is still hanging around. He could come back and realize his dreams of fascist power and there are many enablers, many in the Republican party, doing all they can do to bring about that result. We don’t know what will happen.

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