Timothy Snyder, “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From The 20th Century”

13:42
there are very different ideas there are
still very different ideas the hypnosis
of the end of history is something that
we have to break ourselves out of the
fist thing that I think I’ve understood
is that the catalyst or if you want the
lubricant of regime change is mistrust

right the sense of uncertainty the sense
that nothing is real or nothing is true

if you are having that feeling now as
many Americans are you are right we’re
Russians were about a decade ago okay
they’re much further along now right
there they’re in a different place now
as people say but if you have that sense
that you don’t know who to trust as
journalism real as history real you know
should I listen to white men wearing
ties actually the answer is generally no
right and make it but but make an
exception right make an exception oh no
no I think I feel I feel like Sean
Spicer has totally ruined this look for
me but but i but i don’t know where else
to go so like maybe you know maybe you
can help you out afterwards anyway that
that mistrust is the rubric mistrust
makes it happen right because if you
don’t think anything’s true and you
don’t trust anyone then the rule of law
can’t work
and if the rule of law can’t
work then democracy is going to fall
right democracy depends on the rule of
law rule of law has depends on a certain
basic level of trust that basic level of
trust it’s not that we agree about
everything but that we agree there’s a
world in there facts in it if you lose
that then you lose rule of law then you
lose democracy right and the people who
are going after trusts the people who
are tweeting random things at 5:30 in
the morning right they are consciously
ripping out the heart of democracy it’s
not the skin right it’s not the muscle
that’s going to resigned it’s not the
bones it’s going right for the heart
it’s skipping the step of democracy
right it’s going right for the heart
it’s ripping out the thing which makes
democracy possible the final thing the

 

number 19
is the one about patriotism in general
the ones towards the end of the book are
meant to come later but you know
sometimes events outpace you or catch or
catch you up as Vic and I like to say
catch you up be a patriot set a good the
generations to come they will need it
what is patriotism let us begin with
what patriotism is not it is not
patriotic to dodge the draft and to mock
war heroes and their families
it is not patriotic to discriminate
against active duty members of the Armed
Forces and one’s companies or a campaign
to keep disabled veterans away from
one’s property it is not patriotic to
compare one search for sexual partners
in New York with the military service in
Vietnam that one has dodged it is not
patriotic to avoid paying taxes
especially when American working
families do pay it is not patriotic to
ask those working taxpaying American
families to finance one’s own
presidential campaign and then to spend
their contributions in one’s own in
one’s own companies it is not patriotic
to admire foreign dictators it is not
patriotic to cultivate a relationship
with Muammar Gaddafi or to say that
Bashar al-assad and Vladimir Putin are
superior leaders it is not patriotic to
call upon Russia to intervene in an
American presidential election
it is not patriotic to cite Russian
propaganda at rallies it is not
patriotic to share an advisor with
Russian oligarchs and is not patriotic
to solicit foreign policy advice from
someone who owns shares in a Russian
energy company it is not patriotic to
read a foreign policy speech written by
someone on the payroll of a Russian
energy company it is not patriotic to
appoint a national security advisor who
is taking money from a Russian
propaganda organ it is not patriotic to
appointed Secretary of State an oil man
with Russian financial interests who is
the director of a Russian American
energy company and has received the
order of friendship from Putin the point
is not that Russia and America must be
enemies the point is that patriotism
involves serving your own country the
president is a nationalist which is not
at all the same things a patriot a
nationalist encourages us to be our
worst and then tells us that we are the
best a nationalist quote although
endlessly brooding on power victory
defeat revenge wrote Orwell tends to be
quote uninterested in what happens in
the real world
unquote nationalism is relativist since
the only truth is the resentment we feel
when we contemplate others as the
novelist bunnyville keys put it
nationalism quote has no universal
values aesthetic or ethical a patriot by
contrast wants the nation to live up to
its ideals which means asking us to be
our best selves a patriot must be
concerned with the real world which is
the only place where his country can be
loved and sustained a patriot has
universal values standards by which he
judges his nation always wishing it well
and wishing that it would do better
democracy failed in Europe in the 1920s
1930s and 1940s and it is failing
not only in much of Europe but in many
parts of the world today it is that
history and experience that reveals to
us the dark range of our possible
futures a nationalist will say that it
can’t happen here which is the first
step towards disaster a patriot says
that it could happen here look that we
will stop it thank
41:03
I don’t I don’t have a silver bullet for
that but I do have some ways of trying
to get one’s mind around it the first is
that is is technological I mean it just
it just turns out that the Internet does
not open the broad you know the broad
sweep towards the positive globalization
that Al Gore was dreaming of right in
the 1990s that just isn’t true just like
it wasn’t true with a book which brought
us the Wars of Religion right just like
it wasn’t true a radio which brought us
fascism all of these new I mean not
alone right but all of these new
technologies are extremely unpredictable
for some like transition period that may
last a hundred years right there they’re
very unpredictable so art like our kind
of and this is something this is a
bubble that I think Hillary Clinton
herself was caught in her campaign was
caught in people on these coats were
thought and people did not realize what
the internet actually was right what it
was actually doing and this is I mean
there’s an empirical thing here there’s
a technical thing here the empirical
thing is people just did not realize how
how siloed off we had become I didn’t
realize it until I actually started
talking to real took when I was
canvassing and talking to Trump voters
in the Midwest and then I realized like
this is so dumb but it was at that
moment that I realized just how
different my facebook feed was from
other people’s because if you hear from
what seemed to be 25 independent sources
that Hillary Clinton is a murderer and
you’ve been hearing it for six months
you might well believe it
all right I mean that’s not surprising
which is the technical thing not enough
people again really a Clinton campaign
whatever realized that
Donald Trump actually had a campaign
advantage right we talked incessantly
about being a ground game ground game I
saw the ground game you know it’s like
it’s twice all agree I what the ground
game in the AK in the ground game which
is below the ground game right and what
the Russians called a psycho sphere
Trump had a tremendous advantage how
much of that was actually is campaigning
how much there was actually the Russians
I don’t know but in terms of the bots in
terms of the technical distribution of
the false news at the generation and
technical distribution he had a huge
advantage and what turned out almost
certainly be a decisive advantage these
are things that we have to understand
and get our mind around now in terms of
what we can do I mean obviously like you
know Zuckerberg can do a lot and people
who are in charge of news distribution
can can do a lot there are two little
things I mean one is kind of just a
declaration I think 2017 is already and
is going to be a heroic year for
journalism I mean and I be absolutely
mean heroic like if this is going to
turn around it’s going to be because of
people pursuing old fashioned stories
and old-fashioned ways and printing and
publishing very often in print journals
who can afford or at least try to try to
afford to be able to do such things and
and I mean it’s also generationally like
there are a lot of really interesting
young people who now see journalism as
edgy and they’re right right like the
whole threat like that the phrase
mainstream media that’s not like what’s
mainstream is the derision of the media
that’s the mainstream right being a
journalist is now edgy and dangerous and
interesting right and I think maybe
historically meaningful and you know the
little thing I say in the book which is
obvious I’m sure you all do it is that
we need to pay for a bunch of
subscriptions because if everybody pays
for subscriptions that will actually be
enough to subsidize investigations right
and that I mean even we know that people
like us often don’t do that right and if
we all did it that would make a huge
difference and then finally there’s like
there’s the internet self policing which
is it we have to think we have to
remember that we are all now publishers
right and so therefore we all every
every individual makes a difference in
terms of what is actually being
distributed right if we think about it
that way then each of us can make us
feel better to write like if you picked
reporters from the real world follow
their work
get to know them as it were and then
distribute their work online then you’re
being a publisher who’s doing a little
bit of good so let the day-to-day level
that’s something that we can do thank
that the cleat and actually the question
we just had the cleavages are going to
change they’re already changing and in
Europe they’re it’s further along than
than here because certain things are
further along in Europe and here but I
think the real dividing lines are fact
and post fact and and
anti-authoritarianism authoritarianism
and I think the anti I think I agree
with your premise the anti-authoritarian
case is unfortunately a case that has to
be made right it can lose but I think
that’s the case that has to be made and
it goes back to how one wins also the
anti-authoritarian z– have to include a
good deal of my view conservatives
people who vote Republican right people
who people who think there should be a
Constitution although they would have
they would disagree about policy you
know perhaps with me right the
anti-authoritarian camp is gonna have to
include a lot of folks like that as well
so so so my answer is that of course
you’re right I mean the Bill of Rights
is there for the reason you give that’s
why the Bill of Rights is there it’s not
there because it’s popular it’s there
because it would be unpopular right who
wants to separate church and state it’d
be so much more fun to have my you know
my church right I mean who’s not tempted
by that right few people okay so like
okay I was going to list all I want a
favor anyway there are a few
denominations who have maybe not beats
but in general like we you belong for
rare tradition if you belong to a
tradition which has never try to take
over the state at some point or found a
state right so how is dividing church
and state popular it’s not meant to be
popular it’s meant to be sensible these
things are not meant to be popular and
so that means they have to be defended
precisely but I think I think there is
enough of a consensus around
Constitution that one can at least start
there as a way of shaming people or
gathering people but I mean my basic my
basic notion is that you get yeah it
goes on very deep it’s whether you’re
going to authoritarian or
anti-authoritarian and the people who
are trying to change things already know
they’re authoritarians right so here we
just one of the comments when Hillary
Clinton stated at the time that Russia
was taking over Crimea and invading rule
and she compared it to sedating land
takeover and everybody scoffs better she
had to pull it back but I don’t know
whether you thought that was more apt
than some B’s well I mean on and
Elizabeth who was a very gifted and
conservative Russian historian made the
same comparison and lost his lost his
job for it no of course it’s apt right
so here’s like here’s how Americans join
you with history the Americans deal with
history as though history were an mp3
and if it doesn’t sound exactly the same
when you punch the button as it did the
previous time then you think something’s
wrong right that’s what American says if
it does if it doesn’t repeat perfectly
so if Americans will say oh well there
no there no swastikas so no jackboots
I’m changing the channel I’m afraid like
that’s our Nats our national response to
the history this whole taboo thing about
the 1930s is a way of saying well in the
in the naive view and the naive view
it’s a way of saying okay we don’t know
anything about history that’s fine right
because no analogies can be perfect
I mean Crimean sedate land is actually
an extremely good analogy it’s a very
close analogy right but none is going to
be perfect right and so saying oh that’s
just an analogy or that’s a way of just
not thinking about history and once you
don’t think about history you’re done
you’re finished because history is the
only thing which teaches you how people
have successfully resisted it’s also the
only thing we teaches you how
institutions are constructed right so
the moment you say oh no comparisons
you’re done forget it right it’s over so
it’s a very it’s a very dangerous very
dangerous move and in the dark version
the non naive version in the dark
version it’s quite deliberate you know
you say well I you know I am NOT exactly
like Hitler and therefore it’s okay
right and we’re getting to that point
right you know they’re nothing is wrong
I’m overstating this slightly but not
much
nothing is wrong because they’re on
concentration camps yet no no no no you
know and there weren’t you know the
wrong concentration camps in in January
1933 either right okay

Boris Johnson Loses to Democracy

The prime minister is effectively at war with the Parliament for which he once promised to “take back control.”

LONDON — Boris Johnson has begun with defeat.

Legislators voted last night to seize control of Parliament, alarmed by the prime minister’s insistence that he will take Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31, even if no deal with the bloc has been reached. On Wednesday, opposition legislators and rebels from Mr. Johnson’s own party will try to pass a law mandating the prime minister to ask for an extension to the deadline if he still has no deal.

It promises to be a week of high political drama in Westminster — and the culmination of over two years of intricate tactical maneuvers and procedural minutiae that have marked British politics.

Time is so short because Mr. Johnson last Wednesday “prorogued” parliament, mothballing it for five weeks from next week: If the bill fails to become law by that point, it automatically falls. The unusual length of the suspension has already occasioned protests across Britain. Demonstrators called it a “coup,” and the speaker of the House of Commons called it a “constitutional outrage.”

Yet on Tuesday night, with Parliament having again flexed its long dormant democratic muscle, it was Mr. Johnson who looked isolated. Furious, he vowed to seek new elections, and stripped the whip from all his rebels — including prominent party grandees — effectively barring them from running again as Conservative candidates.

The conflict has laid bare deep tensions in Britain’s democracy — between the prime minister and Parliament, and between the people and the politics that claims to represent them.

Britain’s Parliament is anomalous. Having failed to sustain its 17th-century deposition of the monarchy, and having been the imperial power rather than the colonized one, Britain has never had a founding constitutional moment. Instead its democracy has evolved within an accreted mass of archaic institutions, including an unelected upper chamber that was until the late 20th century composed of hereditary aristocrats. This grandeur itself has sometimes been thought to be a powerful conservative influence: The Labour politician Nye Bevan once wrote it “lies like an Alp” on the mind of a new member of Parliament.

Under its ritual pomp, Parliament’s curious evolution has made it unusually powerful. A prime minister with a substantial majority has broad latitude to remake the country, as Margaret Thatcher and to a lesser extent Tony Blair did. But without a solid majority, Parliament has great power to resist even the most ambitious leader.

Legislators’ tactics this week are not entirely new: A similar procedure was used to take control and force Theresa May, Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, to seek an extension in April. But the complexity of the new bill — which intends to prescribe Mr. Johnson’s approach to the European Union in exacting detail — reflects the total breakdown in trust between executive and legislature.

April’s version of the bill passed partly because Mrs. May recognized she had lost; Mr. Johnson will use every means at his disposal to frustrate the new bill, including attempts to filibuster its progress in the unelected upper house. Promising a scorched earth, the prime minister is effectively at war with the Parliament for which he once promised to “take back control.”

Despite the throng of demonstrators outside Parliament — roared slogans and vast European Union flags are a daily backdrop to news broadcasts — the political progress of Brexit has been a markedly institutional affair, conducted through arcane procedural instruments and prominent court battles. The alien language of parliamentary procedure — “prorogation,” “humble addresses,” “paving motions” — is parsed for an unfamiliar public by constitutional experts who have rarely been in such demand.

The interviews with members of the public that dot the news vary from bafflement to outright loathing of politics; enthusiasm is a rare beast. According to Hansard Society research, civic trust is threadbare: Only a third of people trust politicians to act in the public interest, and just under half feel they have no influence at all on decision-making.

Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union was always likely to be a vastly complex technical matter, and the bloc’s tendency to conduct politics through intricate sequencing lends itself to squabbles over procedural minutiae. But the cause of the proliferating conflict in British politics has always been domestic: Despite losing her majority in 2017, Mrs. May’s conduct of Brexit was distinguished by her autocratic instincts and determination to avoid parliamentary consultation.

The same highhanded conduct saw her first dragged to the Supreme Court to assert Parliament’s right of a “meaningful vote,” and then locked in a battle with Parliament over the disclosure of the attorney general’s legal advice. That battle saw her censured for “contempt of Parliament.” The phrase epitomizes her successor’s entire attitude.

One consequence of the prominence of procedural conflicts since the Brexit referendum has been to transfer the political questions which drove it into arguments about legal permissibility. Questions about

  • the kind of state the Britain wishes to be,
  • relations among its constituent nations, its
  • draconian attitudes to migrants, its
  • vexed history in Ireland,
  • how it makes domestic political choices and
  • how far it wishes economic integration with other European states —

all are folded into, and sometimes disappear in, conflicts over parliamentary rights and legal obligations.

It is then no wonder that apparently arid matters suddenly take on intense but displaced political energy — the kind that saw High Court judges branded “enemies of the people” on the front pages of the tabloid press and that turned usually pacific sections of society into ardent protesters.

The institutional confinement of the Brexit process has been seized on by Dominic Cummings, the former director of Vote Leave, now Mr. Johnson’s chief adviser and architect of his hard-line strategy. Mr. Cummings recognizes a fault line in Britain’s democratic structure: between an exercise conducted by plebiscite — the Brexit referendum — and the conventional, deliberative methods used to interpret and deliver the consequences of that vote.

By painting the referendum as the sole truly democratic exercise, with all subsequent debates and concerns over rights a matter of cynical pettifogging and anti-Brexit trickery, he believes he can deliver a reconfigured political landscape, straddled by Mr. Johnson as a flaxen-haired avatar of the popular will.

Perhaps Mr. Cummings has in mind that half the people surveyed by Hansard claimed they longed for a strong leader to “break the rules” of politics. Yet the strongman has feet of clay. If suspending Parliament was intended to demonstrate Mr. Johnson’s credentials as a champion of the people, it managed to unite only 27 percent of them. Further overreach as the prime minister attempts to break Parliament to his will is unlikely to improve that number.

Nobody doubts new elections are on the horizon, the central issues of which will be shaped in the next weeks. It will be an election that Mr. Johnson intends to fight on a narrow Brexit question. To beat him, the Labour Party, which has been as troubled by division between the two Brexit camps as the country as a whole, will not only need a clear message on Brexit but also some means of bridging its divide. Democracy could be a powerful theme: not just its defense in Parliament but its extension beyond Parliament’s feudal residues and monarchical hangovers, into Britain’s regions and its antiquated electoral system.

It is widely known that Mr. Johnson wants a “people versus politicians” election. Perhaps it is time for the opposition to push for “the country versus Boris Johnson.”

Brexit Vote Goes Against Boris Johnson, and He Calls for an Election

British lawmakers on Tuesday rose up against Prime Minister Boris Johnson, moving to prevent him from taking the country out of the European Union without a formal agreement. The epic showdown has Britain on the verge of a snap general election.

After losing his first-ever vote as prime minister, Mr. Johnson stood up in Parliament and said he intended to present a formal request for an election to lawmakers, who would have to approve it.

A little over a month ago, Mr. Johnson, a brash, blustery politician often compared to President Trump, swept into office with a vow to finally wrest Britain from the European Union by whatever means necessary, even if it meant a disorderly, no-deal departure.

Now, Parliament has pulled the rug out from under him, and Mr. Johnson is at risk of falling into the same Brexit quagmire that dragged down his predecessor as prime minister, Theresa May.

The lawmakers forced his hand by voting by 328 to 301 to take control of Parliament away from the government and vote on legislation as soon as Wednesday that would block the prime minister from making good on his threat of a no-deal Brexit.

That prompted an angry response from the prime minister.

“I don’t want an election, the public don’t want an election, but if the House votes for this bill tomorrow, the public will have to choose who goes to Brussels on Oct. 17 to sort this out and take this country forward,” Mr. Johnson said, referring to the next European Union summit.

Tuesday was a critical moment in Britain’s tortured, three-year effort to extract itself from the European Union. The saga has divided Britons, torn apart the ruling Conservative Party and prompted complaints that Mr. Johnson has trampled the conventions of the country’s unwritten constitution.

A majority of lawmakers are determined to block a withdrawal from the European Union without a deal, which they believe would be disastrous for the country’s economy. Tuesday’s vote suggested they have the numbers to succeed.

Mr. Johnson’s aides had made clear that, in the event of a defeat on Tuesday, he would seek a general election on Oct. 14 — just a little over two weeks before the Brexit deadline of Oct. 31.

Phillip Lee with the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, after defecting from his Conservative Party on Tuesday.
CreditRoger Harris/U.K Parliament

The accelerating pace of events suggests that Britain’s Brexit nightmare may finally be approaching an endgame after years of paralysis.

Tuesday’s vote also marked the moment when Mr. Johnson’s hardball tactics, for once, were met with equal resistance.

On a day of high drama, Mr. Johnson lost his working majority in Parliament even before the vote took place, when one Conservative rebel, Phillip Lee, quit the party to join the Liberal Democrats, who have managed to stage a resurgence by positioning themselves as an unambiguously anti-Brexit party.

The practical effect of Mr. Lee’s defection for Mr. Johnson was limited, however, because the government would fall only if it were defeated in a confidence motion.

But in moment weighty with symbolism, Mr. Lee walked across the floor of the House of Commons and sat beside Jo Swinson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, as the prime minister was speaking about the recent Group of 7 summit. Mr. Lee accused Mr. Johnson of pursuing a damaging withdrawal from the European Union in unprincipled ways, and of “putting lives and livelihoods at risk.”

Mr. Lee’s break with the Tories was most likely just the first of many.

On Tuesday, Downing Street said it would press ahead with plans to discipline those rebels who voted against the government by expelling them from the Conservative Party in Parliament. They include two former chancellors of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond and Kenneth Clarke, and Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill.

That could threaten Mr. Johnson’s ability to manage day-to-day business in Parliament, underscoring the need for a new election.

The extent of the Tory civil war was on full display as several of Mr. Johnson’s Conservative critics, including the former chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, lobbed hostile questions at him, making it plain that they had not been brought back into line by threats of expulsion from the party.

Opponents of a no-deal Brexit argue that Mr. Johnson’s promise to leave the bloc without a deal, if necessary, would be catastrophic for the British economy. Many experts say it could lead to shortages of food, fuel and medicine, and wreak havoc on parts of the manufacturing sector that rely on the seamless flow of goods across the English Channel. Leaked government reports paint a bleak picture of what it might look like.

Mr. Johnson says he needs to keep the no-deal option on the table to give him leverage in talks in Brussels, because an abrupt exitwould also damage continental economies, if not as much as Britain’s. The prime minister appealed to his own lawmakers not to support what he called “Jeremy Corbyn’s surrender bill,” a reference to the leader of the opposition Labour Party.

“It means running up the white flag,” he said.

Mr. Johnson also claimed to have made progress in talks with European Union leaders, although his own Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, on Monday gave a much less rosy assessment of the state of negotiations.

Demonstrators protesting Mr. Johnson and Brexit marched outside Parliament on Tuesday.
CreditAndrew Testa for The New York Times

Britain’s main demand is for the European Union to ditch the so-called Irish backstop, a guarantee that the bloc insists it needs to ensure that goods flow smoothly across the Irish border whatever happens in trade negotiations with Britain. Mr. Johnson said he planned to visit Dublin next week for talks with his Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar.

Conservative rebels believe Mr. Johnson is more interested in uniting Brexit supporters behind him ahead of a general election than in securing an agreement in Brussels.

One former chancellor of the Exchequer, Kenneth Clarke, accused Mr. Johnson of setting impossible conditions for the negotiations, attaching as much blame as possible to the European Union for the failure to get a deal and then seeking to hold a “flag-waving election” before the disadvantages of leaving without an agreement become apparent.

The bitter dispute has taken Britain into new political territory.

Last week, Mr. Johnson provoked outrage by curtailing Parliament’s sessions in September and October, compacting the amount of time lawmakers would have to deal with the most crucial decision the country has faced in decades.

Mr. Johnson’s allies argue that it is the rebels who are subverting the principles of Britain’s unwritten constitution by seizing control of the proceedings of Parliament that are normally the preserve of the government.

The European Commission said on Tuesday that while the frequency of meetings between its Brexit team and the British negotiator, David Frost, had increased, little headway had been made toward avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Asked whether the British government was using reports of its talks with the commission for political purposes at home, the commission’s spokeswoman, Mina Andreeva, said that the body was “an honest broker, as always.” She said she could not “report any concrete proposals having being made that we have seen.”

Mr. Hammond, a senior member of the cabinet two months ago, told the BBC on Tuesday that Mr. Johnson’s claim of progress on the negotiations was “disingenuous.”

To add to the turmoil and confusion, the opposition Labour Party suggested it might thwart Mr. Johnson’s attempt to push for a general election, should it come to that. Under a 2011 law, the prime minister needs a two-thirds majority to secure a snap election, although it is possible that the government might try to legislate to set that provision aside, a move that would mean it needs only a simply majority.

There is so little trust in British politics that Mr. Johnson’s opponents fear that he might request an election for Oct. 14 but then switch the date until after Oct. 31 as part of a move to lock in a no-deal withdrawal.

Labour has said that its priority is to stop Britain leaving the European Union without a deal, because of concerns about what such a departure would mean for the economy.

But Labour’s stance underscores that the backdrop to everything in British politics is a sense that a general election is looming, with key players maneuvering for the most advantageous moment.

What Ever Happened to Google Books?

It was the most ambitious library project of our time—a plan to scan all of the world’s books and make them available to the public online. “We think that we can do it all inside of ten years,” Marissa Mayer, who was then a vice-president at Google, said to this magazine in 2007, when Google Books was in its beta stage. “It’s mind-boggling to me, how close it is.”

Today, the project sits in a kind of limbo. On one hand, Google has scanned an impressive thirty million volumes, putting it in a league with the world’s larger libraries (the library of Congress has around thirty-seven million books). That is a serious accomplishment. But while the corpus is impressive, most of it remains inaccessible. Searches of out-of-print books often yield mere snippets of the text—there is no way to gain access to the whole book. The thrilling thing about Google Books, it seemed to me, was not just the opportunity to read a line here or there; it was the possibility of exploring the full text of millions of out-of-print books and periodicals that had no real commercial value but nonetheless represented a treasure trove for the public. In other words, it would be the world’s first online library worthy of that name. And yet the attainment of that goal has been stymied, despite Google having at its disposal an unusual combination of technological means, the agreement of many authors and publishers, and enough money to compensate just about everyone who needs it.

The problems began with a classic culture clash when, in 2002, Google began just scanning books, either hoping that the idealism of the project would win everyone over or following the mantra that it is always easier to get forgiveness than permission. That approach didn’t go over well with authors and publishers, who sued for copyright infringement. Two years of insults, ill will, and litigation ensued. Nonetheless, by 2008, representatives of authors, publishers, and Google did manage to reach a settlement to make the full library available to the public, for pay, and to institutions. In the settlement agreement, they also put terminals in libraries, but didn’t ever get around to doing that. But that agreement then came under further attacks from a whole new set of critics, including the author Ursula Le Guin, who called it a “deal with the devil.” Others argued that the settlement could create a monopoly in online, out-of-print books.

Four years ago, a federal judge sided with the critics and threw out the 2008 settlement, adding that aspects of the copyright issue would be more appropriately decided by the legislature. “Sounds like a job for Congress,” James Grimmelmann, a law professor at the University of Maryland and one of the settlement’s more vocal antagonists, said at the time. But, of course, leaving things to Congress has become a synonym for doing nothing, and, predictably, a full seven years after the court decision was first announced, we’re still waiting.

There are plenty of ways to attribute blame in this situation. If Google was, in truth, motivated by the highest ideals of service to the public, then it should have declared the project a non-profit from the beginning, thereby extinguishing any fears that the company wanted to somehow make a profit from other people’s work. Unfortunately, Google made the mistake it often makes, which is to assume that people will trust it just because it’s Google. For their part, authors and publishers, even if they did eventually settle, were difficult and conspiracy-minded, particularly when it came to weighing abstract and mainly worthless rights against the public’s interest in gaining access to obscure works. Finally, the outside critics and the courts were entirely too sanguine about killing, as opposed to improving, a settlement that took so many years to put together, effectively setting the project back a decade if not longer.

In the past few years, the Authors Guild has usefully proposed a solution known as an “extended collective licensing” system. Using a complex mechanism, it would allow the owners of scanned, out-of-print libraries, such as Google or actual non-profits like the Hathitrust library, to make a limited set of them available with payouts to authors. The United States Copyright Office supports this plan. I have a simpler suggestion, nicknamed the Big Bang license. Congress should allow anyone with a scanned library to pay some price—say, a hundred and twenty-five million dollars—to gain a license, subject to any opt-outs, allowing them to make those scanned prints available to institutional or individual subscribers. That money would be divided equally among all the rights holders who came forward to claim it in a three-year window—split fifty-fifty between authors and publishers. It is, admittedly, a crude, one-time solution to the problem, but it would do the job, and it might just mean that the world would gain access to the first real online library within this lifetime.