Nancy L. Rosenblum and Russell Muirhead

Nov 16, 2020

Conspiracy Theories are More Dangerous Than Ever

A Discussion with Russell Muirhead and Nancy L. Rosenblum

Princeton University Press 2020

Conspiracy theories are as old as politics. But conspiracists today have introduced something new—conspiracy without theory. And the new conspiracism has moved from the fringes to the heart of government with the election of Donald Trump. In A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2019), Russell Muirhead and Nancy L. Rosenblum show how the new conspiracism differs from classic conspiracy theory, why so few officials speak truth to conspiracy, and what needs to be done to resist it.

Classic conspiracy theory insists that things are not what they seem and gathers evidence—especially facts ominously withheld by official sources—to tease out secret machinations. The new conspiracism is different. There is no demand for evidence, no dots revealed to form a pattern, no close examination of shadowy plotters. Dispensing with the burden of explanation, the new conspiracism imposes its own reality through repetition (exemplified by the Trump catchphrase “a lot of people are saying”) and bare assertion (“rigged!”).

The new conspiracism targets democratic foundations—political parties and knowledge-producing institutions. It makes it more difficult to argue, persuade, negotiate, compromise, and even to disagree. Ultimately, it delegitimates democracy.

Filled with vivid examples, A Lot of People Are Saying diagnoses a defining and disorienting feature of today’s politics and offers a guide to responding to the threat.

Marshall Poe is the editor of the New Books Network. He can be reached at marshallpoe@newbooksnetwork.com.

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