From Pizzagate to Jeffrey Epstein, conspiracies seem to be more prominent than ever in American political discourse. What was once confined to the pages of supermarket tabloids is now all over our media landscape. Unlike the 9/11 truthers or those who questioned the moon landing, these conspiracies are designed solely to delegitimize a political opponent — rather than in service of finding the truth. As you might imagine, this is problematic for democracy.
Democracy scholars Russell Muirhead
and Nancy Rosenblum
call it “conspiracy without the theory” and unpack the concept in their book A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy
(Princeton University Press, 2019).
Russell is the Robert Clements Professor of Democracy and Politics at Dartmouth. Nancy is the Senator Joseph Clark Research Professor of Ethics in Politics at Harvard.
As you’ll hear, the new conspiricism is a symptom of a larger epistemic polarization that’s happening throughout the U.S. When people no longer agree on a shared set of facts, conspiracies run wild and knowledge-producing institutions like the government, universities, and the media are trusted less than ever.
Democracy Works is created by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State and recorded at WPSU Penn State, central Pennsylvania’s NPR station.