Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where it Comes From

Overview

In this brilliant and provocative work, Daniel Pipes offers a fascinating analysis of conspiracy theories in the West and the terrible impact they have had. He shows how, beginning with the Crusades, Europe developed two strands of conspiracism. One took the form of secret societies from the Knights Templar through the Freemasons to the Council on Foreign Relations. A second insisted that "international Jewry" runs the world. Pipes delineates the fear that one or the other of these agents engineered the French ...
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Overview

In this brilliant and provocative work, Daniel Pipes offers a fascinating analysis of conspiracy theories in the West and the terrible impact they have had. He shows how, beginning with the Crusades, Europe developed two strands of conspiracism. One took the form of secret societies from the Knights Templar through the Freemasons to the Council on Foreign Relations. A second insisted that "international Jewry" runs the world. Pipes delineates the fear that one or the other of these agents engineered the French and Russian revolutions, two world wars, and all other key events of modern history. He shows the staggering consequences of conspiracy theories in the era when Hitler and Stalin reached power and then, in the aftermath of 1945, the migration of this way of thinking from the halls of power in the West to the political and geographic margins. To anyone who has ever heard a friend or relative say, "Don't believe what you read in the papers," Conspiracy offers a spellbinding survey - and a wakeup call.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this academic study, Pipes (The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy) defines "conspiracism" as unfounded fears that explain political events. He harkens back to the crusades, when the rumor that Jews were plotting to seize political power became prevalent as well as a cultural myth that the secret society of the Knights Templar was also a conspiracy against the existing order. Hatred toward Jews and secret societies, according to the author, led to the mass killings of the Russian Revolution and the Holocaust, and to a brutal suppression of Freemasons in various countries. Although the author's analysis is interesting, his thesis that Britain and the U.S. have been historically victimized by left-wing conspiracists is less convincing. He discounts as left-wing conspiracist thinking questions surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy and speculation about the timing of Iran's release of U.S. hostages in the last days of the Carter administration. Pipes also makes the controversial argument that conspiracy theories advanced by the political left have been far more harmful to society than those propagated by the right. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
A moderately successful effort to address an inherently amorphous topic.

Pipes (The Rushdie Affair, 1990, etc.) enters a shadowy world by distinguishing between (real) conspiracies and (imaginary) conspiracy theories. Applying this distinction requires subjective judgment, but on the whole he maintains a reasonable perspective. "Conspiracism," the most virulent belief in a conspiracy, dates back to the First Crusade and reached its apex in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. While the British and American governments have been prime suspects in recent centuries, historically there has been amazingly little variation in the focus of conspiracists: Based on an apparently unwritten rule that the seriousness of the threat is inversely related to plausibility, Jews and various secret societies are the favorite culprits. The former have deviously hidden their intentions by posing as the persecuted, and groups as innocuous as the Freemasons and as imaginary as the Rosicrucians have dominated the world in ways that can be grasped only by the truly paranoid mind. The delusions of Hitler and Stalin moved conspiracism beyond comedy and into tragedy, but Pipes argues that these horrors have lessened its appeal and that conspiracy theories have been on the wane since the end of WW II. Oddly, while Pipes (a contributor to Commentary, the Weekly Standard, and other magazines) maintains that conspiracism is "ambidextrous" rather than a left- or right-wing affair, he nevertheless includes a chapter devoted to demonstrating that conspiracism of the left is now more dangerous than that of the right. This political sojourn provides insight into his more questionable judgments (e.g., downplaying the conspiracist element of American anticommunism and the popular appeal of the contemporary radical right) but adds little to a somewhat repetitive work. To be fair, however, Pipes does provide a solid sketch of a difficult and intriguing topic without indulging in sensationalism. Of course, debunking conspiracy theories might just be a way to deflect suspicion . . .

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684831312
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 10/11/1997
  • Pages: 258
  • Product dimensions: 6.41 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
1 Conspiracy Theories Everywhere 1
2 A House of Mirrors 20
3 Unmasking the Conspiracy Theory 37
4 The Origins, to 1815 52
5 Florescence, 1815-1945 76
6 Migration to the Periphery, since 1945 106
7 Two Conspiracist Traditions 129
8 Right-Wing Nuts, Leftist Sophisticates 154
9 Conspiracism's Costs 171
App. A Benign Antisemitism 186
App. B Stalin's Blind Spot 192
App. C The Internet 199
Notes 203
Index 237
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