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Political Conspiracies in America: A Reader

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Overview

This book provides students with documents relating to some of the more important and interesting conspiracy theories in American history and politics, some based on reality, many chiefly on paranoia. It provides a fascinating look at persistent and at times troubling aspects of democratic society.

Conspiracy theories have been a part of the American experience since colonial times. The fear of a conspiracy to subvert the liberties of a free people was central to the ideology of the American revolutionaries. Scholars of American history have produced a rich literature on conspiracies involving, among others, Masons, Catholics, Mormons, Jews, moneyed interests, Communists, and internationalists. Although scholarship focuses on the irrationality of those who hold these ideas, an exaggerated fear of a conspiracy does not mean that an actual conspiracy does not exist.

Whether the fear is real or imagined, political conspiracy is disruptive to democratic governance, which relies on open political discussion and the presumption of a rational electorate. As a free press and free speech protect the democracy from the usurpation of power by subversive agents that seek to destroy the system, so too can government take the anti-subversive measures necessary to preserve democratic society itself. If democratic government rests on the trust of the people in their public officials, a widespread fear of conspiracy suggests mistrust in political leadership, its veracity, and its ability to maintain order against real or imagined foes.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

"[O]bjective editors interested in exploring the phenomena argue that insecurities during rapidly changing times encourage suspicions and irrational conspiracies.... Recommended." —Choice, May 2009

Choice

"[O]bjective editors interested in exploring the phenomena argue that insecurities during rapidly changing times encourage suspicions and irrational conspiracies.... Recommended." —Choice, May 2009

Jonathan Bean

"An interesting and important reader.... [It] offers a powerful thematic approach that will prove popular with students and instructors alike." —Jonathan Bean, Southern Illinois University

Choice - S. Prisco III

In this primary source collection of conspiracy theories through six stages of US history, objective editors interested in exploring the phenomena argue that insecurities during rapidly changing times encourage suspicions and irrational conspiracies. The first stage looks at the post-Revolutionary era Federalist belief in a Jeffersonian conspiracy to
support French radicalism, the Burr western land plot, and Masonic support of Andrew Jackson's presidency. Stage two surveys anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, anti-Mormon, and anti-national bank sentiment. Stage three focuses on abolitionists and slave power conspiracies. The fourth stage reviews the Red Scare, robber baron capitalism, racism,
anti-Semitism, and isolationism. Stage five concentrates on the Cold War era, space aliens, and the 1960s assassinations. Stage six looks at more contemporary issues related to globalization and the new world order, the AIDS conspiracy thesis, and terrorism. The editors touch on a few additional assorted conspiracies throughout. The
work compares favorably to Richard Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics (CH, Mar'66), Robert Goldberg's Enemies Within, (Jun'02, 39-6001), and Mark Fenster's Conspiracy Theories (1999). Summing Up: Recommended. All academic levels/libraries.S. Prisco III, Stevens Institute of Technology, Choice, May 2009

From the Publisher
"[O]bjective editors interested in exploring the phenomena argue that insecurities during rapidly changing times encourage suspicions and irrational conspiracies.... Recommended." —Choice, May 2009

"An interesting and important reader.... [It] offers a powerful thematic approach that will prove popular with students and instructors alike." —Jonathan Bean, Southern Illinois University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253219640
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald T. Critchlow is Professor of History at St. Louis University and author of Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism and Studebaker: The Life and Death of an American Corporation (IUP, 1996).

John Korasick is a judicial archivist for the Missouri State Historical Archives.

Matthew C. Sherman is a doctoral candidate at St. Louis University.

Indiana University Press

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Table of Contents


Introduction     vii
Conspiracy in a New Nation     1
Conspiracy in an Age of Democracy     25
Conspiracy in a Divided Nation     49
Conspiracy in the Industrial Age through the New Deal     67
Conspiracy in the Cold War Era     101
Conspiracy in Contemporary America     143
For Further Reading     163
Index     169
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