How can you not be a conspiracy theorist? It is a fact that people sometimes conspire and history books are full of stories of conspiracies by politicians and others. If you believe these obvious truths, doesn’t that make you a conspiracy theorist? Not exactly. The conspiracy theories that people argue and that “conspiracy theorists” believe about aren’t just ordinary theories about ordinary conspiracies. They have various extra features that make them extraordinary and controversial. This book identifies these features and explains what is wrong with conspiracy theories.
One striking feature of many conspiracy theories today is that they are forms of political propaganda. Their role is to push a political agenda. If this is so then they aren’t just theories like any other, and it’s no accident that notorious figures on the extreme left and extreme right like Stalin and Hitler have been ardent conspiracy theorists. The extremism causes that conspiracy theories are used to promote today include anti-Semitism, and this book explains the historic role of conspiracy theories in promoting such causes
Why do people believe conspiracy theories and what harm do these theories do? This book tackles these and many other questions about conspiracy theories. Theories that have a political agenda are as harmful as the agenda they promote. Furthermore, belief in seemingly apolitical conspiracy theories can serve as a gateway to belief in more overtly political theories. It’s a mistake to think of conspiracy theories as just a bit of fun. They need to be challenged wherever possible, and this book shows how to do that.
Quassim Cassam is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick. His new book,Conspiracy Theories, is now available to pre-order from Polity.