Political Conspiracy Theories
A few months ago, Congressman Madison Cawthorn made allegations of orgies and widespread cocaine use among elected officials. He presented no evidence, but refused to back down when confronted. His remarks reminded many of Joseph McCarthy’s allegations of communist infiltration within the United States government during the Cold War. Of course, few people take Cawthorn seriously, but his status as an elected official conferred legitimacy to some of the darkest conspiracy theories in American politics.
Nowadays America is not alone in the proliferation of conspiracy theories. Russian politics, for instance, has embraced conspiracy theories as a part of its politics unlike any other country in the world. Scott Radnitz writes that Russia has transformed “from a regime of competitive conspiracism to one of sustained official conspiracism.” Recently, Russia justified its invasion of Ukraine as an effort to denazify the government. Political observers outside of Russia scratched their heads at the unfounded claim. Ukraine shows no indication of Nazism or Fascism among its political leaders. Moreover, its President, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish.
So, over the next few days this blog will examine the role of conspiracy theories in politics today. It will consider why politicians use conspiracy theories as part of their official narrative. But it will also consider why politicians restrain themselves. Moreover, future posts will consider the effects of conspiracy theories in democracies.
This exploration will culminate in a can’t miss episode of the podcast. Scott Radnitz will explore conspiracy theories as an important phenomenon in autocratic states like Russia and democracies like the United States. You can also check out his recent article “Why Democracy Fuels Conspiracy Theories.” It breaks new ground in democracy scholarship… or so a lot of people are saying.