A Theory of Conspiracy
previously published as ‘Antidotes To The Methodological Individualism Poisons Of The Conspiracy Theory Of History And Society’ in: Sociologia. Rivista Quadrimestrale di Scienze storiche e sociali, XLIX, n. 2, 2015, pp. 15-21
Introduction: plots and conspiracies in the society and history
The conspiracy theory is a theory that circumvents the common understanding of historical or current events, claiming that these are the result of a manipulation on the part of one or more occult powers or conspiracies. “Conspiracy Theory” is used to refer to unconventional theories about historical or current events, which may appear unfounded, outlandish or irrational. Generally, conspiracy theories claim that a particular event, such as an assassination, a revolution, or even the failure of a product, is not due only to visible actions of individuals who belong to political or market forces, but rather to collectives and usually hidden conspiracy or actions.
The conspiracy theory is one of the most consistent of the “Poverty of historicism” [Popper 2013]: it wants to believe that history always has an end result, more often than not, a blatant or surreptitious planning as in the perverse logic of Constructivism [Hayek 1967], due to the work of any entity more or less abstract, more or less personified – you may name Providence, Destiny, Fate, Chance, you resort to Bentham’s Panopticon metaphor or to the Moloch of Big Brother Orwellian’s memory or to the more recent and familiar myth of the Great Old Man, which pursues objectives of putsch and terrorist actions by the extreme left and the extreme right, or more – and that this purpose is always beyond the combination of unintended, unwanted or unforeseen effects, related to always intentional human action [Hayek 1967: 110 seq.].
In the Open society and its enemies, Popper himself says: «The conspiracy theory of society or the world is nothing but a modern version of Theism, belief in Gods whose whims and desires command over all. If you remove the Gods (…) then instead of them, powerful men and groups will be placed – the dark powers – which is attributed to all» [Popper 1974: 125-26]. Popper holds to reiterate that he did not believe that the plots are impossible, but rather, they are typical social phenomena that become important every time you come to power just people who believe in the conspiracy theory. Ultimately, the plots or fail and are soon in the light (the murder of Julius Caesar), or fail and are still in the light (Cicero and Catiline). In short, the plots always emerge if really exist [Eco 1988] …
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*Raffaele De Mucci is Professor of Political Sociology and Comparative Politics at the Department of Political Sciences, Luiss-Guido Carli University (Italy), and Director of Luiss-Laps (Laboratory of Political and Social Analysis) in Rome