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

In This Review

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

By Daniel Pipes
Free Press, 1997
258 pp. $25.00
Purchase

It is perhaps appropriate that Daniel Pipes, a prominent Middle East historian, should write the first general account of the role of conspiracy theories in history, since "conspiracism," as Pipes labels the phenomenon, is particularly rife in that region. The author presents a fascinating account of conspiracy theories down through the ages, from early Christian accusations against the Jews to contemporary African-American theorizing about a police conspiracy to frame O. J. Simpson and the CIA's role in promoting the aids epidemic in urban ghettoes. Pipes notes that in this century both the left and the right have been equally virulent purveyors of conspiracy theories, but that the left retains an aura of respectability while the people on the right are often dismissed as crackpots. Pipes argues, correctly, that this distinction results not from the inherently greater plausibility of the left's theories, but from the credentials and surface sophistication of their exponents. My only wish is that Pipes' analysis were more sociological than historical, and that he had delved more deeply into the reasons conspiracy theories take shape in certain periods and among certain groups. In particular, it would be nice to know why conspiracism seems ever-more prevalent in the United States today, despite peace, prosperity, and rising levels of education.