Conspiracy theories are not a new phenomenon – far from it but perhaps not to the extent that to-days conspiracy theories have recently proliferated and taken hold even amongst sophisticated and well-educated sections of the population, and the way in which virtually no major event or phenomenon can currently unfold without someone crying “conspiracy!” and finding a ready audience. We have entered an era of paranoid politics. Interest in real political ideas has declined and hand-in-hand with this has gone a suspicion of all those engaged in the political process. This distrust, which has been fuelled by very real revelations of wrong-doing in high places, has tainted the popular perception of not just the individuals involved but of the entire political process has been gripped by distrust. And distrust breeds paranoia. Most conspiracy theories are really believed not by those who come into closest contact with the "conspirators" but by the disenfranchised and dispossessed. The extreme fringes of capitalism's political spectrum, on the far left and the far right, whether they be anti-globalisation crusties or the US militiamen in the hills of Montana. David Aaronovitch detects a pattern in which conspiracy theories are “formulated by the politically defeated and taken up by the socially defeated”. Conspiracies become an excuse to explain away a movement’s own inherent weaknesses or unpopularity by attributing blame to a ruthless enemy. Aaronovitch argues that belief in conspiracy theories is harmful since it “distorts our view of history and therefore of the present”
Postmodernism, a loose body of thought, contends that interpretation is everything and truth is transitory , and that science and reason are merely particular interpretations of events, being “narratives” with no more claim to validity than any other. It is postmodernism and the parallel distrust of science and progress that has arisen in recent years that has opened the way for conspiracy theories to multiply – whether they have a basis in reality or not. At the same time – and without coincidence – various New Age and occultist ideas and practices have gained ground. Postmodernism, irrationality and conspiracy theories now unite to form a bizarre trinity that informs much popular interpretation of historical events and processes. It is no surprise that those most attracted to New Age and occultist theories are typically those who also give most credence to conspiracism as a systematic way of interpreting events. These are people who do not merely contend that conspiracies of some sort have taken place or have been uncovered (whether it be the JFK assassination or Roswell ) but whose entire worldview is a conspiratorial one.
The Nazis, whose worldview was one drenched in anti-semitism to the extent that they thought the world dominated by a cabal of Jewish bankers, were steeped in a mysticism and occultism that had been handed down to them by fellow initiates of secret societies like the Thule Society. In fact many have gone one step further than the Nazis in thinking that all major conspiracies, together with all secret societies, are intrinsically linked, being but different aspects of the same age-old conspiracy. The current favourite is the “Illuminati” who were, amongst many other things, allegedly behind the founding of the United States (or its Fed Reserve), the UN, the EU and any other supposedly “centralising”, “controlling” bodies. in this theory, the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, the Freemasons etc are all slowly working towards the achievement of some kind of centralised, totalitarian New World Order. Mysticism and conspiracist ideas interlock and reinforce one another.
Conspiracy theorists gain plausibility by taking established fact and embellishing it, so that one can’t tell where truth ends and fiction begins. There are undoubtedly shadowy societies of the super-rich which are well-documented. The Skull and Bones in America includes many senators, four past presidents, while in Britain we have the Masonic Lodge. But of course, they can’t be very secret or we wouldn’t know about them.
Conspiracy theorists take the view that the modern world society must be controlled from the top – someone, somewhere must be pulling the strings. The conspiracy theorists interpret every event (even contradictory ones) as being evidence that everything is under some secret groups control. The stock-in-trade of the conspiracy writers is rumour, innuendo, guilt-by-association and half-knowledge passed off as fact and a re-iteration of the inter-connectedness of some sections of the capitalists class (the Rothschilds, for example). Yes, there is plentiful evidence that organisations like the Bilderberg group exist. Yes, there is evidence that their members are rich and powerful people with their own agendas and quite some influence. There's no doubt that such groupings do exist. For instance, George Monbiot discusses the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), an association of the bosses of forty-six of the biggest companies in Europe. They have long advocated the creation of a single market in Western Europe, and called for the improvement of transport links - including the building of the Channel Tunnel. The ERT does not control governments, but it certainly influences them. But no, there is no evidence that such organisations “rule the world” and manipulate countries and economies at will – and no-one has yet provided any such evidence.
The conspiratorial worldview is certainly not promoting an understanding of modern society. Those unfamiliar with the analysis of Marxian economics are yet to realise that at the heart of the capitalist economy is a genuine “anarchy of production”. Conspiracy theorists' assertions that a complex, technologically advanced society like capitalism cannot be at root “anarchic” in many of its operations, are misplaced. There are conspiracies all the time, little ones. Big ones tend to spring leaks however, and few are likely to believe in one that has lasted 250 years without being "outed". The capitalist class is not a conspiracy, not because it is open and, more or less, above board, but because it is not united, as the Illuminati presumably are. Because of the anarchic, competitive and contradictory nature of capitalism a conflict-free “New World Order” is practically impossible.