- Scott Radnitz
- Publisher: Oxford University Press
- Date: 2021
Conspiracy theories are not just outlandish ideas. They can also be political weapons.
Conspiracy theories have come to play an increasingly prominent role in political systems around the world. In Revealing Schemes, Scott Radnitz moves beyond psychological explanations for why people believe conspiracy theories to explore the politics surrounding them, placing two questions at the center of his account: What leads regimes to promote conspiracy claims? And what effects do those claims have on politics and society? Focusing on the former Soviet Union—a region of the world where such theories have long thrived—he shows that incumbent politicians tend to make conspiracy claims to demonstrate their knowledge and authority at moments of uncertainty and threat. They emerge more often where there is serious political competition rather than unbridled autocracy and in response to events that challenge a regime’s ability to rule. Yet conspiracy theories can also be habit-forming and persist as part of an official narrative even where immediate threats have subsided—a strategy intended to strengthen regimes, but that may inadvertently undermine them. Revealing Schemes explores the causes, consequences, and contradictions of conspiracism in politics with an original collection of over 1,500 conspiracy claims from across the post-Soviet region, two national surveys, and 12 focus groups. At a time of heightened distrust in democratic institutions and rising illiberal populism around the world, understanding how conspiracy theories operate in a region where democracy came late—or never arrived—can be instructive for concerned citizens everywhere.