When you think about conspiracy theories, you probably think of a paranoid loner sitting in front of a radio microphone, spouting crackpot nonsense about how everyone is out to get them (him and his audience), about shadowy groups that lurk in the wings of power, about how evil chemtrails and vaccination are.
It may surprise you to learn, however, that conspiracy theories are part and parcel of virtually all worldviews out there. They are not just the domain of the addled and lonely: everyone has them.
While most people don’t believe that a shadowy group of people is controlling the world, the basis of conspiracy thinking is the belief that emergent behaviour is somehow designed or controlled, usually for nefarious and unclear purposes, inferring design in everything they see, however tenuous. On that basis, religion is the ultimate conspiracy theory. The religious strongly believe that everything we see is the product of unknowable “divine” design. They see signs of design in everything. Their belief, “Intelligent Design”, has zero scientific basis and is little more than an attempt to prop up these “feelings of significance”, exactly like the Reptilians to David Icke or the Vatican to Jack Chick.
There are two main ways in which statism is a form of conspiracy thinking. First, statists believe that order in society is the product of “public” design (as I call it, the belief in “Intelligent Government”), when it is in fact the sole product of emergent systems. They point to things that the state is involved in, without looking at what the degree of state involvement is, what it consists of, and what people can do without coercion. Conspiracy thinking does not quite apply in this case, however, since believers do not think that the state is nefarious or occult. Indeed, in a nice display of doublethink, they believe that they themselves are the state, while a minute later they’ll complain about a specific action of the state.
Second, statism is founded on the concept that everyone is “selfish” and acts against his own interests, thus the need for a magical structure called the state to force them to act in their own interests. This is laughably ridiculous, of course, but leads to conspiracy thinking as well. There must be a reason for people to act against their interests, and this is usually considered to be a conspiracy.
Take a simple example like smoking. A common propaganda argument consists of implying that there are no good sides to smoking, and that there is no good reason to smoke. But if that is true, then why do people smoke at all? If it’s not a emergent behaviour, then it must be a product of design- for sinister purposes. Either the people who smoke are doing it themselves, which seems rather unlikely, or it’s the sinister Big Tobacco cabal brainwashing us into smoking, the latter being the usual propaganda strategy. If Big Tobacco was controlled, they imply, people would simply stop wanting to smoke. This makes no more sense than to believe that eliminating porn will make people stop wanting to have sex.
The conspiracy theory favourites of the statists are big corporations, the military-industrial complex, and “the rich”. Anyone who disagrees with them is in league with one of these groups. Sorin Cucerai discusses the variety of conspiracy theories in politics in his article “Logic and Conspiracy”:
Apart from Marxism, there are other conspiracy theories generating atrocities: anti-Semitism (especially its extreme right forms), the xenophobic doctrines, Islamic fundamentalism, Argentinean anticommunism, or Milosevici’s nationalism…
Social-democrat thinkers and politicians favor a fiscal control of wealth (through progressive taxes), so that to become impossible for private wealth to go over a certain limit. They thus suggest a possible conspiracy of rich people against the other, less fortunate ones. Welfare state is thus conceived as an effective counter-conspiracy – a counter-conspiracy able to annihilate the eternal conspiracy of the rich…
Like any other belief system, statism must start from the premise that we are all depraved– in this case, selfish exploiters- and that we need redemption- the gentle loaded gun of the state and its hired goons. In any society, there will be people more successful than others, due to consumer preference, genetic predispositions, education, intelligence, etc. These people will necessarily have more economic power than others. It is in the interest of the ruling class to make sure that those people are either co-opted or that their power be reduced. Depending on the specific socio-economic context, either methods can work fine.
Of course, in no way can statists come to believe that the state itself is a conspiracy- otherwise they simply could not be statists any more (note that I am not actually saying that the state is a conspiracy, however- I don’t believe in conspiracies at all. More on this later). In the same way, a Christian cannot come to the understanding that his religion is in fact a total, blind negation of absolutes and moral principles- otherwise he couldn’t be a Christian at all.