How Delusions Have Overrun America
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People believe the darndest things—and, in the post-factual age, the thinking is getting weirder by the minute.

Confront a birther or a truther, and you’re likely to turn up stranger beliefs still about such things as the Illuminati, the killers of John F. Kennedy, George Soros, and “almost anything having to do with Hillary Clinton.” Such parcels of illogic aren’t strictly new, of course. As Konda (Emeritus, Political Science/SUNY Plattsburgh) chronicles, they date at least to the rise of the Freemasons (“the visibility of lodges added a stridency to conspiratorial rhetoric, similar to conspiracists today who rail against the ‘sheeple’ who cannot see the obvious”), and they hold in common a strong element of anti-Semitism and xenophobia as well as the paranoiac certainty that all one holds near and dear is in immediate danger. Yet, argues the author, conspiracy theory is now the coin of the realm, with what he calls conspiracism “the belief system of the twenty-first century.” That belief system is a congeries of random claims—e.g., the government is hiding the truth about UFOs; Barack Obama is a Muslim, and a sizable number of American Muslims are sworn to attack America; Franklin Roosevelt knew all about Pearl Harbor long before the fact; climate change is a hoax; and so on. But as the author shows, various echo chambers amplify and extend the reach of what was formerly patent craziness. For example, he writes, “the alt-right has brought what had originally been a marginal neo-Nazi conspiracy theory to the strongest position it has ever held," now perilously near to mainstream thought. Konda’s prose is sometimes drearily academic, but the theories he weighs and finds wanting are fascinating in their perversity, from chemtrails to climate change deniers.

A book that deserves wide circulation and consideration but that is likely to be drowned out in all the conspiratorial noise.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-226-58576-5
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2019


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