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Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes From Paperback – May 1, 1999

3.0 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The New World Order, CIA drug rings, UFOs in New Mexico, the JFK assassination, the Elders of Zion--all are the products of politically disaffected and culturally suspicious minds, writes Daniel Pipes, author of The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy. Here he examines the nature of conspiracy theories and asks, "What makes otherwise intelligent people believe in phony phenomena?" and "Why is antisemitism so often its central feature?" Pipes usefully lays out a few hypotheses about conspiracy theories, and distinguishes them from actual conspiracies (which are real, of course). Although the book could benefit from some organizational improvement, it contains many astute observations. Readers interested in its subject will find it worth examining. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A moderately successful effort to address an inherently amorphous topic. Pipes (The Rushdie Affair, 1990, etc.) enters a shadowy world by distinguishing between (real) conspiracies and (imaginary) conspiracy theories. Applying this distinction requires subjective judgment, but on the whole he maintains a reasonable perspective. ``Conspiracism,'' the most virulent belief in a conspiracy, dates back to the First Crusade and reached its apex in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. While the British and American governments have been prime suspects in recent centuries, historically there has been amazingly little variation in the focus of conspiracists: Based on an apparently unwritten rule that the seriousness of the threat is inversely related to plausibility, Jews and various secret societies are the favorite culprits. The former have deviously hidden their intentions by posing as the persecuted, and groups as innocuous as the Freemasons and as imaginary as the Rosicrucians have dominated the world in ways that can be grasped only by the truly paranoid mind. The delusions of Hitler and Stalin moved conspiracism beyond comedy and into tragedy, but Pipes argues that these horrors have lessened its appeal and that conspiracy theories have been on the wane since the end of WW II. Oddly, while Pipes (a contributor to Commentary, the Weekly Standard, and other magazines) maintains that conspiracism is ``ambidextrous'' rather than a left- or right-wing affair, he nevertheless includes a chapter devoted to demonstrating that conspiracism of the left is now more dangerous than that of the right. This political sojourn provides insight into his more questionable judgments (e.g., downplaying the conspiracist element of American anticommunism and the popular appeal of the contemporary radical right) but adds little to a somewhat repetitive work. To be fair, however, Pipes does provide a solid sketch of a difficult and intriguing topic without indulging in sensationalism. Of course, debunking conspiracy theories might just be a way to deflect suspicion . . . -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (May 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684871114
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684871110
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,088,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Mr. Pipes follows the history of conspiracism and determines that it has two separate and distinct main threads: anti Semitism; and secret societies. There is occasional overlap and crossover between the two, but in general they have remained apart. While his research appears sparse at points, that may be due to the huge scope of his view, and to the very real difficulty in researching the essentially unresearchable (for example, how far can one study a "secret society" before losing oneself in the contradictions of myth, fact, and most revealing, myths accepted as facts?). At times the thread pursued by the author seems tenuous, but he does make a telling case in support of his thesis of these two dominant strains of conspiracism. Most chilling of all is his discussions of nations where conspiracism has become official state policy, specifically Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union. I would have liked more indepth study of postwar American conspiracy theories, such as UFOs, the UN, and connections, if any, with various New Age beliefs, but that's my own particular interest. Mr. Pipes is mainly concerned with a broader historical picture.
While Mr. Pipes follows these twin paths of conspiracism, he demolishes the most widely accepted belief of the conspiracy theorists, that there are continuous sects and societies behind everything, and that all we see is simply the outward manifestation of their centuries long struggle for dominance. Make no mistake - the postulation of a continuous thread of conspiracism is not the same as accepting the existence of the conspiracies spanning generations and continents.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be an excellent survey of the various different strands of conspiracy theories. Pipes goes through the long historical pedigree (if such a word is appropriate) of conspiracy theories, and he sets out a pretty good model for how to tell the difference between a nutty conspiracy theorist and a person with a healthy critical skepticism of the motives and actions of the government and other groups. While he is sometimes a bit too dismissive of those who agree with some conspiracy theories, his book is a useful antidote to the pseudo-intellectual quackery that many conspiracy theorists arm themselves with, and he shows the very real danger that these theories, when unchecked, can cause (e.g.: antisemitic theories and Nazism, antigovernment theories and the Oklahoma City Bombing). He also does a pretty decent job of putting the theories and theorists into a larger cultural and political context. However, for a good primer of conspiracies, real and imagined (I think, largely imagined), I'd also recommend reading "The 60 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time" by Jonathan Vankin and Ed Whalen (I think that is their names). Both of these books will keep you riveted, and introduce you to some fascinating and little-known facts.
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Format: Paperback
Daniel Pipes is a senior lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania whose principal area of academic expertise is the politics of the Middle East. In this much-quoted (and misunderstood by those who have never read it) book, Pipes examines the origin and history of the `paranoid style' from the time of the Crusades 1,000 years ago through to 1997 when the book was published. A distinction is drawn between conspiracies, which are real, and conspiracy theories, which exist only in the imagination. Richard Grenier is quoted in the first chapter to help define the territory: "conspiracy theory is the sophistication of the ignorant".

Converging themes characterise Pipes' essay. The first is that virtually all conspiracy theories derive from two parallel European traditions: anti-Semitism, and a manufactured suspicion of `secret societies' like the Freemasons, Templars and Adam Weishaupt's `Bavarian Illuminati' - a group of provincial intellectuals in southern Germany in existence for only 12 years in the late 1700s, kept alive to this day in the fevered minds of conspiracy theorists as if they were still alive. The dual strands of Jew-hating and paranoia about `secret societies' have pursued separate development tracks, but occasionally intertwine. Together they characterize the `paranoid style' which has been exported from Europe in the past two centuries along with industrial technological know-how and political ideas like democracy.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Pipes observes, "Every hate group has a conspiracy at the heart of its thinking." He goes on to explain how the "Right and Left engage in similar forms of conspiracism because they share much with each other-a temperament of hatred, a tendency toward violence, a suspiciousness that encourages conspiracism-and little with the political center." The best book I've read on the subject. Highly recommended.
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