Michael Rectenwald, Mises Institute
It is also important for the State to inculcate in its subjects an aversion to any “conspiracy theory of history;” for a search for “conspiracies” means a search for motives and an attribution of responsibility for historical misdeeds. If, however, any tyranny imposed by the State, or venality, or aggressive war, was caused not by the State rulers but by mysterious and arcane “social forces,” or by the imperfect state of the world or, if in some way, everyone was responsible (“We Are All Murderers,” proclaims one slogan), then there is no point to the people becoming indignant or rising up against such misdeeds. Furthermore, an attack on “conspiracy theories” means that the subjects will become more gullible in believing the “general welfare” reasons that are always put forth by the State for engaging in any of its despotic actions. A “conspiracy theory” can unsettle the system by causing the public to doubt the State’s ideological propaganda.
——Murray N. Rothbard, ANATOMY OF THE STATE
This essay represents a “conspiracy theory” (or better, a conspiracy hypothesis) about the uses of the term “conspiracy theory” itself. I acknowledge that the term is one of the most potent epithets that can be hurled at a writer or speaker, that it is mostly used to delegitimize and dismiss its target, and that it serves not only to discredit the claim that a writer or speaker makes but also the very investigation into purported conspiracies. The phrase represents a condensed, shorthand means of labeling a claim negatively and humiliating the claimant, disqualifying the claimant and the claim a priori. Likewise, in writing of the “conspiracy” behind the use of the phrase, I am hereby opening myself up to the charge of “conspiracy theory.” I submit that the terms “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorist” are used most frequently by those on the left, who usually associate the phrases with “right-wing” arguments and interlocutors. Therefore, in writing this essay, I am openly inviting the condemnation of leftists. But this is intentional.
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