Conspiracy Theories Left, Right and... Centre: political disinformation and liberal media discourse

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Abstract

We are living in a time when conspiracy theories have never been more maligned by those who occupy the centre ground of politics. Liberal critics and journalists accuse conspiracy theorists to their left and right of paranoia, irresponsibly excessive rhetoric, and fallacies such as strawtargeting, 'anomaly hunting' and 'determined flexibility'. At the same time, major liberal institutions from the BBC to CNN emphasise the risks that such conspiracy theories pose to public order, safety and trust – and to the very future of what they call 'our democracy'. However, we argue that many of the same threats, flaws and fallacies have characterised hegemonic liberal analyses of contentious recent political events in the West from Trumpgate to the British Labour Party's anti-Semitism 'crisis'. With a proclivity for ad hominems, deliberate misrepresentations of evidence and other dubious methods, liberal conspiracy theories have had harmful societal impacts such as discrediting progressive political movements and fanning the flames of war. These are arguably consequences of greater magnitude than those resulting from right-wing conspiracism. Moreover, we show that centrist conspiracy theories often involve the implementation of genuine conspiracies against anti-establishment figures such as Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn. Despite the empirical existence of such conspiracies, we conclude by suggesting that the historical materialist critique of social reality has considerably more explanatory power than the conspiracist analytic. To demonstrate this we point to an epistemological weakness at the heart of liberal thought dating back at least to Thomas Carlyle's 'Great Man Theory of History' that, much like the marginal conspiracy theories liberals condemn, involves a vast exaggeration of the role of individual agency and intentionality – and covert interpersonal relationships particularly – in determining social, economic and political affairs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-128
Number of pages19
JournalNew Formations
Volume2023
Issue number109
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2023

Keywords

  • conspiracy theories
  • centrism
  • liberalism
  • media
  • historical materialism
  • journalism
  • disinformation
  • Donald Trump
  • Jeremy Corbyn

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