While digging through boxes during my “book purging” this week, I found a “revised and updated” 2006 hardcover edition of Robin Ramsay’s Conspiracy Theories, first published in 2000. Of course, I couldn’t resist taking a look before deciding whether to throw it in the discard pile. (This is why my efforts to “get rid of junk” are so damn overwhelming and frustrating.)

Turns out the book’s pretty good. I recommend Conspiracy Theories as an antidote to the “all theory, no research” conspiracy books that swamp the market.

Ramsay is a Scottish author and co-founder/editor of the “conspiracy journal” Lobster, and he builds a good, broad defense of the conspiracy view of history (aka parapolitics, or Murray Rothbard’s “power elite analysis”). He pooh-poohs most massive, overarching conspiracy theories without dismissing them entirely; he applauds even the most outrageous conspiracy buffs for “their perception that the world isn’t as it is presented by the corporate media.” Writes Ramsay:

“The importance of conspiracies, not conspiracy theories, is political. The conspiracies we should be looking at most closely are those run by the state — in this benighted, secretive, country we might say the conspiracies which are the state — or by the supranational bodies such as the European Union and the transnational corporations and their fronts.”

What I found most interesting in Conspiracy Theories, which I haven’t seen in other books of its kind, is Ramsay’s analysis of the often distinct Right and Left approaches to the issue of political conspiracies:

“In very broad terms, the right, historically, has been interested in conspiracies it perceives to be undermining some kind of natural or desired order, plotting against the will of the people, the constitution, the national interest etc. These are what we might loosely call conspiracies against the state. The communist conspiracy theory, the Jewish banker theory and the current crop of New World Order, One World, elite dominance theories are examples of this. The liberal-left, on the other hand, has been chiefly interested in conspiracies committed by the state. From where I am, on the left side of the fence, quite why these two areas are so distinct is unclear to me: an interest in the elite management groups (right) should fit comfortably with an interest in the big state scandals — say Iran-Contra (left). In practice, however, the right’s desire to preserve — or conserve — the existing order, no matter how critical they may also be of it, has generally precluded them from acknowledging the crimes and conspiracies of that order. On the other side, the left is unwilling to engage with a subject matter which has been ‘contaminated’ by interest from the right. Look at the almost complete lack of interest shown by the American left in the massacre of the Branch Davidians by federal forces at Waco, Texas.”

Earlier in the book, Ramsay elaborates on the Left’s general disinterest in what he calls “elite management groups,”a favorite villain among right-wingers:

“The role of elite management groups, such as the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg Group, is one of the strands in the otherwise wacky world of contemporary conspiracy theory worth taking seriously and it is now, almost exclusively, highlighted by the radical right. …

“…the Anglo-American left is basically not interested in these elite management or power elite groups. Despite the groups being composed entirely of the major figures from world capital and politics — the left’s supposed enemy — somehow the left found this of little interest. Apart from the brief flutter of interest in the late 1970s when Trilateralist Jimmy Carter became president of the US, the Anglo-American left has passed on these groups, leaving them to the right.

“Why it has happened that it is chiefly the right which is interested in large scale conspiracies in general, and these elite groups in particular, is not clear. In part, the left’s focus on systems rather than people — crudely, capital rather than capitalists — led it not to pay attention to the details. In part, it is the result of the subject of the elite management groups becoming ‘contaminated’ for those on the left by the interest in it expressed by the far right. In other words, such is the left’s fear of being linked with the right, anything the right takes up immediately becomes ‘untouchable’ to the left.”

In a footnote, Ramsay notes that one of the best books on power elites, Trilateralism: The Trilateral Commission and the Elite Planning for World Management, edited by leftist Holly Sklar in 1980, has been virtually ignored by leftists but has long been a right-wing bestseller.

The simply titled Conspiracy Theories offers some unique scrutiny of the conspiracy theory “culture,” and it’s worth skimming through. There’s a Kindle edition of the book readily available.