How Conspiracism and Apocalypticism are Linked

In Western culture, conspiracist narratives are significantly  influenced by metaphors from Biblical apocalyptic prophesy. Stephen O’Leary in Arguing the Apocalypse contends that the process of demonization is central to all forms of conspiracist thinking.[i] Leonard Zeskind argues it is impossible to analyze the contemporary political right, without understanding the “all-powerful cosmology of diabolical evil.”[ii] To Zeskind, conspiracy theories are “essentially theologically constructed views of events. Conspiracy theories are renderings of a metaphysical devil which is trans-historical, omnipotent, and destructive of God’s will on earth. This is true even for conspiracy theories in which there is not an explicit religious target.”[iii]

  1. L. Gardner points out that many current “conspiracy theories directed against the government are part of a rhetorical strategy genuinely intended to undermine state power and government authority,” but this occurs in a “metaphysical context” in which “those in control are implicated in a Manichean struggle of absolute good against absolute evil. That they are the agents of the devil is proved by the very fact that they control a corrupt system.”[iv] The fear of a subversive conspiracy to create a collectivist “one world government” is rooted in this religious apocalyptic view, but now spans a continuum of beliefs from religious to secular.

The narrative of most conspiracist thinking is that the government is controlled by a relatively small secret elite. This fits the general paradigm of scapegoating because despite the actual size of the government and the power of the state, the conspiracists picture a handful of secret elites manipulating behind the scenes–a tiny cabal who would be no match for the sovereign “We The People” mobilized against them.

Conspiracism and countersubversion manifest themselves in degrees. “It might be possible, given sufficient time and patience,” writes David Brion Davis, “to rank movements of countersubversion on a scale of relative realism and fantasy,”[v] The distance from reality and logic the conspiracist analysis drifts can range from modest to maniacal.

[i] O’Leary, Arguing the Apocalypse, pp. 20-60.

[ii] Zeskind, “Some Ideas on Conspiracy Theories,” p. 16; see also, pp. 11, 13-15, 16-17.

[iii] Ibid., 13-14.

[iv] S. L. Gardiner, “Social Movements, Conspiracy Theories and Economic Determinism: A Response to Chip Berlet,” in Ward, Conspiracies, p. 83.

[v] Davis, Fear of Conspiracy, p. xiv.