How We All Turned Into Truthers

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 26 2011 8:12 AM

How We All Turned Into Truthers

My new piece is an attempt to understand why the hell conspiracy theories became such a dominant part of politics -- seriously, I've been expecting them to fade for months. It's based in part on a smart new book about conspiracy culture, Jonathan Kay's Among the Truthers .

Kay's research is reassuring, in its way, because by taking all these obsessions seriously, he can diagnose their origin. The problem of the conspiracy theorist is the problem of the "failed historian." Kay gives an example. For a while, Sigmund Freud believed that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet after his father died. When Freud wrote The Interpretation of Dreams , he cited the play as a key Oedpial work. But in 1919, historians discovered that Shakespeare wrote the play before his father died. How did Freud respond? He became obsessed with the conspiracy theory that the 17 th Earl of Oxford had written the plays credited to "William Shakespeare."

Are the paranoid Democrats of 2006 and the unhinged Republicans of 2011 following in the footsteps of Sigmund Freud? Maybe. They might even argue that the stakes are higher for them: All Freud had to do was defend a thick chunk of his book. They're on the cusp of losing their country.
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Read, read, before the helicopters come.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.