Cass Sunstein a law professor at Harvard taking a leave of absence to serve as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs co-authored a paper on "Conspiracy Theories" in which he defines a conspiracy as "an effort to explain some event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role."
So far so good. Unfortuntely the not so good professor proceeds to debunk conspiracies as essentially the workings of an unhinged mind. With this assessment we strongly disagree by calling upon the witness of history and its players to demonstrate otherwise.
The most primitive example is the story of Julius Caesar wherein leading Senators of SPQR determined that it was in their and the republic's best interests to remove Caesar from power. We assure you that the histories do not report a lone nut as the culprut, Brutus being a prominent and respectable Roman politician.
I would surmise that the Roman populace would not have inveighed against those anticipating a plot against Caesar's life as such intrigue frequently surrounded the throne and centers of power. Indeed, when the Praetorian Guard become the primary king making apparatus, anyone not believing in conspiracies had to be a little off his rocker.
Another important example of conspiracy was the plot to assassinate Jesus. As most Christians are aware, the leading Jewish citizens - especially those of the Sanhedrin - had sought for some time to silence Christ who was attracting quite a following and whose teachings seemed seditious to their rule. Judas was bought for 30 pieces of silver and the rest is history and salvation. I can assure you that Judas did not act or conspire openly among the other 11 disciples and thus sought to conceal his role.
Although these examples are interesting and constructive, we have a more systematic presentation of the concept of conspiracy with Machiavelli whose treatise The Prince - whether satire or not is immaterial - develops the notion of the prince of the realm needing to promulgate certain strategems to consolidate, retain, and perpetuate power. Whatever one may think of Machiavelli, he is not known as a kook.
One would think that it is self evident that various parties in a society conspire in varying degrees of stealth to obtain objectives - certainly in the political realm. Did Richard Nixon earn the sobriquet Tricky Dick because he was an upright practicing Quaker who showed his poker hand to one and to all so as to give all an equal chance to destroy him? I think we all know the answer to that question.
We will admit that conspiracy theories prosper in the absence of facts and knowledge. We admit that some are totally wacky and not worthy of serious consideration. We agree that those who argue that the moon landing was a hoax are mistaken. But the way of resolving such ambiguities is not through invective but through examination of the facts and discoveries of missing links. Indeed the fact that facts are missing is often itself an indication of conspiracy.
A relatively recent example of partial facts in the aftermath of fact finding is the case of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination in which a court found James Earl Ray guilty of conspiring (with himself of course ) to kill Dr. King. Unfortunately the court did not hear all of the facts. However, a civil trial which began in November 1999 in Memphis revealed a mountain of facts demonstrating without question that the government of the United States murdered Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is of a verity that people often disguise their true motives and means to achieve their political aims. We all have seen this from the time of competing with siblings, to competing in school, to survival in business, church, and elsewhere. Did the Archbishop of Canturbery Thomas à Becket die from a random act of lone nutness and Henry II not have plausible deniability?
The moral of the story is that conspiracies occur all of the time and that they may well explain the truth of an otherwise insoluable mystery. We will do much to expose conspiracy in this country both in real time and in history.
Copyright 2010 Tony Bonn. All rights reserved.