Conspiracy theories are as old as politics. But conspiracists today have introduced something new—conspiracy without theory. And the new conspiracism has moved from the fringes to the heart of government with the election of Donald Trump. In A Lot of People Are Saying, Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum show how the new conspiracism differs from classic conspiracy theory, why so few officials speak truth to conspiracy, and what needs to be done to resist it.
Classic conspiracy theory insists that things are not what they seem and gathers evidence—especially facts ominously withheld by official sources—to tease out secret machinations. The new conspiracism is different. There is no demand for evidence, no dots revealed to form a pattern, no close examination of shadowy plotters. Dispensing with the burden of explanation, the new conspiracism imposes its own reality through repetition (exemplified by the Trump catchphrase “a lot of people are saying”) and bare assertion (“rigged!”).
The new conspiracism targets democratic foundations—political parties and knowledge-producing institutions. It makes it more difficult to argue, persuade, negotiate, compromise, and even to disagree. Ultimately, it delegitimates democracy.
Filled with vivid examples, A Lot of People Are Saying diagnoses a defining and disorienting feature of today’s politics and offers a guide to responding to the threat.
Awards and Recognition
- One of the Financial Times' Summer Books of 2019: Politics
Russell Muirhead is the Robert Clements Professor of Democracy and Politics at Dartmouth College and the author of The Promise of Party in a Polarized Age and Just Work. He lives in Hanover, New Hampshire. Nancy L. Rosenblum is the Senator Joseph Clark Research Professor of Ethics in Politics and Government at Harvard University. Her books include Good Neighbors: The Democracy of Everyday Life in America and On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship (both Princeton). She lives in New York City.
"If there is one industry that has increased its productivity in recent years, it is the manufacture and marketing of conspiracies. Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum brilliantly analyze how this happened and why it is a problem for our democracy—and also our capacity to build and sustain community. A Lot of People Are Saying offers a bracing diagnosis and thoughtful remedies. It's time, they insist, to speak truth to conspiracy."—E. J. Dionne Jr., coauthor of One Nation After Trump
"This is a groundbreaking book that should define the current era of presidential malfeasance. With rigorous argumentation and excellent examples, it shows why Trump's words, as well as his actions, threaten American democracy."—Corey Brettschneider, author of The Oath and the Office: A Guide to the Constitution for Future Presidents
"In A Lot of People Are Saying, Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum, two first-rate democratic theorists, argue that 'conspiracy thinking,' long a staple of American political discourse, has risen to new heights with the ascendancy of Donald Trump, endangering the pluralism at the heart of liberal democracy. Their book comes none too soon, and I highly recommend it."—Jeffrey C. Isaac, author of #AgainstTrump: Notes from Year One
"Muirhead and Rosenblum have written the defining account of the stakes in the battle over misinformation and fake news in Western democracies. 'The new conspiracism' they identify does not simply distract and mislead us. As they convincingly argue, this style of discourse undermines the legitimacy of democratic government, the institutions we depend on to create knowledge about the world, and ultimately our shared understanding of reality itself. We ignore their warnings at our peril."—Brendan Nyhan, University of Michigan