Conspiracy – Fact or Fiction? Part 3: Good Intentions and the Abuse of Power

Part 1: Games People Play Part 2: The Hunger for Truth and the Role of the Media

For libertarians in particular, conspiracy theories share a common concern with the abuse of power. In contrast to the cowardice and kow-towing to the established political and economic order practised by the mainstream and politically correct media, libertarians can actually take much of the so-called conspiracy theory comfortably in their stride – because they know that those in government are, in Murray Rothbard's words, a professional criminal class.

Well-meaning non-libertarians protest this attitude, with remarks along the lines of u2018How can you be so cynical about our democratically elected representatives?' or u2018How can you believe that such violent acts could be perpetrated by these people?' To which one can only respond that they have not learned the lessons of history, have not understood Lord Acton's dictum that u2018power corrupts…,' have forgotten that Hitler was democratically elected, and most likely have not taken in what Machiavelli or Zbigniew Brzezinski have to say about the strategic imperatives of empires and their rulers.

Like any other such grouping, the professional-criminal class of politicians will conspire, that is to say, they will meet together to plan and organize their actions. Who knows, they may even conspire to do good – there is no golden rule which says that all conspiracy has to be bad in intent: some of the worst outcomes of government action, like the New Deal in its effects on agriculture, emerged from plans and regulations made with the best of intentions by well-meaning people.

Nevertheless, such groups will also conspire continually to develop and perfect their techniques for staying ahead of opponents or potential challengers, both domestic and foreign. When applied to government, this mission statement, implicitly understood and absorbed by all members of the group, leads to a natural tendency to consolidate power, to conduct its proceedings in ever greater secrecy, to restricting the free flow of information, and to the erosion of the personal and civil liberties of the ruled. Thus too it is almost inevitable that over time, the holders of office will want to restrict even more whatever degree of freedom of access to information exists.

These tendencies have long been understood, and underpin the institution of all systems which limit executive powers such as written constitutions and charters of rights. I have suggested earlier that conspiracy theories flourish at the heart of empire, and indeed those in the US are flourishing and are of particular interest today precisely because the US is the heart of the global empire and the centre of power, not just geo-strategically, but in economic and cultural terms as well, and that is why it is relevant to examine specifically what goes on there. But I also believe it is because many people in the US feel that the limitations of power and popular rights and liberties, whether formally embodied or not in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, are under a fiercer challenge today than ever before, and this factor too has brought more sharply into the limelight those specific events which conspiracy theories usually address — the assassination of political opponents, transparently improbable suicides, imprisonment without trial, spying and surveillance, and imperial conquest, to name just a few which spring immediately to mind.

In the past the nature of the electoral process in the US meant that the elected political class generally had a short (4-year) window of opportunity for emptying the collective treasury to its own benefit, or for pursuing other, even more ambitious, items on its agenda such as conquering other nation-states — or perhaps I should say u2018making them safe for democracy.'

What is interesting, and perhaps sinister, about the current administration — and could be another reason for the upsurge in conspiracy theories – is its close linkages to the past, both in terms of the personnel line-up, and in the fact that many of its pet projects, like the invasion and break-up of Iraq, have been much longer in the planning – as long as 10 years or more – than the normal, shorter period covering the days preceding the take-up by a new administration and its early days in office.

Truly, for the figures behind the throne who have prepared and honed these projects, I believe the reign of Clinton was seen as a mere interlude, or what has jokingly been labelled ‘sex between the Bushes.’ All the while the plans were being refined, and occasionally road-tested, as in the intense campaign for greater military intervention surrounding the so-called ‘Iraq Liberation Act’ of 1998.

It is in this context too that we should understand the moves to restrict access to the presidential archives of the administrations which ruled from 1980 to 1992: every effort is being made to hide and play down embarrassing facts such as the continuity of policy by default (masking the absence of any new policies of any substance, a factor which had led to increasing institutional malaise and all-time administration popularity lows in polls taken prior to September 11th 2001), the appointment of a Cold War expert to the position of National Security Adviser some 10 years after that u2018war' had ended, the re-emergence of previously indicted criminals into positions of decision-making power and influence today, and who knows, the true nature of some of the political covenants and deals made by the corporations previously headed by officers of the present government and their buddies.

This perfecting of the techniques for holding on to power and expanding the empire, by taking a longer-term view (one of those long-term plans, incidentally, is called the u2018Project for the new American century'), has tended to undermine the rotational cycle whereby each of the major parties took its turn at the trough (whether in Presidential or in mid-term Congressional elections). Although it is by no means the only factor in the current consolidation of state power and erosion of freedom, it has undoubtedly helped to consolidate the power which remains in the hands of the victorious party, to the ultimate detriment of the cause of liberty.

In such a scenario there is a natural tendency for those who do not hold power to incline towards the conspiracy theory view of things — if only because the Leviathan has become much bigger and more dangerous than before, and has made great strides in the art of disguise, so that, while information is still coming out, no-one knows for sure if it isn't disinformation, planted in the media at strategic moments to befuddle and confuse the petrified masses still further.

Conclusions

At a certain point in the courtroom drama part of the 1992 film "A Few Good Men," there is a dialogue, which has now become legendary, between the army camp commandant Colonel Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson) and the young naval attorney Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise):

Col. Jessup: You want answers? Kaffee: I think I’m entitled. Col. Jessup: You want answers? Kaffee: I want the truth! Col. Jessup: You can’t handle the truth!

Notice how Jessup ignores Kaffee's ‘I think I'm entitled (to answers).’ As with so much in our age of political correctness, the debate on conspiracy theories is dominated by those who fear that the truth may be misinterpreted, or ‘get into the wrong hands.’ They are judge and jury, and they conclude that at a certain moment in the process of consolidation of power it is better that the truth get into no hands at all. Which of course is tantamount to usurping total power for the rulers, and at the same time saying, for public and international consumption, that individuals are incapable of taking responsibility, of thinking for themselves, so the all-powerful state must look after them.

But, just as in education, if you have no expectations of people, you should not subsequently be surprised if they fail to perform. You have to have positive expectations of people, give them the benefit of the doubt, and believe that they can indeed u2018handle the truth.'

And so it should be with investigative reporting and uncomfortable truths. As I have suggested in an earlier part of this series, it is up to the individual man or woman, the individual reader or viewer as the case may be, to decide if the u2018conspiracy theory' is the whole truth, has elements of truth in it, has pointers to the truth or to alternative angles on a given story, or is indeed a load of rubbish. He or she may come to the wrong conclusion, but it is far better that he should be free to make the investigative journey and do so, that he should have the knowledge made available to him and explore it fully, than that he should forever be mollycoddled with comforting myths or diversions on the part of the state and its media propaganda machine.

For no state or government will ever protect him or her. At best, it will perhaps provide a secretly located bunker for a few of its own. For the rest, those myths and diversions may offer temporary relief — but inevitably only until the next terrorist outrage takes place, naturally arranged, conspiracy theorists would say, by henchmen of the rulers, and hallmarked to look like the work of the latest terrorist bogeyman. Or the next ever so conveniently timed plane crash.

In the final analysis, if my reader-viewer has the full information but makes the wrong judgement, there is always a chance that he will learn, and get it right the next time. If he stays in the dark, or through private fear, social embarrassment or abject surrender to the threat of intimidation decides that he will not open the door and step out into the light, then he has only himself to blame if he wakes up enslaved.

Oh, and I almost forgot. Regarding November 22nd, 1963. Forget the conspiracy theories. Lee Harvey Oswald did it. How can we be so sure? Because he had a magic bullet, and it had u2018JFK' written all over it.

November 21, 2002

Richard Wall (send him mail) is a freelance translator, specializing in the social sciences, who lives in Estoril, Portugal. This article is the third in a 3-part series on the subject of “Conspiracy — Fact or Fiction.”

Political Theatre

LRC Blog

LRC Podcasts