Conspiracism and "Secret Elites"
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Just like in other forms of scapegoating,
conspiracists sometimes target people who in fact have significant
power and culpability in a given conflict--Wall Street power brokers,
corporate magnates, banking industry executives, politicians, government
officials--but conspiracists portray these forces in caricature that
obscures a rational assessment of their wrongdoing. It is not individual
people who have the actual power, but the roles they occupy in social,
political, and economic institutions. There are undeniably powerful
individuals, but when they die, their power does not evaporate, it
redistributes itself to other individuals in similar roles, and to
individuals that scramble to inherit the role just vacated.
No single power bloc, company, family,
or individual in a complex modern society wields absolute control,
even though there are always systems of control. Wall Street stock
brokers are not outsiders deforming an otherwise happy system. As Holly
Sklar argues, "the government is manipulated by various elites,
often behind the scenes, but these elites are not a tiny secret cabal
with omniscience and omnipotence."~22
is no secret team...the elites that exist are anything but secret.
The government and the economy are not alien forces superimposed over
an otherwise equitable and freedom loving society.
As Matthew N. Lyons points out, "Scapegoating
is not only about who is targeted, but also about who is not targeted,
and what systems and structures are not being challenged by focusing
on the scapegoat."~23
example, the Federal Reserve is a powerful institution that has made
many decisions that primarily benefit the wealthy and corporate interests.
William Greider's book Secrets of the Temple describes the Federal
Reserve as a significant institution of modern corporate capitalism
with bipartisan support. He shows how the legislation traces back to
demands by populists to smooth out boom and bust cycles and rapidly
fluctuating credit rates that especially victimized farmers. Grieder
also discusses the long history of the debate over the wisdom of a
central banking system, and how the legislation creating the Federal
Reserve was passed in 1913 after a lengthy public debate. There is
no antisemitism or conspiracist scapegoating in the text of the Greider
Compare this sober analysis to the works
of G. Edward Griffin, Martin Larson, Antony C. Sutton, or Eustace Mullins.~25
portray the Federal Reserve as the mechanism by which a tiny evil elite
covertly manipulate the economy. They trace its creation to a cabal
who met secretly on Georgia's Jekyll Island and then somehow snuck
the legislation through Congress overnight. Anyone with a library card
can disprove this malarkey simply by reading microfilmed newspaper
accounts of the contentious public debate over the legislation.
Sutton and Larson overemphasize the role
of bankers who are Jewish, revealing mild antisemitic stereotyping.
Mullins is a strident bigot who actually has two bodies of work. In
one set of texts Mullins avoids overt antisemitic language while discussing
his conspiracist theory of the Federal Reserve and the alleged role
of forces tied to the Rothschild banking family. These texts involve
implicit antisemitic stereotyping that is easily missed (sadly) by
an average reader unaware of the history of conspiracist antisemitism
and its use of coded language and references.~26
another set of texts Mullins displays grotesque antisemitism.~27
uses his critique of the Federal Reserve to lure people toward his
other works where his economic analysis is revealed to be based on
naked hatred of Jews.
All the authors in this conspiracist genre
suggest alien forces use the Federal Reserve to impose their secret
agenda on an unwitting population, an analysis that ignores systemic
and institutional factors and personalizes the issue in the classic
The romanticized vision of US society is
mirrored in mainstream conservative criticism of liberalism as well.
As Himmelstein notes, "The core assumption" of post-WWII
conservatism "is the belief that American society on all levels
has an organic order--harmonious, beneficent, and self-regulating--disturbed
only by misguided ideas and policies, especially those propagated by
a liberal elite in the government, the media, and the universities."
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