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 There 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 For 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 book.~24

Compare this sober analysis to the works of G. Edward Griffin, Martin Larson, Antony C. Sutton, or Eustace Mullins.~25 They 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 In another set of texts Mullins displays grotesque antisemitism.~27 Mullins 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 conspiracist paradigm.

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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