October 14th, 2010

S.C. Hickman

Cultural Paranoia - Part III

"I am about to relate an adventure which to many will appear incredible, but of which I was in great part an eye-witness. The few who are acquainted with a certain political event will, if indeed these pages  should happen to find them alive, receive a welcome solution thereof."
     - Friedrich Schiller, The Ghost Seer

Political events have always attained a certain resonance within the conspiracy community. As Schiller related through his protagonist: "...perhaps, important as a contribution to the history of the deception and aberrations of the
human intellect. The boldness of the schemes which malice is able to contemplate and to carry out must excite astonishment, as must also the means of which it can avail itself to accomplish its aims." Michael Barkun in his study of conspiracy theory in America (A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America) tells us that three principles guide conspiracy theorists: Nothing happens by accident; nothing is as it seems; and everything is connected. He sees conspiracy theory as a belief system that tries to "delineate and explain evil." In a final note he suggest that conspiracy theories spawn beliefs that pose not a danger in themselves but in the behavior that they might "stimulate or justify".

One of the most intriguing conspiracy theories relates to the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In an interesting essay on the sordid affair Michael Hagemeister relates two stories, one that deals with the graphic artist Will Eisner's posthumously published (The Plot: The Secret Story of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion"), and the second dealing with Henri Rollin whose book L’apocalypse de notre temps appeared in Paris in 1939. Myth and counter-myth, the first dealing with an Jewish conspiracy, the second with an anti-semitic conspiracy. What is interesting about both is the lack of historical validation, the lack of hard fact to support either of the theories. Yet more interestingly is that both stories were heralded as historical solutions to fabricated story.read more...

He goes on to relate a third story stemming from Konrad Heiden's book The Fuehrer: Hitler’s Rise to Power which relates the story of how the chief ideologue for the Hitler regime, Alfred Rosenberg, is given a copy of the Protocols.

"One day in the summer of 1917 a student was reading in his room in Moscow. A stranger entered, laid a book on the table, and silently vanished. The cover of the book bore in Russian the words from the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew:

“He is near, he is hard by the door.”—The student sensed the masterful irony of higher powers in this strange happening. They had sent him a silent message. He opened the book, and the voice of a demon spoke to him."

As Hegemeister tells it this "story turns Rosenberg into a tool of the anti-Semitic conspiracy and is of course impossible to verify. In fact, it paraphrases a story in which the London Times correspondent Philip Perceval Graves tells of the mysterious “Mr X,” who in Constantinople in August 1921 gave him a copy of Maurice Joly’s anti-Napoleonic pamphlet, which allowed him to expose the Protocols as plagiarism."

What's more interesting is how this story is passed down as fact by Norman Cohn’s Warrant for Genocide several years later as fact rather than fiction. Then thirty years after Cohn's book Hadassa Ben-Itto, a  prominent judge and Israeli diplomat, publishes Lie That Wouldn’t Die which was "enormously successful among critics; it was adopted by academic libraries and translated into many languages." And from the blurb to the German edition this was added:

"The “Jewish global conspiracy” is still used today to explain wars and revolutions, economic crises and stock market crashes, terrorism and AIDS. Again and again the threads come together in a book: the Protocols of the Elders of
Zion
. Hadassa Ben-Itto gets to the bottom of the story of these Protocols over seven years of research. The result is a factual report that could not be more absorbing and enthralling if it were invented, although the subject matter would make an ideal thriller: conspiracy and murder, princesses and the Russian imperial family, secret services and leading industrialists—and a virtuous young lawyer, who takes on all of this."

Hegemeister tells us that the fine line between fact and fiction concerning the Protocols is blurred and a new history was compiled from a "series of fictional texts and then presented as the authentic document of an actual conspiracy." Summing up he states:

"This shows that the critics of the conspiracy myth also too easily succumb to the seductive power of what they are trying to overcome. As the history of the Protocols indicates, the concept of conspiracy offers clear answers
where in reality the relations are complex and opaque. Perhaps we will never discover the origins of the Protocols. But that should be frustrating only for a handful of historians. Everyone else already knows all too well what they want
to believe."

Our will to believe, the will to mythomanic narratives, can blind us to the historical verities that underly all conspiracy theories. This does not deny that there are actual conspiracies, only that we must be vigilant against the hyperreal narrative structures that would overlook that darker truth of a complex historical world.