13 November 2013


Michael Barkun. A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. University of California Press. Second edition, 2013.

The first edition of this book, reviewed HERE, was just about completed when 9/11 occurred, and only a small amount of material on the conspiracy theories surrounding that event could be included. This new edition adds a second chapter to 9/11 conspiracy theorising, centring around the films Loose Change and Zeitgeist and the work of writers such as David Ray Griffin.
Griffin and several other people in this field come from the left, but the conspiracy theories also appeal to far right figures such as David Icke, and they seem to spring to from the same neo-populist milieu as a fair proportion of the material in the original ten chapters.

Much the same can be said of the millennialist speculation around 2012, which comprises chapter 12. This includes various conspiracy theories surrounding not only the Mayan calendar but also the London Olympics. I suspect that the material here is just the tip of the iceberg and that someone could easily write a book on that subject alone.

The various conspiracy theories surrounding Barak Obama show how conspiracism can easily enter the mainstream of the political discourse, especially in periods of intense partisan radicalization. I am not sure that these additional chapters sit well with the material from the first edition. I rather think that they may have been better placed in a separate work, where they could have been examined in more detail, along with other conspiracy material surrounding Bush, Obama, fixed elections and, surely the great financial crash, as they do not naturally gel with the study in the original text of the connections surrounding far right politics, ufology, and the new age.

After the passage of ten years the original thesis of the book: the rise of ‘fusion paranoia’ with the merging of themes from ufology, science fiction, fundamentalist Christianity, neo-populism, new ageism, and the antisemitic far right remains as cogent as ever It is by no means confined to the lunatic fringe, as witness some of the comments on conspiracy theories in recent posts on UFO Updates.

Despite these occasional caveats this remains an indispensable guide to the conspiracy milieu. - Peter Rogerson.

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