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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Conspiracy Theory in America (University of Texas Press)

deHaven-Smith

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The term “conspiracy theory” has become shorthand for ideas deemed crazy. While it’s true that many such theories are the hobbyhorses of fanatics, conspiracies really do occur. Can we always be certain conspiracies aren’t being hatched at the highest levels? That’s the salutary message of Florida State University political science professor Lance deHaven-Smith. His plea against being too quick to dismiss unconventional ideas or overlook patterns of “coincidence” is well taken, yet deHaven-Smith weakens his argument by appearing to entertain some way-out theories. The World Trade Center imploded from explosive devices? George H.W. Bush was in on the attempted Reagan assassination? The latter would prove that even well laid conspiracies can be thwarted by apparently random responses. (David Luhrssen)

 

Edmund Burke in America: The Contested Career of the Father of Modern

Conservatism (Cornell University Press), by Drew Maciag

American conservatives celebrate Edmund Burke, but according to historian Drew Maciag, the British philosopher-politician might be uncomfortable with the company he’s posthumously been keeping. As with many profound writers, people “tend to find what they are seeking” in Burke. A contemporary of our Founding Fathers who sympathized with the American Revolution, Burke was for religious tolerance and curbing capital punishment and slavery. He was appalled by the violence of the French Revolution, which put him on the wrong side of leftists who favor bullets over ballots. Maciag finds Burke far more advanced in his thinking than previously credited. Like a Freudian a century too soon, Burke was skeptical of the power of reason, which he saw as the servant of unarticulated desires and impulses and the often-unacknowledged prejudices at the base of human psychology. (David Luhrssen)