Italian version



Conspiracy Thinking

By Giovanni De Sio Cesari

Structure: What it is - Conspiracies - Who Benefits

What It Is

The idea that (almost) every historical event is the result of obscure plots hatched by mysterious figures in secret rooms for dubious purposes is widely popular. To understand the reason for this widespread belief, let's draw a comparison. When the causes of diseases were unknown, blame was placed on witchcraft, curses, and contagion. However, as medicine explained the causes of diseases, these ideas vanished—not because they were false, but because there was already a convincing and evident explanation provided by doctors.

Similarly, conspiracy theories attract simple minds (to use a euphemism), incapable of comprehending the great complexity of history. They find a simple, easy explanation in some conspiracy: no historian, however, is a conspiracy theorist, just as no doctor believes a disease is caused by witchcraft.

For example, suspicions have arisen on the internet about strange conspiracies behind the Turkish-Kurdish clashes in Syria. Yet, understanding the history of the Sevres Treaty, the Greco-Turkish War, the Treaty of Lausanne, and more broadly, the pact between the French and the British to divide the Middle East, particularly the intrusion of the concept of the nation-state, perfectly explains the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. No need for a conspiracy.

Similarly, general conspiracy theories attribute Islamic terrorism to vaguely defined American plots. Some even claimed that 9/11 was a self-attack, and until recently, doubts persisted not only about the death of Baghdadi but even about his existence.

As evidence of the absurdity of conspiracy theories, note how the CIA couldn't even pretend to find any weapons, something I personally considered entirely obvious and simple. Those who supposedly orchestrated 9/11 wouldn't have been capable of smuggling a nuclear weapon into Iraq—an absurdity. The role of the CIA is exaggerated for opposing reasons by both supporters and opponents; its failures are spectacular, continuous, almost the rule.

The problems of the Middle East are very complex. There is a conflict of all against all for infinite reasons, many of which we in the West struggle to understand as they are so distant from our modern mentality. To comprehend something, we must not interpret events with our mental categories but try to understand those of the Middle East. Just as we cannot understand the Crusades and Christological disputes with the secular and tolerant mentality of the present.

Those familiar with history realize that conflicts in the Middle East cannot be attributed to American plots because they existed long before the USA itself: Shiites and Sunnis have been in conflict since the succession of Muhammad, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem because Muslims were in perpetual conflict, the Wahhabis date back to the 700s, and so on.

By resorting to the notion of obscure powerful plots, we evade an analysis of the clear causes, given that terrorist acts arise from that cultural atmosphere.

The conspiracy of evil Americans would be the origin of all evils, as if evil did not exist in the world even before America existed. Alongside evil Americans, other entities are implicated either in parallel or in collusion with them: financial circles, Jews, Freemasonry. Let's focus for a moment on the latter.

Freemasonry is not a criminal organization like the Mafia but a distinguished and ancient organization pursuing noble goals such as brotherhood, equality, and freedom. It may have happened that some lodges transformed, pursuing the personal interests of the members (the famous Gelli lodge, though I believe it is highly overrated). This happens in every organization, from trade unions to religious associations, NGOs, and cultural entities. Being a member of the Freemasonry is not inherently negative. Still, some conspiracy theorists attribute even figures far outside its cultural sphere, such as Pope John XXIII, Erdogan, and Baghdadi (said with seriousness, as unbelievable as it may seem).


This does not mean that conspiracies do not exist; they do, and many. However, conspiracies, secret agreements, even when present, have a marginal effect. To understand why certain movements advance while traditional parties recede, we must find general political and economic causes, keeping in mind that this phenomenon occurs throughout the West: many hypotheses can be proposed.

If Berlusconi or Casaleggio had their moments of success, it happened because they interpreted certain widespread popular needs. Even if they acted to defend personal interests, this would remain a marginal fact. Similarly, Alexander the Great and Caesar acted out of excessive personal ambition, but their legacy endured for centuries because they interpreted great historical movements.

When referring to the so-called powerful forces, one should not think of conspirators plotting in the shadows to harm people (a kind of Mr. Burns in The Simpsons). If they are powerful, it is because they embody and lead strong needs. They are fought not by destroying or exposing them but by opposing them with other strong and realistic solutions that will give rise to different powerful entities.

It should also be clarified what is meant by conspiracy. In a general sense, politicians must gather popular consent. Not always, or I would say almost never, does the common citizen understand the reality of politics, so it is necessary to say things different from what is truly intended: this is called political propaganda.

Let's consider some examples. The invasion of Iraq was justified by the existence of weapons of mass destruction possessed by Saddam. Pointing out that the real reasons for the intervention in Iraq were the belief that only democracy could root out terrorism was acknowledging what Bush openly and clearly stated. It is not conspiracy thinking, which instead claimed, for example, that bin Laden was manipulated by the CIA, that terrorism was a U.S. invention, and similar ideas.

Certainly, Cavour pretended not to know about the departure from Quarto, not to support the Garibaldians, and then, under the pretext of helping them, effectively marginalized them (and Garibaldi ended up on Caprera): propaganda and falsehood commonly defined as great political skill. But conspiracy thinking would be to believe that the Kingdom of Naples fell because Neapolitan generals were bribed by English money: even if true, it would still be a marginal aspect.

Similarly, Hitler started World War II with the excuse of liberating Danzig (which welcomed him with enthusiasm), but with the obvious aim of dominating Europe, particularly opening up Germany's so-called living space. However, it would be conspiracy thinking to believe that World War II originated from the arms manufacturers in plutocratic and Jewish circles.

Conspiracy thinking means believing that events are driven by unknown intentions and facts rather than historically definable causes.

These are different things: in the first cases, propaganda accompanies a historically traceable policy (unity with the monarchy for Cavour, conquest of living space for Hitler, eliminating the threat of terrorism), while in the second, events would have a completely hidden cause. It is believed that a small minority, even a few individuals, a spectrum made up of capitalists, generals, cardinals, and other evildoers, would move the entire world.

Who Benefits

Conspiracy thinking mainly resorts to the question of "who benefits," assuming that those who benefit from something are also its hidden authors. However, this is an unfounded generalization. Many prosper from earthquakes, but this does not mean they cause earthquakes. A pharmacist earns more during flu outbreaks, but it does not mean he spreads infections.

It is absurd to think that orange growers secretly conspire with ministers and military officials not to block boats, or that builders, quietly and secretly, with the favor of darkness, meet ministers and party leaders to persuade them not to carry out preventive construction work so that they can profit when disasters occur (in reality, they would profit much more from prevention).

The fortune of conspiracy thinking arises from the fact that, since it deals with events hidden by definition, they are not even refutable. One can endlessly debate with a conspiracy theorist inconclusively because the fact that there is no evidence is interpreted as proof of the skill of the conspirators. Strangely, the lack of evidence strengthens the conviction of the conspiracy. The rejection of conspiracy thinking must be done on a logical and historiographical level.

In conclusion, I would observe that if any organization (whatever it may be) had succeeded in governing the world, it would be a splendid thing because we would have achieved world governance. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and the world continues to be shaken by conflicts, rivalries, violence, wars, and endless humanitarian disasters. If the powerful of the world were somehow associated, conflicts would be resolved.