Conspiracy theories are not just outlandish ideas. They can also be political weapons.
Conspiracy theories have come to play an increasingly prominent role in political systems around the world. In Revealing Schemes, Scott Radnitz moves beyond psychological explanations for why people believe conspiracy theories to explore the politics surrounding them, placing two questions at the center of his account: What leads regimes to promote conspiracy claims? And what effects do those claims have on politics and society? Focusing on the former Soviet Union-a region of
the world where such theories have long thrived-he shows that incumbent politicians tend to make conspiracy claims to demonstrate their knowledge and authority at moments of uncertainty and threat. They emerge more often where there is serious political competition rather than unbridled autocracy and in response to
events that challenge a regime's ability to rule. Yet conspiracy theories can also be habit-forming and persist as part of an official narrative even where immediate threats have subsided-a strategy intended to strengthen regimes, but that may inadvertently undermine them. Revealing Schemes explores the causes, consequences, and contradictions of conspiracism in politics with an original collection of over 1,500 conspiracy claims from across the post-Soviet region, two national
surveys, and 12 focus groups. At a time of heightened distrust in democratic institutions and rising illiberal populism around the world, understanding how conspiracy theories operate in a region where democracy came late-or never arrived-can be instructive for concerned citizens everywhere.
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Scott Radnitz is the Herbert J. Ellison Associate Professor of Russian and Eurasian Studies in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. He is the author of Weapons of the Wealthy: Predatory Regimes and Elite-Led Protests in Central Asia. He is also an associate editor of Communist and Post-Communist Studies and a member of the Program on New Approaches to Research and Security (PONARS) in
Under what circumstances do authoritarian regimes, and their opponents, use conspiracy theories as rhetorical weapons in political struggles? Nowhere is this question more apposite than in post-Soviet space. Radnitz brings a unique database and survey results to the fight over conspiracy theories in Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia. The result is a clear and comprehensive win for social science. * Gerard Toal, Virginia Tech * Radnitz takes on one of the most perplexing political phenomena of our time: the use of conspiracy theories by those in power. He shows why and how leaders in post-Soviet countries use conspiracy theories to build coalitions, control information flows, and maintain power. This is an essential read for anyone interested in post-Soviet politics or contemporary conspiracy theories. * Joseph E. Uscinski, University of Miami *
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