Harvard Book Store and the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics welcome authors and professors NANCY L. ROSENBLUM and RUSSELL MUIRHEAD for a discussion of their new co-authored book, A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy. This event is also sponsored in part by Mass Humanities.
Conspiracy theories are as old as politics. But conspiracists today have introduced something new―conspiracy without theory. And the new conspiracism has moved from the fringes to the heart of government with the election of Donald Trump. In A Lot of People Are Saying, Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum show how the new conspiracism differs from classic conspiracy theory, why so few officials speak truth to conspiracy, and what needs to be done to resist it.
Classic conspiracy theory insists that things are not what they seem and gathers evidence―especially facts ominously withheld by official sources―to tease out secret machinations. The new conspiracism is different. There is no demand for evidence, no dots revealed to form a pattern, no close examination of shadowy plotters. Dispensing with the burden of explanation, the new conspiracism imposes its own reality through repetition (exemplified by the Trump catchphrase “a lot of people are saying”) and bare assertion (“rigged!”).
The new conspiracism targets democratic foundations―political parties and knowledge-producing institutions. It makes it more difficult to argue, persuade, negotiate, compromise, and even to disagree. Ultimately, it delegitimates democracy.
Filled with vivid examples, A Lot of People Are Saying diagnoses a defining and disorienting feature of today’s politics and offers a guide to responding to the threat.
“If there is one industry that has increased its productivity in recent years, it is the manufacture and marketing of conspiracies. Russell Muirhead and Nancy Rosenblum brilliantly analyze how this happened and why it is a problem for our democracy―and also our capacity to build and sustain community. A Lot of People Are Saying offers a bracing diagnosis and thoughtful remedies. It’s time, they insist, to speak truth to conspiracy.” ―E. J. Dionne Jr., coauthor of One Nation After Trump
“This is a groundbreaking book that should define the current era of presidential malfeasance. With rigorous argumentation and excellent examples, it shows why Trump’s words, as well as his actions, threaten American democracy.” ―Corey Brettschneider, author of The Oath and the Office: A Guide to the Constitution for Future Presidents
“Timely and insightful. . . . A tremendous contribution. . . . It identifies and names a new style of political discourse and clarifies the danger it poses. . . . At a time when so much attention focuses on Trump’s formal abuses of power, A Lot of People Are Saying shines an illuminating spotlight on the even more destructive power of his words, and the wild eddies of unreason they unleash.” —Lee Drutman, Washington Monthly
Certain books were “banned in Boston” at least as far back as 1651, when one William Pynchon wrote a book criticizing Puritanism.