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Power, Conspiracy, Command Center Thinking, and Deliberative Democracy
Unformatted Document Text:  Power, Conspiracy, Command Center Thinking, and Deliberative Democracy By Phil NeisserChair, Department of PoliticsSUNY Potsdam, Potsdam, NY 13676(315) 267-2554, ## email not listed ## Presented April 13 th 2007, at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, the Palmer House Hilton, in Chicago, Illinois. Conspiracy theories claim that a small group, operating in secret, possesses tremendous power over a wide range of events, perhaps over the whole world, and they are using it in an effort to carry out a malevolent plan of manipulation, domination, and exploitation. In this way of thinking, appearances are not what they seem. Apparently disconnected events are in fact connected. Millions of people are fooled. Many act as dupes in unwitting support of the cabal. Some of them, along with those in the know, commit crimes of the highest order to advance the cause. For many, this is the image the word “conspiracy” brings to mind, but its milder cousin, conspiracy thinking, is both more widely endorsed and politically important. Conspiracy thinking is the tendency to grasp significant events as the work of a few individuals who somehow act together, with self-conscious intention. It is the suspicion or assumption that power is by nature concentrated and purposeful, without the added beliefs that it necessarily exercised in secret or joined into a grand, worldwide operation attempting to rule over everything. At work in both conspiracy thinking and conspiracy theory is a “command center” idea of power. This notion sits in the minds of many – crucially but perhaps uneasily – alongside a belief in the power of lone individuals to uncover and destroy such power, thereby restoring moral order. With and without this added idea, the command center concept is widely endorsed. It is, however, deeply problematic when it comes both to

Authors: Neisser, Philip.
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Power, Conspiracy, Command Center Thinking, and Deliberative Democracy
By Phil Neisser
Chair, Department of Politics
SUNY Potsdam, Potsdam, NY 13676
(315) 267-2554,
Presented April 13
th
2007, at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science
Association, the Palmer House Hilton, in Chicago, Illinois.
Conspiracy theories claim that a small group, operating in secret, possesses tremendous
power over a wide range of events, perhaps over the whole world, and they are using it in
an effort to carry out a malevolent plan of manipulation, domination, and exploitation. In
this way of thinking, appearances are not what they seem. Apparently disconnected
events are in fact connected. Millions of people are fooled. Many act as dupes in
unwitting support of the cabal. Some of them, along with those in the know, commit
crimes of the highest order to advance the cause.
For many, this is the image the word “conspiracy” brings to mind, but its milder
cousin, conspiracy thinking, is both more widely endorsed and politically important.
Conspiracy thinking is the tendency to grasp significant events as the work of a few
individuals who somehow act together, with self-conscious intention. It is the suspicion
or assumption that power is by nature concentrated and purposeful, without the added
beliefs that it necessarily exercised in secret or joined into a grand, worldwide operation
attempting to rule over everything.
At work in both conspiracy thinking and conspiracy theory is a “command center”
idea of power. This notion sits in the minds of many – crucially but perhaps uneasily –
alongside a belief in the power of lone individuals to uncover and destroy such power,
thereby restoring moral order. With and without this added idea, the command center
concept is widely endorsed. It is, however, deeply problematic when it comes both to


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