Why Conspiracy Theories Are Often Otiose

Stephen M. Walt gives us a good example here:
Here's the basic structure of the situation. If you're a politically ambitious commander like Petraeus, you want good advice. But you also want to make sure that you and your decisions are portrayed in a positive light. So you invite some well-connected civilians to visit your operation, and you make sure you select people who aren't known for being critical of the war and who will be easy to co-opt if need be. And when the consultants come to visit for a few days or weeks, you make sure they receive briefings that give the impression things are going well even if they are not.

Next, consider how this looks from the consultants' perspective. If you're an inside-the-Beltway think-tanker (and especially if you're someone who depends on soft money), it's a big deal to be invited to go to Afghanistan or Iraq and advise the commander. It makes you look more important to your colleagues, your boss, and your board, and you can go on TV and radio and write op-eds invoking your "on-the ground" experience. If you have to debate somebody on U.S. policy, you can sit up straight and pontificate about "what I saw when I was in Kabul," or "what General Petraeus told me when we were discussing COIN strategy," or whatever. Then you (or your organization) can write fundraising letters or grant proposals touting your connections and deep on-the-ground experience. And let's not forget the role of ego: it's just plain flattering to think a four-star general wants your advice.
Correctly analyzing class interests often explains what might otherwise be understood only as a conspiracy, a insight for which we can thank Marx.


  1. Anonymous8:24 PM

    Right, but I certainly don't agree with Marx's definition of "class", or how his concept of class was often based upon closed systems that are psychologically distinct. Also, his concept of class was quite limited.

    The word "class" is often bandied about carelessly without identifying exactly what is meant by, or the implications behind, such a word. For any single "class", one could conceive of an infinite number of sub-classes, such that one could ultimately regress down to the individual.

    1. "how his concept of class was often based upon closed systems that are psychologically distinct."

      Joe, Marx was better than the Marxists in this regard!

      (And to note once again: I have certainly not become a Marxist. But after having had to teach him three times, I realize he is not the straw man many anti-Marxists attack.)

    2. Anonymous9:12 PM

      Yes, I know that. It has been a while since I've read the man's actual work (I was still a teenager), but I don't remember him giving any indication that classes can only exist in a snapshot of time, that the next time period would reveal an entirely different reality of class-structure, and that what exists as a class in each snapshot of time is entirely dependent upon our perceptions/agreements with regard to the categorization of such, at the instance of that snapshot.

      IOW, I didn't come to the conclusion that his class theory was universally true, but was instead only true by condition.

    3. Marx also turned out to be a much better writer than I was told he was when I finally got around to reading him. At least, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon was. I went quote-hunting in it one Saturday and ended up reading the whole thing in a sitting.

  2. You can thank the Roman who asked cui bono. Not that this ever proves more than plausibility. Walt shows people have biases. It's too general to prove any particular case.


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