The Corner

Politics & Policy

Conspiracism and Delusion

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Zina Bash during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 4, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

The Washington Post:

Republican operative Zina Bash rested her hand on her arm, fingers closed into a circle, as she sat behind Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. And #Resistance Twitter, watching the hearings live and seeing her hand, saw a secret, nefarious code. Bash was making the “okay” sign with her hand, it appeared. Several left-leaning Twitter users with large followings believed that Bash was promoting a symbol that means “white power.”

. . . As the theory went viral, devoid of any proof that it was actually true, Bash’s husband John Bash, the United States attorney for Western Texas, called the accusations geared toward his wife, a lawyer who has spent years working in Republican politics, “repulsive” in heated tweets.

“Zina is Mexican on her mother’s side and Jewish on her father’s side. She was born in Mexico,” Bash wrote. “Her grandparents were Holocaust survivors. We of course have nothing to do with hate groups, which aim to terrorize and demean other people — never have and never would.”

By a happy coincidence, here’s British philosopher John Gray writing in Unherd on a not completely unrelated topic:

Conspiracy theory has long been associated with the irrational extremes of politics. The notion that political events can be explained by the workings of hidden forces has always been seen by liberals as a sign of delusional thinking. A celebrated study by the political scientist Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1964), linked the idea with the far Right. Yet in New York in December 2016, many of the brightest liberal minds exhibited the same derangement. Nearly two years later, they continue to reach to conspiracy theory as an explanation for their defeat . . .

For those who embrace it, a paranoid style of liberalism has some advantages. Relieved from any responsibility for the debacles they have presided over, the liberal elites that have been in power in many western countries for much of the past 30 years can enjoy the sensation of being victims of forces beyond their control. Conspiracy theory implies there is nothing fundamentally wrong with liberal societies, and places the causes of their disorder outside them. No one can reasonably doubt that the Russian state has been intervening in western politics. Yet only minds unhinged from reality can imagine that the decline of liberalism is being masterminded by Vladimir Putin. The principal causes of disorder in liberal societies are in those societies themselves.

That might be worth remembering when looking at Sweden’s election results this coming Sunday. As things look now, a once obscure party of the populist right (with a dark past that it has not entirely managed to shed) looks set to come second (or, less likely, top the poll). The cause of its rise is the highly illiberal response (until very recently) of the “liberal” center-right and center-left (not to mention those further to the left) to any significant dissent from what was (again until very recently) Sweden’s less-than-rigorous immigration policy.

As usual with John Gray, read the whole thing, but note, in particular, this:

[W]ithout a guiding providence of the sort imagined by monotheists, history has no direction . . . Theories that posit a long-term historical movement towards a liberal future are religious myths recycled as ersatz social science.


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