Voodoo Histories [Part 1]

I’m about to start reading David Aaronvitch’s ‘Voodoo Histories – The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History.’ It’s getting a lot of critical comment and I thought I might as well have a list of the various reviews to hand so that once I’ve read it I can engage in thoughtful head shaking or nodding as I reread the thoughts of others.

(I will also provide my own review; that’s why this is [Part 1]).

Frank Furedi’s review in the ‘Spiked Review of Books’

Robin Ramsay’s review at ‘Aaronvitch Watch’

Bruschettaboy’s partial review (I was sure there was a follow-up to this but I can’t find it) also at ‘Aaronvitch Watch’

Giles Fogen at ‘The Guardian’

Rafael Behr at ‘The Observer’

There’s bound to be more out there, so let me know.

Actually, before I go, I do want to remark briefly on the Furedi review, because it contains the following paragraphs:

However, real existing conspiracies and officialdom’s occasional fabrication of conspiratorial stories should not be seen the foundation or premise of conspiracy theories. Unlike stories about plots to assassinate Princess Diana or Marilyn Monroe, a conspiracy theory is a theory because it doesn’t simply claim to provide explanations for a single event, but for much more than that. Most conspiratorial fantasies do not constitute a theory; a conspiracy theory is something quite different and distinct, and should be recognised as such.

A conspiracy theory provides a view of the world that both explains the background to events and, more importantly, provides a warning for the future. Its focus is not merely on behind-the-scenes machinations and plots against groups and individuals; instead it offers a comprehensive perspective that purports to reveal the real workings of the world we live in. The main theme of the conspiracy theory is the heinous act of moral subversion, allegedly carried out by a cabal of powerful people. In order to shed light on the importance of some global conspiracy, conspiracy theorists use the ideology of evil. This ideology offers a view of the world where unexpected occurrences and acts of misfortune are re-presented as the product of malevolent forces. In providing a comprehensive account of the threats that face a community, this ideology of evil seeks to give meaning to an otherwise incomprehensible world. Historically, the concept of evil has helped to explain why bad things happened; it provided an answer to society’s need to understand the cause of misfortune and it provided guidance on who should bear the blame for such misfortune.

Now, maybe I’m misreading this, but in the first paragraph he denies the role of explanation to Conspiracy Theories and yet in the second paragraph he provides a description as to how they provide an explanatory mechanism for Conspiracy Theorists. Indeed, his entire review is a little like that; he castigates people for mudding the waters about Conspiracy Theories (he especially castigates Mark Fenster) when they divide them up into warranted and unwarranted varieties, rather than sticking the notion of Conspiracy Theories as not just prima facie unwarranted but absolutely unwarranted beliefs.

Which is a pity, because part of his analysis, the focus on the ‘Inference to Conspiracy,’ is fairly close to my thesis, except that I think the Inference to Conspiracy is usually fallacious but not always ((Actually, I suspect Furedi thinks the ‘Inference to Conspiracy’ is sometimes warranted and would say that it is a different inference to the ‘Inference to a Conspiracy Theory.’ I’ll touch on that in the next few months.)).


I’ve seen this sort of thing before: Furedi has formed a definition of what constitutes a conspiracy theory and berated Aaronovitch for having a different notion about the subject on which he is writing. Is is something like those people who say that abstract painting is not Art, rather than claiming it to be bad Art or simply Art they do not like.

And perhaps I was out of the room when the ideology of evil was devised. Because I hear people use the word ‘evil’ with very different meanings to his. I think it always implies a supernatural agency, as his own account of witchcraft and other goings on in the middle ages attests. He asserts that the notion of evil has been secularised. I would suggest that no such thing is possible.