Interview: Author Daniel Pipes on his new book, "Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes From," and his life
Booknotes - C-SPAN

Announcer: This week on BOOKNOTES, our guest is Daniel Pipes, founder and editor of Middle East Quarterly and senior lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. He joins us to discuss his recent book, "Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes From."

BRIAN LAMB, host: Daniel Pipes, what is your book "Conspiracy" all about?

Dr. DANIEL PIPES (Author, "Conspiracy"): My book "Conspiracy" is about a way of thinking that originated about two and a half centuries ago and has had major and terrible consequences for the world.

LAMB: What is a conspiracy?

Dr. PIPES: Well, conspiracy is a collusion among more than one person to engage in illegal act--activity. But my topic here, despite the title, is not so much about conspiracies but about conspiracy theories--the wrong- headed fear of conspiracy, the overwhelming, overpowering and exaggerated fear of conspiracies.

LAMB: Where do you start?

Dr. PIPES: Well, in a sense, it begins with the origins of man, but in its political form, it begins in the Crusades, where we find in the 12th, 13th century the beginnings of the fear--the exaggerated fear of a Jewish conspiracy, an exaggerated fear of a secret society conspiracy, the Templars in particular. And it grows a little bit over the centuries, but it's not until about 1750 that it takes a political form. And it enters into the political arena in a serious way with the French Revolution, and then grows and ex--gets extended throughout the 19th century and really, with World War I, becomes a significant factor in politics and reaches its climax in World War II.

Here in World War II, you have a Hitler, who's consumed with fears of Jewish conspiracy, and a Stalin, who's consumed with fears of a secret society conspiracy, of British and American conspiracy. And they almost take over the world between 1939 and 1941. They fail, of course. And with the de- -destruction of the Nazi empire and then the Soviet empire, the fear of conspiracies recedes. It's not gone, but it's certainly far less significant today than it was some 50, 60 years ago.

LAMB: I remember a really early date in there, 10, 11--the year 1000 or something like that where the Jewish conspiracy thing started?

Dr. PIPES: Yes, it was with the origins of the first Crusade, 1096, that we find the Crusaders spewing theories about Jewish plots against the Christian world.

LAMB: Who were the Crusaders?

Dr. PIPES: Crusaders were, by and large, well-off aristocratic Europeans, mostly French, but others as well, mostly knights going off to win the Holy Land--win what's now Israel--from the Muslims.

LAMB: And so where did this Jewish hatred start, and conspiracy theory?

Dr. PIPES: Well, the Jewish hatred goes back much further to the very origins of Christianity, seeing Jews as perfidious, as the killers of Christ; seeing them as people who rejected the--Christ. So that has antecedents that go way back. But this notion of a conspiracy of Jews--Jews trying to harm the Christians--that only goes back to the Crusades and becomes a significant political force only some 200 or even 150 years ago and culminates with the Nazis.

But, I mean, there is a--the--the key point is there is a history to this. This is not just ideas that have always been in human minds. And my focus in this book is not the fear that you and mi--I might have of our rival in the--in the firm or our neighbor. What I'm talking about here, primarily, are conspiracy theories to take over the world, that what--I--I--I give it an ism. I call it conspiracism, and I think it's like nationalism or fascism or liberalism. It's a body of ideas. And what's so striking is that over some two centuries, the body of ideas, whether they be anti-Jewish or anti-secret society, keep recurring and recurring. They come back over and over again.

And the ideas which are present today, which we'll no doubt talk about, one can find their origins very clearly in the 18th century. Pat Robertson, for example, candidate for president, distinguished figure in many ways, important person and--he wrote a book in 1991 called "The New World Order" that--that's a pastiche of ideas that have been current--it's almost a--a--a r--a renewal of a book that was written in the--in the 1790s. It's using the same ideas, same fantasies. And there's a--there's a whole literature--a vast literature of these conspiracy theories, and they range very widely. I mean, I'm--I'm including, say, the 2,000 books about the death of John F. Kennedy. I'm thinking about the ideas of Louis Farrakhan, that there is a white conspiracy or a Jewish conspiracy or a Masonic conspiracy against blacks. I'm thinking about the far-left ideas that there's a business conspiracy. They go on and on, and I think their general effect has been just a--a very, very harmful one on humanity at large.

LAMB: You say that there's even a--a--a Lincoln limousine tour that starts at the Dallas Love Field?

Dr. PIPES: Yeah, there's a commercialism as well. That's one example, but there are a lot of movies, a lot of books, a lot of stories, a lot of m-- there are even museums--for example, in Dallas, for the Kennedy assassination, but also in New Mexico, for the alleged UFO landing. It's a--I--I think more broadly speaking their--the conspiracy theorists fall into two categories: the more serious and worrisome of those who are politically disaffected, who are at the extremes of the political spectrum, right of left.

But there's a second phenomenon which is made up of people who are quite prosperous and don't have any particular problems in life but who are intrigued by conspiracy theories.

The Kennedy assassination might be the best single example. People who are just entranced by this, who will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for artifacts--original artifacts from the assassination; people who, less engaged, will go to Dallas and take a tour and can relive the assassination, and try and figure out for themselves what actually happened. It's become a cultlike topic and there are movies and there are books and there are unending discussion groups on the Internet and the like.

LAMB: What do you think of Oliver Stone?

Dr. PIPES: Well, Oliver Stone is an extreme conspiracy theorist, but he's a playful sort. I'm not saying that playful is without consequence or without damage, but he isn't really--he's not someone who's poor, he's not someone who's a political extremist, but he's playing with these ideas. I think it's harmful because at stake is how you and I see the world. Are we gonna look at it straight or ar we like the conspiracy theorists who are gonna say, `Things are not what they appear to be. There's someone out there who's trying to web--to--to spin a web of--of intrigue against us'?

LAMB: You said a--conspiracists rely on the book.

Dr. PIPES: The book is very prominent, yes. There are those who rely on radio and television, Internet, newspapers, magazines, word of mouth, but ultimately, books have been the key documents in the development of conspiracy theories. And over and over again, you find that conspiracy theorists, the ones who are really devoting their lives to this, whether they be on the far left or the far right or aestheticists--they invariably say that it was a book that changed their lives. They read something and they came out a new person. It's like a--a--a conversion from something into something else, from one religion into another religion. Now that's--that's-- that's only a small number. Most people don't give up their normal lives, give up their families to de--devote themselves to pursuing conspiracy theories. But I think it's indicative of the kind of seriousness and importance that people attribute to these ideas.

LAMB: Where are you from?

Dr. PIPES: I'm originally from Cambridge, Massachusetts, Boston area, and I've got degrees mostly in history and in Middle Eastern studies. And actually, this book was preceded by a previous book also on the subject of conspiracy theories but on the theories in the Middle East. It's called "The Hidden Hand." It came out from St. Martin's Press in 1996. It's a bigger book, it's a more detailed book.

Here, what I could do was build on the works of many other authors. There's a--a--substantial literature on conspiracy theories in Western history, American and European. In the Middle East I was all my own. Middle East--I took up this topic because if you look around the Middle East today-- Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini and all the other major figures--almost every one of them is an adherent of conspiracy theories, and they have moved history. They have led to wars, repression, terrorism. And so I tried to understand what this mentality signifies and where it comes from, and I found, in tracing back where it comes from, it comes from the--the West, it comes from Europe. And I started researching that and I realized that my book was getting too big. I put it away, and then an editor at the Free Press suggested that I turn that European section into a book, so this, in a sense, is an afterthought.

LAMB: Cambridge, Massachusetts, for how many years?

Dr. PIPES: Oh, I lived there from birth till I was almost 30. My family's connected to Harvard.

LAMB: Doing what?

Dr. PIPES: My father is a professor--was until recently a professor of Russian history.

LAMB: His name?

Dr. PIPES: Richard Pipes.

LAMB: And did you grow up in that--did you go to school up there?

Dr. PIPES: I did, went to Harvard, yes, undergraduate and graduate...

LAMB: What'd you study?

Dr. PIPES: ...taught there. I studied history. I studied partly intellectual history, which is what this is, the history of ideas. In this case, history of very bizarre and corrupt ideas but ideas nonetheless. And I studied the Middle East.

LAMB: And what was it like growing up in the home of Richard Pipes?

Dr. PIPES: Well, it was a--a intellectual, highbrow, fast-paced atmosphere.

LAMB: Were there others in the family besides you?

Dr. PIPES: I have a younger brother, yes, but h--he opted out of this particular line of work.

LAMB: And what did you get your PhD in?

Dr. PIPES: I got it in the history of the Middle East. And my first book, my PhD, was on the early history--the very origins of Islam, trying to understand how Islam, which is a religion, can have such a widespread impact on the life of Muslims. So I took up the topic of the use of slaves as soldiers and why, only in the Muslim world, do you find the systematic use of slaves as soldiers? From India to Spain, throughout the Medieval period, slaves were used as soldiers and nowhere else on a regular basis. And I asked, `How could this be connected to Islam?' and m--several of my books since then have been in Islam and its role in politics.

LAMB: Now does your family go back to Europe somewhere?

Dr. PIPES: Yes, both my parents came from Europe in the '40s.

LAMB: Where?

Dr. PIPES: From Poland.

LAMB: You have, in the book, a lot of references to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. What were they? What is it?

Dr. PIPES: The Protocols is quite an extraordinary document. It was a forgery probably put together by the Czarist secret police, their Okhrana, in the 1890s--late 1890s--for rather special purposes, to convince the czar that the liberals were working against his interests. It languished for some 20 years, and after World War I--after World War I is a key period for conspiracism--in a turmoil, an upset of the postwar period, these protocols, the--this forgery, was translated into German and had a major impact on German thinking, and then spread from Germany around the world. And it alleges that there is a group of Jewish leaders who get together and plot out their control of the world. It's very turgid. It's hard to read.

LAMB: How big is it?

Dr. PIPES: A hundred pages or less. It's ha--it's a--it's a--it's a challenge. I mean, it's--it's not exciting reading. It's not something that I think most people have actually read who ref--who cite it. It's--it's tough.

LAMB: Have you?

Dr. PIPES: Yeah. I made my way through it. I had to, but if I could not have...

LAMB: Translated into English?

Dr. PIPES: Yeah, it was translated into English right back there in 1920, '22, so I read the--the kind of classic translation of it. It had an impact in this country as well. For example, Henry Ford was a great proponent of the protocols--again, the book, key. And he later recanted and by 1927 said it was a forgery and he wished he hadn't supported it, but it was a bit late at that that point.

LAMB: The original Henry Ford Motor Company?

Dr. PIPES: That's right, Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company. The fi--the protocols are still hawked here, for example, by the Nation of Islam, by Louis Farrakhan's organization. But by and large, it'll be found in a non-Western world. They've actually become best-seller in place likes Lebanon and I believe in Japan. And they keep on coming back.

LAMB: Today?

Dr. PIPES: Yeah. Well, not--not right today, but in 1970s and not--not so long ago. They keep coming back. They're proven over and again--over and again to be a forgery, and yet, they keep coming back, and they can't be stomped out. And actually, conspiracism has a lot of forgeries, a lot of documents--pseudo-documents that keep coming back and prove the point that there really is a Jewish or secret soci--society conspiracy.

LAMB: Let me ask you about the protocols, though. Y--y--you're a PhD and you're intellectual and think about all this stuff, and you say it's tough to get through the protocols. Why would a--a mass population buy it or why would they be a best-seller?

Dr. PIPES: I don't think--you know, that's one of those documents I don't think people actually read, but they're told what's inside it and they--and they believe it. I mean, it's simple idea that this is a gathering of Jewish leaders who are plotting out their control of the world. But actually to read it is another story.

LAMB: As you're wading through it, though, what do you--what do you read about? What's--I mean, why is it so hard to understand?

Dr. PIPES: Well, it's not exactly hard to understand, it's just boring and turgid, sort of long-winded and with lots of excursuses. It's not written in a style that would keep your attention, and there's some--there's some bizarre ideas in there--for example, the notion that the 1890s was when the first subways were being built around the world and there was some worry that these subways would be used by revolutionaries, and in the Protocols, the so- called elders are saying, `Well, let's use the subways to bomb the cities,' an idea that dates back a century ago--no one would think of it now, but full of--full of strange ambitions.

Actually, the book--what makes it even stranger is that the book was largely plagiarized from a French book, a liberal French book attacking the repression of the dictator Louis-Napoleon III. Strange--this is not so unusual. Conspiracism is full of strange connections where one person takes from another, steals his ideas, turns them around. Th--there's no--there's no quality control. The books wander off, say contradictory things, make declarations without supporting them. It's--it's--it's a very difficult world to--to analyze because analysis is not what this is about. It's about feelings.

LAMB: I--is there any conspiracy that you believe in?

Dr. PIPES: Well, cer--certainly conspiracies do take place, and there are even conspiracies to take over the world. And here we get to an interesting point. The only real conspiracies--or almost only real conspiracies are counterconspiracies. In other words, if I'm a conspiracy theorist, I believe that this is a good way of operating, an effective way of operating. And therefore, I'm inclined to operate this way myself, and that's precisely what you find.

Take Hitler. He believed in a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. What he did to counter that alleged Jewish conspiracy was to create a real conspiracy, the Nazi Party, and he a--apparently took a number of ideas from the alleged Jewish conspiracy and made them part of his Nazi movement, and the Nazi movement was an attempt to take over the world. Take Lenin. He believed in a business conspiracy, a conspiracy of business interests to dominate the world, to extract, steal goods at--at--at cheaper--or for free, for the same reason: Because he believed in conspiracy, he himself organized a conspiracy, the Social Democratic Party in Russia, which, in fact, took over Russian government and was a--an attempt to take over the world.

So over and over again, I find that the--the conspiracy theorist becomes, himself, a conspirator. And that in most cases, the real conspiracy, the one that actually takes place, follows from the actions, the mind of a conspiracy theorist. So there's a--a circle. And so my policy conclusion from this is when you hear a conspiracy theory being alleged, watch out for the conspiracy.

Look around carefully.

LAMB: A--by the way, where are you now?

Dr. PIPES: I'm in Philadelphia.

LAMB: Doing what?

Dr. PIPES: I'm editor of a journal called Middle East Quarterly and director of a small think tank that houses that quarterly.

LAMB: What's the name of that think tank?

Dr. PIPES: Middle East Forum.

LAMB: Why is it in Philadelphia?

Dr. PIPES: Just 'cause I landed there, previous job, and have been there now for some 12 years.

LAMB: And how big an operation do you have?

Dr. PIPES: It's quite small. It's--we put out a journal and do some research, but it's small by Washington standards.

LAMB: And where have you been in your professional life?

Dr. PIPES: I've taught at Harvard and at the University of Chicago, at the Naval War College. I've worked in the State Department and been head of the think tank and now I'm editor of the journal.

LAMB: And what did you do in what State Department?

Dr. PIPES: I was in the Reagan State Department and I was in a couple of positions--policy planning and other positions, mostly having to do with the Middle East.

LAMB: When your--did you say your mother and father both came over from Poland?

Dr. PIPES: That's right.

LAMB: What year?

Dr. PIPES: Father in 19--mother in 1940 and father in 1941.

LAMB: What was the reason?

Dr. PIPES: Escaping the Nazis.

LAMB: Does that have any impact on you and why you're doing all this?

Dr. PIPES: Well, I'm sure it has some impact, but not directly. I mean, as I said before, the direct reason was trying to understand the politics of the Middle East today. And one thing led to another and I ended up in this topic, which in a way is familiar because it's intellectual history of Europe, which is a favorite topic of mine. But I'm sure I'm influenced by other factors as well.

LAMB: Do you have a family?

Dr. PIPES: Yes, I do.

LAMB: Kids?

Dr. PIPES: Yes.

LAMB: How many?

Dr. PIPES: Two chil--two--two--two girls, 12 and 10.

LAMB: What's your wife do?

Dr. PIPES: She is working at the University of Pennsylvania.

LAMB: Teaching?

Dr. PIPES: Working at the hospital.

LAMB: Council on Foreign Relations, Trilateralists, Federal Reserve, international bankers--I just wrote that down, reading through this--we hear a lot about that on this network from callers. They think there is, in all this, one-worlders. They run the world. What do you think?

Dr. PIPES: I think that these are organizations that are not terribly strong, not p--terribly powerful; that these are organizations of like-minded people, people of social affinities and get together and talk about the things that interest them. One of the key characteristics of the conspiracy theorist is he confuses the powerful and the powerless.

The Soviet Union, Nazi Germany--he'll say, `Well, they're not really all that powerful,' never mind that these are enormously influential, powerful totalitarian states with huge armies and arsenals. The Council on Foreign Relations, which is a group of like-minded people who meet together and have study groups and listen to talks, is deemed an all-powerful organization. The United Nations, which can barely scrape together a budget from year to year, is deemed all-powerful. It's a typical mistake of the conspiracy theorist. Things are not what they seem to be; therefore, the weak is really the powerful, the powerful is really the weak. It's a very consistent mistake.

LAMB: Have you ever been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations?

Dr. PIPES: I am indeed, yes, member of good standing and--and some of the talk shows I've been on, I've been accused of being a one-worldist and being employed by them, in effect, to make people unaware of--of the real conspiracy.

LAMB: A--a--and you...

Dr. PIPES: All I can say is that my salary is not being paid by them and that's the key point here. The--the Council on Foreign Relations has no influence over its members.

LAMB: But you know people right now are saying, `Ah-ha.'

Dr. PIPES: Yeah, right.

LAMB: `We got this guy. We know where he's coming from.'

Dr. PIPES: Yeah, that's right. Well--but I had to apply to become a member. I had to have a few friends vouch for me that I'm someone they wanna have. They decided I was someone they wanted to have. How does that mean-- whe--where is the influence over me? In other words, there's no control...

LAMB: Well, let me take--let me take you through it. They--y--you all are of like minds, you all meet--how often do you meet?

Dr. PIPES: No, we're not of like minds. We're of very different minds. I mean, the majority of the members, I'd say, are liberal. I'm conservative. I worked for Reagan. The--major debates. It's a group of some 2,000-plus people who are interested in foreign affairs, from the world of business, universities, think tanks...

LAMB: No, but the theory is you--you belong to the same organization, you come in and out of government, you all go to the same clubs, all eat at the same restaurants eventually, wink at each other, write each other's contracts, you know...

Dr. PIPES: Well, that is a theory, but it also goes beyond that. It--that- -that the council actually can make or break your career and so that I, as a member, must do what the council tells me to say. Well, let's just start with the power. That's the--the--the power nexus. I mean, where is the power nexus? What do--I pay $210 a year to be a member of the council, and I have some free dinners and I get a free subscription to Foreign Affairs and I go there once in a while for talks. But there's power nexus here. It's just like joining any other club.

LAMB: Why do you belong anyway?

Dr. PIPES: Because it's a nice organization to belong to and it is a good place to meet people, and it is somewhat prestigious. And the council's been good to me. I was a fellow there for a while and I've met lots of interesting people there. But it's not a key to my life.

LAMB: How about the Freemasons?

Dr. PIPES: Yes, Freemasons are another source.

LAMB: What are they? Are they still active? What's the conspiracy theory around them?

Dr. PIPES: Another major source of conspiracy theories. Freemasons--their origins are somewhat murky, but they go back to about 1720 as an organized group in London. They, in England and in the United States, by and large remain quite a tame organization in terms of their rituals and their proclamations. But in the continent--France and Germany especially--they came up with all sorts of wild permutations. And already in the 1760s, '70s, there were lots of fears that the Masons, who were, again, a social group, but at that time, quite a distinct one because in the 18th century, there were very few opportunities for people of different social backgrounds to get together and talk about public issues. And Ma--Masonic lodges were a place where they could do it.

LAMB: But what kind of work did you have to do to get into them or what...

Dr. PIPES: You had to be a respectable member of society, male and non- Jewish, by the way. But that...

LAMB: What about Catholic?

Dr. PIPES: Catholics were welcome but were not, by and large, allowed by the church. Church very much discouraged it. It's basically a Protestant organization, flourished in the Protestant countries, by and large, though not exclusively, and it had a function--had a real function. Today it doesn't have all that much of a function. There's so many places for people to meet. But because of the extravagant qualities of the Masonic lore, the suspicious, the conspiracy-minded said, `Ah-ha, here is the source of power.' And from the late 18th century, two centuries ago, 200 hundred years ago, until today, this is one of those themes that keeps getting repeated and repeated and repeated. There are other organizations which are even more obscure. The Illuminati existed for eight years, from 1776 to 1784-- interesting and relatively influential group in its small way.

LAMB: Only eight years in history?

Dr. PIPES: Only. And it remains the bogeyman of so many of the conspiracy theorists who are determined to find that it has a presence and an influence even today.

LAMB: Where was it from?

Dr. PIPES: It was in Germany--in southern Germany, and it was founded by a--let's say a militant secularist and someone who came out of the Masonic tradition. And he had great, grandiose ambitions for his Illuminati organization, but the state repressed it and it was gone.

LAMB: What does Illuminati mean?

Dr. PIPES: Enlightened, illuminated. The--the real turning point was the French Revolution. The French Revolution was the greatest event hitherto in human history. It was huge and it was chaotic. In retrospect, today we look back on it and understand it as the result of many conflicting forces, and no one clearly--no--clearly, no one planned it out. It happened. It followed its own trajectory, its own logic.

But at the time, the opponents of this event, of this transformation of French life believed that there had to be an explanation, a rational step-by- step explanation--the chaos--they had no place in their interpretation for chaos. And a significant number of them said, `Well, the French Revolution was planned in advance by the Illuminati, the Masons, the Jacobins and others, and they planned it out step-by-step. And it's the legacy of that interpretation and the books--one book in French, one book in English--came out almost exactly 20 years ago that we're now still reeling from. They created, they memorialized and--and put on paper these ideas. And as I said before, the best illustration would be Pat Robertson's 1991 book, which is a regurgitation of these 1790s ideas. They're modernized, of course, the examples have changed. But the themes and even the perceived enemies are to a very great extent the same ones.

The ideas don't go away. And I like to compare it to astrology, 'cause in astrology there is a vast literature, and it's all very reasonable and logical if you accept the premise, the premise being that the alignment of the stars when you're born are gonna affect your temperament and your life. Accept that temperme--accept that premise, everything else makes sense. Here you've got to accept the premise that nothing is a de--is as it seems to be. You've to accept the notion that there's some force out there that's working against you. And if you accept that, then all the rest of it is perfectly sensible. But the problem is the premise.

LAMB: The world's most important conspiracy theorist was?

Dr. PIPES: Clearly, the most important conspiracy theorist was the French abbot who interpreted the French Revolution as a conspiracy. He goes by the name of the Ab--Abbey of--the Abbot of--A--Abbey de Barwell, Abbot of Barwell, and wrote a big book--four volumes. Had a major impact, sensation and it-- translated into some 18, 20 languages.

LAMB: What year?

Dr. PIPES: A best-seller, 1797-'98.

LAMB: Have you read it?

Dr. PIPES: I've read it and--I can't say I've read the whole thing. It's vast. It's mad.

LAMB: Now why is he the world's most important conspiracy theorist?

Dr. PIPES: I see him as roughly analogous to von Clausewitz in strat--in strategic issues or Adam Smith in economic studies. He's the original writer, the one who developed the field, the one who gave, in some ways, the most brilliant analysis that has never been superseded. And so with de Barwell, he came up with a vision of conspiracy that was profound and--and captivated many people.

Now interestingly, his interpretation of the French Revolution was purely secret society, no Jews. But after he wrote the book, some years later, he also started dabbling in anti-Semitism. And he is, in a sense, also the originator of the anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. So both traditions--the two traditions both go back to him.

And it--I--I'd like to note that those two traditions are very strong and they exclude virtually everyone else. You don't find a anti-German conspiracy theory, an anti-Russian, an anti-Vatican, an anti-Japanese, an anti-Chinese, an anti-Islamic, an anti-Hindu. They just don't exist. Oh, once in a while, someone will say something, but as a constituted tradition that goes back decades, if not centuries, they don't exist.

It's Jews and then Israel, it's secret societies--Templars, Masons, Illuminati. Then that turns into the British and American governments. So it's these five actors--Jews, Israel, secret societies, British and American governments--who keep on coming up as the conspirator.

LAMB: You say there are only three countries that suspect and hate their own governments.

Dr. PIPES: Then what's interesting, if you--if you just look at the governments, the Israeli, British and American governments, there's a widespread suspicion that these governments are engaged in a conspiracy against the rest of the world. Again, not the German, not the Russian or anyone else. And they...

LAMB: How long has that been going on?

Dr. PIPES: That's been going on for at least a century--well, not in the case of Israel, but Britain and the United States. Britain is the first, United States and then Israel. I--it--it's a 20th century phenomenon. Then what happens is that the inhabitants of these various countries--Israelis, Britons and Americans--absorb these ideas themselves. And what you have uniquely among Israelis, Britons and Americans is a suspicion that their own government is engaged in a worldwide conspiracy. And you have the development of an adversarial culture be--on left or right, be it the militiamen on the right or the m--the weathermen on the left, people who see the jackboots of the American government everywhere and see it as a force that not only wants to repress Americans but take over the world. It's very strange and--and very limited to the three--three countries which are suspected of being conspirators.

LAMB: When did you become a conservative?

Dr. PIPES: I always have been. My--my political education was in college. I was in college from 1967 to '71, the...

LAMB: Harvard.

Dr. PIPES: Harvard--the years of rage and revolution. And I thought they were mistaken, and taking that position, arguing against the radicals, was my political education. I was all the time wondering why I'm in this tiny minority that's against the--the--the revolution.

LAMB: What's your father's politics?

Dr. PIPES: Not too different from mine.

LAMB: How much impact did he have on the way you think?

Dr. PIPES: Well, again, you know, it's--no doubt he had impact. But at the same time, there were many other fathers whose politics were similar to mine and their children were radicals, so I'll take some credit for not having been wild-eyed about the place of America in the world and...

LAMB: Who are y--either your favorite conservatives in history or contemporary, for that matter, or your favorite--what's your theory of conservatism? I mean, the traditionalist vs. social vs. libertarian.

Dr. PIPES: I'm somewhat on the libertarian side of things. I--my impulse is to have minimal government. I think so many of the problems of the 20th century have resulted from a government that's too large and too powerful. In fact, one of the books I quote at some length in "Conspiracy" is a book by Rommel called--I actually can't remember the name of the book, but it's about the role of governments in killing people--their own people--throughout the 20th century. He cups um--he comes up with a figure of some 170 million people killed by their own governments--not in war, not by opposite governments, but by their own governments. I think that's the great tragedy of our century. I think what we've been learning from the century is that government needs to be restrained. And in that sense, I'm a conservative.

LAMB: Follow anybody in particular that--history of conservative thinkers?

Dr. PIPES: Oh, some of my teachers, in a sense, would be Friedrich von Hayek and Sir Karl Popper, both from--brilliant analysts.

LAMB: Did you know Hayek at Chicago?

Dr. PIPES: No, I didn't. No. No, I didn't.

LAMB: I wrote down the numbers, 169 million in the 20th century killed: Soviet Union, 62 million; Chinese, 35 million; Nazis, 21 million; Chinese nationalists, 10 million; Japanese, 6 million; and the Khmer Rouge, 2.4 million. What's that say about anything?

Dr. PIPES: Well, this figures into my book because what I found is that genocide, the mass killing of people, invariably includes a conspiracy theory.

The only way in which a population can be mobilized to murder millions of people is by seeing them as vermin, by seeing them as non-human. And that, in turn, requires a conspiracy theory. It requires pushing them outside of humanity, seeing them as--as an evil force that's determined to take over.

We know best the Nazi case, where the Jews and--and some other peoples, Slavs, were put in that position. But it also applies to the Communists and the--and other nationalists--and nationalists who rely on conspiracy theories to turn the opponent into a non-human who must be killed.

LAMB: You've--you've got conspiracy theorists on the right and on the left, and I just wrote a bunch of them down. On the right you have Hitler, Mark of Michigan, Farrakhan. Was Lindbergh on the right?

Dr. PIPES: Yeah.

LAMB: Conspiracy theorist?

Dr. PIPES: I'm not sure.

LAMB: Then you say on the left, Pierre Salinger, Gary Sick, Noam Chomsky, Ramsey Clark, Gore Vidal, Oliver Stone, Susan Faludi, the Bolsheviks, Lee Harvey Oswald, Lyndon LaRouche, Hodding Carter, Seymour Hersh, Robert Perry, Christopher Hitchens. Some of those are recent and probably don't think of themselves as being conspiracy theorists.

Dr. PIPES: Well, a couple points. First, I'd--I'd wanna separate out Hitler and Stalin from people working in current America. They are special cases, but I think they are very important as the paradigm of what a conspiracy theorist can become, ruler of his country and someone who dominates his country and possibly can dominate the world through the vision of a conspiracy.

A second point would be that the right tends to be the far right, the hard right, tends to be very explicit about its conspiracy theories, talks about them, whether it be Hitler or the American far right. The left is far more subtle. And perhaps the--the--the best illustration of this is Stalin, who was maniacally conspiracy-minded, and yet, he somehow or other fooled everyone to the point that it was only three years after his death when Khrushchev gave his famous speech in 1956 that the party and then the world became aware of what Stalin had been up to.

And so, too, in American life, the right tends to be crude and overt in its conspiracism. The left is elegant and sophisticated and subtle. And so take Noam Chomsky vs. Mark of Michigan. Mark of Michigan is a janitor by day and he has loudmouth ravings. Noam Chomsky is one of the brilliant intellectuals of this century, a man who changed our understanding of the human mind, a fluent polemicist who's written book after book on important subjects. Sophisticated is an understatement. And yet, his view of the United States government is as conspiracist as Mark of Michigan. So there is this mirror imaging on the two sides, and yet, the left gets away with a lot more, in large part because of the elegance with which it purveys its conspiracy theories.

LAMB: Seymour Hersh--what do you think of him?

Dr. PIPES: I don't remember actually including him in the book as a conspiracy theorist.

LAMB: W--y--y--maybe it's not fair to say he was a conspiracy theorist, 'cause I wrote down you have other leftists. You call Hodding Carter a leftist...

Dr. PIPES: I...

LAMB: ...Seymour Hersh, Robert Perry, Christopher Hitchens.

Dr. PIPES: Oh, I th--I see. You're--you're making reference to the "October Surprise." This was a theory that became prominent in 1991, when Gary Sick took a full page in The New York Times to argue that candidate Reagan back in 1980 had conspired with the Iranian mullahs to keep the American hostages in Tehran so that Jimmy Carter would be humiliated and Reagan would win the election. Some 10 years later, 1991, Gary Sick offered this conspiracy theory, and a whole lot of people jumped on it and said, `This must be true.'

It turned out not to be true. It was clearly not true, even before looking at the evidence, but the evidence made it all the more certain that it wasn't true. Yet it was a classic example of the l--the left trying to delegitimate a conservative. Reagan's position as president was challenged in this rather circuitous way by these left-wing former aides and others who didn't like him.

LAMB: No truth to any of it?

Dr. PIPES: No truth whatsoever, no, none.

LAMB: How many years did you serve in the Reagan State Department?

Dr. PIPES: I was just there for one.

LAMB: One year.

Dr. PIPES: One year.

LAMB: Why did you do it?

Dr. PIPES: I did it 'cause I was interested in seeing what--what life is like in--in Washington in the State Department.

LAMB: What was it like?

Dr. PIPES: Well, I don't know that it's--I learned anything terribly surprising, but as someone who'd always been on his own writing, it was very interesting to spend a little while in the halls of power and see how decisions are made, what the Washington culture is like.

LAMB: What kind of thing did you do there?

Dr. PIPES: I worked on the Middle East and policy planning primarily, what we should be thinking about and what the larger issues are.

LAMB: Did you come away with any new view of government and how it works?

Dr. PIPES: Well, the major point that I came away with that's relevant to our topic today is that--how chaotic it is, how who knows who--how important that is, and how unideological so much of it is, and how a position like policy planning is almost an oxymoron. I mean, you don't plan policy, it just happens as things spin out. And that--the conspiracy theorists who see some grandiose plan being effected by the government are just completely off base. It's just--it's a chaotic--it's a chaotic institution and never manages to see something several chess moves ahead in the way that the conspiracy theorists imagine it can.

LAMB: Who does then have power when it comes to international relations?

Dr. PIPES: Well, what's so striking about the United States is the fact that power is well distributed. I mean, we have lobbies, we have Congress, we have the press. We have all sorts of people who are involved in making foreign policy, far more so than the case of other f--other governments where, really, the foreign ministry is in charge. Here it's an open process. It's remarkable to see how individuals without money, without credentials but with a lot of passion and who learn their subject can really make a difference.

LAMB: You have some little sayings that you write down in the beginning of the book and one of them is from Joseph Stalin: `I trust no one, not even myself.'

Dr. PIPES: Yeah, that's a paradigm of conspiracy thinking. He--he--it's-- it's a literal quote from him. He was an obsessional conspiracy theorist and tens of millions of people paid their--paid the price of their lives for that.

LAMB: How many did he kill in the end?

Dr. PIPES: Well, you read the figure before. One estimate is something like 60 million--well, not him alone, but in his time, something in the order of 40 million. The numbers vary greatly, but it's clearly in the tens of millions, people not in war but within the Soviet Union itself. He is a classic case of someone who was a conspiracy theorist and, therefore, also a conspirator or we can maybe turn it around--a conspirator and, therefore, also a conspiracy theorist.

But the--the web or the--the--the connections between the conspiracy and the conspiracy theory are very thick, to the point that, as I was trying to understand this, my head would hurt, because where I distinguished between the actual conspiracy and the fear of conspiracy, when you're dealing with an all-powerful ruler, it--it--it becomes almost inextricable. When you're dealing with a--a--a loner, a conspiracy theorist living in a small farm in-- in Idaho, well, you know, you can easily distinguish between his thinking and what's happening in the country. But when you're dealing with Stalin, who dominated the country to an extraordinary extent, it's hard to make that distinction anymore.

LAMB: Did you s--have you studied him a lot?

Dr. PIPES: Mostly in the context of this book.

LAMB: What was he like?

Dr. PIPES: He was someone who could disarm his opponents. He didn't come across as someone extremely dangerous. They would let down their guard, and he would cut them off, and he did it time and time and time again. And people were, to the end, unaware of what he was doing.

LAMB: What was his motive?

Dr. PIPES: His motive was absolute power. His motive was to institute a-- a kind of utopia that he imagined, a utopia in which the communist strictures would be followed as he def--as he interpreted them. But power--power. Anyone obsessed with power sees enemies everywhere, and he saw them everywhere.

LAMB: You talk quite a bit about two fairly--well, not quite a bit but enough that I wanna ask you about them--two men in history that have big names. Cecil Rhodes, the Rhodes scholar initiator--what was he in history? Why did you write about him?

Dr. PIPES: Cecil Rhodes was a great colonial--colonialist, someone who was eager to expand the British empire and someone who had considerable success in finding diamonds and other precious minerals in South Africa. He believed that the British government should expand and expand and was quite overt about it. There are a number of cases--Benjamin Disraeli would probably be the best case--of...

LAMB: Who was he?

Dr. PIPES: Benjamin Disraeli was a British prime minister in the '50s and '60s--1850s and '60s. He was a brilliant writer, just generally a brilliant parliamentician. And he would play with conspiracy theories and he would make statements in his books, sometimes fictional, sometimes on the floor of the House of Commons, about the conspiracy to control Europe. And these remain 150 years later important proof texts for conspiracy theorists to say, `Aha, look, Benjamin Disraeli said it.' And there are others like this.

There was a case of a book that came out the 1960s by Carroll Quigley, a well-known professor at Georgetown, in fact, I think, a professor of Bill Clinton's, important book--"Hope and Faith," I believe it's called, big book, 1,200 pages. And in there, there's a passage or two in which he talks about there being a conspiracy with the Council of Foreign Relations, and he rather approves of it, and he was part of it, and he talks about it like that. And so the--these curious statements once in a while by people who should know, who've claimed to know that there is, in fact, a conspiracy. And this heartens very much those who believe that there is, in fact.

LAMB: It--Disraeli was Jewish, but he did something about that.

Dr. PIPES: No, he--he was converted as a child by his father, so he was always a Christian in his adult life.

LAMB: Did he ever acknowledge that? I mean, was there anything around that--the Jewish part that became an issue back in those days?

Dr. PIPES: Well, not really. I mean, he--he was proud of being of Jewish origins, and he thought Jews were great people. But he also thought that--he also proclaimed that there was a Jewish and sometimes a secret society conspiracy--very playful, I think; not very responsible but having fun. And people seized on it as a very serious statement.

LAMB: When did the issue over the Jewish conspiracy change from being the way it was in the beginning about the--the origins--the s--the death of Christ and all that? When did it move into another realm where it was just a hatred of the people?

Dr. PIPES: Th--when did it move into another realm, become Christian...

LAMB: No, what year was it, like, for instance, it became like Hitler, `I wanna exterminate Jews'? It had nothing to do with Christ, it had something to do with the way he felt about the people.

Dr. PIPES: Well, anti-Semitism in the course of the 19th century became an ism of its own--really from about 1870 on. There's a whole literature now defunct and forgotten, but in researching this book I came across all these books that--it was interesting to see that the library hadn't--hadn't had a use of it or it hadn't been taken out of the library for some 40 or 50 or 80 years, 100 years, even. These are books that are forgotten but at the time were important sources of pseudo-knowledge about Jews that there is a concerted effort among Jews to take over Europe.

Now this was the time that Jews were emancipated, were leaving the ghettos and joining the mainstream of European life, and were quite successful. And so people who hitherto had been seen as remote, alien, dressing a different way, speaking a different language--Yiddish--following their own customs, now are integrated and were successful in business, were successful in journalism, the arts. And this movement out of the ghetto and into mainstream life was feared by some who interpreted it as part of a conspiracy to dominate. And the literature developed so that by the 19-teens when, for example, Adolf Hitler encountered this literature, it was a full-blown body of ideas, which he absorbed, and many others as well.

Quite respectable, significant figures on--in the political world, the religious world, intellectual world espoused these ideas, and it--and it--it reached its--its culmination with Hitler. He took it in ways it hadn't been taken before. He made it unapologetic, he made it murderous in a way that it had never been before. But it built on a--an ideology that had been around for some decades.

LAMB: How do you th--what's it like in the world now for Jews? Attitudes? Anti-Semitism?

Dr. PIPES: Well, more broadly, let me say that I think that conspiracy theories, while they peaked in the 1940s, have really declined since then and they've moved to the margin--or two margins: the margin politically in that you do not find, in the Western world, responsible figures espousing conspiracy theories, and if they do, they get marginalized. Ross Perot would be a good example. He lost a lot of standing when he started talking about conspiracy theories. Pat Robertson would be another. You can't get very far with this. It--it--it flourishes at the extremes, it is still dangerous at the extremes, but it's not operational. You don't have decisions made by the US or European governments along conspiracist lines.

But the theories also move to the margins geographically. They left the West; they went to places like India and Iran and Haiti and the Philippines, where they are, indeed, very important, and indeed, this is how I started my study of it, because it's so important in the Middle East today. So the--the general scene is, I think, a good one. The conclusion I draw is that we have learned something.

We paid an enormous price for these conspiracy theories, but we in the West are no longer still prey to them, and with luck, it won't be too long until peoples in other parts of the world will also graduate out of this.

So by and large, things are better, and certainly for Jews, to get back to your question, the situation is far better than it was in the early years of the century--first half of the century.

LAMB: In the back you have a--three appendic--pendix--ap--three appendices- -appendix C, 60 greatest conspiracies of all time you list and you can find it at www.conspire.com/conspire/symbol. I mean, you alm--you alm--I--you almost have to buy your book to find it.

Dr. PIPES: You do.

LAMB: How did you find this Internet site? Did you--did you go in and look at it?

Dr. PIPES: Yeah, I spent some hours--many hours trolling through, surfing through the Internet to find these bizarre places.

LAMB: Sixty greatest conspiracies of all times.

Dr. PIPES: I think that one is somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

LAMB: Yeah, you say it is here.

Dr. PIPES: There are people, such as the author of that cite and the book related to it, Jonathan Vankin, who is both a conspiracy theorist and someone who has fun with them, and it becomes a little murky at times what he actually believes. He--it--it's that--it's that general area of intrigue and fascination, somewhat lighthearted, somewhat serious, not terribly consequential, except that it can get people to see the world in this conspiratorial fashion, and that can lead to evil consequences.

LAMB: What are some of the less-serious conspiracies that you enjoyed reading about that never went anywhere?

Dr. PIPES: Well, I don't know if I actually enjoy any of them, but, no question, the most popular of all is the Kennedy assassination, which people can lose themselves in. There are so many arcane details--there's such a body of knowledge to learn about it. You can learn about ballistics, you need to learn about anatomy to understand what happened to the president and to Governor Connal--Connally, you need to learn about the geography of Dallas, you need to learn about the con--the subsequent lives of the people who are connected to the Kennedy assassination. There's a theory that many of them died soon after it. There's such a body of evidence to learn, and people become specialists on this. It's very interesting. People who otherwise are not terribly intellectual become intellectuals, become specialists, scholars, as it were, or pseudo-scholars, of this body of knowledge.

LAMB: What about Area 51? Did you study that?

Dr. PIPES: Area 51's another good one. Not--not as popular as--as Kennedy, but the notion that an unidentified flying object landed in Roswell, New Mexico, just over 50 years ago, very, very intriguing and growing, probably, in--in its reach.

LAMB: Do you ever listen to the all-night call-in show that talks about all this?

Dr. PIPES: I'm afraid I don't.

LAMB: Never heard it?

Dr. PIPES: No. Only so much I can do. It's a huge--huge topic.

LAMB: Hundreds of radio stations carry this show across the country.

Dr. PIPES: Yeah. Yeah.

LAMB: Never heard it?

Dr. PIPES: No, I'm afraid I didn't. The UFOs isn't exactly central to my concern here. It's secondary. The--the main concern I have is with politics.

LAMB: This is a small thing, but I noticed in the notes that you capitalize certain names and then--and then sometimes I think Gary Sick's name was both capitalized and in lowercase. Wha--what's that all about? I don't know if we can show the audience what you did, but what were you trying to do here?

Dr. PIPES: Well, precisely because there is this pseudo-scholarship that so closely mimics conventional scholarship, I thought it important to indicate to the reader w--who the conspiracy theorist is and who the conventional analyst is, and I did it by putting the conspiracy theorist into small capitals. It--sometimes there's a--there's, as you say, a fairly subtle distinction in that some authors will appear, at times, in capitals and at other times in normal letters. But most of the time it's pretty clear.

But you'll find that some of the books are published by reputable publishers, have all the apparatus of a scholarly book, with footnotes and appendices and bibliographies and all the rest, and yet, are stark-raving mad.

LAMB: Up here you have a dedication. This is to Sarah Pipes, an avid reader. Who's Sarah Pipes?

Dr. PIPES: She's my older daughter, she's 12 years old, and she is, indeed, an avid reader and I thought this was a nice way to--to note that publicly.

LAMB: How much does she read?

Dr. PIPES: Oh, she reads everything she gets her hand on.

LAMB: And what did she think when she saw her father dedicate a book to her?

Dr. PIPES: Well, we had, actually, a little conspiracy to keep--to keep this from her. Everyone knew it but her, and then finally the book came a couple weeks ago and I had the pleasure of giving it to her. Everyone else knew that it wa--it was dedicated t her and she didn't, and I think she was delighted by it.

LAMB: Did she find it on her own?

Dr. PIPES: Yes, she did. Yes, I just gave her the book and she found it on her own. And--and now it sits on her shelves in among all the books that you'd expect a 12-year-old to have and here is this rather serious-looking paperback, quite a bit larger and quite different in appearance from all her other books.

LAMB: What's next for you?

Dr. PIPES: I'm doing a book now on what I'm calling Muslim America. I'm co-authoring it with someone else, and we're looking at Islam and the United States, both Nation of Islam, black converts and immigrants, and trying to assess this phenomenon, its importance, its implications. It's a--it's an--a growing and, I think, significant new phenomenon in the United States. Raises all sorts of issues that haven't existed before.

LAMB: And in history, where are we--I asked you about the Jewish situation, but where are we in history about conspiracism or conspiracies compared to what you--you know, all the years that you studied it?

Dr. PIPES: I think things are basically going well in that the terrible consequences of this phenomenon are declining. People are becoming, slowly over time, aware that this notion that there's an enemy out there, that things are not what they seem to be is very harmful. And people are somewhat more commonsensical than they used to be, and common sense is the key. The only way to battle this--this illusion is through common sense.

LAMB: Now this cover, did you have anything to do with this?

Dr. PIPES: No, I didn't. I'm rather pleased with it, though.

LAMB: Do you have any idea what the picture is?

Dr. PIPES: I believe it's to be some men, murky, shadowy, having illicit relations with each other. In short, conspiring.

LAMB: Was this posed for this cover?

Dr. PIPES: These are dolls, I was told, that there's an artist in New York who has dolls that can be used for all different sorts of purposes.

LAMB: Our guest has been Daniel Pipes and the book is called "Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where it Comes From." Thank you very much.

Dr. PIPES: Thank you.


The views and opinions stated within this web page are those of the author or authors which wrote them and may not reflect the views and opinions of the ISP or account user which hosts the web page.

Return to The Skeptic Tank's main Index page.

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank