Obligatory Nietzsche Reference

Every philosopher must, eventually, read something about Nietzsche. It’s hard to avoid the man, really; he is astoundingly popular (although I have never really worked out why). Still, he do go mad and begin to think he was the second coming of the Messiah, so I suppose he gets a few points in my book for being interesting. No matter; my fascination is, as always, in Conspiracy Theories and when it comes to Nietzsche then the Conspiracy Theory is entirely Jewish.Nietzsche is often described as being an anti-Semite, but that doesn’t appear to be supported by the literature. Yes, Nietzsche does subscribe to a Conspiracy Theory that claims that the Jews have subverted the natural order of things, but Nietzsche praises the Jewish people for this act of survival. In essence Nietzsche’s Conspiracy Theory is that the Jews were, at some stage, oppressed and thus advocated a Slave Morality that replaced the previously dominant Master Morality, thus giving the Jewish people some advantage over their oppressors. Nietzsche’s theory as to how this happened is fairly thin on the ground and some people think that he might well have been making up it all up (it may have been a explanatory fiction). It’s a fascinating theory, Nietzsche’s, and I’m fairly sure that it is wrong in every important respect (but, then again, don’t we think that of almost all Conspiracy Theories?).Robert Nola, in his article ‘Nietzsche as Anti-Semitic Jewish Conspiracy Theory’ (in The Croatian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. III, No. 7, 2003) provides an interesting commentary on all of this. Robert isn’t a typical Nietzschian scholar (in fact, he’s a bit of a surprise in this respect, seeing that Nietzsche really seems well outside his usual area of expertise). What Robert writes all seems very convincing and his criticisms of Nietzsche’s ‘geneaology’ look well-founded. The article looks at/for the logical inconsistencies in Nietzsche’s project and use the Conspiracy Theory as a case study in Nietzsche’s epistemology, but, luckily for me, there is specific Conspiracy Theory content of general use. Behold my findings!In developing Nietzsche’s position Robert provides what I take to be a description of a species of Conspiracism:

‘We may take it that if one group, X, has a conspiratorial view or theory about another group, Y, then this at least involves X’s belief that the members of Y are acting together to bring about a state of affairs that X would regard as detrimental to them. And if some group X believes that Y are currently so acting (i.e., actively conspiring) then this presupposes that they also believe that Y most likely have the power to successfully bring off any conspiracy (even if they do not so act). That it is believed that Y has the power to successfully conspire is an important aspect of what it is to have a conspiratorial theory about group Y; for a conspiracy theory it is not necessary for the members of group Y to actually be in a conspiracy.’ (p. 38)

This is then added to later in the piece with:

‘As is commonly said, one group can have a conspiracy view of another group-and be right. But one can also be wrong.’ (p. 44)

I like this. I think it summarises quite aptly why we find the belief in Conspiracy Theories to be intuitively dubious. Well, in this case why we find the tendency of certain groups to believe in certain kinds of Conspiracy Theory. Not only do such beliefs impute that the conspirators have an (abnormal?) power to carry out their plans but these so-called conspirators might not even be in on it. If we use the so-called Jewish Conspiracy of historical record then we have a group (the Europeans, if we are going to generalise) thinking that the Jews are not just conspiring against European society but that they also have the ability to succeed in this plotting and scheming.Still, all this might be true of our beliefs about people who espouse Conspiracy Theories but this tells us nothing as to the truth of whether a Conspiracy is, or in this case, was occurring. This is not really an issue, though; if we are talking about the warrant of any given belief we can talk about the reasons why certain people hold particular beliefs and we can talk about whether these beliefs correspond to what is actually happening. In this case we might admit that the contrasting explanations might be difficult to choose between (although this frequently doesn’t seem to be the case in most posited Conspiracy Theories). Later in the piece, then, Robert talks about contrasting explanations. This is the issue of how we chose between explanatory alternatives. In critiquing Nietzsche Robert talks about the contrasting probability of rival explanations and the coherence of contrasting explanations.The former point is that we can rank explanations as being more or less probable than their rivals and this allows us to prefer certain explanations over others. Many people point out that the Conspiracy Theory that advocates that the American Government staged the attack is less probable than the terrorist theory because the 911 Conspiracy Theory requires a massive cover-up on the part of the American Government, the Civic Authorities and the people who worked in the Twin Towers.The latter point is that we can also judge rival explanations on their coherence. We can talk about internal coherence of the theory and we can talk about the coherence of the theory in respect to our other theories about the world. If a theory fails to have internal coherence then we, rightly, think that something must be wrong with it. External coherence is slightly different; some bad theories about the world could be too externally coherent. An example should suffice here. Given enough suppositions about what occurred on September the 11th, 2001, the theory that the attacks on the Twin Towers were orchestrated by the Wombles could be easily formed. I could detail how they tunnelled from Wimbledom Common, how they applied for a credit card under the name of Uncle Orinoco, et al and develop a full and fruity theory about how the Wombles,. and not Al Quaeda, planned and executed the attack. This theory could cohere with not just the facts we all know and accept but also might tie in with a whole host of other theories, such as the world accessible via the Magic Roundabout and why Danger Mouse was otherwise occupied that fateful day.Coherence is a fascinating notion and one I shall be looking at more closely in the coming… well, at some point in future history. More importantly, I’ve now completed my seemingly mandatory excursion into Nietzsche.I should probably go celebrate that being over.


About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.