Watch “Knowledge Gaps: The Early Modern Foundations” talk by Professor Cornel Zwierlein (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
A Public Lecture by Conspiracy & Democracy Visiting Fellow Professor Cornel Zwierlein (Ruhr-Universität Bochum).
It seems as if Conspiracy Theories are a particularly modern phenomenon. By relying on some examples and cases, this lecture gives a long-term overview of what they looked like and when they appeared. We possess full-fledged conspiracy theory texts only since the 16th century. While examples may have existed already in Antiquity, we do not possess any textual evidence for them. The lecture tries to develop an explanation for why conspiracy theories emerged only at this point in European history. In order to do so, it is necessary to distinguish between conjurations, any kind of revolts, conspiracies and conspiracy theories. We will show how their coming into being is linked to the emergence of the ‘Information Public Sphere’, as a by-product of the early inter-state diplomatic communication (which has, first, little to do with the later famous ‘Enlightenment Public Sphere’), and how those narratives filled in where knowledge gaps existed. In a hasty run through history, we will distinguish several phases or ‘epochs’ of Conspiracy (theory) communication. Finally, we will ask how Democracy comes in: ‘Real’ democracies were practiced rather nowhere after Ancient Europe, and were rare even during the 19th century. So, in pre-modern times, often it was ‘democracy’ or ‘democrats’ that were ‘conspiring’ against the good order of the commonwealth – not vice versa.
This public lecture was originally given 28 January 2014