Conspiracy and Paranoia in the Age of Trump

Age of Revolutions

By Bryan Banks

I’ve been thinking a lot about conspiracies in history of late. All the talk of rigged elections, voter fraud, “birtherism,” Russian connections, the holy grail of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, global banking cabals, backroom establishment politics, and yellow journalism will make great fodder for later academics interested in twenty-first century conspiratorial politics. Trying to wrap my mind around all of the fear and fear mongering, as well as overcome my own political malaise, I did what any good historian would do – I looked to the past. What I realized is that Donald Trump reminds me a lot of Abbé Barruel, one of the most conspiratorial, right-winged writers of the French Revolution.

In 1797, Barruel published his Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire du jacobinisme, and at the heart of his text was the belief in the “philosophe conspiracy.”[1] Barruel describes a “sect” of individuals who for the…

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