Interview: Author Daniel Pipes
on his new book, "Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes
and Where It Comes from," and his life
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"
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
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
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
LAMB: And so where did this Jewish hatred start, and conspiracy
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
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
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
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
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
Dr. PIPES: Well, it was a--a intellectual, highbrow, fast-paced
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.
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.
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
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
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
LAMB: Do you have a family?
Dr. PIPES: Yes, I do.
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.
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
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
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
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...
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
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
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
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
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
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
LAMB: Who does then have power when it comes to international
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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.