Principalities & Powersrnby Samuel FrancisrnConspiracyrnHistory, wrote Voltaire, is the sound ofrnwooden shoes running up the backstairsrnand of silken slippers running down—arnremark that implies that the real story ofrnhigh politics is never what we are able tornsee but always a tale hidden from publicrnview. Since he lived in an age of despots,rnenlightened and otherwise, and was onrnintimate terms with several of them,rnVoltaire was in a good position to know,rnand it’s doubtful, if he were alive today inrnthe age of such despots as a Free Pressrnand Open Government, that he wouldrnbe any more convinced that what he sawrnwas really what was going on inside therndark corridors of power, hideed, in thernlast few years, for all the disclosure lawsrnenacted and all the ethics codes byrnwhich politicians and the press claim tornabide, an ever-growing number of Americansrnseems to believe that conspiraciesrnare firmly in the saddle and that the saddlernis firmly buckled on their own backs.rnThe Clinton era has encouraged thisrnbelief, and probably not since the mysteriesrnof Pead Harbor and communist espionagernin the Roosevelt administrationrnhas the American presidency been as engulfedrnin distrust and suspicion as it is today.rnWhitewater, Travelgate, a steamyrnlabyrinth of sexual escapades, and therndeath of Vince Foster are only the icingrnon the conspiratorial cake. There arernalso the Waco massacre, the apparentrncoverup in the Ruby Ridge bloodletting,rnvarious anomalies in the Oklahoma Cityrnbombing and its investigation, a plethorarnof stories about drug smuggling out ofrnMena, Arkansas, and a jungle of questionsrnabout such issues as NAFTA, thernMexican bailout, and the New WorldrnOrder. These are merely the reasonablernand important subjects of conspiracyrnspeculation. More recently, there arernnew theories about the strange but timelyrndemises of Commerce Secretary RonrnBrown, ex-CIA Director William Colby,rnand Admiral Jeremy Boorda. Then therernare the wilder shores that dredge uprnblack helicopters, golden fringe aroundrnthe flag, microchip implants, and newrndesigns for American currency. Finally,rnthe theories lurch unsteadily into thernsweaty underbrush of madness, wherernthe fantastic fictions of the X-Files takerntea with platter-eyed UFO aliens and thernElders of Zion. And these are simplv thernconspiracy theories favored by the right.rnOn the left, one enters yet another hallrnof mirrors where the reflections of realit}’rnare even more grotesque.rnWhatever else conspiracv theoriesrnprove, their prevalence at certain periodsrnof history invariably shows the impendingrncollapse of public trust in the wavrnthings are, a readiness to ascribe to thernoccupants of a society’s most visible andrnrespected positions of leadership thernmost villainous purposes and the mostrnruthless means of attaining them. It isrnno accident that most of the major revolutionaryrnmovements in modern historyrnhave wrapped themselves in conspiracyrntheories or that, when such movementsrnhave been successful, a good part of thernpopulace embraced their ideas. Nor is itrnan accident that in our own day such potentiallyrnrevolutionary forces as the citizens’rnmilitias and similar Middle AmericanrnRadical movements are among thernmain purveyors of conspirac}’ theories.rnAnd yet, for all their flaws—the absencernof reliable evidence, the distraction fronrrnissues of more substance that they induce,rnand the delusion of an invinciblernenemy that they spawn—conspiracy theoriesrnpoint to larger and more importantrntruths than those who weave them usuallyrnseem to realize.rnA simple legal definition of conspiracyrnis that it is an agreement among two orrnmore parties to commit some illegal act,rnbut in the larger sense of the word “conspiracy,”rnthe element of illegality is notrnnecessary. What is necessary is the elementrnof secrecy, and in the sense of anrnagreement among two or more parties tornundertake some common action for a secretrnor undisclosed end or bv secret orrnundisclosed means, it ought to be obviousrnthat human beings do little else butrnconspire throughout their entire lives.rnOne plans to get married, to have children,rnto pursue a particular career, tornpromote a particular business transaction,rnto run for office, or to adopt a certainrnpolicy toward the Third Wodd, andrneach and every one of these courses ofrnaction, insofar as it is undertaken in concertrnwith other participants and insofarrnas the participants do not disclose theirrnplans before it is convenient to do so,rnconstitutes a conspirac}’. The collaborationrninvolved in them and the degree ofrnsecrecy that attends them are not differentrnin kind from those in’ol’cd in planningrna rex’olution, an assassination, or arnlong-term subterfuge by which a closernand cryptic oligarchy takes over therngovernment of a republic. Not only dornpoliticians, bankers, priests, Freemasons,rnJews, and intelligence agencies conspire,rnso does everyone else. The main differencernbetween the undisclosed plots andrnplans of the principals of the most popularrnand perennial conspiracy theories andrnthose of eyeryone else is that nobodvrnmuch cares about Aunt Gertrude’s conspiracyrnwith her bridge club to arrangernthe marriage of her nephew, or Mr.rnPodsnip’s conspiracy with his businessrnpartners to build more parking lots. Butrnwhether we are engaged in designingrnOne World Government or new drapesrnfor the upstairs guest room, all of us arernneck-deep in conspiracies of one kind orrnanother most of the time.rnUntil the blessings of modern governmentrnand journalism were inflicted uponrnus, this was obviously true of political affairs.rnThe kings and even the republicsrnof Voltaire’s age did not spend a greatrndeal of energy informing their subjectsrnand citizens of v’hat they were doing orrnwhy they were doing it. To most of thernliterate public of premodern Europe,rnwhat went on in the councils of state orrneven in those padiamentary assembliesrnthat existed was obscure, and to the farrnlarger nonliterate public it was totalK- invisible.rnThe elementary facts of historyrnthat any college survey text recountsrnabout the age of Louis XIV or Charles Irnwere unknown to most of their contemporaries,rnand even well-informed publicrnservants like Samuel Pepvs in late-17thrncentury England entertained only thernfoggiest ideas about what his governmentrnwas really doing. It is not inaccuraternto describe conspiracy as the normalrnmode of government throughout mostrnof human history, and even today wernlearn what really went on in a particularrnadministration, war, or congressionalrnbattle only after a generation or so of thernmost intense investigation by participants,rnjournalists, and historians.rnOf course, to say that conspiracy is arn30/CHRONlCLESrnrnrn