6 mins read
Image by Abbie Emmons from Pixabay

In response to my post How Fairness Wins, Andrew Cuda asked about the connection between hierarchical thinkers and conspiracy theories:

It’s a good question.

Short answer: Embracing the hierarchy mindset requires rejecting factuality and entering a world of myth.

This answer will also explain why Bill Barr and pals reject rule of law and think a person’s guilt or innocence should depend on the extent of that person’s loyalty to Trump.

This answer will also explain why the GOP thinks Americans should be willing to risk death if the leader tells them they should. See this Fox guy telling people to be good Americans and expose themselves to Covid-19:

If you don’t want to click and listen (I totally understand) here’s a transcription:

The answer starts with Max Weber’s three sources of authority for government:

  • Traditional (monarchy)
  • Personal charisma (this is Weber’s term. Today we might say demagogue or cult leader)
  • Legal / rational (democracy).

Excerpt from Max Weber’s classic work “Politics as a Vocation“:

The U.S. is in the midsts of a struggle for power between #2 (leadership cult) and #3 (rule of law)

The modern GOP rejects rule of law and embraces the second source of authority, what Weber calls “personal devotion.” Once we understand that, everything else makes sense.

The GOP embrace of “personal devotion” explains Trump saying things like “I alone can fix it,” and that he follows his “gut.”

“Personal devotion” is hierarchical: The leader is at the top. Everyone else is below.

Bill Barr and the Trump-FOX-GOP want Trump’s word to be both Law and Truth. The only way you can get people to accept a person’s word as both Law and Truth is to obliterate factuality and science.

Democracy, on the other hand, requires truth and factuality. (Rule of law requires truth.)

Leadership cults (like fascism) can only exist by clearing away factuality so that the leader’s word becomes both “truth” and “law.” So each seeks to destroy the other.

Ivan Ilyin was a Russian philosopher who explains fascism. (From Timothy Snyder’s work):

Ilyin despised democracy, which he thought was unstable, with the middle and lower classes constantly striving for advancement.

The nation, for him, was like a body, and the citizens the cells. Each remained in its place. The foot shouldn’t try to become the head. The rulers at the top should rule, everyone else must remain in their place. Hence, hierarchy.

A fascist leader doesn’t govern in the usual sense (devising policy to better the lives of the citizens). Instead, he identifies enemies and “neutralizes” them. This creates an “us v. them” politics, which naturally creates a hierarchy (our team is better).

Conspiracy theories generally attribute an occurrence to a powerful malevolent group working secretly to do evil to innocent people. They’re based in fear. Conspiracy theories thus come in handy to fascist-cult leaders who want blame “enemies.” Like blaming China: A Republican strategy memo advised GOP campaigns to deflect blame from Trump for the virus by blaming China.

Adam Schiff did a great job explaining this during his closing arguments of the Senate impeachment trial.

He lays out how the Democrats stand for rule of law, while the modern GOP rejects rule of law for rule of one man.

Trump made clear from the beginning that he intends to be and rule as a cult leader. In the 2016 election he embraced conspiracy theories, said he knew more than the generals, and approved of Alex Jones. Trump rejects facts and science, and the GOP is right there with him.

Bottom line: People who embrace rule of law and rationality will never accept a cult leader. People who prefer a hierarchy must reject rule of law and factuality.


This morning I appeared on The State of Kentucky, a radio show in (yup, you guess it) Kentucky. We talked about what the GOP is up to, and what we can do about it. (Warning: It’s a full hour)


Another announcement: I am now under contract with Macmillan to write a book on disinformation, which will be part of this series:

The book will be illustrated by the fabulous Pat Dorian. So a total nerd like me gets to write a book that might be called “cool.”

DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

Teri has written novels, short stories, nonfiction for both young readers and adults, and lots of legal briefs. She is currently working on a book on disinformation to be published by Macmillan Publishers. Her political commentary has appeared on the NBC Think Blog and CNN.com. Her articles and essays have appeared in publications as diverse as Education Week, Slate Magazine, and Scope Magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in the American Literary View, The Iowa Review, and others. For twelve years she maintained a private appellate law practice limited to representing indigents on appeal from adverse rulings. She believes with the ACLU that when the rights of society's most vulnerable members are denied, everybody's rights are imperiled. She also believe with John Updike that the purpose of literature is to expand our sympathies. Teri lives with her family on the beautiful central coast in California.

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