McGill University, Montreal, Canada Institute for Social Research, Frankfurt, Germany
Historically, blatantly untrue and defamatory conspiracy theories had disastrous consequences for those who were portrayed in them as evil-doers. At the same time, conspiratorial agreements at the expense of the common good between powerful groups in society do exist and have occasionally been uncovered. Against this background, the article describes different ways in which critical theory has looked at conspiracies. First, an attempt is made to show that Max Horkheimer's notes on `rackets' are an ambitious but flawed attempt to theorize conspiracy. It is argued that Horkheimer's theory is imbued by the very conspiracy thinking that he proposed to criticize. Second, the author suggests recovering Franz Neumann's concept of `political alienation' as a more appropriate starting point to think critically about the ethical and epistemological questions raised by conspiracy theories.
Key Words: Theodor Adorno • alienation • conspiracy • critical theory • Max Horkheimer • Franz Neumann • rackets