Michael Butter

The Nature of Conspiracy Theories

(German title: »Nichts ist, wie es scheint«)
ca. 271 pages
Michael Butter
Foto: Michael Butter
© Jürgen Bauer

Michael Butter, born in 1977, teaches History of American Literature and Culture at the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen. He is heading a pan-European research project on conspiracy theories and appears regularly in the media as an expert on the subject.

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English world rights (Polity Press)


According to most recent empirical studies, fifty percent of the US-American population and a smaller, but not insignificant number of Germans believe in at least one conspiracy theory. Personalities like David Icke or Alex Jones enjoy celebrity status; in his TV show the latter chats to Donald Trump, who for his part undermines the belief in shared interpretations with his attacks on the »Fake-News Media«.

Next to a lack of trust in politics, the belief in conspiracy theories is a feature of the seething populism. But what turns an explanation into a conspiracy theory? Why is it so attractive to many people? And what can be done against that?

The answers to questions like these are harder to find than the conspiracy theories themselves. Michael Butter explains how such narratives function, where they come from and which effects they can have. Since they underestimate the inherent logic of social systems, such theories are always wrong; as a symptom, however, they have to be taken seriously. At present, they are an indicator of the fragmentation of the public that is threatening democracy.


»In this stunningly wide-ranging book, Michael Butter runs conspiracy theory through a prism that reveals its logic, narratology, history, cultural specificity and psychological appeal. Using examples from the assassination of Julius Caesar to the suspicions of Donald Trump, Butter shows how the scholarly delegitimation of conspiracy theory has paradoxically enhanced its visibility. The result is a compelling account of how conspiracy theory works, why it seems so pervasive, and how we can combat its most dangerous consequences.« Timothy Melley, author of Empire of Conspiracy: The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America

»In this compelling book, Michael Butter provides a detailed perspective on the nature of conspiracy theories. He takes a historical perspective yet expertly weaves together research across many disciplines to explain why conspiracy theories are sometimes believed but often belittled.« Karen Douglas, University of Kent

»Michael Butter has written the first good book about conspiracy theories.« DIE ZEIT

»This book is like a lone chemtrail in the evening sky. Possibly the book of the decade.« Welt am Sonntag

»The good news first: Almost daily we are bombarded with stories about conspiracy theories – some of them funny, some terribly serious – as is typical for seemingly crisis-prone times. But a majority of people is more concerned about believers than belief. That is the finding American Studies professor Michael Butter presents in his profound study The Nature of Conspiracy TheoriesSüddeutsche Zeitung

»His analysis of how conspiracy theories work is crystal clear: people recognise patterns where there are none and assume designs that simply do not exist.« Tages-Anzeiger

»Michael Butter … casts a pleasantly unagitated glance at this phenomenon and never ceases to surprise us with all kinds of notable findings.« Sächsische Zeitung