The Transparency Fix

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Is the government too secret or not secret enough? Why is there simultaneously too much government secrecy and a seemingly endless procession of government leaks? The Transparency Fix argues that we incorrectly assume that government information can be controlled. The same impulse that drives transparency movements—from activists who want stronger open government laws to the digerati who want open data—also drives secrecy advocates like Dick Cheney. They all hold the mistaken belief that government information can either be released or kept secure on command. And when released, both sides assume, this information will have a predictable effect: for transparency advocates, it will give us an authentic democracy and efficient government, while for secrecy advocates, it will make our nation less secure and prevent our government from functioning.

The Transparency Fix argues for a reformation in our assumptions about secrecy and transparency. The world did not end because Julian Assange, WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden released classified information. But nor did their disclosures alter our democracy or create significant political change. Using a variety of real-life examples to examine how government information actually flows, Mark Fenster describes how the legal regime’s tenuous control over state information belies both the promise and peril of transparency. He challenges us to confront the implausibility of controlling government information and shows how the contemporary obsession surrounding transparency and secrecy cannot radically change a state that is defined by so much more than information. The Transparency Fix breathes new life into what has become a tired and tiresome debate about government information by challenging us to confront the implausibility of controlling it.

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Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theory is everywhere. It excites and simplifies what otherwise appears to be a complex, illegible world. It’s clickbait for

mainstream and marginal website, and it drives bestsellers, major television shows and films, and pamphlets and books written by cranks and racists. And it suffuses populist political campaigns, forming not only the core of populist extremists like David Duke and Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election but also the colorful rhetoric of any candidate who warns that some nefarious group (whether it’s labor unions, corporations, homosexuals, the Koch Brothers, George Soros) threatens the core of our democracy, our safety, our way of life.

We are frequently told that conspiracy theorists are delusional paranoids on the periphery; but we are just as frequently told that conspiracy theorists are taking over contemporary politics. How can we understand America’s simultaneous distaste for, and obsession with, conspiracy?

Conspiracy theory’s prevalence, Mark Fenster argues in the second edition of this seminal work of political and cultural theory, is an integral aspect of American, and perhaps modern and postmodern, life. Not simply an outlying “style” of American politics, conspiracy theory has always been a significant element of American political rhetoric and narratives. It has wide-ranging, sometimes salutary effects that can help develop a healthy, democratic public that is skeptical about concentrations of private and public power. Conspiracy theory is thus an aspect of the longstanding populist strain in American political culture — an especially intense strain, to be sure, and one that can have violent, racist, and anti-democratic effects on the political and social order, but a strain that is neither independent from, nor necessarily threatening to, the country’s political institutions or political culture.

Documenting conspiracy believers and mainstream distaste for them, reading popular (and unpopular) films and novels, and considering conspiracy theory’s place in social and political theory, Conspiracy Theories analyzes how the phenomenon works and its role in contemporary populism and political culture. The book offers insight into the narrow world of conspiracy theorists as well as into the broader implications of conspiracy theories as they circulate throughout the entirety of American popular political culture.

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