A conspiracy theory is a theory wherein one supposes that some (typically very powerful) group has been involved in a conspiratorial plan or series of actions--anything from manipulating governments, economies, or the legal system, to hiding important information of cultural or scientific significance--and has supressed most or all evidence of the plan or their involvement in it. In short, a very powerful shadowy organization is influencing the course of events. Proven conspiracies have taken place throughout history, and some kinds of conspiracy are crimes. At any given time, hundreds or thousands of conspiracies of greater or lesser scope are afoot, but very rarely are any of them as large a scope and dramatic as those postulated by the so-called conspiracy theorists.
Usually, what are commonly called "conspiracy theories" are employed by people who would like to believe some conclusion but have rather little if any evidence for it. They therefore refer to a supposed conspiracy to justify both their conclusion and the fact that they cannot support it with evidence--which, naturally, the conspirators are actively concealing. Such theories, unlike a scientific theory, cannot be falsified: a conspiracy theorist takes evidence to the contrary to support the notion that an extremely powerful conspiracy has fabricated this evidence.
Just about anything associated with governments, Nazis, communists, ancient civilizations, or aliens has a conspiracy theory attached. They're very popular and form the basis of many popular books, movies, and TV shows.
Popular elements of conspiracy theories include:
- Knights Templar
- secret societies:
- Trilateral Commission
- Council on Foreign Relations
- New World Order
- Zionist conspiracy: Protocols of the Elders of Zion
- Men in Black, aka Majestic 12
- Unknown Superiors
- Alternative 3
- Area 51
- Elvis sightings
- Assassination, particularly that of John F. Kennedy
- applications of the works of Nikola Tesla
- Anti-Christian calendar theory
There is a body of literature which draws from conspiracy theory. The works are invariably complex and deliberately confusing, filled with detailed information which may or may not be relevant and connected to the reputed plot of the book. The normal arc is the discovery of a potential conspiracy by an outsider, then the protagonist's increased involvement as the conspiracy reveals itself to be ever more complex and far-reaching. Reality is questioned, until at the end it is often unclear what was truly conspiracy and what was coincidence.
- The Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, which led the modern resurgence in interest in 19th-century secret societies
- Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
- Cthulhu Mythos by H. P. Lovecraft
- many Philip K. Dick novels
- the TV series The X Files is another work of fiction incorporating popular conspiracy theories
- Books by the author Robert Ludlum