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I’m starting to think Melanie Phillips is right. Conspiracy theories are everywhere

When I leafed through her latest book, The World Turned Upside Down, I thought she was exaggerating. Then two friends put me straight

By on Monday, 19 July 2010

A man protests outside the Bilderberg Group meeting in Sitges, Spain, last month (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

A man protests outside the Bilderberg Group meeting in Sitges, Spain, last month (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

I was idly leafing through Melanie Phillips’s latest book the other day. Called The World Turned Upside Down and written in her usual combative style, it examines the irrational notions that drive much of modern life. “Millions of people,” she writes, “…now appear only too eager to believe that the world is controlled by dark conspiracies of covert forces for which there is not one shred of evidence.” There are references to “the Bilderberg Group” and conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 among other examples of irrationality.

Life’s not like that, I told myself; Melanie is over-egging the cake here. Then I called on my friend Bill (not his real name). Bill is an old-style, old-rite Catholic: his life is punctuated by pilgrimages, devotions, novenas, shrines and good works. Alongside him, my faith is very middle-of-the-road and low-key. Bill flourished a newspaper under my nose. “Read it,” he said mysteriously. “It will fry your brains and it’s all true.”

Being incontinently curious about all newsprint, I obliged. Called The Sovereign Independent and printed in Ireland it did have a “single-issue” feel to it; as I read on I discovered the single issue was Conspiracy. Page one had sub-headings like “Diet of Fear” and “Global Crime Syndicate”; page two had an article entitled “The New World Order” and was illustrated by a pyramid topped by an eye; page three was about the Bilderberg Group; page five was about “Shadow World Government Coming to Ireland”; page 12 concerned “The Micro-Chipping Agenda”; page 23 was about another hidden agenda, this time concerning genetic manipulation; and on page 25 were grainy photos of the Twin Towers and the Reichstag, both in flames, with the headline: “They Wouldn’t Do that! Would They?” There were other articles too, and other grainy photos, but you get the picture.

My first thought (being of Irish ancestry) was: whatever has happened to the land of saints, shamrock and scholars? My second thought was: Melanie Phillips is right. I don’t want to create the impression that it is only certain old-rite Catholics who are like my friend Bill. Atheists and agnostics can also go in for the Higher Pottiness (I describe it thus to distinguish it from the Lower Pottiness when people merely believe they are Napoleon etc). Why, the last time I visited my agnostic friend Howard (not his real name, either), he asked me if I was really so naive as to think that the poor old prisoner of Spandau, who was found hanged in the prison garden some years ago, was actually Rudolf Hess. “Rudolf Hess had scar tissue on his torso; this corpse didn’t,” he said with an air that trumped all objections.

I am now reading Melanie Phillips from cover to cover.

  • WTC7

    There is plenty of evidence that 9/11 is an inside job. Here's one example: If you've not heard of it google “Building 7″. This building was a block away from the twin towers and was NOT hit by an plane yet it collapsed exactly like a controlled demolition on September 11th.

  • Bwaj

    So why does Tony Blair refer to the 'New World Order' and why do Politicians go every year to Bilderberger meetings? Why does Pope Benedict XVI refer to the 'New World Order' and condemn it is antiChristian?

  • Oliver

    Melanie Phillips herself thinks that Dr David Kelly was murdered. Make of that what you will!

  • David Lindsay

    Nobody is wrong about everything, then

  • David Lindsay

    On education, drugs and a number of other issues, Melanie Phillips is a vitally important voice. Making it all the more unfortunate when (as when Polly Toynbee spoils her work on social justice and economic inequality by issuing some rant against religion, monarchy or both) she goes off on one, as she has now been doing regularly for a number of years, and as she does at length in The World Turned Upside Down.

    However, I would like to draw attention to three features of that book. One is that much of it could almost have been written by the more Romantic sort of Catholic paleocon, or Anglo-Catholic paleocon of yesteryear. She seems to believe in the importance, indeed the centrality, of a Judeo-Christian tradition which does not in fact exist. Much of what she writes, almost boilerplate stuff about the historical and cultural importance of Christianity, is simply not true, as a matter of fact, of Judaism, the role of which in Western civilisation, though in many ways no less significant, is quite, quite different.

    The second, not unconnected to the first, is that her enthusiasm for Intelligent Design exhibits a strikingly un-Judaic interest in pure theology, which the rabbis have overwhelmingly regarded as not so much the wrong answers as the wrong questions. Not that I have much time for Intelligent Design, a warmed-up Deism devised by scientists and lawyers who are too arrogant to ask the sort of clergy who are appointed to parishes or congregations containing lots of scientists and lawyers.

    And the third is her increasingly famous or infamous attribution of everything on the neoconservative hate list to anti-Semitism. Now, I am no great fan of several of those things, either. But environmentalism is a product of anti-Semitism? Come on! However, just as we see the wildfire spread of Islam among Afro-Caribbean young men and among deep-thinking middle-class girls, as well as the sixty thousand and more Muslims already classified as White British, might we also see conversion of neoconservatives to some sort of Judaism, on the grounds that everything against which they define themselves is really anti-Semitic, and that “the philosophical, theological and ethical resources of Judaism”, or some similar form of words, provide the necessary weapons against those things?

    I say “some sort of Judaism”, because Phillips is a member of a Reform synagogue, has not been above ridiculing Steven Rose's Orthodox upbringing on The Moral Maze, and, as set out above, has theological and related historical interests that are not much to do with historic Judaism at all. I may be wrong, but I very much doubt that she keeps kosher, at least outside her home, or that she uses no electrical appliance between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday. Those who declared themselves Jews in order to provide a spiritual or ritual framework for their neoconservatism are most unlikely to trouble the Orthodox, or indeed to be troubled by them. But they and the average Reform rabbi or congregant are hardly each other's obvious best fits, either.

    So, where will they go? Will we be seeing new, Phillipsian synagogues springing up? Contrary to what is often assumed or asserted, that sort of entrepreneurial, bottom-up, and in a purely non-pejorative sense eccentric religious experiment is very, very much a recurring feature of this country's history. We are due a few more. This could very well be one of them.

  • David Lindsay

    The Bilderberg Group includes George Osborne. Nuff said. How harmful, or even serious or competent, can it possibly be if it has him in it?