Conspirative Intellectual: The Latin American Far Right Build Its Ghosts

Nicolas Rudas Neyra, Yale University

The link between intellectual work and conspiracy theories has been generally ignored. Common sense indicates that the two are in radical opposition; the former is rational, rigorous, complex, and the latter is simplistic, unstructured and shows little regard for empirical plausibility. However, even while seeing themselves as decidedly ‘above’ conspiracy theorizing, many intellectuals embrace, endorse, or sympathize with narratives of this sort, a phenomenon that is most visible within the Far-Right milieu. This raises an important question about the nature and boundaries of intellectuals’ activity. How can an intellectual get away defending a form of stigmatized knowledge such as a conspiracy theory without suffering a degradation of her status as an intellectual? I examine this problem by studying the trajectory of Agustín Laje, one of the most prominent Latin American conservative intellectuals of the present. At the core of Laje’s ideas we find a conspiratorial understanding of the world: the planet is under the tyrannic rule of Communism, but not under the guise of the hammer and the sickle but in disguise as progressivism. In spite of this “conspirative” dimension, Laje is still widely regarded as a proper “intellectual”. Laje’s ability to successfully maintain his identity as an “intellectual” is, at least partially, a dramaturgical accomplishment of his writing. Indeed, Laje draws upon the same narrative structure of a conspiracy theory (an Apocalyptic tale about the uprising of the forces of Good against the forces of Evil that have surreptitiously taken over the world), but he introduces a subtle (yet, consequential) element in terms of plot construction: a characterization of evil not as a purely agentic power, but as a systemic product of the environment. This dramaturgical spin is a distinguishing feature of the intellectual’s work, and as such is at the basis of the particular social prestige intellectuals enjoy.

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 Presented in Session 163. Meaning Making and Cultural Significance