Conspiracy theories and conspiratorial beliefs are a recurring feature of democracy. A conspiracy theory is an argument that historical events are caused by a small number of people secretly working for their own benefit at the expense of the common good. While conspiracy theories are not always harmful to democracy, they pose risks to the possibility of civil discourse and they often incorporate racist, sexist, or antisemitic beliefs.
One of the greatest risks of conspiracy theories is that they prevent compromise – if those who hold these beliefs view their opponents as evil or as engaged in a secret plot, it is difficult to justify any effort to reach common ground. Efforts to reduce the effect of conspiracy theories on politics require attention to how to create constructive dialogue with people who believe in the theories and attention to how social change and upheaval can lead people to believe conspiracy theories in the first place.