Philology of World Conspiracy: The ‘Great Reset’ and other problems of philology

5 June 2022

Philology of World Conspiracy: The ‘Great Reset’ and other problems of philology

The Sentimental Folk Song, Grant Wood, 1940; Image Credit: Wikiart

Sebastian Schuller argues that there is a link betweenthe idea of world literature, its underlying liberal ideology and conspiracy theories, which have proven to be on the rise since the onset of the pandemic. The structural correspondence between the two is found in the fact that “conspiracy theorists engage in close readings in order to reconstruct, on the basis of textual material, original texts from which a unity – the unity of the world – is reconstructed.” The reading practices of conspiracism are structurally related with those of global philology: they take place within institutions such as special forums, institutes or publishing houses, which is why they often cannot be distinguished from ‘regular’ philological work. As a result, conspiracism and philology interact and often mutually underpin their epistemologies.

Conspiracy theory is always the other.


Two years into the pandemic and confronted with a seemingly inexplicable rise in conspiracist (1) movements around the world, liberalism still maintains an imaginary that bans these phenomena to the margins of society. Newspapers engage in endless fact checking, not only disproving the claims of conspiracy theorists but also showcasing the irrationality, displayed by them. Conspiracy theories, the not-so-subtle message goes, resonate only with a marginal percentage of the general population, as they are inherently ludicrous. This argument tends to explain the current popularity of conspiracism with the complexity of our contemporary predicament, for example the pandemic, and of course with the ‘new’ means of communication, notably social media, that help fringe believes to gain notoriety. Michael Butter, a German professor for American studies who specialises in the analysis of conspiracy theory, argues along these lines in his recently published monograph The Nature of Conspiracy Theories (2021):


[T]he internet has encouraged the emergence of echo chambers and filter bubbles populated by people with similar beliefs and attitudes. In some of these sub- and counterpublics […] conspiracy theories have indeed re-emerged as a perfectly acceptable form of knowledge, while in others the stigma remains. (2)


Butter proposes to read conspiracist movements as “counterpublics.” His argument goes hat these conspiracist counterpublics emerged because of political and societal rifts and because of transformations in public communication allowing more people to voice their views, for example by means of posting on social networks. (3) Just like the ideological practice of fact checking, this thesis implies that figments like pandemic-induced conspiracy theories may have become more visible because of digital communication, but remain nonetheless excluded from the mainstream discourse. In other words, conspiracism is exorcised from the mainstream discourse, and becomes a radical other that haunts the stable normality of the ruling liberal discourse from which it remains separated nonetheless.


Against the grain of this consideration, I argue that the pandemic-inspired rise in conspiracist movements reveals the inherent connection between conspiracism and the liberal discourse. In other words: My thesis has it that conspiracy theories (and the related regressive currents we are facing right now) express essential features of our political predicament.


I will discuss this thesis on the example of the ‘Great Reset’ conspiracy narrative: The ‘Great Reset’-conspiracy theory (henceforth GRT) is a globally popular conspiracy theory which emerged in late summer of 2020. Departing from this narrative, I will show that contemporary conspiracy theories include figures of thought that originated in the neoliberal discourse. From there, I will relate these findings to tenets of the liberal discourse: I argue that an analysis of GRT reveals that conspiracy narratives can be read as undercurrent of world literature, and that the practice of conspiracy theory functions like philology.


The philology of world literature stands in as a cipher for contemporary liberalism for two reasons: First, because the discourse of (philology of) world literature is inherently connected to the imaginary of cosmopolitanism that rules our liberal lifeworld; world literature is conceptualised as a mode that constitutes world as a narrative predicament, “so that linkages and comparisons can be made” (4). In other words, the discourse of world literature is connected to processes of globalisation and the emergence of a multicultural world society in which we get used to think and live outside of national containers in a multiplex of perspectives and narratives. Likewise, contemporary philologists endow their discipline with a certain contemporaneity: A theorist like Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht has it that philology is especially apt to understand our present predicament, as it makes a worldly context beyond history thinkable. (5) In this sense, philology (and especially the philology of world literature) functions as a theoretical expression of the post-historic space-time of capitalism that is governed by a liberal, cosmopolitan spirit.


By relating conspiracism to philology and world literature, I intend to unearth the regressive tendencies of the hegemonic liberal complex. In doing so, I will argue that combatting these regressive tendencies, necessitates to avoid the seduction of externalising conspiracism and instead criticise it as inherent part of the ruling discourse of liberalism.


The ‘Great Reset’ as road to serfdom – The Hayekian subtext of a popular conspiracy theory


The expression ‘great reset’ was coined by the economists Klaus Schwab, founder and chairperson of the World Economic Forum (WEF), and Thierry Mallaret who published a book in 2020 of the same title. In this publication, they argue that the Covid-19-induced economic crisis necessitates a ‘reset’ of global economy, including a return to social welfare programs akin to Keynesian ideas. (6) These proposals were first discussed in a WEF summit in June 2020 and soon afterwards endorsed by international political leaders like Justin Trudeau or Joe Biden. (7) After the idea entered the public conscious, it took several months until the conspiracy narrative, TGR, emerged as a comprehensive theory integrating several earlier anti-lockdown narratives. The basic tenet of this theory is a re-reading of the moderately Keynesian program of the WEF, which is re-interpreted as a covert communist plot to use the pandemic as a deception in order to introduce world communism. (8)


It is difficult to trace down a definite origin(ator) of the TGR narrative, since several ultra-right personalities like Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham, as well as online conspiracy circles and websites, most notably infowars, started to promote this narrative from November 2020 on. (9) Yet, before TGR got the attention of multiplicators like Ingraham, who first referred to it on 13 November during her Fox-News show, the narrative was developed, shaped and popularised by commentators of The Heartland Institute.


The Heartland Institute is a libertarian think-tank, founded in 1984 and known for climate change denial. (10) Since early 2020, this institution has focused on the Covid-19 pandemic and argued vehemently against all lockdown measures, spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories – techniques it previously used in lobbying against environmentalism. (11) In order to influence the public, it produces, among other formats, a daily podcast series that is freely available on its website, where ‘researchers’ of the institute present their ‘analyses’ in a popular language.


In the podcast episode from October 14th, 2020, Justin Haskins, the editorial director of The Heartland Institute, and Donald Kendal, research fellow for Heartland՚s “Stopping Socialism” project, discuss the TGR conspiracy narrative. (12) The plot of this narrative is easily summarised: “The global elites are seizing control.” (21:29–21:31) Driven by collectivist ideals, this elite supposedly seeks to undermine the free market in order to install a world government that is to control economic and eventually all social life on the planet (16:20–17:01). TGR is understood as another step towards this final goal of international socialism. Neither Haskins, nor Kendal feel the need to explain the motifs of the allegedly socialist elite – it seems beyond question that a consortium of economists and billionaires harbour the desire and political will to institute global bolshevism.


Yet, it stays unclear, what socialism really means in this context. In fact, the two ‘researchers’ understand socialism neither as a political opinion, nor as a movement or ideology, but make it appear shadowy and incomprehensible, just like its supposed elitist vanguard. What socialism means in the context of the TGR, what comprises a socialist worldview, and what societal transformations socialists envision is not discussed by Kendal and Haskins. They take it for granted that socialism signifies authoritarianism and government control – but even this connection is not made explicit. Instead, they implicitly conceptualise socialism as an opaque trans-historical force, as Haskins and Kendal go on a brief excursion on the constant presence of socialism in the last century (4:36–5:10). In consequence, the term ‘socialism’ does not refer to an actual political program or platform, but represents a small elite’s perceived quest for total power that supposedly originates from an innate (and thus naturalised) lust for domination.


The basis of this obviously irrational as well as counterfactual argumentation is an understanding of state and economy rooted in neoliberalist ideology as presented by the writings of Austrian reactionary August Friedrich von Hayek. (13) Hayek, who shaped neoclassical economics and consequently has a lasting legacy even until today (14), wanted it to be understood that the economic program of neoliberalism is not a mere logical choice dictated by a rational inquiry of reality, but a political decision taken on the basis of a clear and defined worldview. (15) In The Constitution of Liberty (1960), he went so far as to refer to the socio-economic ideas he proposes as “moral rules” that should be “accepted as a creed” (16). Hayek roots this sacralisation of capitalism in an anthropological assumption of human nature: In all his works, if explicit or not, he imagines a conditio humana of constant competition (17); thrown into a world of limited resources, the Hayekian individual is forced to compete with all fellow-human beings for enjoyment of these limited resources. This original state of human-being is conceptualised as freedom, i. e. the possibility to interact in this competition of all against all unhindered by any outside forces. (18) Society and social institutions are just spontaneous outcomes of the arbitrary interactions in this universalised market of human existence, that originally emerged as means of facilitating the competition. (19) In consequence, the social formation of capitalism is naturalised as resulting from human nature itself, and thus unchangeable; all attempts to change it are as irrational as the social itself and bound for failure. (20) History is only the progress of administrative and technological management of the market, but does not include any transformation of social relations. History as history is unthinkable, in the world of Hayek.


Yet, to assume that free market enterprise is a feature of human nature is not tantamount to saying that freedom is guaranteed: Far from it, in The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, Hayek argues civilisation itself is endangered by the neglect of freedom. His thesis has it that after the French Revolution, rational philosophy and the enlightenment gave rise to worldviews and social theories that no longer accepted the natural order – the order of freedom of competition and dominance of the strong few over the many weak. (21) The reason being, that after enlightenment, social theories arose that conceptualised society as separated from nature and thus attempted to implement programs to transform it. (22) The culmination of this tendency is represented by socialism, as it directly cuts at the foundations of free enterprise and competition. (23) As freedom is only defined as the absence of coercion, and coercion is defined as the interference with the personal freedom of the individual in the universal competition, socialism is for Hayek not only un-natural (as it supplants the supposedly natural order of the market with the social construct of the state) but also and above all an act of tyranny suppressing the individual in the name of collectivism. (24) In consequence, all action that seeks to limit the free market, ultimately is an expression of socialism (or at least pointing towards socialism), and all socialisms are in essence but unnatural tyranny, abolishing freedom and endangering society.


In their podcast, Kendall and Haskins just re-actualise this consideration in the form of a conspiracy narrative: Essentially, they are voicing a radical opposition against the program proposed by the WEF, as they (correctly or not) understand it as a limitation of freedom and free competition. When they de-historicise socialism by defining it as an inner drive of the elite to erect a global dominion, they connect this defence of the status quo to a spontaneous ideology of history, in which history is inexistent; social movements like socialism are independent of societal developments and historical circumstances but rooted into personal dispositions and thus biologised.



Saint Jerome Writing, Caravaggio, 1607; Image Credit: Wikiart

As in Hayek’s capitalo-anthropology, society then is implicitly understood as instituted by nature – which implicitly legitimises the conspiratorial form: When the social order of capitalism is an effect of nature, and when social developments like socialism are not explainable as results of historical processes (since there is no history) but related to ‘biological’ factors (like the desires of the elite), then real or presumed challenges to the capitalist order – like the ‘Great Reset’ program – cannot be explained out of inherent contradictions of society. The reason being that society is essentially conceptualised as irrational outcome of arbitrary interactions that follows no inherent logic and can thus not determine its own transformation. Thus, any transformation of society or in fact any challenge to the status quo must not only be thought of as rebellion against nature and (natural) freedom, but also as the result of a force outside the natural order, a form of disruption – which is exactly the way, in which Hayek viewed the traditions of Rationalism, Jacobinism and Hegelianism: unnatural disturbances of the natural development of the social. (25) Such a disturbance is per definition separated from the context, in which it takes place, it is no longer conceivable as effect of historical processes, but of deliberate actions of (misguided) individuals. The gap, history leaves behind, is filled by neoliberalism with conspiracy as a mode to think the social.


Narrativisation of world as a political moment of Conspiracy Theory


This is not tantamount to saying that conspiracy theory is in and of itself connected to neoliberalism – of course the form of conspiracy theory is older than the emergence of neoliberalism as an ideological construct; conspiracist rhetoric was, for example, a staple of political discourse in ancient Athenian democracy, as Jovan Byford notes. (26) Yet, in spite of this ancient ubiquity of conspiracy theories, there exists an immanent difference between ancient conspiracy rhetoric and contemporary conspiracism: In antiquity, the conspiracy rhetoric circled around specific plots that did not determine the whole polis (let alone the whole world), but was motivated by clear albeit limited motives (e. g. the desire to enrich themselves, as in the case of the conspiracy of Catilina). In contrast, modern conspiracism emerged after the French revolution, i. e. with the dawn of modern capitalism, as a holistic ‘explanation of everything’; here, the conspiracy is imagined as limitless, the motives behind it, appear as universalist in nature. (27)


Thus, there seems to exist an inherent relation between modern capitalism and modern conspiracism. The form of conspiracy theory as a narrative that spells out the entirety of the world is modern in essence, i. e.: it is a reflection of the capitalist formation and the societal developments it brings with it. The nation-state, the idea of universal rights and civil liberties, that carry with them an universal outlook that elucidates the whole world, rather than limiting itself to particularistic situations (like the ancient polis-society). (28) Modern conspiracism is therefore to be counted as an ideological reflection of capitalism, it contains in it the ideological predicament of a capitalist society, just like neoliberalism does. Yet, this ideological moment is not so much bound to its content alone, but to the very form in which it is presented.


In consequence, to understand the politics of conspiracy theories necessitates to pay attention to the form itself. Therefore, I propose to return to TGR, and examine it from a different angle: Instead of asking for the concrete content of this narrative, and also instead of focusing on certain motives it presents, we should pay attention on its immanent epistemology, upon which it bases its world view. In other terms: How do Kendal and Haskins arrive at their conclusion that a worldwide cabal of bolshevist capitalists is seeking to install world communism?


A point of departure for this task can be found in an outstanding figure of speech that the two ‘researchers’ of the Heartland Institute apply time and again: Haskins and Kendal refer to the semantic field of reading and rhetoric in general, emphasising the necessity to pay attention to the rhetoric of the globalist elite, to identify their catchphrases, to close read them (10:34–12:20). This becomes obvious right at the beginning of the podcast, when Kendal explains that he became suspicious after following speeches by world leaders and economists that referred to a transformation of world economy: “The really influential people were constantly talking about it” (3:33–3.36). By analysing the statements of these (unnamed) “influential people”, he comes to the conclusion that they discussed the institution of a/the “New World Order” (3:56). This means: Right at the beginning of their show, the conspiracy narration is based upon acts of close reading. And in fact, Kendal and Haskins engage in real close readings of statements made by various world leaders, in order to expose the (com-)plot (4:00–7:00). They even enter the field of semantics, by investigating the meaning of the verb ‘to reset’, demonstrating that resetting capitalism means to depart from the status quo and thus could be interpreted, if we follow them, as a call for the abolition of free enterprise (12:58–13:16).


We should note two important aspects here: First, Kendall and Haskins do not pretend to be in the possession of any kind of secret insight or information that they would reveal to the public. They do not act as initiates or masters with some connection to ‘truth’ itself, but their whole project is endowed with a claim to rational inquiry. Yet, second, they do ground their project exclusively on textual analysis; any other kind of evidence (or scientific method – we might think of social network analysis, for example) is missing from their argumentation. The only evidence, they present, and consequently, the epistemological frame of their whole analysis, is philological in substance. TGR is legitimised by a political philology and/or philological policy, it is grounded upon textual analyses and close readings.


This political philology of conspiracy rests itself on an unsaid pre-condition: To decode textual documents – speeches, catchphrases, essays – in order to reveal their true meaning implies the existence of a code. The analysed texts must be understood, we can conjecture, as expressions of this code, as coded messages that convey a hidden meaning: the secret master plan. Or, turned around: The philological analysis as demonstrated by Kendal and Haskins assumes that a secret masterplan that governs the world manifests itself in textual documents, and can consequently be rendered readable through acts of interpretation. In this imagination, then, the world is affected by a large-scale, trans-generational, and global conspiracy, that is governed by a masterplan. The cabal of the conspirators consists in transforming the world according to the plot of this plan. Hence, we arrive at the conclusion that the texts that are interpreted here reveal not only, that the world is structured by a secret plot, but render (through interpretation) this plot accessible as the basic text that is encoded by assertions of the initiated elite. That is not to say that there exists in reality a written document that represents the masterplan, but that reality itself is structured by a plot that functions like a text, for it can be read, and that is represented by other texts.


The rationale of the TGR narrative, which Kendal and Haskins establish, necessitates the assumption of an original and authentic conspiracy text behind the surface of our social lifeworld: In this logic, the alleged conspiracy text flows through historical events as well as through other texts and accounts, and determines them. The world would be but the context of conspiracy text – the master plot, it is revealed is an agglomeration of signs and thus turned into a textual code that can be read.

In a slight adaption of our terminology, we might say that the alleged conspirators follow the historical narrative of socialism – a narrative that, as we are informed by Kendal and Haskins, pre-dates Marxism and is to be understood as a trans-historical project that constantly changes its appearance. It is this narrative that structures and informs the conspiracy text. Thus, what appears as social lifeworld is but the ongoing narration of the conspiracy text itself. The world conspiracy has turned its narrative – the conspiracy text – into the structure of society itself. It aims to fully implement its masterplan (that is: the conspiracy text), and thus transform the world into a representation of this text. By interpreting society as a narrative relation between two texts, the political philology of conspiracy theory does not examine how the connection of theses texts works, but in turn re-narrates the conspiracy text. As it uncovers the plot, demonstrating the existence of the secret conspiracy text, it renders history a story, and thus the world a narration.


The meticulous philological fieldwork of conspiracy ‘theorists’ is at the same time an act of production – the ‘authentic’ text of the conspiracy is retrieved and constituted in this act of interpretation. This means that politics becomes a question of rhetoric and philology, as already Fredric Jameson noted:


In the widespread paralysis of the collective or social imaginary, to which “nothing occurs” (Karl Kraus) when confronted with the ambitious program of fantasizing an economic system on the scale of the globe itself, the older motif of conspiracy knows a fresh lease on life as a narrative structure capable of reuniting the minimal basic components: a potentially infinite network, along with a plausible explanation of its invisibility; or, in other words: the collective and the epistemological. (29)


The abstract processes of capitalism, resulting in the “the widespread paralysis of the collective or social imaginary”, render the world incomprehensible. It is not a closed lifeworld simply there at hand but a place of extraction and the circulation of commodities, bodies, and information, structured by dynamic networks and relations in a global market economy. Under capitalism, ‘world’ is open and processual, and cannot be experienced as a place we fully inhabit. Conspiracy theory does not develop an understanding of world as opening, but reduces these processes to a simple ‘explanation’, to the interference of obscure entities through means of narration. By narrating world as conspiracy, conspiracy theory negates the world as process and instead constitutes a certain image of the world, or rather: a worldly imaginary that engages the plot device of a worldwide complot to intertwine the lifeworld of our experience and the abstract realities that govern it. The world of conspiracy theory is the defined, closed stage upon which the plots and plays of dark agencies, who designed this very space, take place.


This act of narrativisation of the world is the ontological ground zero for conspiracy theories, determining not only their epistemology, but their inherent politics.


On the one side, it binds conspiracy theories back to the social theory of neoliberalism puts forth: In producing the world as a narration, conspiracy theories like TGR assume, as we have seen, that the social is principally un-knowable, i. e.: social transformations cannot be explained out of themselves as immanent to the structure of the social formation itself. Such an explanation would be possible if society would be understood as a structure that is not only accessible to rational analysis, but also and above all, follows self-contained, structural rules that can be known. This position would then entail the existence of history, and consequently refute the naturalisation of social relations: If social development is determined by society as a structure itself, we need to assume that any given social formation is not a-historical, but temporary. And, in consequence, as society follows a self-contained rationale, the present society cannot be the original form of a social formation, but is in itself temporary, and hence an object to historical change. In contrast, conspiracy theory ascribes social change to the (com-)plot of the conspiracy. Society is produced as a narration, yet this narration itself is the disturbance of the original state of mankind. The conspiracy disrupts the social and imposes its plot upon the lifeworld, which becomes readable as representation of this plot, which means that any social change that occurs is not structural, but rather un-natural, even fictitious. Hence, conspiracy theory implicitly assumes social relations to be unchangeable and a-historical, exactly by narrating the world as conspiracy text. In doing so, it repeats the essential operation of neoliberal social theory.


Turning the political into a stage of philological inquiry thus carries the ideology of neoliberal a-historicity, yet it connects it, on the other side, with regressive desires and structural antisemitism.


Antisemitism is not so much to be understood as mere hatred for Jews, but the regressive answer to capitalist modernity, as Moishe Postone has shown:


The “anticapitalist” attack, however, did not remain limited to the attack against abstraction. On the level of the capital fetish, it is not only the concrete side of the antinomy which can be naturalized and biologized. The manifest abstract dimension was also biologized – as the Jews. The fetishized opposition of the concrete material and the abstract, of the “natural” and the “artificial,” became translated as the world-historically significant racial opposition of the Aryans and the Jews. Modern anti-Semitism involves a biologization of capitalism – which itself is only understood in terms of its manifest abstract dimension – as International Jewry. (30)


The core of this structure is a fetishistic understanding of capitalism, which reduces social relation under capitalism to a corporeal form. Thrown into the sphere of commodity production and capital accumulation, the individual experiences alienation. (31) The individual is reduced to her labour power, which in turn is commodified. She does not control her labour, nor her product, but she has to sell commodities (her labour power), thus entering into the sphere of abstract commodity exchange.


The progressive, emancipatory position, as exemplified by Marxism, is not simply to negate this abstraction but to realise that the abstract reality of capitalism already contains the moment of its sublation. In contrast, the regressive anti-capitalism of antisemitism consists in a simple negation of the abstraction of the capitalist lifeworld, and of abstraction as a category of thinking. The social reality is not understood through the abstract, but made tangible by inscribing it into the figure of the Jew which becomes the incorporation of the fetish of capital in the antisemitic imaginary. This reduction itself, however, repeats the movement of the negated abstraction, since it is itself manifestly abstract: Antisemitism precisely imagines international Jewry as shape-shifting, ubiquitous and thus incomprehensible. Hence, the abstraction of capitalism is retained by antisemitism in the moment of its reductive negation; antisemitism structurally repeats the abstraction of capitalist society it attempts to refute in its very form, which is the reason why Postone renders antisemitism thinkable as the collective unconscious of capitalist society: It reflects the inner, repressed structure of capitalism, bringing it to light in the moment of its repression.



The Claudius Civilis Conspiracy with the Batavians in the Schakerbos, Otto van Veen, 1600 – 1613; Image Credit: Wikiart

Structurally, this is repeated by the political philology of conspiracy mythology: by rendering world and world history readable as texts, they become manifestations of clandestine cabals. This serves, as we have seen, as a reduction that bars the abstract as category and negates historicity itself. Conspiracy theory understands the abstraction of the modern lifeworld in the mode of fiction: Modern lifeworld is a disturbance of the authentic and trans-historical ‘real’ social being and as a such the result of the cabal. Consequently, it is not real, but a fictious illusion fabricated by conspirators who seek to supplant real reality with the real fiction of their master plan. Conspiracy theory thus renders the abstract experienceable as abject disturbance, as real fiction of and against the real world. Thus, an exclusion of abstraction as a category takes place here; social development is no longer understood as a self-contained dimension, but narrativised. History becomes the narrative of conspiracy. This basic assumption of conspiracy mythology, however, can again only be reconstructed from texts, as we have seen, that are in themselves representations of other texts that represent this disturbing fiction. A conspiracy theory, like the one developed by Haskins and Kendal then becomes on its own turn a representation of the representation of the representation, by interpreting these texts. In other words: Instead of laying bare the ‘urtext’ of the world conspiracy, its master code, so to speak, it turns the world into a structure of infinite referentiality in which one text refers to the other.


This scheme of eternal reference is of course what characterises commodity fetish and the capitalist formation itself, where everything is turned into a commodity, i. e. something that can only be measured against other commodity, through a cycle of eternal referentiality. (32) Instead of re-territorialising the abstract openness of capitalism, then, conspiracy theories, just like antisemitism, repeat the structure of capital fetish. Just like antisemitism, conspiracy theories then represent a regressive response to the challenges of modernity: By negating the abstract and refusing to think society, the abstract becomes the mode of thinking the social itself.


In this sense, we can see that our analysis has shown that the political moment of the TGR conspiracy theory is somehow doubled: On the one side, TGR is an expression of neoliberal ideology; thus, as a discursive formation, it is not simply to be separated from the mainstream discourse but an alternative form in which ideologemes of the hegemonic complex manifest themselves. On the other side and simultaneously, it structurally repeats the essential moments of a regressive anti-capitalist rebellion against modernity. It operates on both sides, the neoliberal status quo as well as the regressive reaction to it, thus demonstrating that these two sides themselves are not strictly opposite to each other, but form a continuum.


This observation was only possible because we focused on its form, taking conspiracy narratives serious as narratives. We have seen that the act of narrtivisation of the world opens up an epistemological space that connects conspiracism to neoliberal ideology and regressive anti-capitalism. In consequence, we can say that the form of conspiracy narratives like TGR is not only charged with a political meaning, but rather that it carries the political charge of conspiracy theory itself; the form is the main site of the political in conspiracism, as it defines the political horizon of conspiracy theory. Yet, to constitute world through narration is not in itself an innocent operation (nor can the use of philology be thought of as only instrumental and thus external to the political project presented by conspiracism), but relates to a (seemingly) different political horizon and format: that of (the philology of) world literature.


The philology of world conspiracy literature


The idea of world literature always comes with a political charge: Already Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who originated the concept, wanted it to be understood as a cosmopolitan space of intellectual exchange of cultures. (33) Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in their re-reading of Goethe’s concept, connect the term to the emerging, world-wide sphere of capitalist production: Weltliteratur here means the hope for an emerging global culture beyond the narrowmindedness of nation states. (34) World literature thus describes not only a certain political phenomenon, or a certain discipline, but always opens up a certain political moment of liberal cosmopolitanism that is rooted in the thinking of Goethe and Immanuel Kant, as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak mentions in discussion with David Damrosch. (35)


And this is true also for our contemporary discourse of world literature, as we can see, for example, in Spivak’s own understanding of world literature. Drawing on Jacques Derrida’s The Politics of Friendship, Spivak introduces the concept of teleopoiesis as a form of imaginative and textual practice of reading, that keeps the spatial and temporal distance between text, reader and context open, allowing for a self-reflexive yet indeterminate relationship between them. (36) To quote Spivak, literature means “looking for our definition in the eyes of the other, as figured in the text” (37). Stressing the singularity of the literary text (38), Spivak holds that the experience of literariness can denaturalise national or other identities and open up spaces of collective (even planetary) interaction and transformation (39):


To put it crudely, this means suspending the clamour of our existing world to listen to texts – particularly from ‘peripheral’ literatures – and their alternative world-formations. It means allowing ourselves to see our world anew through the defamiliarizing lens of ‘peripheral’ literatures so that we may think and act differently in the service of a better world. (40)


World literature is understood in the context of (worldwide) exchange and circulation – a point most contemporary scholars, though divided by different approaches, agree on. (41) By circulating, it relates different cultural perspectives and thereby transforms them: We see through world literature “our world anew” which – this at least this seems to be the desire of Spivak – gives rise to a “better world”, a world as a multiplex of equivalent perspectives perhaps. World literature, then, refers to the constitution of world through literary practices. This is to say that while the emergence of a shared, global lifeworld is a pre-condition of world literature, this world is simultaneously pre-determined by literature itself. Spivak claims that literature gives rise to a world of political practices and cultural discourses. The world of world literature is also always a political effect of literature as a force field of cosmopolitanism.


Consequently, the political practice of world literature is not to be separated from philological practices: The travelling forms of world literature engender forms of philological theory, which themselves have “a tendency to travel […] so that linkages and comparisons can be made” (42), resulting in the construction of new, worldly contexts. World is a literary effect of narrating world, that was stabilised through philological groundwork. This can be related to the famous lines Erich Auerbach made in his seminal Philologie der Weltliteratur (1952):


Jedenfalls aber ist unsere philologische Heimat die Erde; die Nation kann es nicht mehr sein. […] Wir müssen, unter veränderten Umständen, zurückkehren zu dem, was die vornationale, was die mittelalterliche Bildung schon besaß: zu der Erkenntnis, daß der Geist nicht national ist. (43)


(In any case, earth is now our philological home, for the nation can no longer be our home. […] Under different circumstances, we have to return to the notion that pre-national, medieval education already possessed: spirit is not national.)


According to Auerbach, world literature provides an opening through which humanity can realise its connectedness against the foreclosure of nationalism (and in consequence of national philology). It is the obligation of philology to maintain this opening, to institute and realise the inherent cosmopolitan potential of literature, and to establish a post-national order, for “Geist [ist] nicht national.” Thus, reading or translating world literature means to partake in constituting world through literature. Philology and world literature, in this sense, are imagined to herald and further a project of liberal cosmopolitanism – which meets exactly the considerations of Spivak and other leading scholars in the field today. Philology and world literature, one could argue, position themselves as a discipline under the horizon of the political project of liberal cosmopolitanism – a political complex that seems, on the surface, opposed to the regressive predicaments we discussed above.


Our observation of TGR does render the cosmopolitan hope for world literature questionable: Conspiracy theory could be understood as a clandestine undercurrent of the discourse of world literature.


There are three main reasons for this argument: Superficially, it is easy to argue that some historical correlation exists between world literature and conspiracy theory, since both complexes emerged with the beginning of capitalist modernity as reflection of processes of globalisation. World literature is an expression of the expansive forces that integrate the whole globe into the sphere of its world market, transgressing the boundaries of national cultures. Thus, the very same forces of abstraction gave rise to modern antisemitism and opened up the spaces of an emerging world literature. Both complexes share, in this sense, a common origin; they are to be read (and are only readable) on the horizon of global capitalism.


Besides this historical correlation, both formats are essentially travelling forms: Conspiracy theories are narrative texts – sometimes in book-form, sometimes published on digital platforms – that travel, just like world literature. TGR, for example, does not remain in the context of its origin, but it leaves it, is integrated into new media practices, and translated, being retold by figures like Hans-Georg Maaßen, the former president of the German ‘Verfassungsschutz.’ (44)


Yet this is only possible, because conspiracy theory, just like world literature, constitutes world through narrating it. World literature, as we have seen, makes sense of the world by narrating it, constituting a multipolar world of interchanging perspectives. Out of the many arbitrary and contingent particularities, world literature creates a holistic complex – a world – in which these particularities become meaningful in the eyes of the other. But that is what structurally transpires in the case of conspiracy theory: It constitutes world through the act of narration, making sense of the abstract and complex particularities by integrating it into one holistic narrative. World literature and conspiracy theory emerged in reaction to the formation of capitalism and provide ways to render world comprehensible through mythologisation. While world literature restricts its narratives to the diegetic world, conspiracy literature turns narration into the building plan of this world, transgressing the literary in order to not only establish but also support economic, political, and other seemingly non-literary projects. The world context is an effect of the rhetorical engagement with world, constituting world as narration. Through the means of conspiracist philology, the basic narration behind the real world is recovered, and in this act, retold. By (re-)telling the world as narration, a worldview is established, in which the openness of the world is radically eradicated exactly by means of narration. The ideological operation that connects the ‘genre’ to neoliberal conservatism and regressive anticapitalism, as discussed on the example of TGR, is at the same time a poetic and philological operation. The narrativisation of world is the site of the political meaning of conspiracy theory.


In the case of world literature as well as in the case of world conspiracy, world is a literary effect, constituted as and through narration, meaning that the constitution of world through narrative texts is at the same time the site of politics – liberal cosmopolitanism on the one side, regressive anticapitalism and neoliberalism on the other. Yet, it still stands to determine, how these structural similarities interlink. Or, differently put, if it is possible to establish a relation between the liberal ideology with which world literature is charged, and conspiracism?


To find an answer to this question, we should take a step back, and return to philology: Philology plays a crucial role in both the political concept of world literature and in the narrativisation of world as undertaken by conspiracy theory. In the discourse of world literature (at least in the 20th and 21st centuries), philological work is understood as integral part of the practice of world literature; it is, as we have seen, philology that establishes world literature as such, thereby unearthing its cosmopolitan potential. Meanwhile, conspiracism employs philological methods, as seen in the case of TGR, to establish its reductionist world view. In both cases, philology is the stabilising factor, that renders the constitution of world through narration possible in the first place.


Philology is notoriously difficult to define. Suman Gupta proposed in his work on “Global English Studies”, a materialistic approach in understanding philology as a practice of working with text:


The distinctiveness of philological knowledge, spanning diverse areas and contexts of humanistic study, lies in its convergence on the four nodes described above: fixing texts, laying a normative emphasis on origins and genesis, aspiring toward an apprehension of unity, and being grounded in institutional settings. (45)


Without having the time to elaborate these four points, Gupta’s consideration can be summarised that there are four distinct nodes that hold together philological practice as a practice distinct from other forms of relating to texts: (1) Philology assumes that there are authentic texts – that is, deeper, supra-temporal meanings that can be accessed through work on the text, such as close reading. (2) In one way or another, this search for the authentic always asks for the origins and genesis of the textual material. (3) In doing so, it strives to establish the text as an inseparable, ultimate unity. Last but not least, (4) this practice of establishing texts takes place within and necessitates an institutionalised framework, with formal rules and conventions.


These four points apply without question one-to-one to the practice of conspiracy theory: with more enthusiasm than any literary scholar, conspiracy theorists engage in close readings in order to reconstruct, on the basis of textual material, original texts from which a unity – the unity of the world – is reconstructed. This philological work takes place within an institutionalised framework – in special forums, institutes, publishing houses – and makes use of formal conventions and reference schemes. The practice of conspiracy theory is in this regard akin to the practice of philological work.

But this similarity in methods and practice is only possible due to a proximity in its implicit politics. Philology is, as for example Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, albeit in an affirmatory way, explained, inherently political:


Zusammen mit den Thesen und Strukturen des historischen Verlaufs sind wohl auch jene Kollektivsubjekte weniger plausibel geworden, die an Verlaufskonzeptionen gebunden waren – wie etwa “Nationen” oder “soziale Klassen.” Stattdessen bietet sich in der breiter werdenden Gegenwart von Simultanitäten die Konzentration auf individuelle und zugleich verallgemeinerbare Situationen als ein statischer Gestus der historischen Sinn- und Formgebung an. Dieser Gestus ist zwar nicht identisch mit jenem “Existentialismus”, den wir in Erich Auerbachs Begriff von der Philologie entdeckt haben, aber sein Aufkommen könnte erklären, warum uns heute Auerbachs “existentielle Philologie” intellektuell attraktiver erscheint, als dies bis vor nur kurzem der Fall war. (46)


Collective subjects – for example “nations” or “social classes” and the theses and structures that are connected to the idea of historical progression have arguably lost their plausibility. Instead, the concentration on individual and at the same time generalizable situations offers itself as a static gesture of historical meaning and form in times of a broadening presence of simultaneities. Such a gesture might not be identical with the “existentialism” we discovered in Erich Auerbach’s notion of philology. Yet, the fact that this gesture has a historic momentum may explain why Auerbach’s “existential philology” seems more intellectually attractive to us today than it did until only recently.


Gumbrecht draws on Auerbachs late work on philology, actualising it for a contemporary understanding of what philology is and does. Without going into the details of his argument, we can see in this passage that he connects philology to our current predicament: “Kollektivsubjekt” – collective subjects, like classes, have lost their significances, Gumbrecht argues, the presence of multiple “Simultanitäten” – simultaneities – has rendered them void and meaningless. In this situation of post-historical simultaneity, the perspective has changed; it no longer rests on the collective, the common good and totality, instances that play no longer a role in this universe of the particular. Instead, the individual and the particular become the central frame in which we make sense of the world. Philology is hailed by Gumbrecht as the ideal discipline of this post-historic presence of the particular, since philology, as he elaborates earlier in the essay in a close reading of Auerbach, is a technique or producing meaning by engaging with the particular and concrete beyond historical analysis. In other words, it is to be understood here that the space-time of late capitalism is reflected by the epistemological structure of philology; philology realises the presentist contemporality of a world of infinite particularities as it essentially reproduces the particular: Engaged with a particular situation – a text – it makes it readable in its particularity, and constitutes meanings through methods – close reading, unifying the text etc. – that are based on the individual and the particular.


In this sense, Gumbrecht admits (and affirms) that philology is one form of a complex one could call, using a term proposed by Benjamin Noys, affirmationism, a complex that “constitutes a dominant and largely unremarked doxa.” (47) In short, affirmationism means a complex within humanities, where various theoretical currents function essentially as representations of the structural logic of late capital: Just as capital constitutes a world of infinite and simultaneous particularities, that all are sites of accumulation, theories emerge that conceptualise reality essentially as a constant stream of particularities, affirming – hence the name – a situation of post-historicity in which the capitalist present is eternal. This is what philology does in Gumbrecht’s appraisal: It is endowed with contemporaneity, since it allows to think without and beyond history. The great faculty of philology, if we follow Gumbrecht, lies in the fact that it can create meaning through engaging with literature in an a-historical manner, stabilising a world of infinite particularities, in which we all are just engaging particles in a never-ending stream of making sense. This faculty of philology Gumbrecht rightly links to the structure of contemporary capitalism, to our predicament of post-historicity.


These features of a ‘Gumbrechtian’ philology apply to the practice of conspiracy theory: the “concentration on individual” as a gesture of “giving meaning and form”, is precisely what characterises conspiracy theory. Conspiracy philology essentially constitutes meaning through forms of engaging with the world as a narration. In doing so, it negates historicity and establishes a closed world beyond the openings of modernity. The same is true for contemporary philology, notably the philology of world literature: When, for example, Spivak describes world literature as a way to constitute a world as a multiplex of perspectives, this world of world literature is essentially a complex of particularities. These particularities might interact, but they remain bound to the particular and to individual situations; totality is no thinkable category anymore and thus, ultimately, the notion of historicity (and an historical and materialist analysis) is replaced with the image of a world of social atoms that are united in the narration of a world of interchanging experiences.


For this reason, it is no coincidence that conspiracy theories resemble world literature and make use of philological practices: There exists an inner and unconscious attachment between world conspiracy literature, world literature and philology, since they are all practices of the erasure of history and historicity. Differently put: These complexes share a common political horizon. They reflect and reproduce the structure of capitalism by constituting world as agglomeration of infinite particularities by narrating it. The narration of world erases history and totality and allows it to conceive world in the particular and as particularity. This operation is not only connected to the structure of late capitalism itself (we could call it, its ideological reflection, or, with Noys: affirmationism), it also can be used as a form of a radical refusal of ‘the modern’ – i. e. a worldview that, based on understandings rooted ultimately in enlightenment, can think history and historicity and thus also to negate the naturalisation of social relations. In contrast, the narration of world (that is, as we can say now: making sense of the world within the context of the particular through philological means) allows to think world beyond history. Therefore, it can be and is employed by a regressive worldview as a mode to express itself: in conspiracy narrations.


Conclusory remarks: Theory against conspiracy philology


In our close reading of one particular conspiracy narrative, TGR, we found that conspiracy theory operates within a political continuum that spans from neoliberalism to regressive anticapitalism. We can expand this continuum now: The form of conspiracy theory, as we have seen, not only resembles world literature and makes not only use of philological practices, but is inherently connected to world literature and philology because the political moment of conspiracy theory – the negation of history and social totality through turning world into text – is also the political moment of world literature and philology. Philology and world literature are practices of particularisation, that reproduce and thus naturalise the structural logic of capital, which is why they are employed by conspiracy theory. Yet, as we have seen, the politics of world literature (and, in extension: of philology) is connected to the project of liberal cosmopolitanism. Our engagement with conspiracy theory has shown that this political outlook is not completely opposed to the ideological continuum of conspiracy theory: The political horizon of the liberal cosmopolitanism of world literature is the very horizon of post-historicity, that determines the conspiracist worldview; just like conspiracism, the supposed liberal arts of world literature and philology are reflections of the current predicament of late capitalism, reproducing its structural logic. In other words, conspiracy theories are not wholly on the side of regressive ideals and neoliberalism: They carry these ideological charges, but operate through their formal characteristics in a political continuum that also includes the hegemonic cosmopolitanism of today. Through their formal characteristics i. e. by means of narrating world, conspiracy theory as a genre links a regressive worldview to the hegemonic structures of affirmationist liberalism.


It would be wrong and short sighted to assume that these considerations yield only a theoretical value. Quite the opposite, the insight into the clandestine alliance between the complexes of conspiracism and liberalism could and should inform an emancipatory strategy in combatting these phenomena. Or, put differently: If we understand that the regressive potential of conspiracy theory does not contradict the formation of (neo-)liberal society, but is essentially a moment of the contemporary predicament – i. e. of our predicament –, we can find answers to the ever pressing question: Where do we go from here?


And the first step, in answering this question, lies in the refutation of the current debate around conspiracy theories. As we have seen, the ideological mainstream focuses on the factuality of these narratives, which oftentimes are labelled “fake news.” Conspiracy theories are defined by their non-adherence to facts (up to the point that some authors claim that in the moment a conspiracy theory is proven true, it ceases to be one) and this inherent counter-factuality is seen as the true political problem. Analyses like those presented by Michael Butter, therefore tend to discuss strategies how to “inoculate” (sic) the public against the false information presented by conspiracism:


Moreover, research has shown that it makes a lot of sense to ‘inoculate’ people against specific conspiracy theories. This ‘prebunking’, as it is also called, usually consists of two steps. First, the target audience needs to be alerted to the dangers of a specific conspiracy theory; second, and crucially, the logical flaws and contradictions in its arguments need to be exposed. (48)


The basic wager at stake here is that conspiracy theory is something entirely different and even opposed to the liberal mainstream. It is imagined as some kind of scandalous outside force that endangers the normal state of affairs, disrupting it. Our discussion of one particular conspiracy theory has shown that this wager does not hold: Conspiracy theory is one possible expression of that which is present in late capitalist normality: the tendency to dehistoricise society thereby naturalising the infinite presence of capital. In this sense, the idea of ‘prebunking’ our society in order to protect it against conspiracy theory is beside the point: Conspiracism is just the radical and clear expression of underlying tendencies of our societies that are always already there. We might say, that this genre gives voice to the political unconscious of neoliberal society, including its liberal discourses. Therefore, strategies like ‘prebunking’ will not only not work, they essentially are methods of repressing the unconscious than working through it.


To work through the unconscious complexes of our society, of neoliberalism at large, is the task at hand, if we really want to combat conspiracism. This task requires as a first and necessary step to focus on philology not as a discipline but as expression of a worldview: As we have seen, conspiracism is not only connected to philological problems, it is by and large the problem of philology.


We can put this differently: Philology is essentially the practice of narrating the world and exactly for that reason the ideal ‘non’-theory of our predicament. It constructs world by making sense of the particular, affirming and reproducing the particularism that is characteristic for late capitalism. Hence, the critique of philology allows to directly target the unconscious complex of late capitalist post-historicity that finds its expression in the narratives of conspiracism. Such a critique will not necessarily strive to do away with philological ground work, but attempt to refute the tendency to narrativise social relations and instead develop a dialectical analysis that can think totality. In short: Against the politicised poetry of late capitalism, which finds itself realised in the genres of conspiracy theory, philology and world literature, it is necessary to return to theory, thereby re-actualising the original Platonic desire of exiling the poets:


If a man, then, it seems, who was capable by his cunning of assuming every kind of shape and imitating all things should arrive in our city, bringing with himself the poems which he wished to exhibit, we should fall down and worship him as a holy and wondrous and delightful creature, but should say to him that there is no man of that kind among us in our city, nor is it lawful for such a man to arise among us, and we should send him away to another city, after pouring myrrh down over his head and crowning him with fillets of wool, but we ourselves, for our souls’ good, should continue to employ it. (49)


Conspiracy theory is the political poetry of our time. As regressive narration of the world in terms of a conspiracy plot, it appears to be the other, disturbing the liberal, hegemonic discourse. Yet, although the originators of conspiracy theory may seem to as “wonderous and [sometimes] delightful” creatures that have nothing to do, with our situation, our discourse and our society, we should recognise that they are right here among us. The hegemonic, liberal discourse of a post-modern, multicultural liberalism is, in other words, not the ideal city of Plato, where political poetry has already disappeared, but part of the same and problematic predicament that finds its clearest expression in conspiracism. Therefore, we should not attempt to other conspiracism (and thereby turning our attention away from our connection to the predicament and our position in it), but understand, that liberalism, philology and world literature are, just like conspiracism, forms of the political poetry of late capitalism.


And this must be the lesson, we need to learn for our situation in post-Covid-capitalism. In the years to come, we will be confronted with all forms of narratives, new regressive ideologies and obscurantism that will outwardly negate the basic principles of liberal and ‘enlightened’ society, but undoubtedly reproduce the structures of a neoliberal lifeworld. To combat the current forms of conspiracism and the forms to come, involves combatting the predicament in which this political poetry could emerge, and this means to send away the poets. This may be a hard thing to do, as it means not only to organise a self-critique of the practice of world literature and philology; we must, in order to be true to the idea of a united, borderless world, that is contained within the discourses of world literature, break exactly with these discourses, i. e. with their inherent liberalism that connects to the very predicament, we need to oppose. In a truly Platonic move, this act exiling of poetry, for the sake of politics, means to confront the liberalism of philology and world literature with the idea of an ideal state, which may and will give rise to a new form of political poetry. This may sound impossible in our decisively anti-utopian time, yet it is the only possible way, if we really want to end the dangerous surge of regressive narrations of neoliberalism, that always translate into violence and tyranny – as does poetry in Plato’s eyes. We have to do it, to yet again quote the original thinker of anti-liberalism, “for our souls’ good.”


 

NOTES


1. Following the British psychologist Jovan Byford, I understand with this term the cultural and ideological complex that emerges around conspiracy theories; a singular conspiracy theory, in other words, is but a narrative that is embedded in a wider cultural, political, etc. context – conspiracism. Instead of only analysing the singular conspiracy theory as singular object, it is necessary to take this wider context – the worldview, so to speak, in which conspiracy thinking can flourish – into account. Cf. Jovan Byford, Conspiracy Theories. A Critical Introduction. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, 6–9.


2. Michael Butter, The Nature of Conspiracy Theories. Trans. Sharon Howe. Cambridge, UK: polity press, 2021, 122.


3. Ibid., 123–126.


4. Zhang Longxi, “The Changing Concept of World Literature.” World Literature in Theory. Ed. David Damrosch. Chichester: John Wiley, 2014. 514–523, 521.


5. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, “Was Erich Auerbach für eine ‘philologische Frage՚ hielt.” Was ist eine philologische Frage? Ed. Jürgen Paul Schwindt. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 2009. 275–287, here 284–287.


6. Cf. Klaus Schwab and Thierry Mallaret, Covid-19: The Great Reset. Geneva: WEF, 2020, 16–19.


7. Cf. Aaron Wherry, “The ‘Great Reset’ reads like a globalist plot with some plot holes.” CBC News, 27 November 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/great-reset-trudeau-poilievre-otoole-pandemic-covid-1.5817973. Accessed 4 October 2021.


8. Cf. Nicholas De Rosa, “Le Great Reset n’est pas un complot par controleur le monde.” Radio Canada, 18 November 2020, https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1750586/great-reset-grande-reinitialisation-forum-economique-mondial-davos-complot-communisme. Accessed 1 January 2020.


9. Cf. Will Sommer, “The Biden Presidency Already Has Its First Conspiracy Theory: The Great Reset.” Daily Beast, 26 November 2020, https://www.thedailybeast.com/joe-bidens-presidency-already-has-its-first-conspiracy-theory-the-great-reset. Accessed 29 July 2021.


10. Cf. Emily Holden, “Climate science deniers at forefront of downplaying coronavirus pandemic.” The Guardian, 25 March 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/25/climate-science-deniers-downplaying-coronavirus-pandemic. Accessed 20 March 2021.


11. Ibid.


12. Haskins, Justin, and Donald Kendal. Uncovering Globalists’ Great Reset Plot. 14 October 2020. Podcast. The Heartland Institute, https://www.heartland.org/multimedia/podcasts/uncovering-globalists-great-reset-plot. Accessed 3 January 2021.


13. I am aware of the ambiguity of the term neoliberalism: Theoreticians such as David Harvey (A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2005, 3–7) use the term to describe a certain socio-economic predicament, others, such as Jodi Dean (Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fairytales. Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics. Durham: Duke UP, 2009, 56), understand neoliberalism as a set of ideological and cultural factors that determine our contemporary lifeworld, which is, as the literary theorist Suman Gupta noted, largely the lifeworld of neoliberalism (cf. “Crisis of the Novel and the Novel of Crisis.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée 12 [2015]: 454–466, here 459–560). Behind these approximations stands an analysis that recognises the fundamental transformations of global capitalism since the 1970s. Despite all differences, these analyses tend to agree that a post-Fordist regime of production emerged, in which the capital relation inscribed itself into every aspect of the social life (cf. Dean 50–57; Gupta 460–465; Harvey 14–19). While it is clear that this transformation itself is rooted in processes within the sphere of production and circulation, the transformation was also effected through structural reforms realised mainly by conservative politicians in the 1980s and 1990s (cf. Harvey 20–39). This policy in turn was informed by the economical and philosophical system developed mainly by the Austrian School, especially by von Hayek, an economist who founded the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947, a thinktank which brought together thinkers like Milton Friedman, Ludwig van Mises and Karl Popper (cf. Harvey 20–39).


14. Cf. Leland B. Yeager, “Mises and Hayek on calculation and knowledge.” The Review of Austrian Economics 7 (1994): 93–109, here 94–96.


15. Cf. Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism 57.


16. Friedrich August von Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty. The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek. Vol. XVII. Ed. Ronald Hamowy. London and New York: Routledge, 1960, 129.


17. Cf. Clemens Reichhold, Wirtschaftsfreiheit als Schicksal. Das politische Denken Friedrich August von Hayeks als de-politisierte Ideologie. Oldenburg: De Gruyter, 2019, 57–59.


18. Cf. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty 87–90.


19. Cf. Geoffrey Hodgson, “Hayek, evolution, and spontaneous order.” Natural Images in Economic Thought: Markets Read in Tooth and Claw. Ed. Patrick Mirowski. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994. 408–448, here 410–414.


20. Cf. Gerhard Stapelfeldt, “Antisemitisches im Neoliberalismus. Gesellschaftlicher Anti-Rationalismus, Autoritärer Anpassungs-Imperativ und Anti-Utopismus.” Neoliberalismus Autoritarismus Strukturelle Gewalt: Aufsätze und Vorträge zur Kritik der ökonomischen Rationalität. Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovac, 2010. 161–202, here 166–167.


21. Cf. ibid. 165.


22. Cf. Friedrich August von Hayek, The Road to Serfdom. The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek. Vol. II. Ed. Ronald Hamowy. London and New York: Routledge, 1944, 24–30.


23. Ibid. 200–203.


24. Ibid. 95–104.


25. Cf. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty 343–347.


26. Byford, Conspiracy Theories 41–43.


27. Ibid. 43–44.


28. Ibid. 44–47.


29. Fredric Jameson, The Geopolitical Unconscious. Cinema and Space in the World System. Bloomington: U of Indiana P, 1992, 9.


30. Moishe Postone, “Anti-Semitism and National Socialism: Notes on the German Reaction to ‘Holocaust’.” New German Critique 19 (Winter 1980): 97–115, here 105.


31. Ibid. 102–105.


32. Cf. Werner Hamacher, “Lingua Amissa: The Messianism of Commodity-Language and Derrida’s Spectre of Marx.” Ghostly Demarcations. A Symposium on Jacques Derrida’s ‘Spectres of Marx.’ Ed. Michael Sprinker. London and New York: Verso, 1999. 163–224, here 170–172.


33. Johann Peter Eckermann, Gespräche mit Goethe in den letzten Jahren seines Lebens. Trans. John Oxenford. London: North Point Press, 1994, 132.


34. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei. 1848. Marx-Engels-Werke. Vol. 4. Berlin: Institut für Marxismus-Leninismus beim ZK der SED. 1961, 478.


35. Gayatri Chakravotry Spivak, “Comparative Literature/World Literature. A Discussion.” World Literature in Theory. Ed. David Damrosch. Chichester: John Wiley, 2014. 363–388, here 371.


36. Cf. Hayley G. Toth, “Spivak’s Planetarity and the Limits of Professional Reading.” Comparative Critical Studies 17.3 (2020): 459–478, here 460.


37. Gayatri Chakravotry Spivak, Death of a Discipline. New York: Columbia UP, 2003, 25.


38. Cf. Longxi, “The Changing Concept of World Literature” 520.


39. Spivak, Death of a Discipline 33–37.


40. Toth, “Spivak’s Planetarity and the Limits of Professional Reading” 461.


41. David Damrosch, for instance, holds that works of world literature are texts that gain meaning through their circulation, translation, and global reception (What is World Literature? Princeton: Princeton UP, 2003, 16–19). Pascal Casanova likewise explores the preconditions of circulation of literary texts and their integration into the context of literary practices of the metropolitan centre (The World Republic of Letters. 1999. Trans.: M. B. Debevoise. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2004, 3–4) while, to name only a few theorists, Franco Moretti proposes that emerging world literature renders methods of distant reading necessary to grasp the forms of circulation (Graphs, Maps, Trees. Abstract Models for a Literary History.London and New York: Verso, 2005, 4–9).


42. Longxi, “The Changing Concept of World Literature” 521.


43. Erich Auerbach, Die Philologie der Weltliteratur. 1952. e-book. Berlin: Fischer, 2016, Pos. 456, trans. S. S.


44. Renate Lilge-Stodieck and Hans-Georg Maaßen, “Exklusiv-Interview mit H.-G. Maaßen.” Epoch-Times, 21 January 2021, https://www.epochtimes.de/politik/deutschland/exklusiv-interview-mit-h-g-maassen-sehr-reizvoll-fuer-medien-und-politiker-mit-aengsten-zu-arbeiten-a3425768.html. Accessed 8 May 2021.


45. Suman Gupta, Philology and Global English Studies. Retractions. London:

Palgrave Macmilan, 2015, 40.


46. Gumbrecht, “Was Erich Auerbach für eine ‘philologische Frage՚ hielt” 286.


47. Benjamin Noys, The Persistance of the Negative. A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory. Edinburgh: Edingburgh UP, 2010. [ix].


48. Butter, The Nature of Conspiracy Theories 160.


49. Christopher Rowe, Plato: Republic. London: Penguin, 2021, III, 398 a.

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