Democracy Paradox
Democracy Paradox
May 17, 2022
Scott Radnitz on Why Conspiracy Theories Thrive in Both Democracies and Autocracies
Play • 50 min

There's something natural and organic about perceiving that the people in power are out to advance their own interests. It's in part because it’s often true. Governments actually do keep secrets from the public. Politicians engage in scandals. There often is corruption at high levels. So, we don't want citizens in a democracy to be too trusting of their politicians. It's healthy to be skeptical of the state and its real abuses and tendencies towards secrecy. The danger is when this distrust gets redirected, not toward the state, but targets innocent people who are not actually responsible for people's problems.

Scott Radnitz

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A full transcript is available at

*Please note during the interview the host says "conspiracy" rather than "conspiracy theory." The transcript has been corrected.*

Scott Radnitz is an associate professor of Russian and Eurasian Studies at the University of Washington and the director of the Ellison Center for Russian, Eastern European, and Central Asian Studies. He is the author of Revealing Schemes: The Politics of Conspiracy in Russia and the Post-Soviet Region and coeditor with Harris Mylonas of the forthcoming book Enemies Within: The Global Politics of Fifth Columns. His article “Why Democracy Fuels Conspiracy Theories” was recently published in the Journal of Democracy.

Key Highlights

  • Conspiracy theories Russia uses to justify their invasion of Ukraine
  • Why Russia relies on conspiracy theories in its political rhetoric
  • The use of conspiracy theories in democracies and autocracies
  • The recent proliferation of conspiracy theories in the United States
  • How to mitigate the harmful effects of conspiracy theories in politics

Key Links

"Why Democracy Fuels Conspiracy Theories" by Scott Radnitz in Journal of Democracy

Revealing Schemes: The Politics of Conspiracy in Russia and the Post-Soviet Region by Scott Radnitz

Enemies Within: The Global Politics of Fifth Columns edited by Harris Mylonas and Scott Radnitz

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