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Conspiracy Theories and World Government

Project: 6
Name: Erin Graham, PhD |
Department: Politics


Throughout the twentieth century, right-wing extremist groups in the U.S. like the John Birch Society (JBS) spread conspiracy theories about the threat posed by international cooperation. Among these was the idea that the United Nations was a front for a communist takeover of the world, or for instituting one world religion. During the mid-twentieth century, these conspiracy theories remained on the margins of political discourse as the mainstream Republican party rejected their views. However, today, conspiracies propagated by JBS and other similar groups are increasingly embraced by elected Republican officeholders. This is especially apparent in the embrace of conspiracy theories surrounding Agenda 21, a non-binding, aspirational statement signed at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 by Republican President George H.W. Bush. As the Southern Poverty Law Center states: "The Birch Society and an array of other radical-right groups see Agenda 21 and virtually all other global efforts as part of a nefarious plan on the part of global elites to form a socialistic one-world government, or 'New World Order.'" Rather than distancing themselves from these inaccurate claims, in January of 2012 the Republican National Committee embraced them by denouncing the non-legally binding document as a "destructive and insidious scheme to impose a socialist/communist redistribution of wealth."

What are the origins of world government conspiracies in the United States and why have they gone mainstream? The troubling frequency of conspiracy theories in societies across Western democracies today makes these questions especially timely. However, these questions are particularly interesting in the American context. More than any other state in the world, the U.S. designed the current international order and exercises extraordinary influence within it, rendering questions about why individuals would believe the U.S. has voluntarily subjugated itself to authoritarian rule by international bureaucrats particularly puzzling.

This project seeks to trace the origins of these ideas in the United States from the interwar period (1920s and 1930s) to the contemporary period. In doing so it seeks to identify the principals who harbored suspicion about international cooperation from its early stages, as well as those who promoted the idea of world federalism. Understanding the origins of contemporary conspiracy theories requires revisiting actual campaigns for world federalism that occurred in the first half of the twentieth century, when the idea of world government was contemplated as a solution to world war by serious policymakers and intellectuals.

Gained Experience

Through work on the project, students will gain research skills in historical and social science methods, and build knowledge about the history of ideas around world government in the United States. There is a potential for students to identify a slice of the project that they pursue independently with my supervision, and also the potential to continue work on the project once the fellowship concludes.


The expected outcome of this project is a book. However, a number of articles are expected along the way.


The student fellow will be responsible for: a) identifying and compiling a list of principals (individuals, groups, and organizations) who have promoted conspiracy theories about international cooperation, especially the United Nations; b) identifying and compiling a list of principals (individuals, groups, and organizations) who have promoted the idea of world government; c) creating and building a database of conspiracy theories about the United Nations and other international agreements and organizations; d) creating and building a database of local and national legislation that has been passed based on conspiracy theories about the UN and other international agreements; d) based on principals identified, develop a list of relevant archives to be visited, e.g. the Rosika Schwimmer archives at the New York Public Library.


Most of the research will be computer-based and the fellow can complete the tasks where they prefer to work. However, there is a potential to visit local archives based on the initial work produced during the fellowship.

Possibility to Work Post Fellowship