The audience for Beck’s Friday night special were each given copies of two books. One of them was Cleon Skousen’s Five Thousand Year Leap. Skousen, who died in 2006, is one of the legendary cranks of the conservative world, a John Bircher, a grand fantasist of theories about secret conspiracies between capitalists and communists to impose a one-world government under the control of David Rockefeller.
There’s always been a market for this junk of course. Once that market was reached via mimeographed newsletters. Now it’s being tapped by Fox News.
Conspiracy theories always flourish during economic downturns. They flourished during the terrible slump of the 1890s (when they captured even so fine a mind as Henry Adams) and again in the 1930s.
Frum might also have noted that much of this literature has a decidedly antisemitic slant to it. It’s not a cabal of rich people that Illuminati conspiratorialists claim to see, but a cabal of Jewish rich people. This is precisely why we need to hope that our economy does not plummet further, for a genuine economic depression would almost certainly breed a powerful authoritarian, fascist, and antisemitic movement within the United States. The very fact that Beck would promote conspiracy material to his studio audience is suggestive of where conservatism could go over the next decade.