Conspiracy Theories, Right-Wing Populism and Foreign Policy: The Case of the Alternative for Germany

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This article analyses the relationship between conspiracy theories, populism and foreign policy by shedding light on the affective force of conspiracy theories in mobilising ‘the people’. Drawing on Lacanian psychoanalysis, it conceptualises conspiracy theories as fantasies that promise to satisfy subjects’ desire for a complete identity by accusing ‘hidden’ forces of blocking this perceived-to-be-lost but ultimately unattainable sense of ontological wholeness. The article argues that conspiracy theories allow populists to appeal to voters through emotive narratives which offer a dualistic outlook on global politics and (1) blame the conspirators for such feelings of lack, (2) transgress the conventions of the mainstream discourse by appealing to the obscene, and (3) valorise the populist actor for uncovering the plot against popular sovereignty and thereby promising to make ‘the people’ whole again. While conspiracy theories have been studied in other disciplines, International Relations scholarship has paid very little attention to them and, if at all, discussed their role in the context of the United States. This article illustrates its arguments with the case of the right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany and examines the role of conspiracy theories and foreign policy in its attempt to stage itself as ‘true’ representative of the German people.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)130-158
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of International Relations and Development
Early online date22 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes

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This research was supported by research grant ECF-2018-656 from the Leverhulme Trust.


  • Conspiracy theories
  • Right-wing Populism
  • Foreign Policy
  • Germany
  • Lacanian Psychoanalysis
  • Affect
  • Lacanian psychoanalysis
  • Right-wing populism
  • Foreign policy
  • Alternative for germany/alternative für deutschland (AfD)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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