David Aaronovitch (A Conspiracy-Theory Theory, WSJ, Dec. 19-20), reminds me of a lecture I used to give every April 1 to my Soviet Government class at Adrian College.
The lecture was entitled "The Czar is alive and ruling in the Kremlin." It argued that Nicholas II could not have been as stupid as he pretended to be, and that actually he was a political genius. In order to avoid being constitutionalized out of real power or thrown out, Nicholas faked his own overthrow with the aid of his loyal henchmen, Lenin and Stalin. With his new low profile, he continued to rule from behind the scenes until his death in the late 1940s, when he was succeded by his son, Alexei, then by his grandson, whose name I did not know.
The evidence I presented was overwhelming. For example, the so-called "doctors plot" in the early 1950s, supposedly about a plan by Kremlin doctors to assassinate Stalin, was actually a coverup for a big dispute inside the Soviet medical profession about the proper treatment of haemophilia, from which Alexei suffered. And our inability to explain how the Politburo made its decisions was due to the fact that it wasn't making any decisions, but just rubberstamping the orders of the Czar from his backroom.
One year a student came up after the lecture and said, in all seriousness, that the lecture made more sense than anything I had said all year! And of course, this was true. Conspiracy theory can be simple and consistent, once you work out the bugs, whereas reality is often messy.
This was published on December 26, 2009 by the Wall Street Journal as a letter-to-the-editor.