I don’t want to write about the Trump administration. God knows I’m tired of writing about it, but every time I turn around it is doing something which defies expectation and convention. Pandemonium unleashed on the US political scene necessitates some thought regarding its architect. I had previously glossed over the importance of Steve Bannon, the former head honcho of Breitbart who generated news when he offhandedly declared his outlet a platform of the AltRight.
Obviously the press used this as a launching pad to tie Trump to the AltRight not only in the sense that he was supported by its Twitter army, but that he was actually taking counsel from one of its idealogues. This is fiction. At the time, the news media were already lumping anyone they could in with those sending online abuse to Jewish journalists, and Bannon, along with a whole host of ‘edgy conservatives & libertarians’ from Mike Cernovich to Paul Joseph Watson, glommed on to this and pushed the AltRight label as their own form of amorphous counter-culture without being fully aware of its origins.
However, Bannon is a useful boogeyman, just as Valerie Jarrett was for conservatives during the Obama administration: the shadowy figure behind the scenes onto which all kinds of sinister motives can be grafted. I was someone who frequented fringe conservative outlets like FreeRepublic in my more naïve days, and remember all the elaborate conspiracy theories surrounding Jarret’s Iranian heritage, her secret ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, how she faked the president’s birth certificate, etc. The left mocked this, but are now struck with the same paranoia about Bannon. In chasing up these conspiratorial webs of suspicious characters, the media is looking especially desperate. The Atlantic for instance has persisted in suggesting that NeoReactionary progenitor Mencius Moldbug is in contact with Bannon. So interested are they in Moldbug that they actually published his troll response to their requests for comment. In doing so, all they did was promote outlets like Social Matter and Thermidor free of charge. The evidence for ties between Moldbug and Bannon is nothing beyond an anonymous source, who is likely a troll himself. Furthermore, because Bannon mentioned Julius Evola briefly in a lecture he gave to a Vatican conference in 2014, the New York Times saw fit to Streisand the long-dead philosopher and turn him into the left’s version of Saul Alinsky, a sinister black and white ghost from ages past. No doubt the west wing is haunted by spooky voices telling visitors to ride the tiger. The New York Times article and a wave of even more poorly researched mirror-pieces have been claiming everything from Evola being an unabashed sycophant of Nazi Germany to him being behind the 1938 changes to Italian law targeting Jewish citizens. I’m preserving the image below for posterity.
There are some on the right who, while making fun of this, will actually misinterpret it themselves and imagine that Bannon truly is a fellow traveler, that he is “our guy” on the inside. This is far too simplistic and neglects any real analysis of Bannon’s worldview.
A Harvard grad and former Goldman Sachs banker, Bannon had an unexpected trajectory from admittedly amateur filmmaker to replacing Tea Party provocateur Andrew Breitbart (who died in 2012) as manager of the subversive news outlet. It is said that Bannon’s personality is much harsher than Breitbart’s was, and that he is far more well-read, devouring books in short order from Sun Tzu’s Art of War to the Bhagavad Gita. For unknown reasons he has come to genuinely loathe the establishment class, be they economic profiteers and ‘corporatists’ he knew in his former life, or the stale pie crust of GOP consultants. Most of all he has a hatred of the contemporary American left, which is why Breitbart under his leadership began to depart from the hardline ‘conservatism’ of its roots, and instead stoke the fires of nationalism, populist resentment, and Trump enthusiasm even if it cost them former employees like Ben Shapiro. Bannon knew to defeat the left, the right would have to move into the internet age with dynamism. He turned Breitbart from a shambolic candid camera outfit into a well-oiled media machine, just in time to be harnessed by the campaign of Donald Trump.
Bannon’s taste for anti-establishment destruction is nowhere made clearer than in his startling remarks about being a Leninist.
“Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
This comes from no ideological affinity for Marxism on Bannon’s part, but rather an admiration for Lenin as a vehicle for upheaval. He could (if the climate permitted it) have made the same comments about Adolf Hitler for example, who swept away Weimar, or any other number of transformative leaders. Julius Caesar anyone?
Can’t Cannon The Bannon
Beyond a personal drive for an anti-establishment brush fire, what schools of thought have influenced Bannon’s eclectic views?
The first is the school of contemporary European nationalist and populist movements, from UKIP to the Front National. Notably Bannon expressed desire to expand Breitbart’s operation to Italy and France in order to bolster Lega Nord and Marine Le Pen in upcoming elections. The aforementioned talk, given to Traditionalist Catholics of which he counts himself as one, was in solidarity with Cardinal Burke (now also the subject of left-wing hysteria), long regarded as the primary opposition to Pope Francis’ attempts to dampen rising right-wing backlash in Europe with new Liberal twists on pastoral care.
“I think strong countries and strong nationalist movements in countries make strong neighbors, and I think it’s what can see us forward.”
No doubt from these nationalist influences blossomed Bannon’s more sympathetic view of Russian geopolitics and indeed internal politics. While denouncing Russia as a kleptocracy (which is not a completely unfair accusation), he stated:
“At least Putin is standing up for traditional institutions and he’s trying to do it in a form of nationalism,”
Also mixed in is the worldview of often fringe retired generals (Boykin et al.) who have seized upon the neoconservative construction of ‘Judeo-Christianity’ and taken it further into the realm of Counter-Jihadism. Frank Gaffney, a friend of Bannon’s, is one of the key American proponents of the Counter-Jihad movement. As others have noted, a ‘clash of civilizations’ narrative is quite central to Bannonist rhetoric surrounding Islam, influenced heavily by Strauss’ prophecy-laden book The Fourth Turning. Obviously European nationalist populism and Counter-Jihad thinking are already bedmates, so this isn’t surprising, and it explains Bannon’s recent maneuver to put himself onto the National Security Council.
a sign of status, supposedly Bannon is exempt from
Trump’s fastidious dress code requirements
How is Julius Evola involved with this? Well, if you read carefully, Bannon never stated he was influenced by Evola.
“When you really look at some of the underpinnings of some of his [Vladimir Putin’s] beliefs today, a lot of those come from what I call Eurasianism; he’s got an adviser who harkens back to Julius Evola and different writers of the early 20th century who are really the supporters of what’s called the traditionalist movement, which really eventually metastasized into Italian fascism. A lot of people that are traditionalists are attracted to that.”
He is quite obviously referencing Aleksandr Dugin here, and true to life, Dugin is influenced by Evola. In fact, he was one of the first to translate Evola into Russian. But that doesn’t mean Bannon has Evola as an influence or that he really knows what Reactionary and Traditionalist thinking is. We have nothing to suggest he has even read any of the Italian philosopher’s books. In fact, I would hazard a guess based upon some glaring errors even in this short paragraph that he has not and only maintains a very cursory knowledge of Traditionalism in terms of the role it played during the interwar period. More than likely he heard the name, and after a quick speed-read of some articles came to the conclusion that the thinking of Dugin and Evola is amenable to his own worldview in some way.
Because this is so tenuous, it is best not to dwell upon these connections. The media can, but this will only make them look crazy. They’ve clearly failed to learn from Hillary Clinton’s AltRight speech which backfired spectacularly.
What should we think about Bannon? He is most certainly a useful person to have in the White House. Short-term, his goals are very similar to our own. He wants to utterly discredit and destroy the establishment, and as a model for how alternative news can work, Breitbart is a good case study. But Bannon, much like the broad and amorphous AltRight, memetics, etc. is but a chaos vector. His constructive prescriptions are weak or vague at best, because he isn’t really interested in theory and is much more at home in the minefields of contemporary political warfare.
Steve Bannon, in his surprisingly senior position as chief strategist and attendee to the National Security Council, is an exogenous asset. He may help us achieve long-term goals for as long as we offer help with his short-term goals (largely the continuing infowar against Liberalism), but to be clear we do not control him, influence him, or have any kind of formal relation, be that untraceable late night phone calls from Moldbug or Oval Office séances with the maestro himself.
*cue Lion King music*
He lives in you!