Just what does Steve Bannon believe? For some, his thinking can be boiled down to racism. For others, he is merely a sinister opportunist taking advantage of Trump and the “alt-right”, a far-right movement in the US, for economic gain and fame. But what if he is fundamentally driven by something else? Like: religion.
During a 2014 conference hosted by the very conservative Human Dignity Institute at the Vatican, Bannon laid out his belief in “traditionalism”. To him, it signifies, among other things, a third-way attempt to counter the “crony capitalism” of neoliberalism, and the “state sponsored capitalism” of the Soviet Union and China.
His traditionalism is predicated on a rather speculative historical argument. He argues that a form of “enlightened capitalism” defined western political economies from the second world war until roughly the downfall of the Soviet Union. This type of capitalism was predicated on the Judeo-Christian tradition, which, for reasons Bannon does not explain, was adequately able to represent the culture and economic interests of the working classes.
However, increasing secularization in the west eroded the Judeo-Christian tradition. This set the stage by the 1990s for enlightened capitalism to be supplanted by a new form of political economy, namely neoliberalism. The defining feature of neoliberalism, as Bannon describes it, involves the establishment of an international class of political and corporate elites – the “Davos party” – who presumably lack the values necessary to represent the economic and cultural interest of anyone else besides themselves.
This religious worldview provides one compelling explanation as to why he is willing to work with the political fringe. What is driving the populist movement is, according to him, primarily a reaction to neoliberalism. A return to Judeo-Christian traditionalism will allow for the necessary economic forms that will pave the return to enlightened capitalism, which in turn will “wipe out” the racist elements of right-wing parties. It will also provide the necessary virtues, Bannon argues, to resist the global threat of “radical Islam”.
His alleged Leninism is to be found here. He aims to destroy the political establishment and infuse the re-established state with Judeo-Christian traditionalism. This will aid in redirecting the central bureaucratic state away from globalism and towards economic nationalism.
Perhaps Bannon’s apocalyptic worldview will have little influence on Trump. Regardless, it is a dangerous ideology that entails a number of dubious political assumptions. His repeated claim that the racial fringe will be washed out by the political revolution to come is pure naivete.
More problematic is the question of where Bannon derives his understanding of traditionalism. There are plenty of traditionalists Bannon could mention who have pointed out the shortcoming of liberalism: the moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre or even the theologian John Milbank come to mind.
Instead he references none other than Julius Evola – one of the intellectual godfathers of European fascism who promoted a spiritual type of racism – whose reception in Russian under Putin has inspired a traditionalist movement from which Bannon believes there is much to learn.
The most bothersome feature of Bannon’s talk is the fact that a Catholic group at the Vatican responded to it with enthusiasm. Their questions demonstrate that they knew Bannon’s desire to make his message receptive to rightwing populist parties. Excitement over his idea of a renewed Judeo-Christian Europe seemingly trumped such concerns. This is same political ideology that galvanized evangelicals to vote for Trump.
Seeking analogies to understand Trump’s rise has led many historians to point to the Weimar Republic and its demise as a warning for the present moment. But perhaps Vichy France is a more apt analogy. Bannon actually references the French Resistance in his talk but this is difficult to square with his fringe following. His idea of a return to traditionalism against the forces of secularism has led the faithful down the path of collaboration.
Original article: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/07/why-steve-bannon-wants-to-destroy-secularism