Lecture by Joan Braune, Gonzaga University @ Selectors' Records, Vancouver [17 November]

Lecture by Joan Braune, Gonzaga University

19:00 - 21:00

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Selectors' Records
8 East Pender Street, Vancouver, British Columbia V6A 1T1
«The Outsider as Insider: Steve Bannon, Fourth Turnings, and the Neo-Fascist Threat»

From working class origins, Steve Bannon worked his way up through a series of channels (Navy, Pentagon, Goldman Sachs, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, right-wing media and the Tea Party) to the helm of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, where he shaped Trump’s xenophobic, nationalistic rhetoric. Bannon’s far-right website Breitbart News (beloved by fascists and called by Bannon “the platform for the alt-right”), Bannon’s far-right grassroots organizing through the Tea Party, and Bannon’s propaganda films, assisted in building the far-right movement through which Trump ascended to power. Bannon then followed Trump into the White House, serving as White House Chief Strategist, recruiting some of the most extreme right-wing members of Trump’s cabinet, and playing a central role in shaping the policies and rhetoric of the first one hundred days of the Trump administration, including the ban on refugees from several Muslim-majority countries.

Bannon left the Trump administration in August following a violent, torch-lit neo-fascist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Because of his ties to the U.S. fascist/alt-right movement, there were mass calls for Bannon’s resignation from the Trump administration following the Charlottesville rally, but the reasons for his exit from the administration are unclear. Bannon recently claimed he still talks with Trump often, at least a few times a week.

Returning to Breitbart, Bannon declared “war” on the Republican Party “establishment,” which he claims is disloyal to Trump and Trump’s nationalist agenda. Employing populist rhetoric about the «working class» and lost industrial jobs, Bannon is stumping for “outsider” candidates across the U.S. His rhetoric repeats a trope that Alexander Reid Ross has called “fascist creep”: appropriating ideas and tools from the left for his far-right aims and presenting himself as an outsider with left-wing sides.

Bannon styles himself a defender of “populist economic nationalism,” but this can be misleading. In fact, Bannon’s political agenda is fueled by a reactionary elitism with racist and fascist influences. Bannon is especially influenced by the “Traditionalist School,” which included such thinkers as Italian fascist Julius Evola. Profoundly anti-Enlightenment and suspicious of the masses, capital-T “Traditionalists” believe that great world religions share a secret, ancient content, known only to elite “initiates.” The Traditionalists’ gnosis includes the beliefs that: (1) There is a natural hierarchy in society, (2) It is the duty of the spiritual elite to preserve (or restore) this hierarchy, and (3) That history moves in four-part cycles of death and rebirth, and that we are currently in a fourth period of worsening decline, preceding the restoration of a past golden age.

In addition to the Traditionalists, several of Bannon’s other ideological influences and touchstones coalesce to present a figure whose “economic nationalism” has significant ethnonationalist or possibly fascist “white nationalist” sides, and whose “populism” is essentially a sham, covering over a reactionary gnostic elitism and apocalypticism. Evidence to be addressed includes Bannon’s embrace of racist propaganda novel «Camp of the Saints» and his frequently promotion of 1990s bestseller «The Fourth Turning,» Bannon's propaganda films through which he sought to establish himself as “the Leni Riefenstahl of the Republican Party,” and his affinities with Vichy France’s Charles Maurras. Bannon’s connections with the European far-right, the U.S. neo-fascist alt-right, his support for India’s Narendra Modi, and his saber-rattling towards China and the Islamic world will also be addressed.

Although many theoretical sources could be employed against Bannon’s reactionary proto-fascism and far-right nationalism, Frankfurt School thinker Erich Fromm may be particularly helpful in this regard. Fromm framed much of his work as a response to the problem of a despairing “apocalyptic or catastrophic messianism,” that he believed came to the fore in Weimar Germany and which still presents a political danger on the right and occasionally on the left. Fromm defended Marxist humanism and radical hope, rejecting gnostic elitism and the politics of apocalypse in favor of a revolutionary politics and mass organizing.
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