I’ve been devoting a fair amount of space to scrutinizing Steve Bannon’s world-view, which might strike my readers as a bit excessive, especially since he seems to be on shaky ground in the White House these days. But even if Donald Trump turns on him, we’ll still have to take him seriously, since I doubt he’s one to fade quietly into the sunset. Also, he seems to be doing his sincere best to think like a philosopher, and we should give him some credit for that.
So far, we’ve examined Bannon’s opinions, expressed at a 2014 Vatican confab, in which he yearns for the time when “the Christian faith was predominant;” relies on the “spiritual and moral foundations of Christianity” to ensure the proper functioning of a capitalistic system; espouses “social conservative” movements against abortion and gay marriage; and shows a preoccupation, not to say obsession, with the peril from “jihadist Islamic fascism.” He blames “secularization” for capitalistic greed and for the hesitance of the “Judeo-Christian West” to confront the infidel. Very Catholic – almost medieval – suitable for a conference at the Holy See, I guess.
Yet Bannon is ordinarily branded a “nationalist.” Where’s the evidence for that? Well, there’s some, but there’s also a problem or two.
Bannon notes that Vladimir Putin has become popular with right-wing European parties because he’s “standing up for traditional institutions” and doing it “in a form of nationalism.” Many people, he says, “want … sovereignty for their country, they want to see nationalism,” and Bannon associates himself with that point of view – “I happen to think that the individual sovereignty of a country is a good thing.” Hearkening back to when he “worked at Goldman Sachs,” he recalls that “there are people in New York that feel closer to people in London and in Berlin than they do to people in Kansas and Colorado, and they have more of this elite mentality.” But “working men and women” in all parts of the world “believe they know what’s best for how they will comport their lives,” and Bannon’s clearly on their side.
Sounds nationalistic, but loose ends are dangling.
First, Bannon’s ringing endorsement of national sovereignty doesn’t exactly jibe with his plea for a Holy War against radical Islam. The summons to defend the “Judeo-Christian West” is a civilizational appeal, not a nationalist one. An independent nation-state will have its own special interests and values and – while it’ll resist threats to its unique way of life – it’ll generally want to go its own way. Bannon, however, calls for an international crusade based – not on concepts of pluralism and freedom – but on an allegedly shared religious tradition, monolithic like its Moslem foe. Sovereign peoples will be inclined to embrace Bannon’s perspective only if they regard Christian faith as an integral part of their nationhood – an implication I’ve noted previously that plainly excludes non-Christians from the national community.
Bannon tends to equate populism with Christian traditionalism – claiming, for example, that the fight against abortion and gay marriage is winning because “people have a voice.” He doesn’t consider that there might be significant numbers of people in some countries – such as the United States or the French Republic – who don’t consider their government to be founded on Christianity and don’t want social tenets derived from that religion to be forced on them. In these nations, an aggressive effort to assert conservative Christian values will only be divisive.
There are several more disconnects in Bannon’s world-view, so many that I don’t have space to do justice to them all. Thus, there’s no way to square his “Reaganesque” economic preferences – the free market tempered by Christianity – with his nationalism. He can package laissez-faire as “free-enterprise” or “entrepreneurial” capitalism all he wants, and that sounds very uplifting, but it’s the free flow of capital around the world that, more than anything else, has undermined the democratic nation-state, and thereby reduced the political control that ordinary people have over their own lives. If national governments wish to resist globalization, this can only be done on the basis of the kind of “corporatist” economic policies that Bannon rejects.
It’s notable that there’s no trace whatever in these 2014 remarks of the economic nationalism that Trump stressed two years later during the campaign, and which he’s (fitfully) tried to implement as President.
Again, Bannon acknowledges that European “center-right” groups “bring a lot of baggage” involving ethnic “tribalism,” but predicts “that will all burn away over time.” For a putative nationalist to say this is borderline ridiculous. Nation-states, particularly in Europe, are based on ethnic groups, and to take a nationalistic stance is precisely to assert an ethnic identity. Nations without an ethnic base do exist – witness the United States – but they’re rare and tend to be unstable. The most common argument against globalization is that it undermines national customs and traditions, and it’s likely that those kinds of concerns will continue.
There’s more to criticize, but this blog post must end. I started by calling Bannon a “Christian nationalist,” yet at this point I’m wondering if he deserves the “nationalist” label at all. His vaunted nationalism seems not compatible with his religiosity and his reactionary economics – and I won’t be surprised if the priorities of fervent Christians and billionaires take precedence in the end.
I see nothing here for a Pagan to like.
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