Many Americans are scared about where the country is going. They have been watching radicals marching through the institutions and promoting ideas like defunding the police and “decarbonizing” the US economy. They are targets of culture warriors who consider them moral pariahs, only to be redeemed by adopting beliefs that make little sense to them. And they are angry. They suffer the effects of inflation and of economic uncertainty. While their present is troubling, their future does not seem much more promising. And they feel they need someone who shares their anger, their fears, and their yearning for a time when things seemed better and simpler to them; when the country felt more like their country. Someone willing to fight for them.
Enter a figure who is ideologically driven to see himself as their champion: Steve Bannon.
It is easy to understand why Bannon is appealing to many frustrated “conservatives.” He sees himself as the defender of those left behind from globalization and the rapid changes of the twenty-first century. Bannon declares he wants to “make America great again” and is dedicating his life to fighting the Left not only in politics, but where it counts more: in the wider culture. His career in Hollywood and his years with Andrew Breitbart made Bannon a firm believer in the creed that politics is downstream from culture. The media, universities, and anywhere the battle of ideas is fought is where Bannon wants to strike the Left, at home and abroad.
He has not held any official position for almost six years, but make no mistake: Bannon is still very relevant. His podcast, which has been characterized a top misinformation spreader, is featured high in the rankings (often top 100 in Apple podcasts) and recently had Donald Trump as a guest. Bannon is still a star speaker at CPAC, and he still is a conciliatory voice for many conservative figures internationally when political battles get tough and the stakes are high.
But what does Steve Bannon stand for? What are the politics and the culture he is envisioning? Here is where things turn ugly. Far from being the hero America needs, Bannon is actually a villain, very dangerous to anyone who loves the United States and understands the unique values the country stands for.
The essence of Make America Great Again, which is Bannon’s self-proclaimed vision, is about the power of a father-figure who will rule from Washington over the lives and decisions of individuals, based on his nationalistic vision of the “common good.” Such a view has implications that will not be pleasant for anyone who appreciates freedom. Bannon is anti-free trade because he thinks it disrupts local production. He is anti-globalization because he thinks it means that you can pursue economic opportunities abroad, disregarding your “community.” He thinks that because the “1%” of the super-rich only care about their own interests and their “cosmopolitan ideology,” they should be shackled by a high inheritance tax and stronger regulations. In sum, capitalism and freedom should not be tolerated unless they serve the community.1
If you build a factory in order to provide your local community with jobs and cheap products, then, in Bannon’s worldview, we, the people, will let you be. But when your selfish interest makes you move your factory to Asia to make more money, then you are to be stopped. The same applies to the core value on which America is built: personal freedom. When you pursue your own happiness in a way that goes against traditional norms and the “common good,” then the collective has a right to curtail individual freedom. In Bannon’s view, individual freedom is alienating as it allows us to uproot ourselves from tribal groups: from our clan to our local town, ultimately to our nation.
We can understand better Bannon’s view of the good if we examine how he views the individual and the efficacy of reason (or lack thereof). Bannon believes that human history went downhill after the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. According to his ideology, sketched in the book War for Eternity by Benjamin Teitelbaum, the Industrial Revolution was destructive, because it made the cold materialism of the merchant the main means of flourishing in this new world. It left aside the way of the sage and the warrior who led pre-modern societies to (supposed) glory and meaning. The sage relied on access to “the transcendental,” the “eternal,” the mystical – to that which cannot be grasped by our sense perception.2 To uphold the sage as an ideal is to oppose the Enlightenment’s embrace of reason as our only means of knowing reality.'The anti-modern elevation of the collective above the individual, and the spirituality of mysticism, are views that the American revolution fought against.' Click To Tweet
The anti-modern elevation of the collective above the individual, and the spirituality of mysticism, are views that the American revolution fought against. Bannon’s values are more compatible with the Europe of the Dark Ages, when it was dominated by kings, priests, and warlords. His values are incompatible with those of the Founding Fathers and of the Declaration of Independence that made the United States the greatest country in human history.
We can see Bannon’s dark vision for society even more clearly when we look at a thinker Banon strongly admires and takes inspiration from: Alexander Dugin, the Russian philosopher who believes that liberalism, the Enlightenment and Western modernity are – literally – the worst things that have happened in human history. Dugin is the intellectual who envisions “erasing from the face of the Earth those spiritual and physical halos from which arose the global heresy, which insists that ‘man is the measure of all things.’”3 Bannon has declared himself a big fan of The Fourth Political Theory, the book in which Dugin spits his anti-Western, anti-Enlightenment venom, calling for his fellow-authoritarians to “strike the individual, abolish him, and cast him into the periphery of political considerations.”4 'Bannon’s values are more compatible with the Europe of the Dark Ages . . . His values are incompatible with those of the Founding Fathers and of the Declaration of Independence that made the United States the greatest country in human history.' Click To Tweet
Let that sink in for a minute: the chief strategist of the president who promised to “make America great again” openly admires one of the biggest haters and opponents of the USA.
Bannon is not alone in his undermining of America’s fundamental values. Many conservative culture warriors, who claim to “fight for the West” share Bannon’s admiration for Dugin and his dark anti-liberal, openly anti-West vision. Bannon is not the cause, but he is the most visible symptom of a trend that is hard to miss: more and more conservatives are now consciously and philosophically opposed to the idea of freedom.
See for example National Conservatism, the ideology endorsed by many prominent figures in the conservative movement, like Charlie Kirk, and the hopeful next POTUS, Ron DeSantis. National Conservatives share with Bannon the view that freedom and individualism are destabilizing, as they uproot individuals from their traditional ways.5 They see global capitalism as weakening local communities. They think free speech has its limits, when it comes to obscenities, or “blasphemous” ideas, or increasing the power of “Big Tech.” They detest the Enlightenment’s elevation of reason to the exclusion of religion. With friends like this, America needs no enemies.
Bannon’s abhorrent ideology gives us an opportunity to pause and think about what exactly it means to fight for the United States, and what made this country great. Ayn Rand understood it best: the essence of the country’s ideology is the right of an individual to his own life and the pursuit of his own happiness. The state exists strictly to protect individual rights, and the nation can never supersede the individual. The only proper political and economic system that recognizes and puts into action such a principle is laissez faire capitalism.
In short, the founding ideology of the United States that made America great is the exact opposite of the ideology of Bannon. Instead of nationalism, it upholds individualism; instead of protectionism, it upholds the free market; instead of sticking to tradition, it upholds one’s right to discover what is the best life for oneself; instead of mystical apocalyptic revelations, it upholds reason. This can lead to only one conclusion: Steve Bannon is not fighting for the United States; he is fighting against what this great country stands for.
To win the battle for the soul of the United States against its adversaries, one first needs to draw a line in the sand separating friends from enemies. Bannon, and anyone who espouses any version of his ideology, was, is, and will always be on the side of the enemies.
Do you have a comment or question?
- Lester Feder, J. (2016), “This Is How Steve Bannon Sees the Entire World,” BuzzFeed News, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/lesterfeder/this-is-how-steve-bannon-sees-the-entire-world
- Teitelbaum, R. (2021), War for Eternity: The Return of Traditionalism and the Rise of the Populist Right, Penguin.
- Dugin, A. (2012), The Fourth Political Theory, Arktos, ch. 9.
- Dugin, A. (2012), The Fourth Political Theory, Arktos, ch. 2. Teitelbaum, 95.
- Hazony, Y. (2022), Conservatism: A Rediscovery, Regnery Gateway.