Journalist Joshua Green talks about two men who influenced Steve Bannon’s philosophy: the Italian philosopher Julius Evola, whose ideas became the basis of fascist racial theory, and René Guénon, who developed an anti-modernism philosophy called "Traditionalism." Green writes about Evola and Guénon in his new book, "Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency."
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AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Joshua Green, senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek. His new book, Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency. I want to turn to a speech that Steve Bannon delivered via Skype to a conference held inside the Vatican in 2014.
STEPHEN BANNON: I believe the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian West, is in a crisis. And it’s really the organizing principle of how we’ve built Breitbart News to really be a platform to bring news and information to people throughout the world, principally in the West, but we’re expanding internationally, to let people understand the depths of this crisis. And it is a crisis of—both of capitalism, but really of the underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian West and our beliefs. We are in an outright war against jihadists, Islam, Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing almost far quicker than governments can handle it.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Steve Bannon, delivering a Skype address to a Vatican conference in 2014. Joshua Green, talk about the religion that informs Steve Bannon’s politics.
JOSHUA GREEN: Well, so, we just talked about kind of the newspaper bio of Steve Bannon and the blue-collar background. But the most interesting line of research for this book is Bannon’s religious and intellectual biography. And this is a story that hasn’t been told, that I go into some detail in in the book.
But in the course of my reporting, I asked Steve Bannon—I said, "You know, when you were at that Vatican conference"—and this wasn’t just a Vatican conference, this was a group of far-far-right conservative Traditionalist Catholics. Bannon name-checked a man named Julius Evola, who was an Italian intellectual and Benito Mussolini’s fascist ideologist at the beginning of World War II. And I said, "Steve, if you’re not an anti-Semite and a Nazi and a white supremacist, as you’re often charged with being, but you say you’re not, why is it that you are familiar with people like Evola?" And he said, "Oh, you know, when I developed my ideas about nationalism, I went back and was looking for an intellectual edifice to kind of inform these ideas. And to find nationalist thinkers, you really have to go back to the 1930s and the 1940s, when those ideas were ascendant. But the real guy who influenced me," Bannon told me, "was an man named René Guénon, who was Evola’s intellectual godfather."
Guénon has a fascinating biography. He was born in France in the late 19th century to a Roman Catholic family, practiced occultism, Freemasonry, and later converted to Sufi Islam and observed the Sharia, which is a very unusual guru, it seemed to me, for a guy like Steve Bannon, who is so virulently Islamophobic. But Guénon was the founder of a religion, a kind of religious philosophy, known as primordial Traditionalism. That’s capital-T Traditionalism. And primordial Traditionalism holds that there is common spiritual truths, unifying spiritual truths, at the heart of ancient religions, like the Hindu Vedanta, Sufism, medieval Catholicism, even paganism. And these are original spiritual truths that were revealed to mankind in the earliest ages of the world but had been lost in the West by the rise of secular modernity.
So, Bannon, who was raised in a very traditional Catholic family, who went to a right-wing Catholic military high school and has been steeped in this right-wing, Western sieve curriculum, believes, as Guénon does, that we are entering a dark age, that the rise of the Enlightenment in the 1500s has led us toward apocalypse, and that if he can’t prop up traditional values and do what Guénon had hoped to do, which was to, quote, "restore to the West a traditional civilization," then mankind is going to be destroyed. And that is his animating belief.
AMY GOODMAN: And I wanted to turn to Julius Evola, in his own words, the monarchist and racial theorist who struck an alliance with Benito Mussolini. His ideas became the basis of fascist racial theory. This is Julius Evola speaking with a French filmmaker in 1971 about what he considered the positive aspects of fascism and, in particular, national socialism, Nazism.
JULIUS EVOLA: [translated] There are positive and valuable aspects. Those which I could value are the reconstruction of the authority of the state and the idea of overcoming class conflict toward a hierarchical and corporative formation, to some extent, of a military and disciplined style within the nation, in addition to some of their anti-bourgeois proposals. To me, all of that is positive.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Julius Evola, one of the people Steve Bannon—
JOSHUA GREEN: I’ve never seen that clip. So, the unifying thread here is that Evola also looked to Guénon for inspiration. Guénon was the godfather of this capital-T Traditionalist movement. Now, Guénon believed that the way to spiritual transcendence was to basically indoctrinate small groups of important people all over the world, what we would today call influencers. And he was very—he believed that if you could—if you could push spiritual change, then political change would follow.
Evola is the black sheep of the Traditionalist family and had a different view. He said, "No, we can’t just sit back and try and change people’s spirituality. We need to go out and change society." So Evola went out and struck an alliance with Benito Mussolini to try and exert power in the Italian government, which he had. He was, as you said, the chief racial theorist for Mussolini. They had a falling out, and Evola later moved on to Hitler in Nazi Germany.
What all three of these men have, though, in common is the belief in—at the heart of Guénon’s religion was the belief in the Hindu concept of cyclical time, the idea that the world passes through set stages. And Evola believed, as Bannon does, as Guénon does, that we are in what the Hindus call the Kali Yuga, a 6,000-year-long dark age in which man’s connection to God and the transcendent is wholly forgotten. So, Evola brought these ideas to interwar Europe, to Italy, and tried to change society that way to fight back against it. Bannon has come to this through a kind of populist, hard-right politics, where, through Breitbart and some of these affiliated organizations, he’s tried to not only take over American politics, but look at what he’s doing in places like the European Union. He’s trying to destroy what he would call these globalist edifices, which he believes is a manifestation of the rise of modernity and something that needs to be destroyed to pull us back to a pre-Enlightenment era.