In Steve Bannon’s Brave New World Populism Is a Smoke Screen

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, published in 1932, describes an intelligence-based social hierarchy and social conditioning that creates a utopian society. Steve Bannon sows disinformation in order to create alternative facts that support his ‘globalist’ conspiracy theory. Steve Bannon’s brave new world has a hatchery that trains gladiators who will become the new thinkers and leaders to introduce change to a world state in which Bannon is presently most dissatisfied with. He seeks a more Judeo-Christian religion that would serve humanity better – less compassion, but more visibility in the public square. Steve Bannon claims, “…the globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia,” [and it is necessary to build] “…an entirely new political system.” The reason the economic elite (CEOs) had Bannon removed from the White House is because they fear his criticism of neoliberal globalization would harm their brand.

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) asked: why did the revolution succeed in Russia, and not in Italy or anywhere else in Western Europe, where classical Marxism had predicted it would be more likely to occur due to the more advanced development of capitalism? He argued that the reason for this failure was an incorrect understanding of the workings of power in modern capitalism: while Marxist revolutionary practice had assumed that political power was concentrated in the state apparatus, Gramsci suggested that power also rested in the institutions of ‘civil society’ or the structures and organization of everyday life. The revolution would therefore have to aim not only at conquering state power, but much more importantly, to create an alternative civil society, which would have to be able to attract the majority of people by convincing them of the validity of the project, which was in turn premised on its ability to perform.

Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992) explained to his enthusiastic supporter Antony Fisher: “Society’s course will be changed only by a change of ideas. First you must reach the intellectuals, the teachers and the writers, with reasoned arguments. It will be their influence on society that will prevail and the politicians will follow.” By the time Hayek came to write The Constitution of Liberty, a network of lobbyists and thinkers he had founded was being lavishly funded by multimillionaires who saw the doctrine as a means of defending them against democracy. Hayek’s writing rejects such notions of political freedom, universal rights, human equality and distribution of wealth – democracy has no absolute value, in fact, liberty depends on preventing the majority from exercising choice over the direction that politics and society might take. This laid the foundation for neoliberal globalization.

Andrew Breitbart (1969-2012) started a blog to counter the left plus develop a strategy to knock the mainstream media that he believed is built upon the false proposition of ‘objective’ journalism and the grotesque anti-American proposition of political correctness. He was familiar with the writings of Antonio Gramsci and went on to coin the phrase “politics is downstream of culture”, explaining conservatives have been losing to liberals because of concentrating on politics rather than culture. His focus was the liberal strongholds on Hollywood, journalism, academia and government. He understood that changing the progressive bent of these mechanisms for influencing public opinion would be a more effective means for achieving long-term conservative victories than supporting particular politicians or candidates. He who controls that narrative wins. Following Breitbart’s death, Steve Bannon became the Executive Chair of the Breitbart News group.

Once Steve Bannon assumed control of Breitbart News he dropped the culture wars and inserted himself into politics and only politics. Bannon successfully hitches Breitbart.com to candidate Trump. Breitbart became Trump’s de facto propaganda machine – Bannon helped to craft and spread some of the most outrageous (and patently false) stories and conspiracy theories of the current political cycle. He saw the conservative movement as a political means to a personal end. Globalists have become a convenient boogeyman to explain various declines that the US has been perceived to be in. To counter the destruction of US sovereignty Steve Bannon persuaded Trump to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He left the White House August 2017. Bannon observed in December 2018: “Conservatives have Heritage, A.E.I., but they’re not economic nationalism. There’s just not a lot of analytical policy work. It needs to be done, and it needs to be done now.”

Bannon has pushed back against the bishops in America over criticism of immigration policy. In 2018 Bannon singled out Pope Francis as the cause of the migrant crisis in Europe. This is not the first time Bannon has faulted the Catholic Church for its defense of migrants and refugees, accusing bishops as being self-serving wanting illegal aliens to fill the churches. He is challenging the pope on multiple fronts: his handling of the clerical abuse crisis but his deal on naming bishops with Communist China, his continual critique of populist and nationalist movements, his ardent support for immigrant rights. Bannon plans to weaponize the attack on abuse scandal in order to undermine the pope’s progressive agenda that includes stopping pointing fingers singling out populists like Italy’s Matteo Salvini, Viktor Orbán’ of Hungary, and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. However, the scope of his proposed new project is broader than simply a reaction to Pope Francis’s progressive agenda.1

Bannon plans to create a think-tank to weaponize populism. He is locating it in Italy which has the most lax laws for setting up such political institutions in the EU. It is located at a medieval monastery in Trisulti, one hour outside Rome – once the summer home of Pope Innocent III. It will be an incubator to train ‘gladiators’ in the defense of the Judeo-Christian religion. His new institute, he vowed, “is going to get you all the content of why this civilization, this culture, is special, what’s made it special – from understanding the Old Testament and its roots in Judaism and everything about the law, to everything up to modern times,” along with the ability to defend that legacy in a noisy and confrontational culture. Populism, Mudde (2004) stresses, is a ‘thin-centered’ ideology, since the particular ideas under its command are of limited scope, complexity and ambition when measured against ‘full’ ideologies.

Italy is especially important to Bannon because its current government is a coalition of anti-establishment parties, something Bannon would like to replicate elsewhere. His entourage is constantly quoting Andrew Breitbart ‘s catchphrase, politics is downstream from culture, as away for cultural conservatives to prevent the Left from redefining them as outside the mainstream. Trisulti monastery, with its sparse furnishings and rudimentary classrooms, is a long way from being influential, but, combined with other new institutions across Europe, such as Marion Maréchal’s new political-training school, in Lyon, and the National University of Public Service, in Budapest, one can make out the contours of a much larger culture war.2 Maréchal is a conservative Catholic and played a leading role in anti-gay marriage rallies, favoring what she called the “traditional family”. She has repeatedly spoken of the “true French” identity, demanding Muslims in France adopt values rooted in Christianity.

In a 1900 article Alfredo Pareto commented on the radical movements at the turn of the century, warned that rather than restoring democracy and promoting social welfare, they were just seeking to replace one elite with another elite, the privileges and structures of power remaining intact. From Pareto’s point of view – socialism, libertarianism – all ideologies are smoke screens foisted by ‘leaders’ who really only aspire to enjoy the privilege and power of governing. He suggested class struggle is eternal, and recognized the predictions of economics fail to correspond to reality. Populism brings to the fore issues that large parts of the population care about, but that the political elites want to avoid discussing; think about immigration for the populist right or austerity for the populist left. Bannon and economic elites like the Mercers aspire to replace neoliberal globalization with economic nationalism; they are seeking to replace one elite with another elite.

In Huxley’s Brave New World: The drug soma is a symbol of the use of instant gratification to control the World State’s populace. It is also a symbol of the powerful influence of science and technology on society. As a kind of “sacrament,” it also represents the use of religion to control society. In Bannon’s brave new world: He uses populism to support his political ambitions. Populists often ask the right questions but give the wrong answers. Populism gives overtly simple answers to complex problems – answers that, if implemented, would not help solve these problems. The concern is that once in positions of political influence, populists could either strip-away or co-opt political and civil society institutions to undermine liberal democracy itself. The economic nationalism of his proposed new world will fail to deliver change to the major policy challenges they promise to solve, thus society must find a third path towards economic equality.

1 Elsie Harris & John L Allan (01 April 2019).  Challenging pope on multiple fronts, Bannon wants to train gladiators. https://cruxnow.com/interviews/2019/04/01/challenging-pope-on-multiple-fronts-bannon-wants-to-train-gladiators/

2 Elizabeth Zerofsky (11 April 2019) Steve Bannon’s Roman Holiday https://www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/steve-bannons-roman-holiday

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