Steve Bannon’s appointment as CEO of President Trump’s campaign, then his chief strategist, and now having a seat on the National Security Council, has been celebrated on the Right. Bannon is interesting because he’s not the typical RINO, fake conservative. He certainly seems like the real deal based on his time as executive chair of Breitbart News, but also by the books that have influenced him. Here’s a selection of some of Bannon’s beloved titles, based on what I could piece together online.
According to two of Bannon’s former friends, one of his favorite books is the Bhagavad Gita. Former friend Julia Jones said Bannon “used to talk a lot about dharma—he felt very strongly about dharma . . . one of the strongest principles throughout the Bhagavad Gita.” This is great news for those of a Traditionalist, religious, or conservative mindset, as the Gita is one of the most beautiful examples of scripture. It’s impossible to read it, let alone study it as Bannon seems to have, without having the transcendent infuse your worldview. And it’s certainly not a fuzzy-bunny kind of New Age spirituality, but one that recognizes the necessity of caste and even enemies in the eternal play of the Divine.
As another site puts it: “Bannon seems to have a worldview in accordance with some of the teachings of the Gita that see the world as a cosmic battlefield, possibly imaging himself as warrior of dharma, adapted around his idea that the defense of capitalism and Christianity should be militarized and seen in the context of a great clash of civilizations and ideas.”
This fifth century BC Chinese military treatise is a favorite of Bannon’s. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War provides advice such as winning battles quickly to keep costs down, having a strong defense and not providing the enemy with opportunities to advance, and why it’s best to avoid direct conflict.
In the words of his former friend: “Steve is a strong militarist, he’s in love with war—it’s almost poetry to him. He’s studied it down through the ages, from Greece, through Rome… every battle, every war… Never back down, never apologize, never show weakness… He lives in a world where it’s always high noon at the O.K. Corral.”
Long associated with only military strategy, The Art of War is now used as a handbook for everything from office politics to metapolitics in the cultural wars. This is another book I’m glad to hear Bannon has studied, as it means he and Trump will continue be a powerful team in the battle against the Left. This quote from Sun Tzu sounds like it’s from Trump’s campaign strategy: “Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.”
Fear-mongers claim Bannon has an alarming “obsession” with the ideas in Neil Howe and William Strauss’ 1997 book The Fourth Turning:What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny. From what I’ve read, the Strauss–Howe generational theory sounds like Spenglerian- or Traditionalism-UltraLite, applied only to American history.
They describe a pattern of four repeating generational eras in America, each with its own persona and mood (thus people from the same generation share the same values and goals). About every 80 years in American history there has been a crisis, or “fourth turning” that destroyed an existing order and created a new one. The four turnings repeat in an endless cycle, and a certain archetype of person is born in each period:
- The High (Spring): Having just been through the Crisis phase, the state and institutions are strong while individualism is weak. Those who don’t conform may feel like outcasts. Most recent example: Post-World War II America until the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. Archetype: The Prophet.
- The Awakening (Summer): Institutions are attacked in the name of personal and spiritual autonomy. Most recent example: the mid-1960s through the ’70s. Archetype: The Nomad.
- The Unraveling (Fall): Institutions are weak and distrusted, but individualism flourishes. Most recent example: the 1980s and ’90s. Archetype: The Hero.
- The Crisis (Winter): An era of destruction, and often war, in which institutional life is destroyed and rebuilt for the nation’s survival. Most recent example: the current year. Archetype: The Artist.
Not being terribly familiar with the Strauss–Howe generational theory, I hesitate to criticize it too much (they praise Millennials as some kind of American saviors). But at first glance, a few aspects jump out as not making sense and being too simplistic. I certainly hope the authors’ theories of Gen X, from the book 13TH GEN Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?, turn out to be true:
[Generation X] will reverse the frenzied and centrifugal cultural directions of their younger years. . . . They will clean up entertainment, de-diversify the culture, reinvent core symbols of national unity, reaffirm rituals of family and neighborhood bonding, and re-erect barriers to cushion communities from unwanted upheaval.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s 2012 book, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, supposedly “has been read and circulated by Bannon and his aides” and “reads like a user’s guide to the Trump insurgency.”
The heart of Antifragile is the idea that some things and situations actually thrive in stress and strife, or even require it to flourish. Taleb makes a case for the theory that it’s better to build things to be “antifragile,” so that in times of volatility they’ll outlast the fragile or merely robust. But Taleb delves into much more than building a better business. He examines systems and ideologies, such as the city-state versus the nation-state, welfare programs that hurt the strong and protect the weak, and why salaried jobs are safe but fragile.
He describes various ways to become antifragile, such as the Barbell strategy used in finance: putting 90 percent of your money or effort into a safe endeavor but risk-seeking with the other 10 percent. I’m enjoying it but it’s a overlong to get the ideas across. For bite-sized Taleb, check out his witty and insightful articles on Medium.
Shakespeare – Titus Andronicus and Coriolanus
According to his same former friend, at one point Bannon wanted to adapt William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus for film, but rather than set in the falling Roman Empire, it’d be “on the moon with creatures from outer space.” The film never materialized, though Bannon was later the co-executive producer for 1999’s Titus. The play is a bloody tale of revenge, rape, and death that, in terms of violence, is more akin to Game of Thrones than Shakespeare’s other tragedies.
Coriolanus, another of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, also has a spot in Bannon’s life. Apparently he had the idea to make a rap film out of it set in South Central during the L.A. riots.” One of the characters was slated to be “Agrippa, ‘Mack Daddy’ of South Central, an ORIGINAL GANGSTA (O.G.) upper-echelon Blood.” It was peppered with lines like this one, from Brutus: “You choose. To act and die—or lie ’neath whitey’s boot!”
Bannon reviewed President Trump’s book on Breitbart back in July 2015, when it was subtitled “Making America #1 Again” and Trump was less than a month into his candidacy. Saying it “stands out as his most penetrating, serious, and detailed enunciation of his political philosophy and policy views,” Bannon mentions the book’s nearly 250 endnotes and the detailed explanations of his policy ideas.
Trump himself said it was the hardest he’d ever worked on a book and it’s “better than The Art of the Deal.” I read Time to Get Tough during the election, and enjoyed it. Published in 2011, it gave me hope that Trump was being sincere with his statements on welfare and immigration since what he said five years ago matched his campaign promises. In fact, even The Art of the Deal (1987) reveals Trump’s conservative side.
There’s no evidence that Bannon has ever read anything by the Italian philosopher Julius Evola, only that he’s heard of him. I hesitate to put him on this list, but it’s a chance to clear up some misconceptions being perpetuated in the liberal media’s hysterical headlines like The Boston Globe’s “Thinker loved by fascists like Mussolini is on Stephen Bannon’s reading list” and Raw Story’s “Meet the scary Italian fascist thinker approvingly cited by Steve Bannon.”
The Evola-Bannon connection came about because Bannonreferenced Evola in a 2014 speech when commenting on the intellectual motivations of Russian President Vladimir Putin:
When Vladimir Putin, when you really look at some of the underpinnings of some of his beliefs today, a lot of those come from what I call Eurasianism. He’s got an adviser [Alexander Dugin] who harkens back to Julius Evola and different writers of the early 20th century who are really the supporters of what’s called the Traditionalist movement, which really eventually metastasized into Italian fascism. A lot of people that are Traditionalists are attracted to that . . . We, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what [Putin’s] talking about as far as Traditionalism goes — particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism — and I happen to think that the individual sovereignty of a country is a good thing and a strong thing.
Even so, “The fact that Bannon even knows Evola is significant,” said Traditionalist scholar Mark Sedgwick. Indeed it is. Evola biographer Gianfranco De Turris noted, “It’s the first time that an adviser to the American president knows Evola, or maybe has a Traditionalist formation.”
We have no idea how familiar Bannon is with Traditionalism, though his love of the Bhagavad Gita is a sign he’s sympathetic to Traditionalist views. And of course, the liberal media’s histrionic stories don’t get across any of the nuance of Evola’s philosophy, nor is it likely any of these journalists have actually read Evola’s books. They also don’t recount Evola’s arrest in 1951 for what he called the “ideological crime” of trying to revive Fascism and how he was fully acquitted of the charge. They mention how Evola admired the SS, without adding that he rejected their racism and was not, in turn, supported by them.
For those unfamiliar with Evola’s work, I recommend Evola’s classic manifesto, Revolt Against the Modern World. Considering Bannon is described as “a strong militarist, he’s in love with war,” The Metaphysics of War seems an appropriate endorsement. (See my Guide to Radical Traditionalism for descriptions of all of Evola’s books that are currently published in English.)
- Alexander Dugin: Like Evola, there’s no evidence that Bannon has read Dugin, only heard of him. I mention him here to dispel rumors, and to plug The Fourth Political Theory, an excellent, if sometimes tedious, look into how to move forward beyond fascism and liberalism. (Incidentally, more people are learning about Dugin’s work now that he’s being interviewed on The Alex Jones Show!)
- Pamela Geller: On Breitbart’s SiriusXM radio show, Bannon called her “one of the leading experts in the country, if not the world,” on Islam. Her book Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance deals with the strategies of Islamic leaders and what we can do to fight back.
- Jason Richwine. On his radio show, Bannon called him “one of the smartest brains out there in demographics, demography, this whole issue of immigration, what it means to this country.” Visit his site at www.jasonrichwine.com.
- Andrew Breitbart: The founder of Breitbart News. His 2012 book Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World! is most useful, in my opinion, for Breitbart’s account of how he quit trying to be affable, quit playing fair, and instead followed his conscience to work on saving Western civilization.
- Michael Anton: He now has a role as a senior national security official in the Trump administration. Best known for the September 2016 article, written under the pen name Publius Decius Mus, “The Flight 93 Election”: “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle.”
- Sarah Palin: In 2011, Bannon partnered with Palin for the political documentary The Undefeated. Her 2010 book Going Rogue: An American Life was a bestseller.
Time magazine recently asked if Bannon was the second most powerful man in the world, behind only President Trump. My only answer, based on what we know of Bannon so far, is “let’s hope so.”
As a bonus, we get to delight in liberal fear-monger tears, like this comment on Bannon’s national security position from a former Hollywood associate who requested anonymity for fear of retribution: “This is literally the most terrifying thing that’s ever happened.”