“Now is a time when things are shifting. We’re going to—there’s going to be a new world order out there, and we’ve got to lead it. And we’ve got to unite the rest of the free world in doing it.” President Joe Biden addressing the Business Roundtable’s CEO Quarterly Meeting.
Citizen journalist and popular podcaster Tim Pool had it exactly right several weeks ago when he noted that, if you advance the interests of working class and individual freedom, then you risk being called a fascist and a racist. This is certainly the case with Steve Bannon, the populist Republican strategist who stands with working people against corporate power and transnationalism—a right-wing Catholic who calls for, among other things, nationalizing Big Pharma and Big Tech and turning them into public utilities. Accused of being a “conspiracy theorist,” Bannon delivers his arguments six days a week sitting before a placard that reads: “There are no conspiracies, but there are no coincidences.”
Sick in bed from what may very have been my first go around with SARS-CoV-2, I started listening to Steve Bannon’s War Room in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Let’s see what all this is about,” I said to my lovely wife. At first, Bannon offered two hours of programming six days a week on various outlets. He then added an evening hour. With the 2022 election season ramping up, he’s now added a fourth hour. I listen to his program live (on America’s Voice at Pluto TV) or via Apple podcast. It was finding the podcast that introduced me to the podcast universe, where I found Triggernometry and The Glenn Loury Show, among others. (I first write about Bannon in May 2020 in The Economic Nationalism of Steven K. Bannon. There I note some of the things I do not agree with Bannon on. Those points of disagreement haven’t changed.) With COVID mass hysteria at peak madness, the War Room became a rock.
It didn’t take long before before it became obvious that those who had tried to warn me away from Bannon were either ignorant or lying about the man’s political-ideological standpoint. To be sure, rank-and-file Democrats (and this includes academics) don’t really know anything about the man except that he was the mastermind behind Donald Trump’s trouncing of Hillary Clinton in 2016. For them, that made him bad enough. If they didn’t believe Clinton was owed White House residency, they were sure that she was the lesser of the two evils. Political and media elites, on the other hand, deployed the standard propaganda tactic of sowing mass prejudice (this piece in Mother Jones is typical). Beyond ignorance, accusations of fascism and racism are rarely meant to be truthful; they are designed to confuse, deceive, and marginalize. The corporate state understands that it has to keep people away from Bannon and, for those who might give him a listen, instill trepidation of reputational costs if they ever post a positive review.
But Bannon is neither the fascist nor racist progressive portray him to be (and I am not longer afraid of reputational costs). I’ve been listening to the War Room hardcore for two years now and I have yet to detect even a whiff of fascism or racism in Bannon’s speech or that of those around him. I have to tell the truth about this. A major element in the deception is to distract the public from the actual fascism that is controlling them—the fascism of the transnationalizing corporate state. It’s not as if I am confused about the content and form of fascism and racism. A professional political sociologist, I’ve been lecturing in college classrooms, giving talks at academic conferences, and publishing in scholarly outlets about these subjects for decades. Numerous essays on fascism and racism appear here on Freedom and Reason if you care to know what I think about these problems.
Bannon has been warning populists, in a sentiment echoed (likely unknowingly and perhaps regretfully if known) by linguist and public intellectual John McWhorter during a recent conversation with Loury, to paraphrase: if you’re going to tell the truth about the world, the progressives are going to call you a racist for it. You’re just going to have get over being called names, says McWhorter. Bannon has put the matter more dramatically. “Let them call you racist,” he told a gathering of French populists (far rightwingers in establishment media accounts) in March of 2018. “Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists.” He continued, “Wear it as a badge of honor. Because every day, we get stronger and they get weaker.” Why xenophobes and nativists? Because nationalists believe in borders (as does every progressive when it comes to the integrity of Ukraine) and understand that people are culture bearers. Why racists? Because populists are nationalists of the wrong sort, i.e., they defend the integrity of the West.
In elaborating his comment to Loury, McWhorter observed that, as racists, the heretics of today are the equivalents of witches of yesteryear, which is to say that, just as there were no witches, there are no racists—at least not those who are accused as such. The basis of the accusation is supernatural in either case (and, at least in the case of racism, so is the category upon which it supposedly based). Karen and Barbara Field’s observations in Racecraft are useful here. They argue that the practice rationalizes inequality. McWhorter pursues the analogy in his recent book Woke Racism. Both works condemn a politics founded upon reification. But here I will excuse the Fields and McWhorter from my full argument, as I believe they would feel I have extended the point too far (for sure, McWhorter would); for the woke, globalist in orientation, nationalists are by definition racist because patriotism and nationalism form the anti-Christ in globalist theology. This is why progressives loathe those who made the American Republic with such zeal: the founders were nationalists. But the campaign to portray nationalism as a bad thing exposes globalist ambition; the accusation of fascism is projection: transnationalism is the New Fascism (Totalitarian Monopoly Capitalism: Fascism Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow).
Nationalism is the basis of modern western civilization and the Westphalian arrangement that produce modern international law and state relations. Democracy, liberalism, and secularism are possible, at least in the concrete historical record, only in the context of nation-states and republican forms of government. The nation-state and its philosophy carries over the power of the sovereign to bring corporate power to heel. Nationalism is the basis of universal human rights, which reflects the secular ethical system of humanism. Nationalism—and we are here talking about civic nationalism not ethnonationalism (or race nationalism)—is the context in which the individual, not the group or the elite, becomes the focus of government. The values of autonomy and liberty and human rights flow from the humanist ethic of individualism. (See The Individual, the Nation-State, and Left-Libertarianism and Populism and Nationalism.)
Transnationalism, in contrast, allows for, indeed encourages, the flourishing of ethnic, racial, and other identify group formation and politics. This explains a paradox my dissertation advisor Asafa Jalata used to point out in his hallway debates in McClung Tower at the University of Tennessee with William Robinson (now at UC-Santa Barbara): the paradox of ethnic antagonisms, or balkanization, amid the economic homogenization produced by capitalist arrangements. Why was it that the more deeply the transnational capitalists sank their hooks into world intercourse, the more homogeneous economic relations and market pulls become, the more fractured the world becomes politically? It seems the dismantling of the political and juridical structure of modern nation states releases latent hatreds, nations in the old sense of that word desiring to wrap around themselves their own state, with transnational power licking its chops at sight of weaker prey. This is ethnonationalism. We are witnessing the dynamic play out in eastern Europe right now. It’s why Nazis play such a central role in the present Ukrainian resistance to Russian invasion. Crucially, identitarianism gives this fracturing conscious purpose. That’s why the CIA trained Ukrainian Nazis to provoke Russian intervention. (See History and Sides-Taking in the Russo-Ukrainian War and The US is Not Provoking Russia—And Other Tall Tales. )
I told readers of Freedom and Reason years ago that the struggle for democracy and liberty is no longer left versus right. The ascendency of corporate power negates that continuum by dressing its authoritarianism in leftwing ideals. The so-called left, that which claims the principles of progressivism as its lights, has become destructive to the ends the left originally emerged to defend and extend. Originally, the left represented radicals against aristocracy and top-down administration, the latter represented by the right. The right was conservative in the absolutist sense, pining for the Ancien Régime, the political system that existed before the French Revolution. Real leftwing thought and practice is humanist, liberal, rationalist, scientific, and secularist. While progressives say this is what they’re up to, big government interventions have resulted in ever greater corporate power and concentration of capital and wealth in fewer hands. Indeed, the present order is more rightwing in this sense than that of the Ancien Régime where at least the king had the power to call the corporation to answer before it.
As I intimated in my first essay on Bannon, as someone who specializes in international political economy (speaking of myself here), Bannon’s breadth of knowledge about global corporate capitalism is an oasis in a desert of otherwise impoverished popular and faux-expert pundit understandings. Bannon knowledge of history is quite impressive. And he gets the importance of grasping political economy as the motor force of history. Bannon’s worldview is compelling. (It’s part of the reason instinctive liberals like Tim Pool, Naomi Wolff, Tulsi Gabbard, and dozens of others are leaving the progressive side and gravitating towards the populist movement. Wolf now regularly appears on Bannon’s War Room.) Bannon is a dialectical thinker, a rare animal these days. There are others who still deploy this critical methodology. The Marxist geographer David Harvey is one. But there are not many more. And our numbers have been dwindling. I mustn’t let it pass that only a few weeks ago we commemorated the ten-year anniversary of the death of an exemplary practitioner of the method, the brilliant essayist and orator Christopher Hitchens. Bannon’s presence is resurrecting the method. To be sure, it’s of a Hegelian tack, but crucially one in opposition to the leftwing Hegelianism one sees among the woke and racist progressivism manifest in critical race theory.
Indeed, against the populist dialectic is a religious consciousness that threatens the foundations of the Enlightenment. Wokeness is a religion for the leftwing professional-managerial strata, the administrative class, and the cultural manager—moral entrepreneurs looking down on the working man and woman, whom they see as infidels. Gas lighting the masses with successive moral panics, the rank and file having internalized corporate loathing for the “proles,” and wicked in the ways of psychological warfare, the progressive blows up the traditions of the West in a project to reorganize the world as a vast network of corporate estates. Progressives control the institutions of society. This is why, if your wondering, the ideology of intersectionality is about everything but social class, even if some of their shock troops portray themselves as “trained Marxists,” handsomely rewarded for their efforts with prime real estate.
In dialectical fashion, the great realignment occurring in the West comes with resistance. The thesis (the Enlightenment) is pitched as reactionary by advocates of its antithesis (the corporate state), but it is not so. The antithesis is totalitarian. In plain language, the world is dividing into two warring factions: the globalist and the nationalist. Just as the globalist faction incorporates left and rightwing elements, so does the nationalist faction. The power elite cannot vanquish a thinker like Steve Bannon merely on the basis of his rightwing identity (largely nominal albeit with definite traits present). The moral dimension of the struggle is punctuated by elite disdain for ordinary Americans in the heartland, the people Hillary Clinton smeared as the “deplorables,” a smear that, at Bannon’s insistence, has become a badge of honor for America’s heartland. The path forward for those on the left who stand with working people is to forge a coalition with populists on the right and unite against transnational capitalist power. We cannot expect the professional-managerial class to join us in this struggle.