Here is an interesting read about what Steve Bannon reads, and what may be on his mind.
One of his favorite books is The Fourth Turning. I was fascinated by the book when it came out in the nineties. The authors posit a generational theory of history. They describe American history in terms of twenty year “turnings” that have a predictable rhythm and structure. Four of them over around 80-100 years (having to do with generations) and then back round again. Under the theory, the fourth turning, due around now, will be a real doozy–a meltdown like the Civil War and Great Depression and World War 2.
These fourth ones tend to end badly and so it is of note that a senior presidential counselor is thinking that we are headed toward tougher times. Should presidential counselors be thinking about inevitable historical cycles even if they are true? Does that make them agents of alleged inevitability, captive of their thoughts? Or might it allow the cycles to be better managed? Dunno. But take a look: the authors still have a website that presents the basics.
Then there’s the neoreactionary thinker Mencius Moldbug (Curtis Yarvin). I have some Zelig history here too. Moldbug did some of his first writing as a commenter at the 2Blowhards website where I was a contributor for a time. Here is the site’s ringmaster, Michael Blowhard, on Mencius, his commenting, and his thinking as of 2007. As you may know, M. Blowhard is better known in these parts as Paleo Retiree.
I do not share Moldbug’s anti-democratic sentiments but have come to have sympathy with some of his critique of our current system–mainly that what he calls The Cathedral (the mainstream press, academia, financial elites) pretty much call the shots and do a good job of keeping the herd in line with a constant diet of approved opinions, and by keeping the Overton Window good and shut.
Moldbug stopped writing at his own blog awhile back but it is still up. He is way too verbose, much more than me, and he is a dense writer when I think I strive for clarity. So the blog can be hard to follow. Here is a good short guide to Moldbug and reactionary political theory. I am interested that Bannon likes The Fourth Turning but worry more if he is leaning on Moldbug rather than just reading him.
For the record, as time goes by I find myself more and more of a small-r republican, meaning someone in favor of the republic as envisioned by Madison, Hamilton and the others, and that Franklin joked that we might not be able to keep.
I see Franklin’s point that republics are fragile and that their success is not simply a question of law and structure but that they depend on the character of the people that comprise them. And that we may have already blown it with too much diversity, growth in bad character traits not helpful to republican habits and elite self-serving behavior. That may all lead to authoritarianism irrespective of what your opinion on the matter might be. We might have already gone past the point of where decent self-government of the type I intellectually favor is possible. In that case events are likely to take a . . . turn.
Which brings us to the article’s discussion of Michael Anton, the guy who penned a very well-read article on just this point during the election under the pseudonym Publius Decius Mus, or just Decius to his friends. If you haven’t read it you should. It is an amazing read whether you agree with its dark conclusions or not. He is a gifted writer and thinker. Here’s The Flight 93 Election.
Bannon not only read Decius; on the suggestion of Peter Thiel he was brought into the White House where he is on the foreign policy staff. So with Decius the influence on Bannon has gone past a general interest piqued by inquiry. It is worth noting here, and possibly a good thing, that for all of the darkness in Decius’s piece he has not concluded that we have gone too far to reclaim a semblance of republican government. Sometimes optimism is best viewed through the prism of pessimism and perhaps Bannon is thinking this way too.
And on the question of republics being fragile, I see Bannon is also reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the guy who pushed the notion that institutions need to be “anti-fragile”. I haven’t read Taleb’s books but I have read about his thinking from articles and interviews. He seems an insufferable know-it-all but there is a lot to his concept of antifragility. It is encouraging that a presidential counselor would carry the concept of antifragility around in his head. It is a better general purpose tool than invade-the-world-invite-the-world.
So Bannon is an interesting dude for sure. I don’t buy that he is an evil Nazi or anti-Semite by any means. In a sense I think the Cathedral is out to get Trump, and Bannon is in the crosshairs since he is thinking disturbing thoughts. Some of what he is reading is troubling since I am not in favor of neoreaction. And I worry when any political leader concludes that we are pawns in a game of historical inevitability, and that the drama is imminent. Apocalypse Soon.
On the other hand, he is a voracious reader and who is to say that he subscribes to all of the views noted here? The Cathedral has an interest in making him seem dangerous after all.
One way or another it is always possible that we are in fact at a historical hinge point. They do happen every now and again.
nb. If this guy is right Bannon is no populist and we are all useful idiots.
And here is Bannon’s documentary Generation Zero that relies on Fourth Turning thinking.