What Bannon Reads

Fenster writes:

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.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
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8 Responses to What Bannon Reads

  1. Sally says:

    Thanks. What is “The Cathedral”?


    • Fenster says:

      From Vox:

      Neoreactionaries are obsessed with taking down what Moldbug refers to as “the Cathedral”: a complex of Ivy League universities, the New York Times and other elite media institutions, Hollywood, and more that function to craft and mold public opinion so as to silence opposing viewpoints.

      Park MacDougald, in an excellent piece on Nick Land’s brand of neoreaction, describes the Cathedral as a “media-academic mind-control apparatus.” I actually think the best analogy is to the role the patriarchy plays in radical feminist epistemology, or the role of “ideology” in Marxism. Neo-reaction demands a total rethinking of the way the world works, and such attempts generally only succeed if they can attack the sources of knowledge in society and offer a theory for why they’re systematically fallible.


      Liked by 1 person

      • Sally says:

        Thank you. Frightening. & Thanks for the link.


      • peterike says:

        Sally, I would say the Cathedral is more than just the academic/news/entertainment nexus. Those are what combine to form “the megaphone” (that voice of “authority” — or what’s allowed to be thought — that shouts at you from everywhere at once, and also shouts you down if you dissent).

        But the Cathedral also includes the grade schools, the mainline churches (including most of Catholicism and certainly the current Pope) and synagogues, mega corporations and banks, most government agencies (some only partially, like the FBI and military, some entirely like CIA, State Dept, Dept of Ed), the social media companies who are increasingly becoming the Cathedral enforcers, and most of the 1% (e.g. the Davos crowd are part of the Cathedral). I’m probably missing pieces! And this edifice is in place in all Western nations, not just the United States.


  2. Some years ago there was a book along the lines of the “Fourth Turning”, called “Generations.” I used the idea to write a parallel “generations” of the Blackfeet tribe, called “12 Blackfeet Stories,” one for each generation. These structures are sort of halfway between “unintended consequences” and “self-fulfilling prophecies”. What makes the “fourth” one big is generally a change in the world underlying human nations: global warming, plague, inflow of a different population, shifts in the economy on the level of industrialization or the internet.

    I wish Bannon would read Sam Vaktin. He’s on YouTube, so a person could actually listen, though it would be no use to recommend them to non-reader Trump. His processing loop only hears himself. The usefulness of Vaktin is in his analysis of MALIGNANT narcisssim, which I think applies to Bannon.


  3. jjbees says:

    Steve Bannon is very, very smart. This is something the media has picked up on, calling him a puppetmaster, etc. If you youtube any of the speeches in the past, you can tell that he knows a lot, in depth, about a lot of things.

    In one speech a few years ago to nascent tea-party types he says “I go all around the country, and I see the same 100 of you everywhere I go. You are the people who are responsible for changing the world, that’s it, you 100.” This kind of attitude, the “we brave few, we band of brothers attitude” tells me that Bannon is a doer, and that he is serious about saving Western Civilization, something that is very easy to pick up on from how he talks.

    It is not a coincidence that he found his way to Trump, made it so that Trump could win, added Jeff Sessions, Steven Miller, etc. to the organization. Trump was the man needed to take the presidency, and with Bannon’s aid they defeated everyone (because everyone was against true change)…only Bannon and Trump together could have accomplished such a coup. This was impossible to imagine, the two-party system being taken down by a couple of hard hitters, but they did it.

    These men are smart and capable, and they have big cojones- they took on the world and won. They believe they can do anything. If you ascribe to the great man theory of history, which I do- then Trump and Bannon and Miller, possibly Sessions, are a couple of Great Men who have assembled into a team. They are going to do great things and they are going to shake history, and the fate of millions swings in the balance. The “turning theory” I’m more skeptical of, but that these men are extraordinary I am certain.

    Maybe the only way the Western Nation can survive is as an ethnostate, or maybe civic nationalism has a chance, or perhaps we are doomed due to a minority committed to diversifying our countries/institutions. But I do think that in the next few years these questions will be tested, and we will have an answer.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. fenster says:


    I agree that the Cathedral can be thought of as comprising more than the leading mouthpieces with the biggest megaphones. The problem with taking this line of thinking too far though is that at some point when you refer to the Cathedral you end up referring to The Culture itself. Yes grade schools and corporations and banks and institutions may follow the Cathedral line. But at what point does that simply signify that the values propounded are just the dominant values in a culture?

    The model that some hardline alt-righters would take is that it all starts from the top and cascades down, with the interests of the commanding heights supported by the values they communicate and with others just going along, even if that means a heavy does of false consciousness. But isn’t there a bottom up element in any complex system in addition to a top-down? Don’t the lower levels at some level grant legitimacy to the megaphone crowd since they are getting something out of the bargain?

    I mean, if I went in to see my kid’s teachers and asked them about their values on diversity, anti-bullying, women’s rights and so forth I would expect their views to reflect the values of the Cathedral. It is not clear to me though that they are just parroting a party line. They may well be complicit in the trade. At some point you might have to acknowledge that this is just how cultural values are disseminated and spread in a complex society.


    • I can assure you that this small prairie town does not even PRETEND to believe in diversity. They have never experienced it. As for bullying, I’m told the teachers are all bullies and if they weren’t, nothing would happen. As for women’s rights, that translates to women’s obligations. Cathedrals may only be urban phenomena. When these folks have vacations, they do not visit cathedrals. They all go to Vegas and walk around in the casinos, though they refuse to gamble. They just think they are participating in luxury, cheesy though it may be.


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