There is growing concern about the attention being given to far right organizations in the wake of the election of Donald Trump. But there is a good deal of confusion about how such groups are linked to the incoming Trump Administration.
One line of criticism bases itself on the fact that Steve Bannon, a top advisor to Trump who is set to join the new President in the West Wing upon inauguration, made the link clear when he said that his website, Breitbart.com, provided a platform for the “alt-right” (a euphemism for anti-semitic, fascist and white supremacist organizations and individuals). Bannon is now distancing himself from that remark and the focus on possible actual organizational links between Bannon and the fascist right is not likely to bear fruit.
Far more important are the ideological connections that are helping to foster a hostile environment since the election.
One key common ideological viewpoint shared by Bannon and the fascist right is their shared interest in and support for the ideas of Julius Evola, a leading intellectual of Italian fascism and an agent of Nazi Germany prior to and during World War II. Evola is not a widely familiar figure now but he deserves much closer attention. During the recent controversial conference sponsored by the National Policy Institute in Washington D.C. – complete with explicit Nazi salutes – the leader of the organization, Richard Spencer, referred to the attendees as “Children of the Sun.” This was an explicit reference to the youthful followers of Evola in fascist Italy. For Evola the sun evokes a notion of a pure culture that is superior to darker lunar cultures.
A more powerful idea of Evola’s intrigues much of the fascist right including Steve Bannon: that is Evola’s “traditionalism.” In comments that Bannon delivered via Skype to a conference held in the Vatican in 2014 he said the following:
“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 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.
“One of the reasons is that they believe that at least Putin is standing up for traditional institutions, and he’s trying to do it in a form of nationalism — and I think that people, particularly in certain countries, want to see the sovereignty for their country, they want to see nationalism for their country. They don’t believe in this kind of pan-European Union or they don’t believe in the centralized government in the United States. They’d rather see more of a states-based entity that the founders originally set up where freedoms were controlled at the local level.
“I’m not justifying Vladimir Putin and the kleptocracy that he represents, because he eventually is the state capitalist of kleptocracy. However, we the Judeo-Christian West really have to look at what he’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. I think strong countries and strong nationalist movements in countries make strong neighbors, and that is really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the United States, and I think it’s what can see us forward.”
In a single step Bannon artfully evokes via the concept of “traditionalism” both his support and interest in Evola as well as Vladimir Putin and also explains how he wants to “translate” that concept into the American context via nationalism. Thus, when Bannon now tries to distance himself from the explicitly racist and anti-semitic “alt-right” he does it via the concept of traditionalism-cum-nationalism. And there are no shortage of interviews or videos with Bannon where he goes on ad nauseam about his support for nationalism as against the alleged materialist globalism of Washington and New York elites.
That, in turn, leads to the only slightly more palatable rhetoric of Bannon’s new
fuhrer – sorry – leader, Donald Trump. When Trump attacks the New York Times, Saturday Night Live or the cast of Hamilton he is invoking the anti-elitist, anti-cosmopolitan and, most importantly, anti-pluralist themes developed by Bannon since he himself abandoned his own “elitist” career as a Wall Street banker. As his remarks to the Vatican conference demonstrate, these themes are deeply rooted in the fascistic concepts of nationalism and traditionalism – an attempt to return the country to some mythical pre-globalist traditional America – an America that has never existed and cannot ever exist.
Unfortunately that approach struck a chord in the recent election with many unemployed and underemployed Americans who think that Trump can conjure up an economic miracle. Bannon himself has said the Trump era is as exciting as the 1930s – a period of massive industrial expansion in countries like the U.S., in part, but also, of course, in fascist Germany and stalinist Russia.
It is no wonder that the German socialist leader August Bebel referred to anti-semitism as the “socialism of fools.”