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Hook, Line, & Sinker:
Steve Bannon & the Usual Suspects

7,911 words

Benjamin Teitelbaum
War For Eternity: Inside Bannon’s Far-Right Circle of Global Power Brokers
New York: HarperCollins, 2020

“I am sure you can appreciate the urgency of such matters. . . Richard Spencer [is not someone] that you play around with.”  — Jason Jorjani [1] [1]

“But why does [Jason Jorjani] who is that sophisticated get hooked up with Richard Spencer? [He’s] a goofball, and you can’t get in business with goofballs like that.” — Steve Bannon [2] [2]

Toward the end of a rather, shall we say, uneven career in film, Richard Burton starred in The Medusa Touch, a film that seemed to sum up his unique talent quite nicely; not so much the plot — a bitter chap who gradually realizes he has the telekinetic powers to wreak vengeance on a cruel world, blah blah blah — but the tagline on the movie poster: over a headshot of Burton, the phrase: “The Man Who Can Create Catastrophe [3].” [3] [4]

The phrase came to mind as Steve Bannon once again pushed himself into my vision, unshaven and disheveled, like a drunken uncle at an Irish wake. Just a little while ago we were looking at [5] his attempts to establish a “gladiator school” in Rome, in collaboration with the leading drag queen of the Vatican; only to have the whole thing come a cropper when he announced he also planned to film an expose of the Vatican’s pederastic networks, leading him to be expelled from Rome after being denounced by his Cardinal Collaborator in the words of St. Peter: “I know him not!”

More recently, he was spotted in a motorboat, cruising around the Statue of Liberty with his newest bestie [6], a Chinese billionaire with the oh-so Chinese name of Miles, whom he introduced to us as the new leader of China. (The Chinese seem more interested in talking to him about various fraud, blackmail, and bribery charges.)

Alas, even more recently, Miles’ even bigger boat, a $28 million yacht, was the scene of Bannon’s arrest [7], “on charges he pocketed donations from the $25 million ‘We Build the Wall’ fundraiser for the US-Mexico border wall.” [4] [8]

But before Bannon became an international mischief-maker, he was best known as the scruffy oddball who had tricked voters into putting Donald Trump in the White House (although he would soon be summarily booted out, in what would become a typical dénouement of any Bannon project [5] [9]). In the latter capacity Bannon became the target of the usual Satanic and Hitlerian-flavored fantasies of the Trump-Deranged.

This biography, however, promises to be a bit different. Apart from unprecedented access to Bannon, three reasons make it of particular interest to readers here at Counter-Currents: it tries to expound and understand the role of Traditionalism [10] in Bannon’s worldview, it tries to suggest ties to and among Alexander Dugin and other Traditionalists, and it attempts to detangle the whole Alt-Right Corporation fiasco.

One positive thing right off the bat: there’s a lot of stuff here, you really get good value for your money. Teitelbaum is an ethnomusicologist by trade (more on that anon) and his experience in writing up field reports likely accounts for his ability to convey the essence of large amounts of data in an engaging style. For now, perhaps some numbers would be useful to sort things out.

1. What is Traditionalism?

To begin with, what does Teitelbaum mean by Traditionalism? Teitelbaum doesn’t bog the general reader down with (literally) arcane details — as we’ll see, Traditionalists themselves tend to pick and choose their beliefs [6] [11] — but instead he distills out two ideas — principles, perhaps axes or vectors; first, the doctrine of cosmic cycles:

Traditionalists follow Hinduism in believing that human history has always cycled through four distinct ages: from a gold age to silver to bronze and then to dark before moving back to gold and starting the cycle over again. [7] [12]

What determines the quality of each age? This calls for the second idea: “we need to shift our focus from time to people” and introduce the idea of castes:

Traditionalists . . . think that each age belongs to a different type of people, a different caste. And these castes are ordered in hierarchy descending from a priest caste to warriors to merchants and finally to slaves.

These two ideas are related in a way that Traditionalists would likely call “horizontal” and “vertical;” as Teitelbaum says,

Traditionalism’s social hierarchy . . . also maps onto the ages of the time cycle, showing us in the process what it is that Traditionalists consider to be righteous and how it decays. The golden age is the priestly age, the silver belongs to warriors, [etc.]. And in each age, the caste that predominates dictates its vision of culture and politics to the rest of society. [8] [13]

Plausibility aside, there doesn’t seem to be much here that would inspire political action; the political implications of this worldview would seem entirely negative. And yet, man in his perversity demands a challenge; many have said, “Hold my beer,” and tried to derive a political action plan from these slim pickings, and these are the men Teitelbaum takes for his subjects.

You can buy James O’Meara’s book Green Nazis in Space! here. [14]

Excursus: In which the author himself encounters Traditionalism and lives to tell the tale

While his account of Traditionalism is true as far as it goes, [9] [15] Teitelbaum wildly over-exaggerates how “marginalized” it is or has been. Yes, all serious scholarship is more or less arcane, especially in the realm of world religions, and while from time to time an Alan Bloom or Jordan Peterson writes a surprising bestseller, nothing like this has happened to Traditionalism.

Yet Alan Watts, the poster child for “popularization”, was openly writing Traditionalist books in the 1940s. [10] [16] He later moved away from orthodox Traditionalism, [11] [17] but as late as his ultra-popular The Book he provides a reading list that includes Guénon (who would be horrified to be found among the likes of Krishnamurti, Teilhard de Chardin, and Jung). [12] [18]

Frithjof Schuon’s The Transcendent Unity of Religion was translated from French and published by T. S. Eliot’s Faber & Faber in 1947, with heavy promotion. Although his membership in Schuon’s Sufi cult was hidden for years, [13] [19] Huston Smith was the friendly face of comparative religion for decades, with his Religions of Man selling millions of copies. [14] [20] He used his clout with publishers to produce a new edition of Schuon’s book with his own Preface, as well as his similar Forgotten Truth, [15] [21] which appeared in a uniform edition with the very hip E. F. (Small is Beautiful [22]) Schumacher’s similar A Guide for the Perplexed [23] in 1977. Not bestsellers, but hardly a closely guarded secret.

My own acquaintance with Traditionalism, having encountered Guénon and Coomaraswamy in Watts’ books, came one day in the bookstore of a small college in Ontario when I passed a rack of orange-spined Penguin paperbacks and beheld René Guénon‘s The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times in the Penguin Metaphysical Library, a series by Jacob Needleman, which also included uniform (and thus ever so collectable!) editions of Schuon (Understanding Islam [16] [24]) and Titus Burckhardt (Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul), although again mixed among such “counter-traditionalists” as Gurdjieff (Needleman’s own interest) and the Jungian Maurice Nicoll. There was even a big, fat anthology of Traditionalists, edited by Needleman as well: The Sword of Gnosis: Metaphysics, Cosmology, Tradition, Symbolism. [17] [25]

As we’ll see, Needleman was also one of Bannon’s main gurus. So, apparently Traditionalism was so “obscure” that Bannon would later imbibe this wisdom from the man who had edited for Penguin — one of the largest publishers in the world — the Traditionalist books I had already been reading in small-town Ontario.

Speaking of publishers, Teitelbaum, I suppose as part of his “spooky” image of Traditionalism, also insists on repeatedly referring to Arktos as an “underground source” — as if it were a distributor of death metal cassettes in the 80s — when, in reality, its publications have always been, and still are, available on Amazon, subject to no censorship or de-platforming at all. [18] [26]

And speaking of censorship: admittedly, the one name missing from all this was Julius Evola; neither as author nor even as a name in any of these books. [19] [27] Although La dottrina del risveglio (1943) had already been translated and published in England back in 1948, [20] [28] nothing else would appear in English until Inner Traditions began publishing translations in the 1990s; and those were the only the less political, definitely less racialist books. [21] [29]

For indeed, even apart from his rather controversial ideas on race and politics, there seems to have been a conspiracy of silence, at least in the Anglosphere, related to his works as a whole, while the work of Schuon — a very different take on Traditionalism from Evola or even Guénon — was tirelessly promoted. [22] [30]

The first mention I found of Evola was a rather diffident review of something called Cavalcare le Tigre reprinted in a later Burkhardt volume, Mirror of the Intellect. [23] [31] From that slender clue, I went on to discover that rarest of fauna: a Traditionalist willing to wade into the morass of the modern world! [24] [32] He quickly became my main interest in Traditionalism — no doubt exactly what the conspiracy of silence was intended to prevent.

Of course, Evola himself would eventually abandon his attempted political interventions for notion of “apolitea;” [25] [33] not that that ever dissuaded many from trying to combine the politics and Traditonalism, as we’ll now investigate.

2. Who Are the Traditionalists? [26] [34]

Bannon is his main focus, of course, from which he pivots back to Evola and forward to Dugin and the others when they are mentioned by Bannon or a connection to Bannon is uncovered (usually with maximal drama). Let’s examine them, one by one.

Bannon, in his interviews with Teitelbaum, reveals himself to be a more interesting and complex character than one might have imagined; a lifelong seeker of spiritual development, [27] [35] from his days in the navy (where shore leave meant first occult bookstores, then bars) to his career as some kind of freelance investor on the West Coast (where he meets up with his first real-life guru, Jacob Needleman, a Harvard-trained academic philosopher, and Gurdjieffian [36], who had “popularized the term ‘new religious movements.’” [28] [37]) up through his days in the Trump campaign.

Or at least someone with a lot of spiritual curiosity. [29] [38] Far be it for me to question someone’s spiritual condition, but Bannon hardly gives the impression of being even what Alan Watts would call a “rascal guru [39]“ or an adept of “crazy wisdom [40],” but simply a guy with eccentric reading habits. A hearer of the Word, not a doer. [30] [41]

Nor does most of what we hear about his reading and contacts have much to do with Traditionalism, but rather, in fact, with people like Blavatsky and Gurdjieff that Traditionalists scorn.

And you can’t say that Bannon himself isn’t straight with us:

Indeed, his commentary on Traditionalism was consistently inconsistent. . . . “I’m just some fuckin’ guy, making it up as I go along.” (p. 29)

Indeed, the “earliest reference [Teitelbaum knows] of confirming his knowledge of Evola and Traditionalism” (p. 34) is a speech in 2014 to conservative Christians at the Vatican; a reference even he calls “not only slightly inaccurate but also a seemingly unflattering account,” while John Morgan, whom we’ll soon encounter, has already dismissed its significance here on Counter-Currents. [31] [42]

Despite, or perhaps because of, his “consistently inconsistent” attitude, Bannon has developed an interesting version of Traditionalism, which Teitelbaum calls “horizontal Traditionalism,” in which the layers of the spiritual hierarchy are spread out in an array, like a hand of cards, rather than piled on top of each other. As Peter D. Bredon explains elsewhere [43]:

Rather than bemoaning the confusion of the castes in the modern world, and futilely wishing for a “return of kings” (with oneself, of course, as a king, or at least on the general staff), Bannon tips the hierarchy on its side, and puts his faith in the ordinary working-class Joe Schmoe (Bannon calls them “serfs”) as a perennial source of traditional values to counterbalance the elite’s secular globalism. [32] [44]

Bredon goes on to note that “It’s basically Jeffersonian ‘natural aristocracy’ and a political application of Emerson’s primordialism,” all of which would be anathema to actual Traditionalists. [33] [45]

Dugin is an altogether different subject. Dugin is a serious man, a profound thinker at home on battlefields as well as in academia and at the highest levels of the Kremlin; a man who not only reads obscure and difficult books but writes them as well, and even manages to get them added to the required reading lists of military academies. He’s also apparently mad as a hatter, but that’s hardly an inconsistency.

But is Dugin a Traditionalist? Many Traditionalists would beg to differ. [34] [46] Although he seems a more serious man than Bannon, he also seems to have, like Bannon, forged a personal version of Traditionalism aimed at providing a metaphysical justification for a political strategy; as noted above, Traditionalists would see this as itself a symptom of modernist contamination, while outsiders might point out that Traditionalism is itself a modern, individualistic doctrine.

Teitelbaum first encounters Dugin when the latter speaks at the Identitarian Ideas conference in 2012, where Teitelbaum, researching the nationalist music scene in Scandinavia, recalls this rousing peroration:

Modernity is in the hands of liberals — let it be in those hands. Let us transcend modernity. . . . We shouldn’t fight for the values of the modern past, we should fight for the values of the premodern past, that could be and should be taken as future values . . . We shouldn’t struggle for the past that has passed, but for the eternity that was reflected in Traditional society!”

If liberalism sought politics that would promote and protect the individual, if communism focused its energies on the working class and fascism on race and state, he wanted to see politics focus on something else, something harder to grasp: spiritual and cultural community. He envisioned a politics that honored and preserved the values that distinguish one society or tribe from another and which allowed them to make sense of the world on their own terms, to uphold their own meanings and their own way of being.

The threats against his vision were not only individualism — for these values weren’t created nor could they be maintained by isolated individuals divorced from community and history — but also the imposition of one society’s meanings onto another, which is to say imperialism or globalization. [There] can’t be one [community] for all the world, nor a universal standard by which to judge them, because all humans don’t share history in any meaningful sense. Indeed, in some respects, what he was saying sounded much like a kind of cultural relativism, to use the terminology of cultural anthropologists. Devise a system of politics whose primary goal is not wealth creation, technological advance, or military conquest, but rather the independence and freedom of each spiritual culture, and you end up with a very different political map.

As far as I understand it, Dugin’s version of Traditionalism is basically orthodox but this time mapped onto the usual Russian world-historical megalomania — the Third Rome [47], etc. — with Europe — and pre-eminently, now, the USA [35] [48] — taking the place of “Modernity” and Russia “Tradition.” Essentially, “Russia must run the world, because Tradition, OK?”

Apart from total support for Russian expansion into every available geopolitical nook and cranny, from Ossetia to Dubuque, Dugin deduces the need to support the Iranian mullahs, and for jihad against China, which is the rising exponent of Modernity, America’s moment having passed. This of course brings him into conflict with Bannon’s version of Traditionalism, which not only, as we’ve seen, supports the American deplorables against the Modernist elites, but also demonizes China (at least, until Bannon’s new patron Miles takes charge).

Teitelbaum provides a fascinating reconstruction of a private debate in Rome where the Sinophobe Bannon takes on Russophile Dugin — which Traditionalism will reign supreme? Dugin cites “America’s role in globalization, this hegemony, this pressure for human rights, democracy, and so on. All the worst things in the world. It’s modernism upon modernism.”

“That’s liberalism,” Bannon replies. “Liberal modernity. It’s not a people. That’s a set of ideas — dangerous ones — put forward by people from around the world. When people say that America is an idea, that’s what they are talking about, these so-called universal values that can’t help but infect everything. But that is the thing — America isn’t an idea. It is a country, it is a people, with roots, spirit, destiny. It’s the working class and middle class, it’s that group of people that have been perennial to us, from the fuckin’ Pilgrims and the Puritans on. And what you are talking about, the liberalism and the globalism that live in America, real American people are victims of that. We’re talking the backbone of American society, the people who give the country its spirit — they’re not modernists. They’re not the ones blowing trillions of dollars trying to impose democracy on places that don’t want it. They’re not the ones trying to create a world without borders. They’re getting screwed in all this, by an elite that doesn’t care about them and that isn’t them.”

“Listen,” Bannon [continues], “America is part of the Judeo-Christian West. Modernity has advanced further with us, like with Scandinavia. But our roots still exist, and they can be revived, and they are being revived. That’s what you’re seeing today with the Trump movement. That is America rising up against its overlords. It’s no civil war. Oh no. That’s America fighting against globalism and liberalism, just like Russia fights against it, too.”

“That’s why we are moving together, toward nationalism, populism, and [cue dramatic organ sting] Traditionalism. . . As a Traditionalist, Mr. Dugin, it is imperative that you join us against them. As a Traditionalist, Mr. Dugin.” [36] [49]

It’s powerful rhetoric, but Dugin is unconvinced. He fares less well in a debate with another “major global Traditionalist” who has more solid credentials as both Traditionalist and “power broker”: Olavo de Carvalho, advisor to Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolonaro, former leader of a Sufi tariqa in the questionable lineage of Frithjof Schuon, and (for reasons Teitelbaum leaves unspecified) a resident of rural Virginia for the last ten years. [37] [50]

Dugin debated Olavo online back in 2011, no doubt expecting to find another Traditionalist ally. Instead, Dugin found himself playing Obi-Wan as General Grievous unleashed his multiple spinning lightsabers.

Olavo saw the world through a different set of lenses: not as a twofold division between a villainous West and the virtuous rest, but instead as a battle for domination among three actors, none of whom he liked. Those three actors were the Russia-China alliance, Western finance, and Islamists.

Dugin expected Olavo would proceed to a Traditionalist conclusion. If we saw the three upper castes of the hierarchy vying for power — the castes of the priest [Islam], the warrior [Russia/China], and the merchant [USA]  — shouldn’t we sympathize with the most virtuous one, the priest — that is to say, with spirit and theocracy?

This was hardly Olavo’s assessment. Instead, he insisted that to condemn Western finance is not to condemn the United States, a nation possessed itself of a Tradition and a heritage pre-dating liberalism. [38] [51] Real America was not the center of globalism, but its primary target. Western finance “is not an enemy of Russia, China, or the Islamic countries potentially associated to the Eurasian project, but on the contrary, it is their collaborator and accomplice in the effort to destroy the sovereignty, the politico-military power, and the economy of the United States.”

Olavo actually was arguing that America is a source of Tradition in the modern world, that members of its rural population are the global ambassadors of spirituality.

Teitelbaum notes that this last idea would have seemed bizarre if he hadn’t already heard Bannon’s version. Oh, and by the way, Russia is not going to save us; Russia is not the Third Rome but the Whore of Babylon.

“Russia is not at all the ‘fortress of spirituality and tradition,’ appointed by a celestial mandate to castigate the flesh of the United States for the sins of the immoral and materialist West. Today, as in Stalin’s time, Russia is a den of corruption and wickedness as never before seen, one dedicated to the spreading of its mistakes around the world.” [39] [52]

Indeed, Olavo reminds us that in a little known work the very Pope of Traditionalism, René Guénon, had identified seven “Towers of the Devil,” centers of the counter-initiation that would pull one away from Tradition: none in the West, but no less than three in the territory of the former USSR; connect them together, and they form the outline of Ursa Major, the Great (Russian?) Bear. [40] [53]

Dugin finds all this “very queer indeed,” which, coming from someone who apparently models himself on a combination of Rasputin and Prince Mishkin, is pretty rich.

Next up are two gentlemen familiar to Counter-Currents readers: John B. Morgan and Jason Reza Jorjani.

All told, Morgan — who unlocks for Teitelbaum the secret history of Arktos Media, of which he was a founder and the editor-in-chief — comes across quite well; it’s just about impossible to imagine a fair-minded reader, whatever his views on Bannon or spooky mystical politics, not to emerge with a sympathetic view of Morgan’s somewhat passive role in this whole affair: an intelligent, honest, idealistic spiritual seeker — the only one, other than Olavo and his dubious years with Schuon, to actually attempt a Traditionalist way of life, moving from Michigan to India and being initiated into Vaishnavite Hinduism — swimming around in murky waters with some lifeforms that are only out for themselves, whatever their religious or political guises.

Not at all a “power broker,” and deliberately so, he’s not interested in devising his own “improved” Traditionalism and then using the cachet of the real Traditionalism to promote some political agenda: he seems to think that if Traditionalism is in even some degree true, then maybe we should actually try to live by it; his only peccadillo is allowing himself a few moments of optimism after the Trump victory.

His mannerisms, his voice, and his conduct all resonated humility and compassion. Perhaps that is why the leaders of this Hare Krishna ashram in the northeastern edge of [Mumbai] granted him the impious luxury of a pillow. [41] [54]

And considering the image of the “alt-right” in the public mind, that’s a considerable win for the rest of us as well.

As for Jason Jorjani, well, he’s a wholly other matter. [42] [55] But his story is part of the ensuing Mystery of the Alt-Right Corporation, a cautionary tale or sideshow which, if War for Eternity were Watchmen (Bannon as The Comedian?), would be the intercalated Tales of the Black Freighter [56].

You can buy James O’Meara’s book The Eldritch Evola here. [57]

3. Who Pulls Whose Chain? — The Alt-Right Fiasco

So, we now have all the elements in place to understand the Alt-Right Corporation: Traditionalism + Bannon + Jorjani = Epic Clusterfuck.

As near as I can make out from Teitelbaum, some shadowy group (let’s call them “The Shadow Group”) wanted access to Bannon (presumably so as to have access through him to Trump, who seems to get his opinions from the last person he spoke to), and decided Bannon’s Traditionalism hobby was the hook.

Problem: Traditionalists aren’t interested in politics. Floating around in the alt-right milieus, however, was Jason Jorjani, a newly minted Ph.D. and adjunct professor at an Institute of Technology not located in Massachusetts who seemed to be regarded as a Traditionalist, but whose real interest was politics: the overthrow of the Iranian theocracy and restoration of the Persian Empire. [43] [58] In exchange for establishing a link with Bannon through their supposedly shared interest in Traditionalism, thus furthering the interests of The Shadow Group, Jorjani would obtain influence on White House Iranian policy.

To ensure that Bannon would take the bait, Jorjani, after stepping in to replace John Morgan as editor-in-chief of Arktos, would still need to be puffed up like a Magnificent Frigatebird [59]. Thus was born the idea of the Alt-Right Corporation, amalgamating Arktos, Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute, and Red Ice Media, a veritable DreamWorks or Monsters of the Alt-Right, with funding provided (secretly) by The Shadow Group. [44] [60]

Once accomplished, a supposed black ops slush fund in the White House would then be accessed to provide shitloads of filthy lucre to Jorjani to lubricate the operation; Jorjani, now established as the leader of the Alt-Right, would toss Spencer overboard (the punchable face of Neo-Nazism was an increasing liability in any case) and leap-Pepe over his quondam boss, Daniel Friberg, and then be able to gain access to Bannon and bond over their shared reading lists.

Alas, the money never arrived, and in the wake of Charlottesville and Bannon’s eventual defenestration from the White House, the project became moot [61].

The Hermetic joke here, which Teitelbaum never sees, is that Jorjani was not, and never had been, a Traditionalist. [45] [62] Teitelbaum, like Bannon, seems to take his position at Arktos as ensuring his Traditionalist bona fides, yet if he had read the copy of Prometheus and Atlas which Jorjani gave him to present to Bannon (he does read the message to Bannon that Jorjani writes on the flyleaf, though he only delivers the book at the end of his investigation, too late to do any good) it would have been apparent. [46] [63] If not, he need only have found Jorjani’s 2016 essay, published on the Alt-Right website, and clearly titled “Against Perennial Philosophy [64].”

If the New Right or AltRight is to become the intellectual and spiritual vanguard of the Indo-European world, we archeo-futurists must recognize that the very idea of Sophia Perennis — which can be traced to Medieval Iran [47] [65] — is fundamentally anti-philosophical, and that the likes of Evola and Guénon were terribly wrong to legitimate Islam.

Or perhaps Jorjani could have let him in on the secret at some point?

Of course, the whole cunning plan [66] depended on Jorjani being a political operator [48] [67] rather than a Traditionalist anyway, since an actual Traditionalist, like Morgan, wouldn’t have gone anywhere near Bannon. [49] [68]

Even Teitelbaum is amazed that anyone thought utilizing either a “weird” cult-like Traditionalism or a “scary” political movement like the Alt-Right was a good idea, much less a Brundlefly [69] like the Alt-Right Corp, and then making Jorjani the frontman; sort of an intellectual Charlottesville. [50] [70]

Despite his rather unfortunate portrait of Jorjani as someone with a taste for international intrigue but no talent for it [71], one senses that Teitelbaum finds him more simpatico that the rest of the whole sick crew [72]: meeting Jorjani at the Plaza Hotel (a là North by Northwest? [51] [73]) after his first interview with Bannon, Teitelbaum muses that “He was the type of person I was more accustomed to studying.” Of course, both were college professors, but I suspect a deeper connection.

For all his huffing and puffing about how “weird” and “scary” Bannon, Dugin, and the others are, [52] [74] Teitelbaum is really the most puzzling one in the book. He tells us he’s “not a political scientist or a journalist — my main department at the university was ethnomusicology.” Yet, like Indiana Jones or Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon, he has the time to pursue his hobby: the study of Traditionalism and Right-wing politics, acquiring what he modestly tells us is a “rare insight into [their] fusion.”

Teitelbaum seems to already be living the international life of mystery that would appeal to Jorjani, while perhaps he sees the latter as an up and comer. In any event, it would seem reasonable to take this elective affinity into account when evaluating the tale; Teitelbaum does a lot of research and interviewing, but then so does Dan Brown, or Giorgio Tsoukalos.

And like Jorjani, he may be prone to putting too much trust in his interviewees. Teitelbaum admits that Bannon — unlike me — can’t recall where or when he first encountered Traditionalism, but persuades him to “tell me one, a possible occasion.”

Before we get too excited about the story that follows, let’s remember this is “one, possible occasion.” I could imagine Bannon leaning back, noting the manufacturer’s name on the bottom of Teitelbaum’s coffee cup, and musing, “Well, it all began with Kobayashi [75]. . . .”

Remember: “Indeed, his commentary on Traditionalism was consistently inconsistent. . . . ‘I’m just some fuckin’ guy, making it up as I go along.’” (p. 29)

Ultimately Bannon may be a sphinx without a secret; rather than a jellyfish [76], his totem animal is an octopus — SPECTRE? No, just a lot of ink squirted around as he flails about.

Reading the adventures of these Unusual Suspects recalled David Ferrie, of Kennedy conspiracy fame. Like Bannon and Jorjani, “Dave’s smart, though. Speaks five languages. Knows philosophy, medicine, military history, politics.” Let’s let him have the last word [77] on the Alt-Right Corporation:

Who pulls whose chain? Who knows? . . . Who [created the Alt-Right Corporation]? Fuck! It’s a mystery. It’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma! [We] don’t even know! Don’t you get it? I don’t know what happened! [53] [78]

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[1] [82] Page 219. Compare: “Mike, you don’t come to Las Vegas and talk to a man like Moe Greene like that [83]!”

[2] [84] Op. cit.

[3] [85] One such film was Boom! [86], which as it happens seems to be one of Bannon’s favorite words: “He’d never miss a chance to go booming.” (p. 20); “It was time for Steve Bannon to boom.” (p. 28); “He was making a lot of money, and once that happened, Boom!” (p. 32); and rounding the plate: “As we departed, he asked about my plans for later. ‘You’ve got to go out booming.’” (p. 268). Booming seems to be something sailors do in port, or, in the last example, Juarez; judge for yourself.

[4] [87] Chapter XV has Teitelbaum join Bannon and his extended family at a BBQ restaurant in Tucson after a Build the Wall fundraiser.

[5] [88]

[B]asically everything he has done since acting as Trump’s campaign manager in 2016 has ended in failure: His tenure as Trump’s Chief Strategist came to an inglorious end after seven months; he was unsuccessful in securing Roy Moore’s victory in Alabama’s Senate special election in 2017; he was dismissed from Breitbart following his importune comments about Trump to Michael Wolff in 2018; his attempt to bolster the expected wave of Right-wing populist victories in the European parliamentary election last year bore little fruit; and the government closed down his monastic school for populists in Italy. Thus, to date, Bannon has one big win and a string of failures.

John Morgan, reviewing Errol Harris’ Bannon documentary American Dharma, here. [89]

[6] [90] Traditionalism, as critics have been quick to point out, is itself a modernist doctrine, which would have been impossible in the ages that Traditionalists venerate; thus it is ironic but not surprising to see them adopt the modern “cafeteria [91]” approach to their supposed “Tradition.”

[7] [92] I must point out that Traditionalists would immediately point out that the cyclical view of time occurs in many, perhaps most, traditions, from Greece to Scandinavia to China.

[8] [93] See Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World: Politics, Religion, and Social Order in the Kali Yuga; trans. Guido Stucco (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1995), Chapter 35, “Regression of the Castes.”

[9] [94] He reminds me of the time I was taking a class where the text was Walter Kaufmann’s edition of the Preface to Hegel’s Phenomenology and a student asked the professor if we should also read Kaufmann’s notes on the facing pages. He mused a bit and then said, “Kaufmann is usually right but never profound.”

[10] [95] Such as The Supreme Identity and Behold the Spirit (see my review of the latter here [96] and reprinted in Mysticism after Modernism [Manticore, 2020]). Watts later noted that the latter was selected as the Easter reading for the Episcopal Church.

[11] [97] For the reasons, see his Preface to Beyond Theology; for the Traditionalists’ response, see Whitall Perry, “The Riddles of Alcyone [98].” Greg Johnson describes Watts’ reasons thus: “Traditionalists claim that Christianity is just an exoteric expression of the one primordial tradition which is the inner truth of all religions. But Watts points out that there is no evidence that the founders of Christianity thought that way. Instead, Christianity has always insisted on what Jan Assmann calls the “Mosaic distinction” between true and false religions. Christianity is the one true religion, and all others are simply false. Thus in The Supreme Identity, Watts treats Christianity as an expression of primordial truth, but in Beyond Theology, he treats it as a mode of illusion.” See his “Alan Watts at 100” here [99].

[12] [100] The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (Pantheon, 1966); looking for the date I find that the Spanish edition is published in a series called Sabiduría perenne.

[13] [101] For details, see Mark Sedgwick’s Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 2004).

[14] [102] The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions [103], 1958, rev. ed. (with new, “inclusive” title) San Francisco: HarperOne, 1991).

[15] [104] Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World’s Religions, 1976, reprinted ed. San Francisco: HarperOne, 1992)

[16] [105] The Traditionalist version of Islam is really Sufism, which most Muslims consider a damnable heresy. Teitelbaum attributes to Bannon the idea that “if all Muslims in the Middle East were Sufis, we wouldn’t have a problem at all.” (p. 194)

[17] [106] The Sword of Gnosis leaps out of the text like an old friend, on p. 129, as the book that at the same time I was reading it in Canada (1977) would inspire Olavo de Carvalho, who today is the main adviser to Brazil’s Bolsonaro and thus a section of his own as one of the “power brokers.” Like Olavo, I too had the privilege of meeting Martin Lings (PBUH), not in Brazil but at the home of courtly William Stoddart, editor of the aforementioned The Mirror of Intellect, who had moved to Windsor, Ontario, to be nearer Schuon in Bloomington, Indiana; again, not that obscure, is it?

[18] [107] All of Dugin’s books by any publisher were removed a few years ago after he was declared persona non grata by the US government; books about Dugin are still available, with a new one from Arktos this very month. It’s interesting to note that the other Alt-Right partner, Richard Spencer, also continues to operate on social and mainstream media — where he currently promotes Joe Biden [108] — with no restrictions at all, despite being the supposed leader of Neo-Nazism and the architect of the Charlottsville Shoah.

[19] [109] One tiny footnote in Burckhardt’s Alchemy refers the reader to a book on the Hermetic tradition by one “J. Evola.”

[20] [110] Later edition: The Doctrine of Awakening: The Attainment of Self-Mastery According to the Earliest Buddhist Texts [111]. Inner Traditions/Bear, 1996.

[21] [112] Teitelbaum cites two of these in his notes, but in the main text the only reference is the demure “a New Age publisher in Vermont;” one can only assume this is to continue the promotion of Arktos as “the leading English-language publisher of far-right intellectualism and Traditionalism.” (p. 14)

[22] [113] Thanks to Mark Sedgwick’s Against the Modern World, we know how this was coordinated by academics like Huston Smith who hid their ties to Schuon’s breakaway Sufi cult and pretended to be objective scholars.

[23] [114] Mirror of the Intellect: Essays on Traditional Science & Sacred Art; ed. by William Stoddart. SUNY Series in Islam (Albany: SUNY Press, 1987).

[24] [115] “Evola would . . . carry the school into right-wing politics.” Teitelbaum, p. 11.

[25] [116]

In later life, Evola advocated for what he terms apoliteia, by which he meant disengagement from political affairs. But if you really examine what he says on the subject, he never advised that one shouldn’t become involved in politics. Rather, what he meant is that one shouldn’t become attached to whatever result might come from such activities. In this, again, Evola is being consistent with what many of the sacred texts have to say on this. So in other words, sure, get involved with a political party or join the military or vote for Trump or whatever, but do so because it helps you to attain the goals that you set for yourself rather than because you have staked everything on its success and will be shattered if it fails. In Kali Yuga, political restoration may not be possible, but the opportunity still remains for the individual to triumph over modernity in his own way. Besides which, the fact that we may lose the battle doesn’t mean that we are absolved of the responsibility of fighting it and standing for what is true.

John Morgan, “What Would Evola Do [117]?”

[26] [118] To be read with the sound of the opening credits to the TV series Mythbusters [119].

[27] [120] “Hello seeker! Now don’t feel alone here in the New Age, because there’s a seeker born every minute.” — Dr. “Happy” Harry Cox [121].

[28] [122] Mitch Horowitz, “When Does A Religion Become A Cult?” [123] Teitelbaum never explains what brought Bannon to the West Coast. Presumably, it had something to do with “the fresh-out-of-Goldman-Sachs Wall Street yuppie [seeing] the possibilities for short-term profit after the first Biosphere 2 mission was complete.

Long story short:

[A]fter two years at Space Biosphere Ventures, Bannon left his CEO post amidst a lawsuit filed by former employees alleging “abuse of conduct.” According to a 2016 Vice article [124] on the subject and the 1996 Tucson Citizen article [125] it cites, during the trial Bannon told jurors that when researcher Abigail Alling “claimed she had written a five-page statement about the safety problems with Biosphere 2 after his new management takeover, he “threatened to ram it down her [fucking] throat.”

See “The Wild Story of Steve Bannon’s Eco-Cult Disaster [126].”

[29] [127] “For the time will come when men will not tolerate sound doctrine, but with itching ears they will gather around themselves teachers to suit their own desires. So they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” 2 Timothy 3-4.

[30] [128]

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it — not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it — they will be blessed in what they do.

Epistle of James, 1:22-5. Compare: Neville Goddard, The Power of Awareness, chapter 18: “Be Ye Doers [129].” As H. T. Hansen observes of Evola’s political activity, “Evola possibly believed in the ‘magical’ effectiveness of the traditional ideas in the present [i.e., the 1930s]. . . . But exactly here lies the crux of any concept of the state that is founded in transcendence: How does one translate the metaphysical values into mundane reality? And this poses a second question: Must not man assimilate himself to the supra-mundane world before he can recognize and then realize its values? Is not an inner transformation needed before the outer?” See “Julius Evola’s Political Endeavors,” printed as the Introduction to Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins: Post-War Reflections of a Radical Traditionalist, trans. Guido Stucco, (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 2002), at p. 53.

[31] [130] “All this proves is that Bannon has heard of Evola. It no more indicates that Bannon is a traditionalist than Obama referencing Mao in passing means that he is a Maoist. And it isn’t even an accurate statement, since it certainly can’t be said that traditionalism led to Fascism, as it didn’t even exist prior to the advent of Fascism in Italy in 1922, so clearly Bannon doesn’t even have a good understanding of it, nor is he speaking of it favorably.” See “What Would Evola Do [117]?”

[32] [131] Neither Bredon nor Teitelbaum notes this is itself an inversion of the strategy of the Frankfurt School, which abandoned the traditional Marxist promotion of the working class in favor of an elite strategy, the so-called “long march through the institutions;” see “Towards a Right-Wing Critical Theory [132].”

[33] [133] Teitelbaum never mentions Emerson but does describe Bannon’s worldview as the American “commitment to the self-made man, here transferred from economics to spirituality.” (p. 80) Primordialism (not to be confused with the “Primordial Tradition” of the Traditionalists!) has its own distinguished lineage, which Arthur Versluis traces back to Plato, via Emerson: see his American Gurus: From Transcendentalism to New Age Religion (Oxford, 2014), Chapter 2, “Revivalism, Romanticism, and the Protestant Principle.” For primordialists, each of us has, at least potentially, access within to the spiritual tradition that Traditionalists firmly and pessimistically locate in the distant, mythical past; as such, primordialism has much more in common with the Dissident Right’s idea of archeofuturism than does Traditionalism.

[34] [134] For example, see Charles Upton’s Dugin Against Dugin: A Traditionalist Critique of the Fourth Political Theory (Reviviscimus, 2018); the back cover says that “Dugin has made a valiant attempt to ground his politics in metaphysics. Unfortunately, his metaphysics are inverted, his view of Orthodox Christianity heretical, his image of Islam twisted, and his flirtation with Satanism all too obvious. . . . He has deviated from what traditional metaphysicians René Guénon and Julius Evola called the Primordial Tradition, and turned instead to deception and self-contradiction.”

[35] [135] As Teitelbaum presents Dugin’s view of the USA: “A nation of immigrants shedding allegiances to their historical communities and embracing allegedly universal values like democracy and equality, the United States could produce only a highly volatile, perverted Dasein [spiritual community or civilization], one without real historical roots, and one that only with great force could be prevented from attempting to spread itself outward and trying to blanket the world with its sense of existence.” (p. 149)

[36] [136] Teitelbaum, 157-61.

[37] [137] Interestingly, Olavo traces his encounter with Traditionalism to Needleman’s aforementioned Sword of Gnosis anthology.

[38] [138] No further details are provided; is he referring to the collision of Puritanism and Romanticism that Camille Paglia identified as the “North American Literary Tradition,” and what I’ve called “America’s homegrown Hermeticism, native Neoplatonism, and two-fisted Traditionalism” — which Peter Bredon describes as “a more authentic Tradition than anything dreamed up in Guénon’s cork-lined bedroom”? See his “The Native American Nietzsche: Camille Paglia, Frontier Philosopher [139].” More recently, Kathryn S. has discussed [140] the “epic battle between the Old Gods, brought to America by its settlers over the centuries, and the New Gods of modern and deracinated America.”

[39] [141] Teitelbaum, 174, 179-80.

[40] [142] Teitelbaum, 183-84. Not for the first time does one note the resemblance of some Traditionalist themes to contemporary Ancient Astronaut theories. See, for example, the title essay in my collection The Eldritch Evola . . . & Others: Traditionalist Meditations on Literature, Art, & Culture; ed. by Greg Johnson
(San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014), and more extensively, Joscelyn Godwin, Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism & Nazi Survival (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Phanes Press, 1993).

[41] [143] One can’t help but compare this to the later sequence where Olavo is compulsively stuffing himself with a post-midnight ice cream sundae.

[42] [144] Humility, for example, is hardly his strong suit:

Of all the figures in the leadership of the Alt-Right, I was Kek’s most faithful emissary. Richard Spencer and Daniel Friberg are just the Devil’s playthings. . . . One reason this has not been understood is that my detractors, and those who have defamed me, are not capable of seeing past their own noses. . . . My thought, like that of Plato or Nietzsche, is scaled to thousands of years of human and post-human evolution. People who think that John Rawls is a philosopher and waste their time writing about him are ants laboring in the shadow of my obelisk.

Lovers of Sophia (Melbourne: Manticore, 2017; the reference to Spencer and Friberg is missing from the later Arktos printing). The last phrase is an interestingly phallic version of the Tooth Fairy’s rant in Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986): “Before me, you are a slug in the sun. You are privy to a great becoming, but you recognize nothing. You are an ant in the afterbirth. It is in your nature to do one thing correctly: Tremble. But fear is not what you owe me. No. . . you and the others — you owe me awe!”

[43] [145] Jorjani’s Aryans were neither Evola’s “ethereal, ghostly beings who lived in the Arctic” (p. 13) nor inhabitants of a post-cyclical Golden Age, or at least not immediately so; his attention is fixed in the middle distance and near times, more Shahs of Sunset [146] than The Secret Doctrine [147]. So, kinda Traditionalist, the way Trump is “literally Hitler.” It was somewhat amusing to read alt-righters during the Alt-Right Corporation’s operation denouncing Jorjani’s Out of Persia theories while apparently tolerating Evola’s far less plausible Ancient Astronaut theories.

[44] [148] “Well, it’s official. Friday, December 13, 1963: Four guys shot their own legs off.” (Mad Men, S3, E13 [149])

[45] [150] When Teitelbaum finally gets around to broaching the subject of Jorjani with Bannon, he describes him as “a Traditionalist who was open to working with Richard Spencer,” and as “a Traditionalist, a Zoroastrian as well, and an Iranian nationalist.” (p. 266) I’m surprised he left out his astrological sign.

[46] [151] “Those who know how to read esoterically, as I know how to write esoterically, ought to have discerned that in Prometheus and Atlas. Hermes or Mercury, the Trickster, is not the book’s villain.” Lovers of Sophia, p. 13. “Against a wall behind [Spencer and Jorjani] stood a statue of Hermes — the Greek god of trickery. Jason had included Hermes in the picture on purpose.” Teitelbaum, 211.

[47] [152] Like, according to Jorjani, all nice things do; however, most scholars (i.e., everyone but Jorjani) trace the idea to the Florentine Neo-Platonist Marsillio Ficino (1433–1499).

[48] [153] “So our fantasist can say to himself whenever he feels like it and without any special preparation: Under this fiendishly clever bank-clerk (etc.) disguise lurks intrepid ruthless 00999.” Kingsley Amis, The James Bond Dossier (London: Jonathan Cape, 1965), Chapter 1.

[49] [154] Jorjani and the Alt-Right would have been better off had he simply developed the ideas of Prometheus and Atlas, which, as I said in my review here [155], had the potential to provide a more useful philosophical framework for political action than the a-political Traditionalism of Evola. As the allusions to Emerson and Melville in my review suggest, the irony is that Jorjani’s Promethean overcoming of Modernity by Modernity itself has more in common with Bannon’s heterodox Traditionalism, which is more Emerson than Evola, and would be an easier sell to Americans than the usual European weirdness.

[50] [156] As for taking a leadership position, Jorjani calls to mind Joseph Knecht’s evaluation of his friend Fritz Tegularius (modeled on Nietzsche): “The most brilliant and gifted Glass Bead Game player I know. He would be predestined for Magister Ludi were it not that his character. . . make[s] him completely unsuited for that position. T. should never be appointed to an outstanding, representative, or organizational position; that would be a misfortune for him and for the office.” Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game, translated from the German Das Glasperlenspiel by Richard and Clara Winston, with a Foreword by Theodore Ziolkowski (New York: Bantam, 1970), p146. See, more generally, Nicholas Jeelvy, “In Defense of Dysfunction [157],” on the role of autism, sociopathy, and other forms of neurodivergence in dissident politics.

[51] [158] A colleague who met Jorjani at another rendezvous reports that on his arrival Jorjani insisted on leaving immediately and hailing a cab for another location, as he had been “spotted” by enemy agents. A joke? Yes, we will laugh in the car [159].

[52] [160] “The people I studied could be not just scary but weird.” (p. 7) “Weird” is one of his favorite words, occurring 10 times, usually around Bannon. In his rush to keep Traditionalism weird, he neglects to consider the truth of Evola’s own characterization of his beliefs [161]: “My principles are only those that, before the French Revolution, every well-born person considered sane and normal.”

[53] [162] David Ferrie in Oliver Stone’s JFK; view Joe Pesci’s performance here [77].