Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist for the Trump administration and ultra-rightist political operator, made a telling remark in his speech at the congress of the anti-immigrant National Front in France. Bannon was the surprise keynote speaker at the French far-right party’s congress last month. He was touring several European nations to support far-right parties on that continent.
In his address to the National Front congress, Bannon stated the following:
Let them call you racist. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honour.
He also praised his former boss, current US president Donald Trump, even though Bannon has criticised him since returning to Breitbart magazine. He ended his speech with ‘God bless America’ and ‘Vive la France.’
There is no mistaking the openly fascistic nature of Bannon’s political outlook. A former US Navy officer, he went on to become an executive at the investment firm of Goldman Sachs. He founded and expanded Breitbart, a magazine that has become the rallying platform for white supremacist, neo-Nazi and ultra-rightist followers around the United States. Bannon was the chief strategist for the Trump presidential campaign, and served to channel Alternative Right figures, billionaires and ex-generals into the ranks of the subsequent Trump presidency.
Bannon, through Breitbart news magazine, embraced the fascist thinkers of the past – such as Oswald Spengler and Julius Evola. The Alternative Right traces its ideological ancestry to these philosophers, among others. However, it is Bannon’s most recent comment about wearing the label racist as a ‘badge of honour’ that deserves more examination. By making this comment, Bannon revealed not only the ideology of the Alt-Right, but also the ideas at the core of Western civilisation. Bannon is a racist who hates foreigners, but he wholeheartedly supports foreigners who are racist.
Professor Hamid Dabashi, over at Columbia University, wrote that Bannon has spilled the beans, so to speak, regarding the core values of Western civilisation. Bannon’s obnoxious claim to wear racism as a ‘badge of honour’ may be an extreme statement, but not outside the mainstream of Western intellectual thought. Dabashi writes:
Steve Bannon is the heart of racist America. He is the heart of racist Europe. He is the very heart and mind of the very foundation of what they call “Western Civilisation,” which has never had anything but racist contempt for the world.
Dabashi correctly observes that Bannon is simply the thuggish, street-brawler version of Niall Ferguson, Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington – academics whose work has fed into the entrenched white supremacy at the heart of Western civilisation. In fact, scholars are very adept at maintaining a white nationalist perspective of history and culture.
It is not surprising that Bannon found a kindred spirit in the French National Front and its leader, Marine Le Pen. Anti-Semitism, and strident support for Israel, are features shared by the two political operators. Breitbart News regularly regurgitates anti-Semitic ideas and various conspiracy theories. Le Pen, both Marine and her father, have recycled anti-Semitic tropes in their political campaigning, and have downplayed or denied the responsibility of the pro-Nazi Vichy France in the genocide of the Jews.
Actually, by building alliances with anti-immigrant and fascistic parties across the Atlantic, Bannon is following in the footsteps of his ideological ancestors. During the 1930s and 40s, pro-fascist volunteers willingly cooperated with and supported Nazi Germany, the latter being the prime example of a viciously racist and expansionist political state. Volunteers from the Baltic states, Finland, France, Croatia, the Balkans, Hungary – flocked to the German state to fight alongside its armed forces. Birds of a feather flock together – while despising foreigners, fascist internationalism serves to unite politically similar forces.
Does this indicate that I am motivated by homicidal hatred of each and every white person? No, it does not. You cannot get anywhere or achieve anything with hate. Does this mean that Western civilisation and all its accomplishments must be consigned to the rubbish bin? No, it does not. Am I suggesting that each and every white Christian person is a secret neo-fascist waiting for the opportunity to reveal their true colours? No, I am not suggesting that at all. I am opposed to the advocacy of white privilege. If you uncertain about what that means, please read this article here – the author of which is white South African.
What I am advocating is the teaching of world civilisations, and not exclusively focus on the Western. The latter does not sit atop a hierarchical order of previous civilisations, but is the product of multiple multicultural influences and has absorbed lessons from peoples and cultures that preceded it. Isaac Newton was an eminent British scientist and professor of natural philosophy. He deserves all the accolades and honours he receives, and Britain can rightly be proud of this influential physicist and mathematician.
However, centuries prior to Newton, there was a polymath scientist and experimenter, who not only revolutionised the field of science, but also began the way towards the field of optics – Ibn al-Haytham, sometimes Latinised as Al-Hazen. A product of the Islamic Golden Age, he was one of the earliest proponents of the experimental method.
This is not to suggest that Islam is superior to Christianity or other religions, but to illustrate how our view of world history, science and philosophy is distorted by the lens of what we call Western civilisation. In fact, there is no such thing as ‘Judeo-Christian civilisation‘ – a subject to which we shall return in the next article. Promoting such an interpretation is not just an academic exercise, but has real political ramifications for today.
The concept of Western civilisation may have been useful in the past, but it has definitely reached its expiration date. The resurgence of anti-immigrant populism was not only constructed by Trump, Bannon, Farage and their ilk, but also by scholars such as Niall Ferguson, who has mounted a rearguard defence of the white British empire, and the late Samuel Huntington, who popularised the anaemic ‘clash of civilisations‘ thesis.
In Australia, we pride ourselves on our multiculturalism and inclusivity, and while great strides have been made, the gap between our self-image of a racially egalitarian pluralistic society and the reality is still great. As long as this perspective of Western civilisation remains unchallenged, there will be more constituents flocking to Steve Bannon.