Politics & Policy

Machiavelli or Gamer

Bannon at CPAC 2017 in February (Reuters photo: Joshua Roberts)
Who do you say that he is?

He instructed his disciple: “U should be OWNING this conversation because u r everything they hate!!! Drop your toys, pick up your tools and go help save western civilization.”

So said Stephen Bannon to Milo Yiannopoulos, according to an exposé by BuzzFeed. Bannon continued: “Just get in the fight — ur Social Media and they have made it a powerful weapon of war. . . . There is no war correspondent in the west yet dude and u can own it and be remember for 3 generations – ”

Stephen Bannon views social media as one of the great theatres of battle. The rumors from Washington indicate that he spent much of his time at the White House staring into a computer screen in Reince Preibus’s office, surveying his battlefield, relaying the movements and evolving strategy of the enemy to the commander-in-chief. When he left the White House and returned to his online media outlet, Breitbart.com, his charges described it in martial terms. “A right-wing army prepares for war,” it was said. Or #war, if you prefer.

The question that faces anyone contemplating Bannon and the online Trumpians is this: Do you believe their self-conception? For that matter, do you believe that they believe it?

Sometimes the rest of the media really do believe it. After all, Bannon jumped on the Trump bandwagon early, when everyone laughed at Trump’s chances of winning the nomination, or of beating Hillary Clinton. Clearly, Bannon must have understood something that eluded everyone else. Right? Bannon’s ascent from obscure right-wing documentarian to the Rasputin of the Trump White House was the story many political journalists wanted to tell. They toyed with the rumored quotation in which he described himself as a “Leninist.” Who was this man? How did he get the Orange One into the White House? How did he turn Milo Yiannopoulos from a tech blogger into a man provoking left-wing riots (and right-wing backlash) at schools across the country?

Have you considered that he just got lucky?

In the same BuzzFeed expose, Bannon tells his young protege, “I do appreciate any piece that mentions evola.” For the untutored, that would be Julius Evola, a late-19th-century Italian thinker who was beloved by later fascists. Evola is an oddly appropriate figure for Bannon to admire.

Because, as with Bannon himself, Evola’s persona and self-conception were grandiose. He purposely hinted at some kind of secret knowledge that only he and a small group of adepts could understand. Evola portrayed himself as an “aristocrat of the soul” who had to preserve himself and the truth about human nature and society from the vulgar democratic age in which we are all trapped. Like Bannon, Evola talked in terms of civilizational crisis, civilizational war, and civilizational redemption. This grandiosity invites the fascination of critics and admirers alike.

Personally, I think Evola and Bannon are less than they seem to be.

Stephen Bannon is the most successful video-game player in the world.

There is another modern medium besides Breitbartian journalism that makes use of grandiose, civilization-defining metaphors: fantasy video games. And wouldn’t you know it? Stephen Bannon made a good deal of money in a scheme built around World of Warcraft. It’s another pretend battle, on a pretend battlefield, with pretend warriors who are staring into computer screens, and straining the Aeron chair underneath them.

Julius Evola is said to be a “proto-fascist.” But in some ways, I think it’s truer to say that he was a proto-gamer. He was a pretend wizard, gesturing at the great monuments of Western civilization as if they were set pieces for his own personal adventure. Stephen Bannon is the most successful video-game player in the world. As our politics have become more removed from reality, he found politics easier to navigate. But if you leave the game’s world — if you log off Twitter, and shut off your browser — it’s almost as if all the accomplishments of the great gamer disappear. Donald Trump was already on track to become president before Bannon logged into the campaign. And he’s on track to remain president long after Bannon’s logged off.

Zap! He’s gone.


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