By now, no one should be surprised by the mainstream media’s transparently dishonest effort to smear Steve Bannon for daring to commend certain aspects of a controversial author’s work—even when he clearly rejects that authors’ more questionable ideas altogether.
So when I read this piece put out by The New York Times back in February, insinuating without much subtlety that Bannon’s passing reference to esoteric philosopher and Fascism fellow-traveler Julius Evola was evidence of his kookiness, I didn’t even flinch.
Neither did I start or wince when Quartz followed up declaring that Evola’s influence denoted Bannon’s and the alt-right’s ferocious misogyny; or when The Atlantic suggested that by mentioning Evola, Bannon not only proved he was a crank, but an inconsistent one at that, given Evola’s avowed hatred for Christianity.
However unsurprising, these two hit pieces are particularly offensive. Only the functionally illiterate would miss the fact, after reading what Bannon actually said, that far from unequivocally endorsing Evola’s work, he only praised one specific aspect of Traditionalism—the school of thought to which Evola belonged—namely its support for nationalism and traditional Western values. And he did this only after asserting that Traditionalism “eventually metastasized into Italian Fascism.”
Bannon referenced Evola as an intellectual influence of philosopher Aleksandr Duggin, whose work in turn inspired Vladimir Putin’s worldview, especially in geopolitical terms. Bannon also did praise the Russian president’s nationalism, intelligence, and qualities as a potential ally against radical Islam, but also in clearly partial terms, and not hesitating to characterize Putin’s regime as an aggressively expansionist, imperialist kleptocracy.
Also, I didn’t feel shocked or shaken by the misleading characterization of Traditionalism as simply “a worldview popular in far-right and alternative religious circles that believes progress and equality are poisonous illusions.” Disdainful as Traditionalism may be of the ideas of progress and equality, this aspect is a corollary to its central themes:
The Traditionalist mission rests on the belief that in some prehistoric time, a “primordial tradition” was revealed to mankind. It taught in symbols the nature of the universe and of the human being, and the way to realise our divine potential. The different religious traditions sprung like branches from the primordial trunk, each one revealed at the appropriate time and place for a certain people or region. Each one contains a facet of the “perennial philosophy,” accommodating both simple believers and those who pursue an esoteric and initiatic path. However, owing to spiritual degeneration over time, some traditions have been lost, others polluted, and false religions have sprung up in their place. The third object is to discriminate between the true and the false.
It is also important to note that Traditionalist ideas are not confined to the right of the political spectrum. Aldous Huxley, arguably one of the intellectual fathers of the counteculture of the 1960’s, is usually portrayed as a Traditionalist, especially due to his book The Perennial Philosophy.
But what did surprise me was the way in which Gary Lachman—ex-bassist for new wave band Blondie and renowned expert on the Western esoteric tradition—had to say about Bannon’s reference to Evola. Having read and enjoyed several of Lachman’s interesting and highly erudite books, I was frankly disappointed when I saw him basically regurgitate the New York Times article’s crass portrayal of Bannon as nothing less than Evola’s devotee:
John Morgan, ex Editor in Chief at Arktos Media, publisher of several of the first translations of Evola’s works into English, strongly disagreed with Lachman’s remark with a comment of his own:
To which Lachman, in turn, replied:
Note that Lachman insists that the mere fact that Bannon mentioned Evola is reason for concern. It seems extremely odd that an author who has dedicated decades of his career to disseminate the ideas of occultists and esoteric thinkers of all sorts to a wider audience, sometimes going to considerable pains to give the full historical and ideological picture where these thinkers’ ideas come from, in order to counter the knee-jerk negative reaction they usually elicit, is so quick to condemn a public figure who seems to have a fairly balanced view of one of them.
Moreover, Lachman’s condemnation of Bannon’s comments are even more disconcerting given his own assessment of Evola’s ideas. In his book Politics and the Occult, he actually seems to judge Evola’s work in similar terms to Bannons’, i.e., rescuing several aspects of his criticism of the modern world while condemning his more hateful ideas:
Clearly, for anyone who thinks life should be about something more than reality TV, celebrity gossip, and having the “F” word misspelled on your clothes, the secular Western world leaves much to be desired. I include myself in this group. Like many people, I find much about the modern world unappealing. It’s for this reason that that I find critics of it like Julius Evola and René Guénon and others of their sensibilities disturbing—not because Evola’s obvious fascist sympathies or Guénon’s elitist ethos, but because many of their criticisms hit the mark… notwithstanding Evola’s racist views, it’s not surprising that some of his readers appreciated his belief that the only thing left was to “blow up” everything. Thankfully, the majority take this as a metaphor, and I’d bet that many of us feel something similar at times, although, again thankfully, we have the presence of mind not to succumb to this “purifying” release.
And again, in his Revolutionaries of the Soul:
Ultimately, there is a real danger connected with Evola’s thinking: not his obvious Fascism or racism, but the fact that his writings are not the ravings of a lunatic. His prose is vigorous, intelligent, and often insightful, if uncongenial.
Last but not least, another thinker that openly admitted his qualified admiration for Evola’s work was Nobel Prize in Literature Herman Hesse, another author that can hardly be characterized as right-wing given his status as a countercultural icon.
Hesse called Evola “a dazzling and interesting, but very dangerous author.” Lachman knows Hesse’s work very well, so he surely is aware of this. But even more to the point, it was Lachman’s friend and intellectual mentor Colin Wilson—of whom Lachman recently wrote a biography—whose enthusiastic writings about Hesse—together with Timothy Leary’s—were credited for launching the German author’s boom in the early seventies.
In any case, Lachman is now writing a book titled “Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump,” which “will look at the influence ‘mental science’ and ‘positive thinking’ has had on Trump’s rise to power, and will explore the links between the new ‘alt-right’ movement within the political far right and the political philosophy of the Italian esotericist Julius Evola.”
Hopefully his views on these issues will have the level of nuance and balance characteristic of his previous books.
Then my disappointment would vanish as if by magick.