War for Eternity: Inside Bannon’s Far-Right Circle of Global Power Brokers, by Benjamin R. Teitelbaum, Dey St., 317 pages, $28.99
In War for Eternity, Benjamin R. Teitelbaum situates Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former campaign CEO and White House chief strategist, in a context likely unknown to 99.9 percent of the voters Bannon helped steer toward Trump: Traditionalism, with a capital T.
This Traditionalism is distinct from its common colloquial meaning of “advocating older ways of life.” It draws inspiration from such obscure figures as René Guénon, a French esotericist who moved from Catholicism through theosophy to Sufi Islam while calling for an elite aristocratic order and denouncing the materialism of industrial civilization, and Julius Evola, an Italian occultist and fascist fellow traveler who thought that “bourgeois civilization and society” are anathema to a noble and heroic man.
What inspires a true Traditionalist? As Bannon tells Teitelbaum, it’s “the rejection of modernity, the rejection of the Enlightenment, the rejection of materialism.” Traditionalists believe in a prehistoric ur-religion, hints of whose deep cosmic truths can be glimpsed occluded in modern faiths from Catholicism to Hinduism. History to a Traditionalist runs through repeating cycles, with similar ages rising and tumbling down in unavoidable succession.
Traditionalists think human culture is now staggering through a dark cycle, the “Kali Yuga.” They believe human beings should be shoved into rigid castes, and they see each age dominated by a distinct type, from priest to warrior to merchant to slave (sliding down what they see as the ladder of spiritual merit).
Few voters have pondered any of that, but Teitelbaum thinks the Traditionalists, by allying themselves with far-right authoritarian nationalism, might be developing the muscle to bring the Kali Yuga to a swift end.
Teitelbaum, an ethnomusicologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, considers Traditionalism the “most transformative political movement of the early 21st century.” Acolytes associated with this way of thinking have their claws deep in the leadership of at least three powerful nations, he argues: Russia via Aleksandr Dugin; Brazil via Olavo de Carvalho; and the United States via Bannon.
Dugin is a fervent, violent Russian nationalist who in 1993 launched the National Bolshevik Party. The name, Teitelbaum writes, “was a tribute to Nazism and commun
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