I’m in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso,doing good things hopefully, talking with interesting people, learning about how our programs to support village libraries are going, and this Steve Bannon-The New Yorker thing comes up and I’m sooooooo disappointed. And pissed. Why? Because The New Yorker stands (or stood) in my home as a child, and in my mind in the present, for clear-thinking discussion and the best fiction and poetry, and well-written and provocative culture reviews (and oh so clever cartoons). And now they have decided to invite a boorish blowhard to their festival. Any intellectually alive person knows he is, and indeed The New Yorker knows he is.
Can we verify though that he is a blowhard (and set aside the boor part)? For evidence we need look no further than Bannon’s Vatican “speech” (can you call a speech something so obviously cobbled together or just made up on the spot?) that Buzzfeed kindly reproduced here. So some summary, and extracts, in sequence, with commentary.
He starts by saying “the Judeo-Christian West” is in “crisis” and he started Breitbart to let people know about the crisis. Then he calls something ironic, and it is clear he has no idea what “irony” actually means. He says it is ironic the audience is meeting that day because 100 years earlier was the start of World War I. Please if you can come up with a way that is ironic, let me know. I guess if they were meeting to discuss “A re-appreciation of tourism potential in the Balkans in the early 1910s” that would be ironic. Or a meeting to celebrate a new book “Assassinations of imperial personages are unimportant historical events.” That would be ironic.Whatever though.
He goes on, “Just to put it in perspective, with the assassination that took place 100 years ago tomorrow in Sarajevo, the world was at total peace.” No grammatical sense or even historical sense. Just go look at Wikipedia’s list of wars during that period. The Mexican Revolution was total peace?
He goes on to say there were a lot of wars in the 20th century. OK so the “total peace” was just a little poetic license. Then what happened? “But the thing that got us out of it”…. followed by an incoherent shambling set of words and then, “the underlying principle is an enlightened form of capitalism…” So not clear if that is “the thing” or “an underlying principle” but who needs to be clear when it’s Steve Bannon, right? That thing or principle “beat back a barbaric empire in the Far East.” Wait. Russia? Germany? Japan? Soviet Union? I don’t think he even cares what he is saying.
Then: “It was many, many years and decades of peace.” Wait, so the 20th century after 1914 suddenly wasn’t all war, like he said at the beginning. By the way, that empty poorly constructed phrase: “It was many, many years and decades of peace.” Sound like anyone you know?
Early speech climax now: “And I believe we’ve come partly offtrack in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union and we’re starting now in the 21st century, which I believe, strongly, is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.” Hmmm… the “both” there doesn’t quite work, does it? From “partly offtrack” to “crisis” seems also a bit of a rhetorical stretch. Are they the same? Would an editor at The New Yorker say, “Wow that is fresh writing for sure this guy’s great”?
What is the crisis? State-sponsored capitalism is one part. Define it, Steve! Give us an example of that here in the United States. No? OK, keep moving. To where? To this: “However, that form of capitalism is quite different when you really look at it to what I call the “enlightened capitalism” of the Judeo-Christian West. It is a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people, and to use them almost — as many of the precepts of Marx — and that is a form of capitalism, particularly to a younger generation [that] they’re really finding quite attractive. And if they don’t see another alternative, it’s going to be an alternative that they gravitate to under this kind of rubric of “personal freedom.”
Hello? Anybody listening. (Gotta get in Marx there! He’s bad, I think, for Steve, but unclear why or how). Any coherence here or just words? Yes, you are right, dear reader, words of the worst sort. Strung together to signal a mood, with no actual content.
I give up. Read the rest if you like. (I mean, it is not really reading, more like frowning your way through it.)