Steve Bannon on the Crisis of Capitalism and the Divine Right of Billionaires
Mathew Fox and Paul Jay discuss Bannon’s alliance with the far-right Catholic Opus Dei, and his vision of the Judeo-Christian West
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
In 2014, Steve Bannon, chief strategist to President, Donald Trump, gave a talk to a group that was meeting in the Vatican, The Human Dignity Institute. He spoke about his vision of capitalism and the future. Well, who is the Human Dignity Institute? Well, at least the Chair of the Board of Advisors is Cardinal Raymond Burke.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, as you may know from previous stories we’ve done on The Real News, is a Cardinal who’s the lightening rod, perhaps, leader of a faction within the church allied with the very right wing organization Opus Dei, that is fighting Pope Francis. And more or less, despises the direction that Francis has been taking the church. A somewhat more liberal, some people say, even social democratic type of direction.
Well, in this speech to this group, Bannon laid out, which is kind of his philosophical underpinnings. And we’re going to take a look at that today, along with some of the people that Steve Bannon is associated with.
Now, first of all, just quickly, let’s got to the website of Human Dignity Institute, and you’ll see here is the picture of Raymond Burke, Cardinal Burke who is the chair. And lo and behold, who is in the right column right next to him, Stephen Bannon.
And Steve Bannon clearly has a nexus going with Burke, and it’s been reported, we have and others, that Bannon and Burke do talk to each other. And perhaps this is where they met, and one where they are collaborating this Human Dignity Institute. And we’ll be doing some more reporting on this.
But let’s turn to some of Bannon’s comments, and speak a little bit more about the fight going on between Pope Francis and the far right wing of the Catholic Church.
Now joining us again to discuss this, is Matthew Fox. He’s the author of over two-dozen books including, “Letters to Pope Francis,” “The Pope’s War,” and “Occupy Spirituality”. He’s a former Catholic priest who was stopped from teaching liberation theology, and creation spirituality, by Cardinal Ratzinger. He was then expelled from the Dominican Order to which he had belonged for 34 years. He currently serves as an Episcopal priest.
Thanks very much for joining us again, Matthew.
MATTHEW FOX: Thank you, Paul. Good to be with you.
PAUL JAY: So, before we start digging into some of the quotes from Stephen Bannon, tell us again a little bit more about Burke, and Opus Dei. And what this faction represents, and what this alliance with Bannon might mean.
MATTHEW FOX: Well, Burke is famous for many statements, one of this is this; he says that Catholics, who take communion, and homosexuals, are equivalent to murderers. That’s kind of a mouthful in any theology. And it’s kind of downhill from there.
But yes, as you say, Burke has become a lightening rod for the right wing opposition in the present day Vatican. Of course, Opus Dei got wind in its sails under Pope John Paul II. He actually rushed into canonization faster than any saint in history. The founder of Opus Dei, he was a Spanish fascist, Escriva, Jose Escriva. And they dismantled the Devil’s Advocate process in canonization.
The Devil’s Advocate job was to interview people who didn’t like this guy very much, and find his shadow side. They just did away with that. And they never interviewed, for example, the secretary to Escriva, who was his personal secretary for seven years. A woman who ended up very much discounting his integrity, and certainly any sign of holiness, and so forth.
So, Opus Dei was very involved in right wing politics in Latin America, and certainly in Europe, and in finance as well. They have the university in Spain; they specialize in media, and in finance. And in fact, Fox News has employed quite a few Opus Dei people. And these are, as a rule, lay Catholics, but it’s a very secretive society. But they’re very, very, into following power, and their proclivities are to the extreme right.
PAUL JAY: All right, so again, this we’re talking about Raymond Burke, Cardinal Raymond Burke who recently was demoted by Pope Francis, and then sent to Guam to investigate some misdeeds, a pedophilia case. But Burke still seems to be actively trying to organize opposition to Francis, and is connected to Bannon.
So, now we turn to this talk that Bannon gave to the Human Dignity Institute in 2014, ’cause this expresses some of the philosophy of Bannon, and his allies in the church, and perhaps his allies in the political world, many of them as well.
STEPHEN BANNON: And I believe that we’ve come horribly off track, 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, and a crisis of capitalism.
We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict. Of which, if the people in this room, and the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant. To really be able to, not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting. That will literally eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2000, 2500 years.
When capitalism was, I believe, at it’s highest flower, and spreading its benefits to most of mankind. Almost all of those capitalists were strong believers in the Judeo-Christian west. And I think that is incredibly important, and it’s something that we’ve really become on board. I can see this in Wall Street today.
I can see this with the securitization of everything, is that everything is looked at as a securitization opportunity. Our people are looked at as commodities, and I don’t believe that our forefathers’ had that same belief.
I think that we are in a crisis of capitalism, really the underpinnings of capitalism. And on top of that, we’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascists.
PAUL JAY: So, what do you make of what Bannon’s saying, and does this reflect this right wing section of the church, and what they believe?
MATTHEW FOX: Well, first of all, it’s very difficult to know what Bannon is saying, because he’s so fuzzy, and he has these big pictures. You know, he has a theory of history that every 80 years there’s got to be a big war or something, to make things happen. And he’s basing that on some, what’s been called, pop historians, who real historians would not agree with, namely Strom and Howe.
So, now he’s saying we’re facing this new apocalypse, and there’s going to be a war between us and Islam, or us and China or something, and he’s kind of heating the rhetoric up on that. But I think what’s appealing to the Burkes, and the rightwing Christians in Bannon’s thought, is the idea of traditionalism. Because his definition of Christianity is very archaic really, and you’ll notice he never uses the word justice. I never see the word justice come up in Bannon’s language.
And, of course, that is because the more justice oriented movements, since the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church, about liberation theology, for example, it is about equal justice. Of course, the Civil Rights movement, it’s about racial justice, and economic justice, and gender justice. These do not interest Bannon. What interests him is this traditionalism, plus nationalism.
And traditionalists in Catholicism means, only straight people get married, and that marriage is till death do you part. And you don’t ordain women, and you go down the whole list of things, no birth control, and etcetera. So, traditionalists and the far right movement in Christianity, in Catholicism, they’ve been dying off actually.
But they have a lot of money, so they’re still around, and Bannon is one of their ideologues, I think. That’s his version of Christianity. It’s peculiar that he never uses the word justice.
PAUL JAY: The idea that there’s these forms of capitalism, one of which treats people as commodities. There is no such thing as a form of capitalism that doesn’t treat people as commodities. I mean, he tries to quote Karl Marx, but the whole point of Karl Marx was that all of capitalism treats people as commodities, not just some trend he’s talking about.
MATTHEW FOX: That’s right, with varied degrees. You’re right, he doesn’t mention Hitler, or Franco, or Mussolini, all of whom were Catholics and fascists. And none of whom were ex-communicated, at least I know Hitler was never ex-communicated. So, traditionalism, again, that word is important to Bannon, but it’s carrying dog whistles. And he also does bring up the subject of racism. And it’s curious how he deals with it in that talk.
He says, “Well, racism, yeah, we attract some racists.” And by ‘we’, he means these popular, nationalist, traditionalist movements. “We attract some racists,” he says, “but you know how time washes it away.” I don’t know what that means.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, here’s the quote where he says that. He’s talking about European right populist movements, I don’t know if you can even use the word populist. And here’s what he says.
STEPHEN BANNON: What we believe strongly, and there was a whole Tea Party Movement, you’ve seen that we were the first group to really get in, and start reporting on things like Q-Tip, and Front National, and other center right. With all the baggage those groups bring. Trust me, a lot of them bring a lot of baggage, both ethnically and racially. But we think that that will all be worked out in time.
PAUL JAY: So, Bannon says that, let’s not worry about the racism of the National Front, and such groups in Europe, because in the end they’ll be okay. We’ll work it out with them.
MATTHEW FOX: Yeah, or the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke, are attracted to Trump-ism. “You know, don’t worry about it. It’ll wash away.” I don’t know what that means. Yeah, so fighting racism is not part of his priorities by any stretch of the imagination.
Now, you know, the thing is, that he brings in just enough points that you listen. For example, I agree with him that the populist movement, and the anger in America’s lower middle class, a lot of its due to the way the ‘banksters’ got away with their rip-off of the American economic scene. That crashed the economy in 2008, and so forth.
So, he’ll say, “None of the people went to jail. None of the bankers went to jail.” And I agree. And that has left a lot of people simmering. And for that, frankly, I… I put responsibility on the Obama administration that they never went after those guys. And I think he’s right. I think Bannon’s right, that that has created an anger, and an outrage, however inarticulate among many middle class and lower middle class Americans.
And, of course, Trump has tapped into that anger, and so has the Tea Party. And so, a lot of that anger has lit the fire on the Trump wing of American politics.
PAUL JAY: And of course Bannon has associated himself with a very prominent member of this Wall Street, very parasitical sector of the economy. And I’m not talking about Trump; I’m talking about Robert Mercer, who is the billionaire who Bannon worked for at Breitbart, ’cause Mercer’s the principle investor in Breitbart.
Kellyanne Conway worked for Bannon as the head of the super Pac supporting Ted Cruz, and then became the campaign manager of Trump again, after having just worked for Mercer. Mercer’s daughter, Rebecca, was actually on Trump’s transition team. That’s how open and overt the Mercer role was in the Trump administration.
So, here’s Bannon railing against what he calls the securitization of everything, which is a legitimate point to raise, except he’s allying himself with exactly the kind of people that want and do securitize everything. But here’s a quote where I think Bannon would get to the heart of what Bannon really means.
STEPHEN BANNON: So, I think the discussion of, can we put a cap on wealth creation and distribution. It’s something that should be at the heart of every Christian that is a capitalist. Is, what is the purpose I’m going with this wealth? What is the purpose of we’re doing with this… with the ability that God has given us, and divine providence has given us, to actually be a creator of jobs and a creator wealth?
PAUL JAY: And there you have it, the divine gift of God. God has given Steve Bannon, and more so the people he’s allying himself with, the billionaires of this planet, the God-given ability to create enormous wealth. And it’s quite okay to accumulate enormous wealth, as long as you, “Do something good with it”. Of course he’s allied himself with President Trump, who apparently has never given a dime to charity.
MATTHEW FOX: So, now instead of the divine right of kings, we have the divine right of capitalists, and the one percent ruling class. So yeah, that’s kind of Déja vu, isn’t it, in new wrappings? And of course, it’s also about the end justifying the means, isn’t it? So, you’re a Carnegie, and then you take your money and you build a lot of libraries. Which is a good thing, to have lots of libraries, but you don’t ask the question about how did you get to that pinnacle?
PAUL JAY: And I would guess — and maybe this will be unfair, but I have a feeling it’s not — that for the Cardinal Burkes of this world, and others like him, the definition of doing good things with all this wealth, is give it to the church. Give a big whack of it to the church. So, Cardinal Burke can have all this wealth to administer.
MATTHEW FOX: Oh boy. It may be that, or it may be just accruing more power. I mean, wealth, you know, any addiction feeds on itself, and so more power. And then you can justify and rationalize, “Oh well, I’m going to make more money for — fill in the blank — church, or this political party, or Breitbart News, or whatever it is where you’re putting your ideology. Yeah, it can be anything.
But, once again the question of justice is not raised. The question of, well, distribution of wealth, if you will, a dismantling of wealth, is of course, their number one mortal sin. They don’t want to see that happening, or even talked about. The accumulation of power, and you see it.
I mean, the whole Trump administration, you’re just seeing these people piling up there. Look, the head of education is this billionaire lady who knows very little about education. But, she’s in a position now, to funnel the attitudes and values, so-called, of the one percent into our definition of what education is and isn’t.
In other words she wants to drain public education for the sake of private education. And, you know, that’s significant because obviously only the few can send their children to private schools.
PAUL JAY: Well, there’s a lot more in this speech which we’ll get to in another time, which is his call for a war against Islamic jihadists fascism. He says, this is going to be the great bloody war of our time. But let me just end this section with just one comment that you might want to just respond to a bit. There’s nothing in here, in all this talk over and over and over again, of the Judeo Christian tradition.
There’s absolutely nothing in here about the message of Jesus Christ, which is about helping the poor. And not just helping the poor, it’s not just about charity that accumulates wealth, and gives it to the poor. The message of Jesus Christ was, the rich have as much chance of going into heaven as a camel does walking through the eye of a needle. I don’t hear Steve Bannon, or Cardinal Burke, talking about that very much.
MATTHEW FOX: Well, exactly. And that’s what I mean, by saying; the word justice is nowhere to be found. And as you say, it’s not about handouts; it’s about creating social structures that allow the poor to rise. And allow the poor to develop their own dignity, and to be participants in the economic system. So, that’s not there, any place, exactly.
And none of course, the whole teachings of compassion, and who is my neighbor, and do it to the least, you do it to me. That’s not alluded to. And nor, of course, is the whole subject of the environment, or the rest of creation, that what we do to the forests, and the soil, and to the waters, we are doing to our great-grandchildren. That never comes up in Bannon’s philosophy or in Burke’s philosophy.
Again, this is traditionalism with a small ‘t’. And its definition of morality evolves around sex, and then the lucky ones, the lucky few dropping crumbs from their table. That’s really, as far as I can surmise, his version of what his word Judeo-Christian ethics is about.
PAUL JAY: It’s not the message of Jesus Christ. It’s the tradition of the church defending the aristocracy that seems to be the tradition.
MATTHEW FOX: Exactly.
PAUL JAY: Okay, we’re going to carry on with this discussion with Matthew, so please join us for that on The Real News Network. Thanks for joining us, Matthew.
MATTHEW FOX: You bet.
PAUL JAY: Thanks for joining us.