Wednesday, February 08, 2017

"...blank and pitiless as the sun..."

The gyres!  The gyres!
Old Rocky face, look forth!

--W.B. Yeats

W.B. Yeats was a great poet, a playwright, a critic, even a member of the Irish government.

And on the subject of history he was as cracked as a pot.  Something about the early 20th century turned poets into historians cum prophets; the same desire to pierce the veil and truly become immortal drove Pound round the bend and made a hash of his "Cantos"("Wrong from the start," he later described them).  His bugbear was usury.  Yeats' was cycles of history, which he labeled "gyres."

Too long to explain what Yeats was up to; but his crazier ideas only informed his poetry, not his government service.  Under Reagan, it was the idea that we didn't need to steward the earth, Jeebus was gonna come soon and call everybody outta the pool!  Now it's Steve Bannon, who thinks we're in the "Fourth Revolution."  Oh, sorry, "Turning."  Which is what made me think of Yeats.

Bannon pressed Kaiser on one point during the interview. “He was talking about the wars of the Fourth Turnings,” Kaiser recalled. “You have the American Revolution, you have the Civil War, you have World War II; they’re getting bigger and bigger. Clearly, he was anticipating that in this Fourth Turning there would be one at least as big. And he really made an effort, I remember, to get me to say that on the air.”

Kaiser didn’t believe global war was preordained, so he demurred. The line of questioning didn’t make it into the documentary — a polemical piece, released in 2010, called “Generation Zero.”

Bannon, who’s now ensconced in the West Wing as President Donald Trump’s closest adviser, has been portrayed as Trump’s main ideas guy. But in interviews, speeches and writing — and especially in his embrace of Strauss and Howe — he has made clear that he is, first and foremost, an apocalypticist.

In Bannon’s view, we are in the midst of an existential war, and everything is a part of that conflict. Treaties must be torn up, enemies named, culture changed. Global conflagration, should it occur, would only prove the theory correct. For Bannon, the Fourth Turning has arrived. The Grey Champion, a messianic strongman figure, may have already emerged. The apocalypse is now.

“What we are witnessing,” Bannon told The Washington Post last month, “is the birth of a new political order.”

And he doesn't mean the "New World Order" George H.W. Bush declared after the Berlin Wall fell.  Funny, that order looks a lot like the old order, anyway.  Oh, well....

You got the part about apocalypse, right?  This is the "birth of a new political order."  Or, as Yeats put it:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Yeats was writing after World War I, so he can be excused his apocalypticism.  Pound watched Europe tear itself apart in World War II, so he can be excused his usury fantasies (if not his radio broadcasts for Mussolini).

Bannon has no such excuse, except fear of a brown planet:

"We're at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which, if the people in this room, 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."

A barbarity, Bannon added, that would completely eradicate "everything we've been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years," and which he clearly spelled out a few minutes later: "We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it."

This is the guy telling Donald Trump to sign what is put in front of him, and the New York Times to "keep its mouth shut."

The other thing Yeats had going for him is that Auden was right:  "Poetry makes nothing happen."  The same can't be said for the chief strategist to the President of the United States.


  1. The past twenty years have taught me that the survival of democracy depends on preventing fascism and Nazism and Marxism and other ideologies hostile to egalitarian democracy from propagating and sucking in enough people to destroy democracy. Those ideologies began bad, were idiotically allowed to have a chance and we found out that the things they promised, many, many dead people, oppression, slavery were what they produced.

    The necessary components of egalitarian democracy don't just naturally rise and defeat fascism and its allied ideologies, it doesn't happen as a result of some posited 18th century force of nature, it is dependent on the conscious choice of an effective majority of people in a population.

    We really need to deNazify the United States, where "Nazi" pretty much stands in for any ideology opposed to egalitarian democracy and an equal and decent life for all people.

  2. "We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism."

    This perception is perhaps the root of his problem.

    Fascism is of course a home-grown pathology, a reaction to the occasional failure of representative democracy to deliver the goods or inspire the masses.

    There has always been conflict between Christendom and Islam, but that has usually taken the form of minor shifts in the boundaries between the two civilizations. Modern conditions of easy transportation in a global economy make that kind of separation impossible. And we must not forget that the initiative for breaking down those barriers came from the West, not Islam. Neither was it benign. We wanted their oil. We wanted their territory as buffer states, or for proxy wars, or just to satisfy our imperial avarice.

    But for all that there is no real Islamic jihad against the West, but a huge struggle within Islam for hegemony within that world, a condition to which must include the destruction of Western dominance. Terror attacks are real and horrifying. But they are not the main war. And they do not threaten the West as a civilization--except to the extent that they provide opportunities for the likes of Bannon and Trump to scare us into giving up our liberties and values for an unending war.

  3. And considering the majority of the world's Muslims live in Asia, with the second largest group in Africa, the notion of a jihad against the West is reduced even more, and the basis for it, as you say, related far more to historical contingencies than to religious demands or fanaticism.

  4. There is a timely article on the views of Václev Havel in the New Yorker today that agrees with and amplifies much of what The Thought Criminal has to say:

    And I think Rick and Robert, you both are speaking a much-needed truth about the scope and scale of the struggles in the Islamic world. I have a good friend who spent many years in Egypt working on improving Christian/Muslim relations, and he points out that there are many progressive Islamic thinkers - and he knows a number of them personally - but that their work is hindered when western forces agitate the homegrown reactionaries through blanket condemnations of their religion or eliminationist threats.

    Bannon knows and understand this, and is trying his best to force the issue. He wants to wipe out Islam once and for all. He YEARNS for his mythical Fourth Turning, as rmj points out.

    Every one of us here needs to differ our how to apply the civic and political pressure to prevent this from happening, or god save us all.