Traditionalism

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By Venicio de Lima*

Traditionalism, that is to say, the extreme right, took power in Brazil

O jornal Valor Econômico reported in early June that Gerald Brant, a financial market executive and director of an investment company in the United States, should be appointed as a special advisor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a kind of adviser, directly linked to Chancellor Ernesto Araújo's office. (Cf. Daniel Rittner, “Bannon's friend, Gerald Brant may break taboo and hold office in Itamaraty”, 5/6/2020). The news caused strangeness, among other reasons, because the nominee is not from the diplomatic career. One of the outraged reactions came from former minister Celso Amorim. If this nomination is confirmed, he said, it would represent “a rape” in Brazilian diplomacy; “an inexplicable thing, a violence without size. A final shot at Itamaraty” (Cf. “Amorim: naming Bannon's ally at Itamaraty is rape”).

What are Gerald Brant's credentials and what does he stand for? To simplify the answer, I refer to an episode reported by University of Colorado Boulder professor Benjamin Teitelbaum in his recent War for Eternity – Inside Bannon's Far-Right Circle of Global Power Brokers (War for Eternity – Within the Far Right Circle of Bannon's Global Powers, Dey St./HarperCollins, 2020).

In January 2019, Teitelbaum was invited to a dinner at the home of Steve Bannon – former CEO of the far-right portal Breitbart News, former vice president of Cambridge Analytica, former campaign coordinator for Donald Trump and former chief strategist at White House. The event celebrated the host's meeting with Olavo de Carvalho, a doctrinal reference of the newly elected government of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. Among the select American and Brazilian guests was Gerald Brant. After the “Our Father” of gratitude for the meal, the investor proposed a toast and saluted: “This is a dream come true. Trump in the White House, Bolsonaro in Brasilia. And here in Washington, Bannon and Olavo de Carvalho, face-to-face. This is a new world, friends” (pp. 164-165). Throughout the dinner, those present described the perspectives of the Bolsonaro government and, in response to a question from Bannon about the position of his supporters, they unanimously declared: “alignment with the Judeo-Christian West”. (pp. 167).

For those who already know the relations between the Bolsonaro family, Olavo de Carvalho, Ernesto Araújo and Steve Bannon, the eventual appointment of Gerald Brant would certainly not cause any surprise. What unites them is their adherence to a doctrine called Traditionalism.

The Traditionalism

War for Eternity is, in a way, an introduction to Traditionalism, with a capital “T” to differentiate itself from simple traditionalism (conservatism), critical of the new for believing that life was better in the past. Researched and written, in the author's own words, in the gray space between ethnography and investigative journalism, the book is the result of more than 20 hours of recorded interviews with Steve Bannon and many hours with other followers of Traditionalism, directly or indirectly, to him related: radical AltRight extremists, White Nationalists, Ku Klux Klan members, and neo-Nazis. People like Daniel Friberg (Sweden) and Richard Spencer (USA); Michael Bagley, Jason Reza Jorjani and John B. Morgan (USA); Tibor Baranyi and Gabor Vona (Hungary). We are also introduced to figures such as Armenian mystic George Gurdjieff (1866-1949), Swiss esoteric Sufi philosopher Frithjof Schouon (1907-1998) and French Nazi advocate Savitri Devi (1905-1982). Among the most prominent interviewees, the Russian Aleksandr Dugin and the Brazilian Olavo de Carvalho. The doctrinal set that results from and articulates all these people is, to say the least, frightening.

There is no organized answer in the book to the question “What is Traditionalism? ”. Written primarily for the American readership, War for Eternity is centered on Steve Bannon, not only because of the positions he has held in the Trump administration, but, above all, because of the role of articulating the Traditionalists that he seeks to exercise worldwide. The reader will have to mine the elements that appear in the narrative to build an overview of this bizarre way of thinking. What follows is a brief attempt at synthesis, partial and selective, focusing on what relates to Bolsonaro's Brazil.

Although there are important differences between them, the founding fathers of Traditionalism are two thinkers of the first half of the 1886th century: the Frenchman René Guénon (1951-1898) and the Italian Julius Evola (1974-1951). The first, ex-Catholic, ex-Freemason, converted to Sufi Islam. The second, racist, misogynistic and linked to Mussolini's fascism. Teitelbaum records: “René Guénon died paranoid and embroiled in conflicts with his former followers in 133, and Julius Evola spent his last years holed up in his Rome apartment with a small group of exceptionally radical and dangerous followers – some of them simple terrorists – and despised by many Traditionalists” (p. XNUMX).

Traditionalism is a “religious esotericism” that “opposes Western modernity and science” (p.137). One of its basic characteristics is the belief – which has its origins in Hinduism – that historical time develops in cycles: the golden, silver, bronze and dark ages. Each of these cycles is represented by different types of castes, ordered by a descending hierarchy: priests, warriors, merchants and slaves. It is a fatalistic and pessimistic view, as these cycles will repeat themselves regardless of human agency. Despite this, Traditionalists militate to accelerate the passage from one cycle to another. They believe that we are living in a dark age that must be imploded in order to return to the initial cycle, the golden age. In it we will live in a non-mass society, not materially homogenized, where there are no universal values ​​– such as democracy, communism and human rights – but different spiritualities under the tutelage of a hierarchical theocracy.

Modernity is the opposite of Traditionalism. It is she who characterizes the dark age. It promotes the weakening of religion in favor of reason (Enlightenment), the decline of what cannot be mathematically quantified – spirit, emotions, the supernatural – in favor of what is material. Modernity also involves organizing large masses of people for political or consumer purposes. This results in the standardization and homogenization of social life. Modernity believes in progress, in human creativity that can lead us to a better world than the one we live in. Traditionalists aspire to everything modernity is not. They believe in eternal, transcendent truths and lifestyles, not the pursuit of progress.

Hierarchy is one of the signs of a healthy society. The enemies of difference are universalisms, values ​​or systems held true for all humanity and not for specific groups. In modernity, democracy is often understood in these terms, treated even in the founding documents of liberal nation-states as part of a self-evident set of rights emanating from God, simultaneous with the concept of universal equality.

Traditionalists embrace what René Guénon called the “inversion theory” which is one of the hallmarks of the dark ages. “Everything you think is good is bad. Any change that you think of as progress is actually regression. Every apparent instance of justice is actually oppression” (p. 78). The value system of the modern world is therefore the opposite of the truth.

To this broad framework of beliefs, according to different shades of Traditionalism, racism – Aryan superiority – and misogyny – Aryan men constitute the dominant caste of the golden age.

Traditionalists act through what they call metapolitics, that is to say, they privilege activism through culture – arts, entertainment, intellectual spaces, religion, education – and not necessarily through traditional political institutions. “If you can change the culture of a society, you have created a political opportunity for yourself. Fail to achieve this and you don't stand a chance” (p. 61).

One of the concrete manifestations of Traditionalism – although, obviously, it does not constitute its only explanatory cause – is the rise to power of extreme right political groups in different parts of the world, especially since the election of Donald Trump in the United States, in 2016.

The reader must be wondering: where does the money come from? who funds the Traditionalists? Teitelbaum isn't exactly concerned with clarifying this question. However, at least in the case of Steve Bannon, the source is public and known. In the months the book was being written, he was receiving $1 million a year from the dissident billionaire and Chinese exile, Guo Wengui (p. 94).

The Brazilian Traditionalist guru

In at least four of the 22 chapters of the War for Eternity (10, 13,14, 20 and 1988), Olavo de Carvalho is the main character or deserves to be highlighted. A scholar of the extreme right, Teitelbaum became interested in him when, in the first public manifestation of the president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, through a homemade "live", he saw that there were four books strategically placed on the table in front of him: the Bible, the Brazilian Constitution of XNUMX, Memoirs of World War II by Winston Churchill and The Least You Need to Know to Not Be an Idiot by Olavo de Carvalho. The bond with Olavo de Carvalho was publicly confirmed when, on May 1, 2019, the Bolsonaro government awarded him the highest degree of the Order of Rio Branco, created to “distinguish meritorious services and civic virtues, encourage the practice of actions and deeds worthy of honorable mention” (cf. https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2019/05/bolsonaro-concede-a-olavo-de-carvalho-condecoracao-igual-a-de-mourao-e-moro.shtml ).

A communist when he was a student, he became interested in alchemy and astrology, frequenting occult circles in São Paulo. for the magazine Planet, "interviewed aliens and dead people” (p.129). At that time he gave astrology classes in bookstores and at PUC-SP. “Esotericism was his great passion” (p. 129). Since the 70s, he has been in contact with the work of René Guénon, whom he considers “crazy”, but believes that “he wrote a lot of true things” (p.169). In the 80s he was involved in a very strange Maryamiyya tariqa (a Sufi order) celebration, led by Frithjof Schuon who considered himself the heir of René Guenon (pp. 129-136), in Bloomington, Indiana. By this time he had converted to Sufism and became a muqaddam (facilitator) of a tariqa in São Paulo.

Olavo de Carvalho is an “eccentric” (p.128) Traditionalist in his own way, although he shares fundamental points with the pillars of the doctrine. “He Despises the Media and Universities” (p.128). He believes that “leftists infiltrated the Brazilian educational system in preparation for a communist revolution” (p.168). He literally states: “if I were to show you photographs of Brazilian universities, you would only see naked people having sex. They go to the university to have sex and if you try to stop them they get angry, they start crying, they see you as an oppressor” (pp. 254-255).

He is wholly in line with Steve Bannon's “condemnation of China and the urgency of resisting its global influence” (p.166). Asked if he feared China or Islam, he replied: “I believe that China is more dangerous. They have no real sense of humanity. They think people are things (…). They think you can replace one person with another. They are not good people” (p. 257).

In concluding his analysis of the public debate that Olavo de Carvalho had with the Russian Traditionalist Aleksandr Dugin in 2011, Teitelbaum states: “What, after all, does Olavo support? First and foremost, Christians of all countries, Israel and American conservative nationalists. The rural social mores of Americans, in particular, seem to capture something sacrosanct for him. He saw growing cohesion, charity, and voluntarism as the state withdrew from American society” (p. 182).

Since 2005 living in a rural area in the state of Virginia, in the United States, now Catholic – a way of intensifying his opposition to communism (p. 176) – Olavo de Carvalho started offering courses on the internet (Youtube, Facebook) and on the radio. He was successful and “trained” several cadres who now occupy key positions in the government of Jair Bolsonaro: Ernesto Araújo (Foreign Relations) and Abraham Weintraub (Education) are just the best known.

Traditionalism in Brazil

In the final chapter of War for Eternity, Teitelbaum observes: “Traditionalism in its original form does not encourage concerns about inequalities and injustices. When their command of rallying populations around an archaic spiritual essence is combined with an ideology that preserves its own apocalyptic version – such as the messianism of evangelical Christians with the added belief that earthly destruction is necessary for an earthly, not a heavenly, utopia – there may be reason for alarm. Indeed, for many of the Traditionalists, this philosophy provides the pretext not for apathy (…) but for its exact opposite: reckless transformative action in the belief that the world is about to change and therefore bold measures are warranted. Traditionalism sees no reason to subordinate itself to politics” (pp. 280-281).

It is in this context that one must seek to understand what is happening in Bolsonaro’s Brazil. In the specific case of the appointment of Gerald Brant – an extreme right-wing American businessman linked to Steve Bannon – as Brazilian foreign policy adviser, it should be remembered that Chancellor Ernesto Araujo discusses Guénon and Evola fluently and that “more than Olavo himself, he is a Traditionalist” (p.165). On his blogMetapolitics 17 – Against Globalism” (cf. https://www.metapoliticabrasil.com/blog/ ) he introduces himself: “I'm Ernesto Araújo. I have 28 years of public service and I am also a writer. I want to help Brazil and the world to free themselves from globalist ideology. Globalism is the economic globalization that has come to be piloted by cultural Marxism. Essentially it is an anti-human and anti-Christian system. Faith in Christ today means fighting globalism, whose ultimate goal is to sever the connection between God and man, making man a slave and God irrelevant. The metapolitical project means, essentially, opening oneself to the presence of God in politics and history”.

Traditionalism, that is to say, the extreme right, took power in Brazil.

* Venicio A. de Lima Professor Emeritus at UnB and Senior Researcher at CEBRAP-UFMG.

Originally published on the website Major Card.

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