- Jonathan Swan
- Mar 7
The one book to understand Steve Bannon
Alex Brandon / AP
In the press' mad scramble to understand Steve Bannon, much has been made of the books he reads, which are wildly atypical for a chief strategist to a Republican President.
Nobody's mentioned one book that's been seminal to Bannon's thinking. It's called 'The Revolt of the Elites' and in it, the author Christopher Lasch argues that the "chief threat" to American democracy and Western culture comes not from the masses, but "from those at the top of the social hierarchy."
Bannon tells me the book, published in 1995, is one of his favorites explaining the current moment. He says the 2016 election is a testament to Lasch's predictive powers.
[Lasch] called the populist nationalist uprising across the west 15 to 20 years before it happened... He called the 'Party of Davos' a decade before it became a thing.
Why this matters: Reading 'The Revolt of the Elites' gives you a deeper appreciation of the populist nationalist movement that propelled Trump to the presidency. It also gives you deeper insight into how Bannon thinks — his disdain for experts and party establishments, his skepticism on multinationals, his commitment to information warfare and the Breitbart comments section, his antipathy toward "globalists" and his particular distrust of the West Coast elite Lasch writes feel more loyalty to Hong Kong and Singapore than they do to "Middle America."
The book will help you understand why CEOs of tech companies are justifiably anxious about Steve Bannon.
And it tells you why Hillary Clinton's description of Trump voters as a "basket of deplorables" was the phrase that animated Bannon most during the campaign.
Key passages from the book that echo through Bannon's thinking and the Trump playbook:
- "Today it is the elites...those who control the international flow of money and information, preside over philanthropic foundations and institutions of higher learning, manage the instruments of cultural production and thus set the terms of public debate...that have lost faith in the values...of the West."
- "The new elites are in revolt against 'Middle America,' as they imagine it: a nation technologically backward, politically reactionary, repressive in its tastes, smug and complacent, dull and dowdy."
- "Those who covet membership in the new aristocracy of brains tend to congregate on the coasts, turning their back on the heartland and cultivating ties with the international market in fast-moving money, glamour, fashion, and popular culture."
- "The parties no longer represent the opinions and interests of ordinary people. The political process is dominated by rival elites committed to irreconcilable ideologies."
- "Many [coastal elites] have ceased to think of themselves as Americans in any important sense, implicated in America's destiny for better or worse...In Los Angeles the business and professional classes now see they city as the 'gateway' to the Pacific Rim. Even if the rest of the country is on the verge of collapse, they say, the West Coast 'just can't stop growing...' The privileged classes in Los Angeles feel more kinship with their counterparts in Japan, Singapore, and Korea than with most of their own countrymen."
- "We have become far too accommodating and tolerant for our own good....Compassion has become the human face of contempt...Today we accept double standards — as always, a recipe for second-class citizenship — in the name of humanitarian concern."
- "Recent experience does not bear out the expectation that technological innovations...will create an abundance of skilled jobs...their most important effect, on the contrary, is to widen the gap between the knowledge class and the rest of the population..."
- "The kind of information [democracy] needs can be generated only by debate."
Perhaps the book's most prescient passage: "At this point in our history the best qualification for high office may well be a refusal to cooperate with the media's program of self-aggrandizement. A candidate with the courage to abstain from 'debates' organized by the media would automatically distinguish himself from the others and command a good deal of public respect."