In Bannon’s telling, the greatest mistake the baby boomers made was to reject the traditional “Judeo-Christian” values of their parents. He considers this a historical crime, because in his telling it was Judeo-Christian values that enabled Western Europe and the United States to defeat European fascism, and, subsequently, to create an “enlightened capitalism” that made America great for decades after World War II. The enormous amount of media attention he has received and his various interviews, talks, and documentaries strongly suggest that he believes the world is on the verge of disaster—and that without Judeo-Christianity, the American culture war cannot be won, enlightened capitalism cannot function, and “Islamic fascism” cannot be defeated.
This is where Bannon invokes the “Russian traditionalism” of Vladimir Putin, and it’s important to recognize why he does so. In his 2014 Vatican talk, Bannon made it clear that Putin is “playing very strongly to U.S. social conservatives about his message about more traditional values.” As a recent Atlantic essay convincingly argues, upon his return to office in 2012, Putin realized that “large patches of the West despised feminism and the gay-rights movement.” Seizing the opportunity, he transformed himself into the “New World Leader of Conservatism” whose traditionalism would offer an alternative to the libertine West that had long shunned him.
Yet Bannon suggested that Putin is not really interested in conservatism but in changing Western perceptions of Russia, and for one main purpose: “At the end of the day, I think that Putin and his cronies are really a kleptocracy, that are really an imperialist power that want to expand.” Putin, according to Bannon, must be viewed with a great deal of suspicion. Bannon seems to think that conservative groups in the United States, like those associated with the anti-gay World Congress of Families, are being hoodwinked by Putin on these very grounds.
In addition to his suspicions about Putin himself, Bannon also highlights differences between Judeo-Christian traditionalism and the thinking of Alexander Dugin, who he (hyperbolically) credits as being the intellectual mastermind of the traditionalist movement in Russia. In contrast to mainline American social conservatives, Dugin sees the anti-globalism and anti-Americanism of certain expressions of Islam as having much in common with his own distinctive brand of traditionalism. In fact, Dugin views conservative American evangelicalism as an aberration from historical Christianity, and a cipher for neoliberal capitalism.
In contrast to Bannon’s realpolitik, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian minister of foreign affairs, has called for a greater long-term cooperation with the West—for a “partnership of civilizations” to combat modern geopolitical problems, especially ISIS. In his words, “We believe that universal human solidarity must have a moral basis resting on traditional values which are essentially common for all of the world’s leading religions. I would like to draw your attention to the joint statement made by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and Pope Francis, in which they reiterated their support for the family as a natural center of life for individuals and society.” The same values that motivate Russia’s foreign policy (especially its role in the Middle East) are, to Lavrov, the bedrock of the Christian civilization represented by the Patriarch and the pope.