Divining Domination: Steve Bannon as a Political Mystagogue

Tony Allen Feldmann


Right-wing commentators (on tv, radio, newspapers, documentaries, or the internet) are often considered a source of misinformation and radicalization in American politics. Understanding the role of such commentators in the political sphere has taken on new significance since the election of Trump, who regularly takes talking points as well as political advice from prominent figures in right-wing media. The purpose of these political “shock jocks” also extends beyond mere political commentary: They offer their audience a framework for understanding the world. This framework contains certain reified perceptions of society and history. Durkheim and those working in his tradition have long recognized that the reification of social forces forms the basis for religious, magical, and mystical beliefs and practices. Therefore, these hosts offer their audience a form of political mysticism. In this article I will discuss a Durkheimian perspective religion and magic, and I will show how it can be productively applied to Steve Bannon’s political ideology. I argue that from a Durkheimian perspective Steve Bannon is a mystagogue, a modern diviner and diviner of the modern, who, to varying degrees, offers his followers a mystical worldview. I also argue that a central part of the dynamic between host and listener is the same as what O’Keefe argued is the core dynamic of magic: the defense of the self against society. This theoretical perspective opens up a new way of understanding certain political movements while shedding light on the dangerous phenomena of personalization.


Critical Theory, Mystagogue, Trumpism, Magic

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.32855/fcapital.201902.007


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