Donnerstag, 26. Juli 2018

Steve Bannon, his aspirations for future politics, and the possible effects. - Insights into the dangers and benefits of cycle-based theories

Steve Bannon, 2017.
(By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, USA - Steve Bannon
[CC BY-SA 2.0,] via WikimediaCommons)
by Detlef Gronenborn
These days Steve Bannon, who does not need to be introduced here further, plans to set up a foundation with the aim to support – and tutor - right-wing, nationalistic conservative movements in Europe.

He plans and probably expects his “The Movement” to be influential, gaining confidence from the insight that "Right-wing populist nationalism is what will happen. That's what will govern."

So he was cited in al-Jazeera and other media. For this to understand it is necessary to look at Bannon’s intellectual background. His ideas and political maneuvering as editor, advisor and now messenger, are based on cycle-based historical theories, namely the Strauss-Howe generational or Fourth Turning theory. Focusing on North American (US) history in particular, the authors list a series of turnings or cycles, of which the current – or fourth in their listing – is a period of downturn and crisis which will inevitably lead to radical change and reordering. For Bannon – and others – this reordering came with Trump (comp. Archaeologik 9.11.2016) and apparently now also with the resurgence of the political right in Europe (comp. Archaeologik 8.7.2016). Bannon’s political standpoint and his application of cycle-based theories make those appear in an unfavorable light. Admittedly, most cycle-based theories, beginning with Greek antiquity, do see a downturn or collapse phase as an integral part of cycling. Also, components of these downturn, or collapse, or disintegrating phases of cycles are an increase in violence and an increase in nationalism or emphasis on dominant identities.

General template of a cycle
(modified from Turchin/Nefedov 2009; Gronenborn 2016; Gronenborn et al. 2017).

This has been shown for past state-level societies (e.g. Turchin/Nefedov 2009), and can be followed back to early farming societies (Gronenborn 2016; Gronenborn et al. 2017). These social processes may even be understood as more or less actively chosen resilience strategies. In fact, it can convincingly be argued that an increase in cohesion and within-group self-identification will have positive effects on group performance (Tajfel/Turner 1986; van Dick et al. 2008), albeit maybe of only short-term duration. Thus, as promising as identity emphasis appears for those who see their salvation in increasing rigidity and nationalistic identities, there are two facts, easily overlooked in this debate, which are equally part and parcel of cycle-based theories:
The turn form the 1920ies to the early 1930ies saw a continuously increasing rigidity in the German society, which ultimately led to the atrocities of the holocaust and WWII.: March of the “National Opposition” in Bad Harzburg, Germany, October 1931.
(Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-12407 [CC-BY-SA 3.0,] via WikimediaCommons)

The first is that the extent and the effects or these processes may be ameliorated by courageous and educated humanistic and democratic political maneuvering, given that the dynamics are well analyzed and understood. It needs to be clear that the amplitudes of cycles are by no means given, but on the contrary are actively formed and shaped by human agency. Historical cyclical processes are certainly not as deterministic as it is often claimed by the many academic adversaries. 

The second insight is, that tendencies to extreme nationalism and rigidity will most certainly result in what has been called a “rigidity trap”, with societies becoming internally as well as externally  aggressive and encapsulated, to the extent that a complete collapse is inevitable. Often, these rigidity processes undergo a land-slide effect which, as from a certain stage onwards, cannot be controlled any more (Scheffer 2009; 2016). Germany between 1933 and 1945 is a frightening, yet instructive example, but certainly not the only one. Thus, while Bannon’s and his companion’s “movement” may appear promising for some, if not soon many, the grave dangers may easily be learned, equally from a brief glimpse onto past cycles: The more radical the approach will be, the easier it will get out of control and the more drastic will be its effects, the classic boom-and-bust mechanism. This is apparent from long-term archaeological and historical data, beginning with early farming societies 7000 years ago (Meyer et al. 2015; Gronenborn et al. 2017), and reaching to the personal experience of the WWII generation (Albright 2018). 

Already the first cycle of the Central European simple farming societies ended with a decrease in
social diversity, accompanied by massacres like the one documented in the mass grave of
Kilianstädten, Hessia, Germany (Meyer et al. 2015; Gronenborn et al. 2017).
(by Detlef Gronenborn, 2006).

Thus are extreme nationalism, rigidity, and encapsulation never a solution to prevailing problems, but a short-term and certainly short-sighted pathway towards grave conditions and most certainly a prelude to the final stages of cycles. Given the current political tendencies in Europe, North America, and other parts of the globe, it is high time to consider the past human experience with the foreseeable effects of identity overemphasis, and to actively and swiftly search for countermeasures, before everything – once again – goes out of hand.

Long-term approach archaeology and other historic sciences provide the data and the analytical methods to understand these, albeit sometimes extremely unpleasant and dangerous, social mechanisms.


  • Albright 2018
    M. Albright, Fascism. A warning (London 2018).
  • van Dick et al. 2008
    R. van Dick/D. van Knippenberg/S. Hägele et al., Group diversity and group identification. The moderating role of diversity beliefs. Human Relations 61/10, 2008, 1463–1492.
  • Gronenborn 2016
    D. Gronenborn, Some thoughts on political differentiation in early to Young Neolithic societies in western central Europe. In: H. Meller/H.-P. Hahn/R. Jung u. a. (eds.), Arm und Reich - Zur Ressourcenverteilung in prähistorischen Gesellschaften. 8. Mitteldeutscher Archäologentag vom 22. bis 24. Oktober 2015 in Halle. Tagungen des Landesmuseums für Vorgeschichte Halle (2016) 61–76.
  • Gronenborn et al. 2017
    D. Gronenborn/H.-C. Strien/C. Lemmen, Population dynamics, social resilience strategies, and Adaptive Cycles in early farming societies of SW Central Europe. Quaternary International 446, 2017, 54–65.
  • Meyer et al. 2015
    C. Meyer/C. Lohr/D. Gronenborn u. a., The massacre mass grave of Schöneck-Kilianstädten reveals new insights into collective violence in Early Neolithic Central Europe. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 112, 36, 2015, 11217–11222.
  • Scheffer 2009
    M. Scheffer, Critical transitions in nature and society. Princeton studies in complexity (Princeton, NJ 2009).
  • Scheffer 2016
    M. Scheffer, Anticipating societal collapse. Hints from the Stone Age. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113, 39, 2016, 10733–10735.
  • Strauss/Howe 1998
    W. Strauss/N. Howe, The fourth turning. An American prophecy (New York 1998).
  • Tajfel/Turner 1986
    H. Tajfel/J. C. Turner, The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. In: S. Worchel/W. G. Austin (eds.), Psychology of intergroup relations (Chicago 1986) 7–24.
  • Turchin/Nefedov 2009
    P. Turchin/S. A. Nefedov, Secular Cycles (Princeton 2009). 

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