In a radio program back in November 2015 that featured US President (then candidate) Donald Trump - his current chief strategist Steve Bannon made these following remarks -

BANNON: Well I got a tougher — you know, when two thirds or three quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think — on, my point is, a country’s more like, [inaudible], a country’s more than an economy. We’re a civic society.

What do those last words mean exactly - We are a civic society.

I read the definition according to the Wikipedia article Civic Society but I am not certain if that is what Steve Bannon is referring to in this context. Does he mean Asian immigrants and/or South Asian immigrants are not contributing to a "civic society" ?

The reason this statement is a bit confusing is that it has not been used before by people of the so-called alt-right movement and secondly because he is clearly not referring to Civic nationalism. So hopefully the answer(s) would clarify whether this is a oft-used term by alt-right nationalists.

3 Answers 3


In this context what Bannon means is that the United States is, or should be, a "nation" that is a cultural community of people who share a national identity.

In particular, he has a vision of the United States has a Christian nation, guided by European concepts of civilization. This ideology, sometimes called "white nationalism" or "alt-right" is one that he has expressed in his management of Breitbart News. For example, the New York Times quoted him on February 10, 2017 as saying:

We, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what he [ Vladimir Putin, who is influenced by Evola follower Aleksandr Dugin ] is talking about as far as Traditionalism goes — particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism.

The New York Times mentions this quote in a November 21, 2016 story about "White Nationalism". The original interview is available in audio form here.

The phrase is intended, in part, to evoke the more moderate connotations of the notion of civic nationalism, while actually really referring to something else. Self-described of the Alt-Right, such as Emile Durand, for example, has embraced ethnic or racial nationalism as a natural outgrowth of the milder civic nationalism and have interpreted Bannon's turn of phrase in that interview as an expression of support for racial nationalism.

On the other hand, others in the Alt-Right movement see the phrase "civic society" as a sincere effort to evoke mere "civic nationalism" when only racially based nationalism will do, rather than as a dog whistle.

The phrase is also responsive to world views such as those of Frank Gaffney Jr., a good friend of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who stated the following views about Muslims in an interview:

They essentially, like termites, hollow out the structure of the civil society and other institutions, for the purpose of creating conditions under which the jihad will succeed.

Thus, by referring to civic society, he is also indirectly alluding to the belief that immigrants undermine civil society. Civil society is a nuanced as complex concept, as the link explains, but can be summed up in the sense referred to here as the grass roots cultural and institutional base of values and communities that allow our political economy to function properly. Outsiders, in his view, threaten this underlying fabric of our society that makes everything else work.

  • 3
    Your own answer contradicts itself. It's not about "immigrants", it's about specific immigrants who openly want to undermine civil society. Forty-three per cent of followers of the religion living in the country believed that parts of the Islamic legal system should replace British law while only 22 per cent opposed the idea. - express.co.uk/news/uk/738852/…
    – user4012
    Feb 28, 2017 at 13:05
  • @user4012 = I do not understand your comment. The question relates to Asian immigrants in the USA not other immigrants in UK.
    – user11058
    Feb 28, 2017 at 13:10
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    @gansub - the answer takes quotes specifically pertaining to Muslim immigrants for specific reasons; and spins it into unsupported "it's about being against immigrants and 'white nationalism'" conclusion.
    – user4012
    Feb 28, 2017 at 13:11
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    @user4012 I know of quite a few Christian evangelicals who would also like to replace secular legal systems to enforce their own version of Christian morality. They work quite hard at it! They are usually the same people who complain about Muslim immigrants. It's deceptive to say that their complaint about immigrants is grounded in support for a secular legal system when they plainly do not believe in that.
    – J Doe
    Feb 28, 2017 at 16:28
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    @user4012 It sure is about specific immigrants (I don't think Bannon has a problem with white Christians from Britain going to the US), but the distinction isn't which immigrants want to "undermine civil society" (do you really think Asian CEOs in Silicon Valley want to implement sharia law?), and it isn't about Islam (only 25% of people in Asia are Muslims). OP is also not spinning that into a white nationalism conclusion, that conclusion was already in the second sentence, directly based on the quote from the question and the interpretation from the NYT (and partly Durand and MacDonald).
    – tim
    Feb 28, 2017 at 17:29

Language is contextual, and as such it is impossible to know what is meant by a given phrase without considering the context. This quote has been widely repeated out of context, and the original interview from Nov 5, 2015 is very hard to track down. I found it at mp3musicsite and will provide the actual transcript so you can get the flow of the conversation. I think in context his meaning is quite clear.

At 16:24 in the interview, Steve Bannon asked Trump the following question about the H1B visa controversy:

What do you think about this situation where you have American companies, particularly technology companies, that are letting go highly-trained American IT workers, blowing them out, having them train their replacements and hiring foreign workers. Just generally what's your sense of that?

Trump responds,

No good, it's no good, I mean we have to do something about it. And, you know, people are coming in and they're taking jobs, and they're getting paid less money, and they're -- you know, a lot of things are happening, a lot of bad things. You know, having... and a lot of it has to do with borders, a lot of it has to do with [inaudible].

Trump then launches into a clarification his his position:

You know one of the things I did say, though, and I feel strongly about this. When somebody's going to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn, Stangord, all the great... and they graduate, and not only graduate but do great, and we throw them out of the country, and they can't get back in, I think that's terrible. We've gotta keep, we've got to be able to keep great people in the country. We've got to create, you know, job creators.

One man went to -- I thnk it was Harvard, I think there was a story a month ago -- went to Harvard, did well, wanted to stay in the country, wasn't allowed to, went back to his home in India, started up a company, now its a very very successful company with thousands of people. He wanted to do that here.

We have to be careful of that Steve. We have to keep our talented people in this country. I think you agree with that, do you agree with that?

At this point Steve Bannon responds to Trump's question:

Well I got a tougher — you know, when two thirds or three quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think — on, my point is, a country’s more like, [inaudible], a country’s more than an economy. We’re a civic society.

Steve makes three clear statements: (1) a lot of CEOs in Silicon Valley are from asia; (2) a country is more than an economy; (3) the USA is a civic society.

The first statement is a response to Trump's statement that we are sending all the talented foreigners home. Steve is saying that, as evidenced by all the CEOs, we actually are keeping many talented immigrants. Or, "it's not as bad as you make it sound."

The second statement is a response to Trump's focus on the economic aspect. He does not deny that the economy is important, but he says we have to consider more than just economics.

He clarifies what he means by this in the third statement. Civics is defined as "the study of the rights and duties of citizenship." So he is saying that we have a duty to each other, to consider the welfare of our fellow citizens. We have to be about more than just corporate profits. Just having a healthy economy is not enough if our fellow citizen is impoverished in obtaining it -- my rights do not trump your rights.

That of course raises the question of whether our fellow citizens have a right to work and make a decent wage. I think Steve is arguing that they do, at least insofar as they are citizens and participants in the common wealth of the nation.

He then starts to say "I want to see..." but then Trump interrupts to talk about how to improve immigration and we never get to hear what Steve's solution to the H1B problem is.

This statement has been widely interpreted as being about immigration and xenophobia, which is clearly it is not. It is about the H1B policy and the effect it has on the economy and on people. Trump had just finished talking about immigration being a good thing, and Steve does not challenge that.


What does those last words mean exactly - We are a civic society.

bannon believes that the greatest struggle is one between the western values vs. islamic values. he is pretty heavy on that kind of history.

I don't think he meant to say "civic society", instead "civil society", vs. a "barbaric society".

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    I am not sure this answers the question unless you are hinting that most Asian and South Asians are Muslims which I do not think is factually correct. Remember this term was used by him in to refer to Asian immigrants who are supposedly model immigrants(no security risk)
    – user11058
    Feb 28, 2017 at 11:22

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