Customer Reviews of American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century
Kevin Phillips is perhaps the best person to write a book like this - a Republican analyst, he can not easily be dismissed as someone with a lock-step animosity toward the Right wing. He analyses in the past, including the rise of the Republican party in the manner that it has, has been correct in many ways for several decades. Phillips writes in many ways as someone who is a court insider giving fair warning to the king - the kingdom has some troubles.
Phillips identifies three principles areas of concern - the rise of certain elements of religion into the political sphere, the problems of oil as a national addiction (to use the President's own words), and the growing crisis of deficit and economic mismanagement. Phillips is a political commentator with an eye toward history, he makes apt comparisons with empires of the past: the Dutch trading empire, the British colonial empire, and even the Roman empire provide parallels for the United States in the twenty-first century. One thing to note - the period of stability of empires has decreased over the millennia; whereas an empire like Rome might sustain itself for half a millennium, later empires were able to sustain themselves for less and less time. The United States has been the pre-eminent global superpower for less than a century, and is already looking at relative decline.
The problem with oil, according to Phillips, involves problems with both foreign and domestic policy as well as cultural issues. Rather than address growing needs, the Republicans in power have instead adopted a dangerous laissez-faire approach that threatens long-term stability, Phillips notes.
The problem with the deficit and finance is similar to this - the Republican party used to be the party of smaller government and less spending, but in the past twenty five years, it has only been a Democratic administration that has been able to get the budget deficit under control. This is the kind of fiscal management that again jeopardises the long-term for the country.
The problem of radical religion is not a new thing in American politics. While the country might not have been founded on quite the same principles being touted as Founding Fathers Theology today, it is true to say that religion has always had a role in the culture, and hence the politics of the nation. However, the danger is real - Phillips makes very telling comparisons with the ante-bellum situation of the North and South, showing how many issues prior to the Civil War involved religious dimensions, and how the long-term injection of religious radicalism can destabilise the culture (this works on both the Left and the Right, by the way).
In addition to a critique of the Right, Phillips has strong words for the Democratic opposition as well, in that there isn't any kind of consistent vision or organisation being offered in distinction from the incumbents.
This is a worthwhile book for anyone Left, Right or in the muddle (er, middle).
The Consequences Of Rabid Republican Conservatism!
Author, advisor, and academic Kevin Phillips is a man of considerable intellect. In the late 1960s he penned a signal work ("The Emerging Republican Majority") that successfully prophesized the ways in which massive socioeconomic and demographic shifts in American society from a northern and industrial one to one more centered in what he euphemistically referred to as the "Sunbelt". In detailing this momentous transformation, Phillips made some then-startling prognostications how such a shift in population and potential electoral votes would presage the long-term shift to a more conservative and Republican-oriented political majority for generations to come. Of course, being a conservative Republican himself, he assumed that this development meant greater fiscal responsibility, more rationally-based international savoir-faire, and much greater social stability. Yet, as he admits in his latest volume, "American Theocracy", that is hardly what the record reflects having transpired in the intervening thirty five years.
Instead, in this calm, clear, and well articulated tour of the social, economic, and political territory with which he is so familiar, Phillips describes the contemporary topography of conservative republican rule as being an inhospitable and ungovernable landscape pocked by craters of ideological fervor, fiscal insanity, and unspeakable personal greed. In many ways, his well-articulated broadside against the political right is all the more damning because it is not only from a true believer, but also from an outstanding academic with a persuasive resume, a man who carefully documents and substantiates everything he cites, especially in this scathing look at exactly where it is that the 21st century's form of rabid Republican conservatism is leading us. Yet one does not find here so much a prosaic attack on the present Bush administration as it is a penetrating historical analysis of how we got to this point in terms of three frightening enduring social and political trends, phenomena neither invented nor originated by the present administration.
Phillips sees three interlocking tendencies as now reaching a critical point in defining and even threatening the future of the polity. First is the rise of the corruptive influence of oil on both domestic and foreign policy; second is the rise of an intolerant form of radical Christian doctrine into key areas of public life; and third, the incredibly irresponsible increase in the level of both public and private debt. Each of these trends threatens to undermine both the short-term and long term stability of the nation, and each in its own way is a key factor in the way that describes how it is that both the Executive branch and the Congress are becoming increasingly beholden to special interests and are increasingly undemocratic. In particular, the fashion in which President Bush and the Congress have used permanent tax cuts for the wealthy as a device to transfer responsibility for future debt away from the wealthy and toward those with less means and less political voice, while at the same time insanely increasing that public debt, defies both morality and logic. Moreover, Phillips finds that the ways in which these trends are unfolding makes us as individual citizens and as members of the larger collectivity substantially less likely and immensely less able to determine our own future in anything resembling a rational and progressive fashion.
In many ways, this book represents a kind of sequel to Phillips original tome in the sense that herein he once again provides for the reader the sort of broad structural perspective illustrating the ways in which social, economic, and political change profoundly impact the future for both society at large and individuals in private, personal existence. In so detailing the powerful fashion in which these three powerful trends relate to each other and how they combine to impact the nature of American society itself, how they tend to push the nation toward ever more limited and ever weaker versions of its former substantial self, he also offers the reader an opportunity to understand the true nature of forces around us that demand public action now. This is an unnerving snapshot of America at a fateful crossroad, at a point that even the dullest among us must begin to recognize the palpable dangers. With the publication of this thoughtful and thought-provoking book, we can no longer say no one has warned us. Enjoy!
Precise, balanced and well-researched
Kevin Phillips is a Republican who puts voice to what concerns many American citizens, (both Republican and Democrat, secular and Christian): 1) that our nation is being taken over by extreme radical right-wing Christian clerics, 2) that our budget deficit is becoming more and more dangerous and 3) that our dependence on a dwindling oil supply will eventually permanently cripple us.
This is a gripping piece of non-fiction that presents a balanced and well-researched view of a growing problem many people seem to prefer to ignore rather than address head-on, as Mr. Phillips courageously does in this book.
I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who feels that our country is becoming more and more unrecognizable to what it was even 6-8 years ago.
A trenchant analysis of three of the greatest problems facing America
In my opinion Kevin Phillips understands the real problems facing America better than any other Republican in America. He is also the kind of Republican who has increasingly been marginalized in the take over of the party by the far left. By no stretch of the imagination is he a liberal (though unquestionably a host of Republicans who haven't read the book will write a review here proclaiming him a liberal), but more of a classic, pre-Reagan conservative in the Russell Kirk, Peter Viereck mode. Despite being a leftist myself, I have long found Phillips to be one of the most acute analysts of the genuine-as opposed to trumped up-problems afflicting American life. In WEALTH AND DEMOCRACY he wrote eloquently of the problems of the undue influence of the wealthy in our democracy as well as the extraordinary and dramatic growth of economic inequality over the past two and a half decades.
AMERICAN THEOCRACY may be Phillips's most important book yet. I was ecstatic when I found a copy this past weekend at a bookstore that broke the moratorium and put their copies out a few days early (bookstores-especially the big chains-often get copies of books to be released on a Tuesday late the previous week, and occasionally they will inadvertently put copies out) and spent the weekend reading it. Phillips explicitly states that his goal is to deal with three of the most pressing problems in American life today, problems that surpass terrorism as a real threat. These three problems are referred to in the subtitle and are dealt with in serial order, though because the problems are intertwined the discussions spill over into one another. The first problem is our dependence on oil and the degree to which it has shaped and determined our national priorities and policies. Phillips thinks historically and understands that nothing takes place without a rich historical context. While many talking about oil and its place in contemporary society begin with the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in the 19th century, Phillips goes much further back, discussing the way that the discovery and mastery of new forms of energy has parallels in previous economically dominant nations. In particular, he writes of the ways that the mastering of water and wind by the Dutch led to their economic ascendance in 17th century Europe and exploiting coal led to the creation of the British Empire. But he also writes of how both nations eventually lost their international preeminence, a change that could very well have begun for the US right now, which became predominant in the previous century due to its exploitation of oil. Phillips writes at length of the development of America's involvement in oil both domestically and abroad. He writes eloquently of how our preoccupation with oil, despite the protests of virtually everyone in the Bush administration to the contrary, was one of the primary causes for our adventurism in Iraq, which has not only has some of the richest oil reserves in the world but has large reserves that have not yet begun to peak, which means that it is cheaper petroleum to harvest.
Because the world's largest oil reserves are in the Middle East, and because premillenial fundamentalists harbor a host of beliefs about the fate of the world and the role that New Babylon (i.e., Iraq) and Israel will play in the end times drama, this part of the book often branches over into the many connections the area has with the aspirations and hopes of many in the Religious Right. But I was ecstatic in reading the book to see Phillips deal not only with the premillenial crowd, which is for the most part the only part of the Religious Right that most mainstream Americans are familiar, but with Christian Reconstructionists or Domionists. Christian Reconstructionists are generally not premillenialists, i.e., they do not believe in the kind of scenario mapped out by Hal Lindsey in his THE LATE-GREAT PLANET EARTH (repeatedly updated due to repeated failures of any of the events he prophesies to take place), where Jesus will return, remove all the Christians from earth, leaving nonbelievers to struggle with a host of trials and tribulations. Christian Reconstructionists believe it is the duty of Christians to strive for the founding of the Kingdom of God on earth. Although even many fundamentalists have never heard of these guys, they have exerted far more influence than many would suspect. Because they have been so far under the radar (mainly because they know that even many within the Religious Right would find their beliefs repulsive), their influence, which is considerable, has gone largely undetected. There are both extreme and somewhat more moderate Reconstructionists. The more extreme, for instance, don't merely believe that homosexuals, for instance, should be killed, but debate what the Biblically approved method of execution should be (stoning or burning are two widely approved methods). Reconstructionists hope gradually to establish a Christian Theocracy, where the Bible (and for some reason these guys are especially oriented towards Old Testament law) establishes the basis for society. The more extreme wings of this movement envision a society in which women are not allowed to work but stay home with their children (don't want children? well, too bad), gays and even heretics (i.e., nonbelievers) are candidates for stoning or burning, and we live in a nation as fundamentalist as any imagined by even the most passionate ayatollah. Milder forms of Reconstructionism sees America as being founded as a Christian nation (all on the Religious Right seem to have a completely bizarre view of the founding fathers, especially Madison) in which Christian law should dominate. Presidential candidate Sam Brownback is of this ilk.
Christian Reconstructionism is, of course, utterly unacceptable to the vast majority of Americans and it is impossible to imagine it ever gaining any of its most cherished goals. But I've been concerned that they have influenced so much American policy behind the scenes. All that needs to be done to overwhelm their efforts is to expose them to the light of day. Phillips goes a long ways towards doing this. I have read extensively about the Religious Right and politics (I was raised a fundamentalist and am a licensed Baptist minister, though I did not go into the ministry after attending seminary and divinity school) and found Phillips discussions to be well informed and balanced. I think he does a fine job of showing that the Religious Right is not a monolithic movement but a coalition of movements, many with their own agendas and concerns. He does not believe that America is in fact in danger of becoming a theocracy, but he does feel that religious influence has become extreme and unacceptable. I have to add that I do think the title of the book is a bit misleading, since he doesn't think America either is or can become a theocracy. The subtitle is a far better pointer to the book's content.
The third problem he addresses is that of our culture of debt. This does not refer merely to the deficit, but the degree to which debt penetrates virtually every aspect of our society in general and government in particular. Phillips's shows in detail the host of ways that this indebtedness threatens the national security and could endanger the most crucial social programs that the aging segment of society depends upon.
I think that between this book and his previous WEALTH AND DEMOCRACY Phillips has dealt very successfully with four of the five major problems in America today, though I think Phillips curiously fails to note the fifth. The four problems he deals with are the three in this book-the influence of oil on our national policy, the growing influence of right wing religion on national priorities, and our growing culture of debt-and the main one in WEALTH AND DEMOCRACY, the growing economic inequality in the country (I would argue that on a practical level this is the major problem). The fifth is the massively bloated military-industrial sector. When over half of all government spending goes to the military, especially when there are no other military superpowers in the world, you have a long-term recipe for economic and political disaster. I hope that Americans begin to take note of the warnings found in these books. For the most part America seems to me a distracted nation, focusing on lesser problems or pseudo problems. Meanwhile, the problems that are beginning to undermine our nation and our democracy are largely ignored. This is a brilliant discussion of three of the threats facing our nation and I urge everyone who loves America to read it as quickly as possible and then hand it on to friends.
Who Will Hear This Wake Up Call?
Kevin Phillips is one of the most widely read and acclaimed in this field. Of his many works, "The Emerging Republican
Majority" written 40 years ago in 1969, gives him the credibility, as well as his 13 other books since. "American Theocracy" discusses the 5 decades of growth many recent developments occurring in the US political, economic, religious and cultural realm in the GOP. He supports his points with lots of research and referencing.
Phillips states the GOP and US government are "a fusion of
petroleum-defined national security; a crusading, simplistic
Christianity; and a reckless credit-feeding financial complex."
At one time, the GOP was the party of stability, order, low taxes, low spending, and small government (in theory at least).
The author notes the transition of the GOP to what many others think and believe today: In 2006, it's over. The Republican party can never argue again that it's the party of low taxes and spending, and small government. The 'big-government GOP' began long before The G.W . Bush administration, but Bush 43 has greatly exacerbated to shift to big spending, big
government, conglomerate control, and the erosion of personal
liberties and freedom of speech. Today there is a Cult of Personality and a lack of critical thought and even disdain -- to the slightest questioning or criticism of American domestic and foreign policy: Bushbots. Federal bureaucratic interference in education with the "No Child Left Behind," Act, and the promulgation of the pseudo-scientific "Intelligent Design." The federal government's interference in the Schiavo case is another clear example of many, noted in "American Theocracy."
"a preference for conspicuous consumption over energy efficiency and conservation,"
"Never before have political leaders urged . . . large-scale
indebtedness on American consumers to rally the economy,"
It was Phillips who coined the well-know term "The Sunbelt. Well, here's another: "National-Debt Culture."
Federal deficits, Social Security, Corporate debt, state & Local
bonds, and massive trade imbalances. "The Financialization of America."
American Per Capita Debt Ratios at Historical All-Time Highs:
On a per capita level, the real estate boom was in part caused by the 1997 "no roll-over" capital gains tax, subsequent tech crash in 2000, and the lowed interest rates in decades.
So what did people do as a result of the boom? Buy more stuff. How? By using their home equity as an ATM machine as they falsely believed they were "wealthier." Will there be consequences?
Perhaps. Perhaps, not.
Petro-Politics and the Military-Industrial Complex:
The U.S. government learned during WWII that high military and defense spending helps the US economy, provides jobs which in turn, spur consumer spending, while redistributing wealth to corporations (defense contracting companies).
When troops first went into Iraq, what was the first thing they
secured? the Iraqi Oil Ministry, and several oil refineries. One of the primary and public arguments for the invasion of Iraq by the US government was 1. it would help the U.S. economy and 2. it would cause oil prices to decline.
As for Phillip's latest, even more convincing is his perspective. He isn't a fan of the Royal Bush family, NOR does he see Hillary as a viable and effective alternative. If Americans can stop pretending that parties are really that different on the political spectrum they can realize, that American culture, habits and behaviour, will be the
deciding factor. However I don't see it happening.
This is a breakthrough book that will receive attention. It's not the first book published recently, that offers these opinions. But it's the credentials of the author, Kevin Phillips that will spur discussion. Things won't change; but things will be discussed. His objective historical notes about previously fallen Empires involved several historical facts that have occurred to other great powers in the past: global usurpation, religious intransigence, debt, and dependency on resources that are *outside* of the nation.
What Phillips is describing is not Earth shattering, bold, nor brave. Because it's a truthful observation based on statistical facts, not necessarily just opinion. And, it's a concept that happens to ALL empires over the course of world history. The Roman Empire declined over a period of 300 to 400 years. The United States does not seem to have that long. I suspect when it starts, which may be now, it will take 50 to 100 years. However, when it will begin exactly , is what we don't know. Like all of history, time moves on, and so does Earth's civilization.
Worth noting again, readers must disassociate themselves from their own natural biases. Like all books regarding the current political, cultural, and religious landscape: don't focus on opposing sides and viewpoints. Focus on the book's various perspectives and then apply to your perceptions. Then, deconstruct this book by yourself.