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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Apocalypse when?, 28 Sep 2005
By 
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Superpower Syndrome: America's Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World (Nation Books) (Paperback)
Many have interpreted this book by Robert Jay Lifton as a not-so-veiled attack on the current Bush administration, and they would probably not be wrong. However, this is not just an attack on the current administration - I can envision Lifton's words being leveled in much the same way against almost any administration in the White House at the present time. While Lifton has specific points of contention with the current administration, he also has more general concerns about the way in which the United States conducts itself in a world in which it is the sole remaining superpower, and in which there is little to no accountability in any direct or official way for American actions abroad.
There is an apocalyptic idea that persists as an undercurrent in American society. The nineteenth century saw several major apocalyptic sects flourish - some still exist in new form from their beginnings back in the early days of American nationhood. Since the close of World War II, with the advent of nuclear weapons as a means of worldwide destruction, the idea of an apocalypse went from being a religious/theological possibility to a geopolitical/military strategy - Mutually Assured Destruction was for a time the game of brinksmanship the superpowers played.
Apocalypticism also took the form in popular imagination the end of the world according to a specialised set of interpretations of the Bible, especially certain sects of evangelicals and fundamentalists who subscribed to a more direct interpretation of 'signs of the end times'. Hal Lindsey is but the most famous of these interpreters; the recasting of prophetic interpretations in light of the fact that the world did not end within 40 years of the re-establishment of Israel continues to take place in popular religious press and other media.
There are many in the current administration, reflecting the attitudes of many in the country at large, who see their role as agents of this kind of apocalyptic age. There is a persistent attitude (which exists regardless of the political complexion of the administration) that Christendom is still something that exists and needs to be preserved, that the United States is the leader of Christendom, and that other religions may be permitted to be tolerated, but never dominant. This is particularly true in the Middle East, where the combination of religious differences (including different kinds of religious zeal on all sides) and valuable resources make for an explosive situation.
Lifton looks at all of these issues and more in a psychological context, arguing for greater understanding on the part of all, but particularly for those in power (which is never a bad idea, for those in power and authority bear a greater moral responsibility for understanding and reflection). Lifton's words, however, are not likely to be heeded as readily as they might have been given that his tendency toward the political polemic is likely to render those on the political right to dismiss him entirely, and those on the left to embrace him with little qualification (until such time as he turns his gaze on them, whenever they return to power).
This book is one that can be quickly read - it has some interesting ideas, and some new interpretations of history given his psychological framework. Lifton writes in a very accessible style. However, ultimately Lifton is likely to fall into the same class as those who have been predicting the apocalypse for half the life of this nation; his worst fears are unlikely to be realised (I remember the serious emotion of those afraid that Reagan was determined to cause a nuclear war so as to force the end of the world and the return of Christ), and the world will go on in its history for some time to come.
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Superpower Syndrome: America's Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World (Nation Books)
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