Those three topics might seem bizarre in juxtaposition. According to Phillips, however, the combination is the motivation behind present US national and foreign policies. This tangle of apparently unrelated forces has been instrumental in toppling earlier empires. Phillips draws on the history of Rome, Spain, the Netherlands and Britain as the prime examples. The examples are pertinent for the policies and programmes implemented or dissolved under the current administration - overexploitation of available energy sources leading to heavy imports, religious interference in domestic and foreign policies, and an economy more concerned with quick profits and extended debt than long-term planning.
This is a frightening book to read. Instead of a nation growing strong and resting on democratic ideals, the US has come to be dominated by a conglomeration of particular interests. Oil, supporting the burgeoning consumer glut, is sought in the Middle East, scene of the forthcoming Armageddon in the view of Christian fundamentalists. That region produced an attack on US soil, leading to both a crusade mentality and a consumption spree to prove how strong the US was after the Towers fell. Instead, says Phillips, the Bush regime blundered in Iraq, driving up the price of oil and stimulating terrorist recruitment. Worse, for the rest of the world, the instruments to encourage consumption only put the US in its worse debt status in its history. That precarious credit structure has tentacles reaching into Asia and Europe. If US policies and actions lead to withdrawal of credit extensions and higher import prices, the economy could collapse in shambles. It's a precarious balance, since the nations holding the US debt know foreclosure or abandonment is economically unsound, yet they have no wish to be dragged down in the collapse.
Phillips portrays clearly how the trio of themes interact and reinforce each other. Oil, the clear purpose of Bush's crusade in Iraq, has its roots in US "exceptionalism". A nation founded, according to its own lights, on "religious freedom" has turned outside to extend its power over the "New Babylon" of Baghdad and Saddam Hussein as Satan incarnate. In order to support this view, US Christians have formed an amorphous bloc of voters to install their most religious President in the White House. Bush, who claims a deity grants him his mandate, strikes a chord with US Christians anticipating The Second Coming of Jesus. Not only does this view encourage an expansionist policy, argues Phillips, but it's destructive of the values and practices of a powerful and secure nation. More than just plugging religion into the classroom, the US Christian lobbies have curtailed scientific programmes, they object to changes in lifestyle dictated by human-induced climate change and want restrictions on personal freedoms. Again, these attitudes in an earlier age portended the collapse of great powers. The 17th Century Dutch may not have debated stem-cell research nor the 19th British the issue of "right-to-life", but similar views on society ultimately shaved down their empires.
Although the book is divided into three parts that might have been well separated, Phillips wisely keeps the themes tightly woven into the picture. That integration gives his theme greater impact and explains the interactions among them. It also allows his historical comparisons more validity, as each segment returns to the earlier examples. For many of his readers, history began in 1776 CE. The more expansive may push that back to 1492 CE. Phillips does better, drawing both on the examples of other empires while also depicting the conditions in the 20th Century that have led to the crisis facing the US today. There are some charts and tables in this book, and the spikes that appear in the past decade remind one of a bed of nails. Declared fundamentalist Christians emerge at the same time as oil prices and the the extent of the US debt. The lesson is clear - the US must begin smoothing down those peaks and abandon some of its grandiose and selfish tactics. Phillips doesn't offer much in the way of therapy for these problems. He has spelled them out clearly and effectively. It's now up to his readers to take action. Action is sorely needed.
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 title is a little misleading, as Phillips anatomises the confluence of THREE merging influences on American policy. In the first section he chronicles the growth of US dependence on more and more imported oil, given the peaking of US production alongside the insatiable appetite of SUV Americans, and lays bare the petrol-head motives of the Cheney/Bush drive to Baghdad. The second section deals with the realignment and southernization of Republicanism as it sought the support of the moral-majority Christian groupings that have become such a powerful (if underestimated) force in US politics. The final section deals with the eye-watering levels of debt that have accompanied the `financialization' of the American economy, and the concomitant inequalities (where a CEO of a large manufacturing corporation in the 1960s might have earned 40 times the income of a median employee, the modern equivalent in the financial services sector may earn 500 times as much; with the top 1% of Americans now earning as much post-tax income as the bottom 35%!). As a result it is the Financial, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector that now pays the piper ($200m for lobbying in 1998 alone) and calls the tune, in terms of deregulation. This has resulted in a `massive realignment of preferences and priorities within the American system', with the Federal Reserve's sole task of protecting the banking and financial services sector supplanting any other kind of government intervention, even - as in the rescue of Citigroup - when this may work against the public interest. (In this context, Enron and Worldcom represent the inevitable sound of roosting chickens). In essence the American economy is being run by and for the money men. And where do these conjoining tributaries meet? In the form of the born-again Bush, with his dynastic roots firmly planted in the soil of financial services and oil.
As far as Phillips is concerned "If history teaches us anything, it's that this so-called cutting edge finance is an accident waiting to happen." Certainly the figures are quite staggering (consumer debt at 85.7% GDP; $2.7 trillion extra debt in twelve months ... and so on). Human greed and gullibility, combined with "three decades of determined federal regulatory dismantling ... avarice, legal nonchalance and innovation in new speculative instruments" are just the latest in a sequence of "high-wire acts and bubble-blowing kits so recurrent in the four century history of financial manias, panics and crashes."
Unlike many critics of Bush, Phillips comes from a Republican background of impeccable credentials, which makes his savage and wide-ranging indictment of the modern Republican Party all the more hard-hitting - he displays the contempt of an ex-smoker viewing a cigarette manufacturers' convention. There may be a bit more psephological and denominational detail than a UK reader might require, but the influence of these developments on British politics (Iraq, private equity buyouts, attitudes to Islam, etc., etc.) make it essential reading on this side of the Atlantic. Phillips also has an eye for a brilliantly entertaining and humorous turn of phrase, which undercuts the acerbity of his analysis.
I have a floor-to-ceiling bookcase on American history in the age of Bush, and I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this as one of the most gripping analyses I've read on this or almost any other subject. Previous reviewers have noted the author's extraordinary capacity for making connections where one hadn't previously seen them - or seen them so clearly - so I won't repeat them, simply endorse. I feel as if I'm starting to understand linkages that I hadn't seen before or had only dimly grasped at.
One exceptional factor is the authhor's breadth and depth of knowledge. Unlike many American authors, his span is world-wide (one of his earliest topics is the rise of Dutch sea power, for example) and deeply rooted in the past. On a couple of occasions I wondered whether he was giving too much emphasis to a particular issue - for example the popularity of the Left Behind series - but then I looked for myself and saw that he wasn't.
The present situation has called the best out of some of the world's best historians (I can only hope that someone's listening) but this is superlative. Plus it's extremely well-written. I can't recommend it too highly, even to those who might have a bookshelf bigger than mine.
Kevin Phillips analyzes thoroughly the US policies of the last twenty years under Republican leadership.
For him, these policies are not less than disastrous, putting the US under the demonic spell of a four headed ghost: the simplistic, Taliban-like radical religion of Christian fundamentalists, the energy (oil) vulnerability, ballooning public and private debt and global military overreach.
The GOP bets heavily on, what the author calls, national Disenlightment (religious fundamentalism), e.g., by funding public services through church-related groups.
The direct consequences of this policy can be seen in education (neglect of scientific infrastructure), climatology (no signing of the Kyoto protocol), biological research (no embryonic stem-cell research), morals (attempts to prohibit abortion again), science (promotion of `intelligent design' versus Darwinism), sex (promotion of abstinence and no support for contraception), social issues (women's rights against the rights of embryos), food protection (abolition of the EPA), theology (crusade against Islam) or business (justify wealth and oppose regulation).
The ultimate aim is to reduce the separation between church and state.
The world's age of oil has been the era of American supremacy. But, oil production has peaked and oil prices in dollar continue to peak. Will OPEC countries continue to be satisfied with their paycheck in devalued dollars?
There is apparently one oil `biggie' left: Iraq. That oil was the critical factor in the Iraq invasion is proven by the fact that after Saddam Hussein was defeated the US troops occupied immediately the Iraq Oil Ministry and seized the seismic maps of its oilfields. For the rest, the Iraqi people were free to loot everywhere and everything else.
`Moving money around' (financial transactions) became a bigger `business' in the US than manufacturing (making things). The population's savings rate is dropping like a stone. Public and private (`I shop, therefore I am') debt reaches all time highs, creating a monstrous `credit-industrial complex'.
The risk of overreach in military human and financial resources for the defense of petro-imperialism is becoming extremely high.
The author compares the actual world context with the ones confronted by other imperialisms (the Roman, Dutch, Spanish and British). He sees dark and ghostly clouds at the horizon for the American theocracy.
Kevin Phillips`s book is a must read for all those interested in world politics.
on 10 February 2015
I haven't read this yet. I assumed it would be interesting and then I read the front cover and realised it said 'American' and 'Theocracy' on it. Will get to it eventually. It's dated and it isn't a snapshot. Probably contains some good insights. Ideal for the modern 'secular liberal Republican'.
on 6 August 2007
This outstanding book is the best study of the current state of the USA. Kevin Phillips, the vastly experienced American political and economic commentator, depicts the USA's economic and religious interest-groups and their effects on the Republican coalition. For this paperback edition, he has written a brilliant 40-page introduction updating his 2006 analysis.
He shows how deindustrialisation is destroying the US economy. The debt-driven finance, insurance and real estate sector accounts for 21% of US GDP, manufacturing for only 13%. 44% of all US corporate profits come from the finance sector, 10% from manufacturing. Household incomes have not risen since 2000. Wages are 62% of national income, compared to an average 73% in the late 1960s.
He describes what he calls the `oil-national security complex' and its `100 years' oil war'. The USA, with 200 million of the world's 520 million automobiles, defeats conservation and energy efficiency. The USA consumes a quarter of the world's energy, but has only 5% of its reserves. Since 1998, the USA has been importing more than half the petrol it uses. A barrel of oil cost $3 in 1970, $10 in 1986, $30 in 2002, $75 in 2007. Non-OPEC oil will peak in 2010.
So the US state wants to secure oil supplies from the Middle East, but in a classic case of imperial overreach, its efforts are counter-productive. White House economic advisor Lawrence Lindsay said in September 2002, "the key issue is oil, and a regime change in Iraq would facilitate an increase in world oil so as to drive down prices." Pre-war, Iraq produced 3.5 million barrels a day, now just 1.1 million, "U.S. mismanagement in Iraq having only aggravated the oil-supply and terrorist threats", as Phillips writes. The war has caused most of the recent $45-a-barrel rise.
Phillips also studies the USA's rightwing religious fundamentalism - a toxic brew of Biblical inerrancy and born-again evangelicalism. It claims that we live in the `end-times', when the defeat of the antichrist at Armageddon heralds the second coming. It is anti-women, anti-science, anti-modernism and anti-Enlightenment. It opposes sex education, women's rights, contraception, stem-cell research and abortion.
He shows how successive US governments have indulged the soaring debt and credit industry. They encouraged reckless credit expansion, blowing up the ballooning national, international, business, financial and household debts. Low-interest rates led to the credit-card boom, to exotic mortgages, derivatives (which the speculator Warren Buffett called `financial weapons of mass destruction'), hedge-funds and debt instruments. Buffett also said, "Hyperactive equity markets subvert rational capital allocation."
Americans now owe more than they make. Finance firms are debt collectors; credit card companies offer to consolidate people's debts, but once the debtor is hooked, the company can raise interest rates to 20-30%. No wonder that in Bush's first term (2000-04), there were five million personal bankruptcies and by 2006, the USA's total debt was $40 trillion, 304% of GDP.
on 10 July 2015
As a Democrat I like the way Kevin Phillips bashes the Republican Party in American Theocracy.
As a Christian I think he is a little too harsh on Christianity. Phillips agrees with Edward Gibbon, whose eighteenth century classic, “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” blamed Christianity for the fall of the Roman Empire.
Actually, what fell in 476 AD was the Western Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire, which became known as the Byzantine Empire, lasted until 1453 AD. The Holy Roman Empire, which considered itself to be the restoration of the Western Roman Empire, lasted until 1806. At various times in history each of these empires prevented Europe from being conquered by the Muslim world. Both were thoroughly Christian.
In “On Human Nature” E. O. Wilson suggested that religion increased the resilience of a social group by unifying it.
Wilson was writing of Paleolithic hunting bands, but this would also be true of tribes, nations, and empires.
Phillips writes, “Rome, the Spanish-centered Hapsburg Empire, the Netherlands, and Great Britain were each, in its day, the leading world economic power, and the principal naval or military power.” He blames Christianity for the decline of each. One could just as plausibly credit Christianity for the dominance of each.
Although organized Christianity has not always been friendly to science, it is also true that the scientific method originated in a thoroughly Christian Italy during the Renaissance, rather than in a non Christian country.
I know. I know. The Roman Catholic Church silenced Galileo. It also sponsored Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
It is true that there are potential dangers in American Evangelicalism and the religious right. President George W. Bush claimed that God told him to invade Iraq. As a Christian I think God would have given better advice. As a Democrat, I am also glad that Bush did not think God told him to nuke Russia.
During the Cold War Protestant Fundamentalists sometimes associated the Second Coming of Christ with a nuclear war. Phillips correctly complains that, “Disasters of sickening magnitude are welcomed by prophecy buffs because the evoke feelings that God is present and alive.”
If one believes that Jesus will come again soon one is unlikely to care about the effect global warming will have on the earth’s climate a hundred years from now.
Nevertheless, much of the hostility affluent, well educated people like Kevin Phillips express for the religious right seems to be motivated by religious bigotry. The better sort simply do not like those Fundamentalist preachers with their swarmy personalities, their southern accents, and their churches full of rubes raising their arms in the air and whispering, “Thank you Jesus.”
I have followed the religious right with interest and a degree of sympathy since 1980. My take on it is that it does not want to create a theocracy. It wants to restore the ethos of the 1950’s. I was a child back then. It was a good time to be a child. The illegitimacy rate was about six percent. Children raised to adulthood by both biological parents living together in matrimony tend to do much better in life, even if they are raised in poverty.
The national consensus back then was captured by a song that sang, “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.”
Alas, the religious right was unable to restore that consensus. In a country like the United States there is little the government can do to influence sexual behavior. Therefore, the sexual revolution is not really a political issue.
I regret the fact that the religious right has given lower income whites a reason to vote against their economic interests by voting Republican. The Republican Party exists to advance the economic interests of the richest ten percent of the American population. The GOP serves mammon, not God.
A Republican rewrite of the Sermon on the Mount would include, “Blessed are the rich, for they shall be given more in the Kingdom of Heaven. But cursed are the poor. Their poverty is God’s punishment for laziness and sin.”
The doctrine that wealth is God’s reward for righteousness can be found in a few verses of Proverbs. Even Proverbs has verses like 28:6 Better the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich.
The Old Testament prophets blamed the fall of David’s empire in part on the mistreatment of Israel’s poor by Israel’s rich. Amos wrote 6:1, 4, 6 Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came!... That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall…That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.
In the New Testament Jesus had nothing good to say about the rich as a class.
During New Testament times the Sadducees, who were rich, agreed that wealth was God’s reward for virtue. They conspired to get Jesus crucified. The Sadducees also martyred St. James, who was Jesus’ next oldest brother, and the first Bishop of Jerusalem.
The Epistle of St. James includes 5:1, 4 - 6 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you….Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.
Republican leaders pretend to share the concerns of Christian conservatives during every election. Their real concerns were elsewhere. They want to skew things more in favor of the well to do. With the votes of economically struggling Christian conservatives they have succeeded quite well at this.
on 26 March 2006
Phillips is a renown political analyst, attracting hostility among right-wing reviewers precisely because his account of the rise of the Christian right is direct, centered on the point, objective and thought provoking.
He boldly states that a political movement is a political movement. Christian doctrine is broader, and Christianity more inclusive, than the narrow views and political boundaries adovcated by the religious right, the members of whom hide behind their religious beliefs when their political opinions and actions are challenged.
Books I Also Recommend:
The World is Flat (Thomas Friedman)
The Black Book of Outsourcing (Brown and Wilson)
Friedman serves up more direct observations on the offshoring trend, and Brown/Wilson bring advice on how to succeed in the new world economy not found anywhere else.
on 4 July 2007
You may not like what author Kevin Phillips says about President George W. Bush and America's current state. In fact, loyal Bush supporters may write off Phillips' views as paranoid left-wing poppycock, although he is a former Republican strategist who played a key role in Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign. Here, Phillips unleashes a furious bare-knuckle assault on the Bush administration. He insists that it is setting up the U.S. for a mighty fall. Utilizing historical evidence to construct his case, Phillips postulates that the combination of America's crushing debt, dependence on foreign oil and conservative religious fanaticism is a recipe for disaster. Those who agree with Phillips' contention that "history is likely to remember George W. Bush as one of America's most damaging two-term presidents" will be screaming "I told you so!" as they traverse this tome. And yet, Bush backers should resist the temptation to dismiss Phillips completely. The book is heavily footnoted, but Phillips skillfully connects the dots, extracting information from hundreds of newspaper articles, scholarly journals and speeches to assemble a compelling presentation. Whether you are for Bush, against Bush or worried about the shape the U.S. is in, we recommend this well-researched, thought-provoking work.