restricted access Kevin Phillips: American Theocracy (2)
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Kevin Phillips tells us he has been “studying and writing about the emerging Republican presidential coalition for half a century.” He calls his last three books – Wealth and Democracy (2002), which con­ centrated on how democracies are stressed when income gaps widen, American Dynasty (2004), his dissection and exploration of the Bush family, and the one under present consideration, American Theocracy –  “indictments,” adding that such an outcome was something he never would have “imagined” when he started writing his first book, “The Emerging Republican Majority back in 1966.” Phillips has evolved from a staunch Republican who served in Republican administrations to a recovering Republican critic. American Theocracy is an indictment – though the defendants are legion, or, as Walt Kelly’s old Pogo cartoon would have it, “they are us.” Of course, there are some specific bad actors, but all the rest of us appear as enablers: “Reckless dependency on shrinking oil supplies, a milieu of radicalized (and much too influential) religion, and a reliance on borrowed money – debt, in its ballooning size and multiple domestic and international deficits – now constitute the three major perils to the United States of the twenty-first century.” Kevin Phillips: American Theocracy (2) 170 171 Much has been said, and written, during recent years about the ascendancy of fundamentalist religions across the world, about the dominance of oil politics, and the growth of both debt and the growing gap between the income of the rich and everyone else. What hasn’t been done hitherto is to take those subjects and show how they are interconnected, making clear not just the “what,” but also the “why,” and the “how,” and the “who.” Phillips’s book serves as an invaluable resource, given its marshaling of facts and figures, as well as its breadth and depth of historical anal­ ysis. He employs a historian’s measured perspective and clarity of expression, though it is likely that he will be accused of rank partisanship by those most stung by his analysis, those he labels “The Erring RepublicanMajority.”Hemoveseasilyfrombothacademicscholarship, andthepopularpress,forinformationthatsupportshistheme,whichis thatnoexplanationforthecurrentstateofaffairs“canignoretheRepublican party and its electoral coalition’s” encouragement of  “U.S. oil vulnerability , excessive indebtedness, and indulgence of radical religion.” The Bush administration claims the Iraq war is not about oil, but PhillipsmakesthecasethatofcourseIraqisaboutoil – sincequiteabit oftheworld’shistoryisaboutoil,oritslargercategory,energy.Phillips explains – perhaps more than some readers may want to know – how the Spanish and Dutch and English lost their preeminence among, and domination of, nations: “Over generations, the world’s energy leaderships – seventeenth-century Dutch ingenuity with water, wind, and wood, British aptitude with coal, and the U.S. cleverness with oil – have invariably developed related infrastructures of corporate, government, and cultural commitment. One generation’s innovations become another’s entrenchments.” AsPhillipsdoeswithenergy,heprovidesanexactingexamination ofreligioninAmerica,itsprecedents,factionsandmovements.Indeed, 172 given the three-panel aspect of this book – oil, religion, debt – Phillips is able to make use of his own scholarship of the last five decades. He takes, from his earlier books, the pertinent parts, and elaborates upon them to reinforce his new arguments. American Theocracy is, in this way, a capstone to his life’s work. Phillips has been able to see, over the passage of time, which of his insights and predictions have taken hold in the world. And he appears truly alarmed by those that have. What was barely mentioned in his firstbook,The Emerging Republican Majority, fortyyearsago,becomes, in this one, an entire section: “The Southernization of America.” He admits that hitherto he had written “little about southern fundamentalists and evangelicals,” and, by way of correction, they appear front and center in this volume. Phillips painstakingly shows how the Civil War may also have been a religious war, as well as a war of emancipation , and how our current electoral map of Red and Blue America is just as accurately a depiction of America’s church-going habits as it is of its political allegiances. They are, in Phillips view, one and the same: even the “battleground or ‘new border’ states can also be located by a religious calculus.” There is plenty of calculus in American Theocracy. Phillips loves numbers, and he supplies a lot of them – as well as graphs and charts, each startling in its own way. Though he makes use of grand terms,” Southernization,”“Financialization,”“Disenlightment,”hetakespains  – andpages – toexplainhoweachworks.Phillipshasbraidedhisthree unwieldysubjectsintoaforcefulandprovocative rhetoricalwhip.And he does lash out: “Never before has a U.S. political coalition been so dominated by an array of outsider religious denominations caught up in biblical morality, distrust of science...


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