AMERICAN THEOCRACY, The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, by Kevin Phillips. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2006. 394 pages, notes, index. Hardcover; $26.95. ISBN 0-670-03486-X.
Kevin Phillips, a political and economic commentator for Harper's Magazine, Time, and the Los Angeles Times, is the author of thirteen books over the past thirty years. This book makes three claims: (1) We began the Iraq war because of oil, (2) Radical fundamentalist religion (Christian) is driving current foreign policy, and (3) We are existing on borrowed money with future expenditures far more than what we can afford. The conclusion of the book is that a crunch will come, and current tax rates are necessarily going to rise sharply; perhaps even a Value Added Tax (VAT). It is somber reading; the claims of impending bad times are hard to argue with.
Phillips, at one time a strategist for the Republican Party, contends that every world-dominating power has ultimately failed, sunk by a combination of global overreach, fundamentalist religion, and debt that can never be repaid and exploited resources. This book is not partisan, both Democratic and Republican administrations come under scrutiny for our country's energy policies -- or lack of them.
In part I, Phillips contends that we went to war because of oil, not, as some think, because certain politicians wished to get rich, but because the White House under George Bush genuinely thought that without Iraq getting back in the oil business, the US would find itself short of the resource. "Control energy and you control the nations," said Henry Kissinger; the age of oil has also been the age of US hegonomy; both are collapsing. With global oil production peaking, and oil demands continuing their upwards trend, energy prices (and possible rationing) are inevitable.
Radicalized religion is Phillip's second focus, and in Part II he discusses this major problem. In a land where over 50% of the populace (61% by one recent measure) still disbelieves evolution and thinks dinosaurs and humanity co-existed, radical theories of "the end times," are prevalent among certain congressmen and we have a president who really thinks (he has said this) that he sometimes "speaks for God." America is becoming "Southernized," Phillips argues, and by that he does not mean good things. The Republican Party is already a "church" in Texas, (their 2006 platform explicitly rejects church-state separation) and a theocratic country is one of the many possibilities looming on the horizon.
Some quotations from the book:
"Evangelical religion is clearly beginning to inhibit ... geology in recent years ... There ... world is at most ten thousand years old, ... In considering stem-cell research,... depleting oil or melting ice caps, ... (they) have at best limited openness to any national secular dialog. The Republican Party entertains no such public debate." (page 66-67).
Poll questions (Newsweek, 12/2004):
Is the Bible literally true?
National: 55% yes
Mainline Protestants: 47% yes
Evangelical Protestants: 83% yes
Catholics: 44% yes
Poll question, ABC News, 2/2004; Did God create the earth in six days? 61% yes
Part III, however, 120 pages, is the most frightening. We may yet solve the energy problem (not without severe dislocations) and the fundamentalists will probably split ranks, for fighting with one another is their chief attribute. But Phillips sees no solutions to our soaring debt, he speaks to history's "unlearned lessons," and sees only doom and gloom in the future -- the near future. Every year foreign bond and stockholders own more of our country; there will come (there has to come) a tipping point. Today, America dominates the world; we do so on the backs of those who came before us; we are squandering our inheritance and it is only a matter of time. The rich get richer; the poor get poorer, the middle is fast eroding. There is no happy ending.
Quote on page 315: Randall Isaac, former vice president ... at IBM Technology, said, "You can't do effective R&D if you don't have the manufacturing to insure that the R&D is actually relevant. If the United States loses its manufacturing lead, it will lose everything else with it."
Quote on page 367 by Garry Wills about an "influential fringe of the Christian Right, who believe: "whenever human semen enters any ovum God pops a soul in along with it -- though almost 50 percent of the resulting 'people' perish instantly by failing to achieve nidation (implantation in the uterus)."
I do not recommend this book for light reading. Only for serious study.
John W. Burgeson, Rico, Colorado,