AMERICAN THEOCRACY: THE PERIL AND POLITICS OF RADICAL RELIGION AND BORROWED MONEY IN THE 21ST CENTURY by Kevin Phillips, Viking, 462 pp., reviewed by Michiko Kakutani in THE NEW YORK TIMES 3-17-2006.
This is another book from the genre of ex-Republicans who have awakened to the fact that the party they once believed in has become the tool of elite business interests and has nothing to do with real democracy. Kakutani lists three previous books by Phillips--the first one is a famous pro-Republican manifesto. The books are "The Emerging Republican Majority" (1969), and then, some thirty years later, "furious jeremiads" against the Establishment: "Wealth and Democracy" (2002) and "American Dynasty" (2004) in the last one, Kakutani says, the author portrayed the Bush family as practicing, in his own words, "blatant business cronyism" on behalf of oil and other corporate interests and allied with the military-industrial complex.
Phillips, in his new book, ranges through history describing the symptoms of imperial decline (the Romans, Hapsburgs, the British Empire, etc.,) and comes up with five conditions reflecting, in his words, "a power already at its peak and starting to decline." They are 1, "widespread public concern over cultural and economic decay" 2, "growing religious fervor" 3, "a rising commitment to faith as opposed to reason and a corollary downplaying of science" 4, "considerable popular anticipation of a millennial time frame" 5, "hubris-driven national strategic and military overreach." Kakutani writes that Phillips adds a sixth, namely, "high debt, which can become 'crippling in its own right.'"
Bush and the Republicans are spearheading a counter-Enlightenment based on "the 30 to 40 percent of the electorate caught up in Scripture." according to Phillips. Kakutani writes, "As Mr. Phillips sees it, 'the Southernization of American governance and religion' is 'abetting far-reaching ideological change and eroding the separation of powers between church and state.' while moving the Republican party toward ' a new incarnation as an ecumenical religious party, claiming loyalties from hard-shell Baptists and Mormons, as well as Eastern Rite Catholics and Hasidic Jews,' who all define themselves against the common enemy of secular liberalism."
Phillips thinks that the growing influence of religion on the state can have disastrous influences with respect to the state's continuing viability. Kakutani quotes him on the past: "militant Catholicism helped undo the Roman and Spanish empires; the Calvinist fundamentalism of the Dutch Reformed Church helped to block any 18th-century Dutch renewal; and the interplay of imperialism and evangelicalism led pre-1914 Britain into a bloodbath and global decline."
Phillips thinks something similar is happening to the U.S. today. Bush and the Republicans are responsible or egging on "U.S. oil vulnerability, excessive indebtedness and indulgence of radical religion" he writes. Kakutani seems a bit skeptical of some of Phillips arguments and conclusions. It is true that this book does not contain a Marxist analysis but from what Kakutani says about it, and the quotes given from Phillips, one can see that elements of the ruling class are worried about the extremist policies of the Bush administration.
Kakutani ends his review with some remarks about the book's "afterward" wherein the author "suggests that the G.O.P. coalition is 'fatally flawed from a national-interest standpoint' partly because it is dominated 'by an array of outsider religious denominations caught up in biblical morality, distrust of science and a global imperative of political and religious evangelicalism,' but he does not really explain why this development could lead to a Republican downfall." He then cynically concludes, "Perhaps he is saving that for his next book-- when the results of the midterm elections are known." This indicates he thinks Phillips is basically a Monday morning quarterback.