Thursday, February 07, 2008

American Theocracy, by Kevin Phillips

American Theocracy is part three in Kevin Phillips’ decline and fall of the American Empire. Part one was Wealth and Democracy, and part two, American Dynasty, concentrated on the Bush clan. Part three looks at not just one but three American Achilles heels: oil, religion, and debt. In the author’s view, all three present a sea of troubles for the United States over the upcoming decade.

Phillips provides several analogies for other pre-eminent countries that went down the gurgler due to unsustainable energy demands, vainglorious religious beliefs (a ‘chosen people complex’), and a culture of financialisation. For example, Phillips cites material that shows Britain as having a toxic mix of religious and nationalistic fervour between 1870-1914. A chosen people complex. God was undoubtedly on Britain’s side.

In the US religious fervour tied to nationalistic sentiment is having all sorts of unsavoury effects, most notably turning the clock back on scientific endeavour. The religious right is of course against the study of evolution, stem cell research etc. etc.

Then there is oil, which the US now has to compete with other countries like China for. Peak oil, the proposition that we may soon be reaching a peak in oil production, declining thereafter, will have enormous negative effects on the US economy. No one has done any planning for alternative energy sources.

Lastly there is the amazing load of debt that the US now carries. Even scarier for the US is the fact that so many foreign national banks are now buying the debt. What if they decide to pull the plug on it all and get out?

This book is full of detail, and quite often I found it hard to concentrate. I think if you follow intimately US politics, or indeed if you are a US citizen, you will find this book of great value. There are plenty of fascinating points that Phillips raises that you won’t see written about in the day to day media.

Of the three books I probably enjoyed American Dynasty the most. American Theocracy is a pretty depressing read actually. It makes America’s problems seem intractable. The clichĂ© rings true: pride comes before a fall. American’s see themselves as God’s favourites. This belief is allowing them to over reach themselves. Well, that’s the message of this book.

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