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. Phillips, Kevin. New York: Viking Press, 2006. 462 pages. ISBN 0-670-03486-X. By Jo Ann Vogt
Kevin Phillips is a former Republican strategist and author of The Emerging Republican Majority (1969), Wealth and Democracy (2002), and American Dynasty (2004). Advocates of peace and justice will find little to cheer them in Kevin Phillips’ latest book. Viewing current conditions in the United States through the lens of history, he concludes that—without drastic changes in U.S. leadership and policy—America and its people face decline and the world risks widespread instability and conflict. If Phillips is correct, we can expect the next 30 or 40 years to be rife with war mongering that is fuelled by competition for resources, crusading religious zeal, and economic instability. Phillips divides his meticulously researched discussion into three sections of roughly equal lengths. The first treats oil and its ties to America’s status as a global superpower. The second examines the rise of fundamentalist religion and its entrance into national politics at the highest levels. The third describes sweeping changes in the American economy that have made the U.S. the world’s number-one debtor and numberone borrower. The division, though helpful in understanding Phillips’ complicated argument, is somewhat artificial. The three topics are so intricately bound that Phillips’ forced separation results in considerable repetition from section to section. Nonetheless, Phillips’ argument, buttressed by almost overwhelming detail, is convincing primarily because he draws striking parallels between the United States in the 21st century and global powers of yesteryear.
The International Journal of Conflict & Reconciliation Fall 2011, Volume 1 Number 1
including the decision to attack Iraq in 2003. windmills. by 1750 the Netherlands began to cede its status as global hegemony to industrializing Britain. Phillips finds considerable cause to worry that the United States may be clinging to an outdated energy source and related infrastructure. Phillips compares America’s mastery of oil-based technology and its stubborn reliance on declining petroleum reserves to the energy-linked rise and fall of two previous world powers. The water-and-wind based infrastructure that had enabled the Netherlands to dominate the globe became a burden as coal and iron fueled the industrial revolution in Britain. Between 1590 and 1720. But with the advent of oil and gasoline.In his discussion of oil. Nonetheless. Britain — like the Netherlands before it — fell behind. Citing declining oil reserves worldwide and the widely held belief that oil production will peak in the near future and then begin to decline. Its land reclamation techniques. Britain built a booming economy and international dominance around coal and coal-powered steam engines. Between 1760 and 1914. the United Provinces of the Netherlands mastered both wind and water and built a global empire of shipping and trade. but he is alarmed by the oil industry’s close links to American politicians and by oil’s clear role in shaping American foreign policy for the last century. The International Journal of Conflict & Reconciliation Fall 2011. losing the struggle for global power to the United States. He stops short of predicting exactly what factors will result in America’s becoming a second-tier nation. which had become the leading innovator. and merchant marine were the envy of the world and the source of national riches and international power. Phillips shows how Britain’s trajectory mirrors the Netherlands’. Phillips acknowledges multiple reasons for the decline but cites a failure to innovate as one primary factor. Volume 1 Number 1 2 .
history” and that the “religion gap” has become the preeminent determinant of voting patterns in the U. and Britain. S. Holland. the Netherlands. The symptoms sound disturbingly familiar: Widespread public concern over cultural and moral decay Growing religious fervor and increasing church-state ties Rising reliance on faith over reason. “No leading world economic power has ever maintained itself on the cutting edge of innovation and development with a political coalition that panders to biblical inerrancy.” Debt is the focus of the third section of Phillips’ book.S. often a military pursuit of abstract goals that exacts a high price economically and politically Phillips traces these five symptoms through the history of Rome. Analyzing voting patterns in the 2004 election. Even more distressing is Phillips’ discussion of the five symptoms of decline shared by past world economic powers. noting that each benefited from high The International Journal of Conflict & Reconciliation Fall 2011. and Great Britain. the Hapsburg Empire. Phillips concludes that George W. Bush’s narrow victory rested upon the religious convictions and theocratic leanings of roughly 40 percent of GOP voters. noting evidence of the same trends in 21st-century America and concluding that. Indeed. he argues that the Republican Party has transformed itself into the “first religious party in U. and he packs his discussion with an abundance of economic data set against the backdrop of history. with a concomitant downplaying of science Popular anticipation of a millennial time frame or imminent Armageddon Hubris-driven national overreach.Phillips next presents a troubling portrait of the burgeoning of fundamentalist sects in the United States and of their increasing influence on national elections. Volume 1 Number 1 3 . He recounts the experiences of Spain.
debt ratios early in its rise to power but eventually became too comfortable with debt to see the impending crises that led to eventual decline.S. In fact. in environmental deregulation. The International Journal of Conflict & Reconciliation Fall 2011. perhaps as soon as 2030. America cannot long sustain its position as a global economic power. citing the Bush family and the Bush-Cheney administration in particular as having pandered to the interests of big oil in energy policy. Phillips’ assessment of the U. China will eclipse the U. Wages have declined. The situation is equally bleak for individual Americans. America’s debt problem is exacerbated internationally by the vulnerability of the dollar and domestically by the looming costs of Social Security and Medicare. Only spending and borrowing are on the rise. economy echoes the warnings contained in the previous sections of the book: If current trends are not reversed. concentrating more on the money to be made through finance than through making tangible goods. And he blames his former Party (he’s now an Independent) for pushing the United States deeper into debt and perilously close to economic collapse. He charges the GOP with fomenting the kind of fundamentalist religious fervor that exalts faith over reason and blinds voters to all but the most simplistic of reasons for starting a war in Iraq. Phillips predicts that. and take its place as the world’s leading economic power. Woven throughout American Theocracy is an explicit indictment of the Republican Party as the primary enabler of the United States’ impending decline. Phillips outlines the close ties between the Party and the oil and gas industries. these former global powers allowed their manufacturing sectors to wane.S. Volume 1 Number 1 4 . Personal savings are nonexistent. Phillips delineates a similar pattern in the American economy: mushrooming foreign and consumer debt and a gross domestic product more dependent upon “moving money around” than on making things. Likewise. and in foreign policy.
The International Journal of Conflict & Reconciliation Fall 2011. Recent polls show that as many as 75 percent of Americans believe that their country is “on the wrong track. Help. change is unlikely. Perhaps that is the one hopeful note sounded by American Theocracy. help will have to come from outside the two major political parties. from the same people who marched for civil rights in the 1960’s. from American citizens themselves. from the American people themselves. If America is to change course and so alter the fate Phillips sees looming ahead. and they have pandered to big oil almost as shamelessly as the GOP. Despite his alienation from the GOP. They were complicit in the financial deregulation that gave rise to much of America’s indebtedness. Without change. if it is to come.” Dissatisfaction and unease among a majority of the population bodes ill for those currently shaping U. Volume 1 Number 1 5 . the U. for what ails America in the 21st century.S. will arise from the grassroots.The Republican presidential coalition. Those of us who seek to reduce conflict and who envision an America that is truly a beacon of hope and a purveyor of peace can find in Phillips’ book a repository of information to help build a case for changing America’s current course. the alliance that put George W. but unless we educate ourselves and our peers about the dangers inherent in our current policies. who finally ended the Vietnam War. Bush in the White House. policy.S. who—Phillips tells us in his Preface—are not fools. Phillips sees little help or hope from the Democrats. is largely responsible. according to Phillips. they have been unable to harness the potential furor of a middle-class betrayed by disastrous economic policies and disaffected by an unprovoked and mismanaged war. who demonstrated against the War in Iraq before the first bombs fell. Inept in the face of Bush’s exploitation of 9-11.
environmental degradation. and economic upheaval.and the world face a bleak future of resource wars. The International Journal of Conflict & Reconciliation Fall 2011. religious fanaticism. Volume 1 Number 1 6 .
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