Phillips concludes by saying that, “my last three major books
– Wealth and Democracy (2002), American Dynasty (2004) and American Theocracy (2006) – could be
said to represent a trilogy of indictments, something that I never imagined
when I started writing The Emerging
Republic Majority back in 1966.”
Kevin Phillips, who was a well-known Republican strategist,
identifying the emergent Republic majority in the 1960s has, like many former
liberal Republicans, come to understand that the current domination of the U.S.
Republican Party by a mainly Southern coalition dominated by Christian
Evangelists, and the oil and defense industries, no longer serves the interests
of the United States and is alienating many former Republican voters. In his opinion the spiritual heartland of the
modern Republican Party is the old Confederacy and the border
States, such as Texas.
While at first sight American
Theocracy is about a number of negative factors, U.S. national
indebtedness, the decline in individual economic security, American dependence
on imported oil and the folly of many of the policies endorsed by the religious
right, this book is fundamentally an argument for the emergence of a Democratic
majority in the United States; strangely echoing Phillip’s 1966 book, The Emerging Republic Majority. Phillips sees the two electoral victories of
George W Bush were due to fraudulent manipulation of voting machines) as being
due to special circumstances, in particular Clinton’s immoral behavior and the after
effects of 9/11. In contrast, Gore Vidal
recently claimed in an interview with The
– 23 June 2006) that “the election was stolen in both 2000 and 2004, because of
electronic voting machinery which can be easily fixed. We’ve had two illegitimate elections in a
According to Phillips the doctrinaire policies of the
religious right have alienated many of their fellow Americans, a claim which is
supported by a number of prominent recent defections to the Democrats, such as
Mark Parkinson’s, who was previously Kansas Republican party chairman (The Observer, London 25 June 2006). Many Republican moderates are now known as Rinos, or Republicans in Name Only. Some of the Republican right wing are
actually pleased that the moderates are leaving, a factor which will only
accelerate the decline in Republican fortunes that Phillips documents. According to Phillip’s analysis Bush’s
declining ratings in the opinion polls are due to a combination of factors,
rather than merely to public opposition to the continuing Iraqi debacle.
Phillips argues that the electoral geography of the United States has been totally revised in the
last 150 years, with the South now being Republican and the North East States becoming solidly Democrat.
Phillips does not however explore what the political
consequences of such a Democratic majority could be, but he does highlight the
fact that the Democratic Party needs to hold the center ground in American
consciousness and that it needs to maintain the allegiance of voters in the
swing States of the Mid-West and the States bordering the South, rather than
rely on its liberal supporters in New England, New York and California. If his analysis is correct then Hillary
Clinton would be the wrong Democratic Presidential candidate for 2008, as she
is too strongly identified with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party
(although she may be a viable Vice Presidential candidate, partnered with a
This book is therefore aimed at the strategists in the
Democratic Party and interested Americans, it is essentially a manifesto for a
Democratic victory in 2008. It is also
essential parochial in tone, written for an American, not an international
audience, but this is a common-place of most American writing on politics
today. Americans appear to be so
bewitched by the problems that their society faces that they cannot see that
many of their problems, such as oil depletion and climate change, are common to
If one can project Phillips’ conclusions, I would conclude
that a victorious Democratic Presidential candidate will represent the middle
ground in American politics, supportive of strong moral values (an area where Clinton so obviously failed), American interests and
reputation in the world, reducing national indebtedness and rebuilding its
educational systems and its industrial base.
It is also possible that a politically supported universal medical
system could be introduced, similar to Canada’s, given the negative
consequences to business and individuals (other than doctors and the health
industry) of continuing the present system.
It is also likely that the bloated and baroque military will be trimmed dramatically,
as its budget is a major factor in national indebtedness, and the Chinese will
not want to finance the U.S. Army for ever; it is notable that the defense
industry has been a major financial support of the Republican Party. Phillips’ believes that Democratic prospects would
be undermined by any attempt to create national policies which are dictated by
the liberal wing of the Democrat Party, neither party can afford to move too
far from the center ground if it is to gain power.
While I believe that Phillips’ conclusions about the present
American political alignments are fundamentally correct, I believe that his
underlying analysis of the issues facing America today are less than
satisfactory and that his historical parallels are forced. But the historical parallels are unnecessary
in terms of his primary arguments and, in my opinion, mainly serve to remind
American readers that that in the words of Kipling’s Recessional –
our navies melt away;
dune and headland sinks the fire:
all our pomp of yesterday
one with Nineveh and Tyre!
of the Nations, spare us yet.
we forget - lest we forget!
For the reader who is interested in a recent historical
consideration of the impact of the decline of Empires read Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World (2006).
in his analysis of current American problems, essentially addresses three
issues, firstly the influence of religion on the modern Republic Party,
secondly the massive indebtedness of the United States and thirdly its
continued dependence on the declining resource of imported oil. In dealing with these issues he also raises
the associated problems of the religious right’s influence on the U.S.
Administration’s Middle Eastern policies, although, unlike John Mearsheimer and
Stephen Walt, whose article The Israel
Lobby appeared in The London Review
of Books (23 March 2006), he does
not focus on the influence of the Israeli lobby on U.S. policy, rather seeing
this in terms of the interests of Evangelical, or “Born Again”,
Christians. For non-American readers
Phillips’ accounts of the influence of the religious right offer many
insights. For from the secular prospects
of Western Europe and Canada, the fact that large numbers of Americans believe
in that the Bible is literally true, and that Christ will soon come for a
second time, is unbelievable, the sort of religious dogma that one may be find
in a country like Saudi Arabia or Iran.
Europeans, particularly the British, sometimes make the mistake of
thinking that Americans are just the same as us, Phillips shows that large
numbers of Americans occupy a different planet.
It may well be that American religious fundamentalists are as big a
problem as the fundamentalists of the Middle East. In fact it may well be that the Republican
fears of Islamic fundamentalism are a reflection of their supporters’ own views,
in some cases they mirror each other.
After all, as Phillips points out, it was an American who has suggested
the judicial killing of homosexuals, not a wild-eyed Taliban Mullah from Afghanistan. At recent international conferences on AIDS,
women’s rights and similar issues, as Phillips notes, American delegates have
often found themselves allied to the representatives of fundamentalist Islamic
States, rather than with the European States, or Canada.
Phillips’ information on declining oil supplies quotes
recent books, such as Matthew R Simmons’
in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy (2005). If you are interested in topics such as peak
oil and the amount of crude oil reserves in the world there are more
authoritative sources, but Phillips does introduce some useful insights when he
highlights the extent to which America
is still an “oil economy”. His main
points are that there is a lack of general awareness amongst the American
public that alternative energy sources are now essential and that America cannot
afford the financial and political consequences of its increasing dependence on
It is the rising cost of oil imports, both because of the increasing
volumes of oil being imported into the United States, and the increasing
price being paid per barrel. The
increasing price per barrel is in large part a consequence of the disastrous
Iraqi adventure, and the use of force against Iran would see yet another major
increase in oil prices. American consumers have become used to the idea that
they have a right to unlimited supplies of cheap gasoline, the coming realities
will undermine that belief.
It is, however, the cost of oil imports, which leads to
Phillips’ greatest concern, the rapidly rising indebtedness of the United States. It is this section, together with the
chapters on the impact of the religious right on the Republican Party, which
make me strongly recommend this book.
Phillips’ account of the national and individual indebtedness is of a
disaster than is in the process of happening, a financial train-wreck which
will have global implications and which could see a collapse similar to that of
the Weimar Republic in the 1930s, or at least a
major period of depression. Something
that I will explore in my forthcoming book The
World in Crisis. In brief the United States is the world’s largest debtor
nation, kept solvent by the massive purchase of U.S. Government bonds by the
Central Banks of East Asia, particularly China. As Britain
learnt in 1945, indebtedness to a foreign power (the U.S.
in Britain’s case) can be
very harmful, the national food ration was reduced after victory had been
achieved, as Britain
was so indebted, and could not afford all the imports it needed.
The reserve status of the U.S. Dollar has been in relative
decline over the last decade, as central banks have increased their holdings of
Euros and other currencies. A little
noticed effect of the Dubai Ports affair was that the U.A.E. sold Dollars from
its national reserves and increased the proportion of its reserves held in
Euros. There has also been pressure
within OPEC to price oil in Euros, or in a basket of currencies, pressure that
will only increase as the U.S. Dollar declines against other currencies, such
as the Euro, the Yen and the Yuan. As
the reserve status of the U.S. Dollar declines the United States will be unable to
print currency in order to pay for its imports from non-Dollar countries,
instead it will need to earn the Euros and Yuan to pay for its essential
imports. However, as Phillips clearly
points out, America has,
unlike Europe, hollowed out its manufacturing
capacity, in the pursuit of the global ambitions of its corporations, and has
financialized its economy, so that profits are made by finance companies, not
Phillips also provides ample evidence of the growing
personal indebtedness of individual Americans and the encouragement, from the
President down, that American receive to consume, one obvious example which
Phillips cites was G W Bush’s instructions to Americans after 9/11 to consume
to help the national economy. Phillips
believes that the U.S.
housing market has served to underpin consumer spending and that the housing
market has the makings of a financial bubble, he says that declining house
values would have a serious effect on U.S. employment and the whole
economy. As I mentioned earlier,
although Phillips does not say so explicitly, I believe that this implies that
there will be a major financial collapse as the U.S. markets adjust to realities,
which implies a major recession. As Bill
Clinton is said to have observed, “it’s the economy stupid.” I will cover the impact of long-term economic
circles in my forthcoming review of Timo Hamalainen’s National Competitiveness and Economic Growth.
Having defined the three “big” issues, it is interesting to
consider the issues that Phillips does not explicitly deal with, the most
notable one being the impact of climate change; although he notes that the
religious right dismisses the concept because it is not mentioned in the Bible
(but then neither are aircraft, or naval task forces, and they seem comfortable
with those realities). Neither does he
seriously address the growing abuse of human rights (torture and the bombing of
civilians), the use of American military power, and the growing strength of
international opposition to U.S. foreign policies, a subject dealt with in
detail by Noam Chomsky’s recent book Failed
States (2006), which will also be the subject of a future review. He suggests that China
will assume the mantle of global hegemony, but does not consider the
possibility of the emergence of a multi-polar world in which countries like India, Venezuela,
Brazil, Iran and Russia see an increase in their
relative importance in the world.
In conclusion I strongly recommend this book. Although it (and its companion volumes) may
not deal with all the problems currently faced by the United States,
it contains a great deal of useful information, much of it will be new,
especially to the non-American reader.
Phillips concludes with the clearest explanation of the likely rise of
the Democratic Party at the expense of the increasingly “righteous” and
religious Republic Party. Phillips
writes clearly and with real passion, I enjoyed this book.