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March 20, 2006

NYT reviews "American Theocracy" by Kevin Phillips

Alan Brinkley  reviews Kevin Phillips' "American Theocracy" in the New York Times.

Forty years ago, Kevin Phillips coined the term "emerging Republican majority." As a Republican strategist in the late sixties Phillips foresaw that population shifts from the industrial North to the South and West would create a more powerful and more conservative Republican party. He used to think that was a good thing. Later, Phillips became a Republican apostate before apostacy was fashionable.

Brinkley writes:

No longer does he see Republican government as a source of stability and order. Instead, he presents a nightmarish vision of ideological extremism, catastrophic fiscal irresponsibility, rampant greed and dangerous shortsightedness. (His final chapter is entitled "The Erring Republican Majority.") In an era of best-selling jeremiads on both sides of the political divide, "American Theocracy" may be the most alarming analysis of where we are and where we may be going to have appeared in many years. It is not without polemic, but unlike many of the more glib and strident political commentaries of recent years, it is extensively researched and for the most part frighteningly persuasive.

Phillips identifies three major threats: America's dependence on foreign oil and the imperialist adventures that this addiction necessitates, the ever-increasing national debt, and the rise of politically-minded Christian fundamentalism.

I'm certainly looking forward to reading American Theocracy. Anybody else read it yet?


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It's on my to-read list too, I think. A question though - is this guy an academic now? Is he for real? Or is this a more heavily footnoted James Carville/Begala-type polemic book? I don't have anything against those guys or that genre of book, but I'd rather read more academic-type analyses. I'm sufficient bitter that I don't need further polemic books at this point.

I assume it is for real b/c Brinkley did the review, but I don't know much about this guys post-Nixon history.

Here's where I have to confess that I am just not the sort of guy who does his homework. If the three major contentions of the book are things I already believe and feel I have plenty of observations to support the belief, why do I need to read the book?
[nobody should waste any time answering such a foolish question unless they think the answer might help someone else...I am beyond redemption]

I share Publius's sentiment about polemics, except for one thing--the focus on national debt in Philip's book. The NYT review suggested Philips was writing about personal indebtedness in addition to the problem of national debt.

What I find somewhat scary is the idea that with the proliferation of (very high interest rate) credit cards, people are spending more than they're making. The catch-22 is that, on the one hand, we're supposed to be saving; but on the other hand, if we don't spend money on cars, electronics, things of all kinds, the economy suffers. I wonder how close we are to the proverbial tipping point where our personal spending and excessive debt loads lead to some sort of economic turmoil when we can't keep the shell game going any more.

Jesus, you guys need to get out a little.

Reading this kind of crap, one can only ask: Are you really this stupid?

Thank God for rednecks. If it weren't for rednecks the asinine Spoiled Brat agenda of this site might actually be enacted.

You folks should listen to truck driving songs. I mean, the insular stupidity of this site and its comments really take the cake!

Haven't read the book either. Also am interested, if it's a serious study.

Bulworth, on the national debt issue, The Economist is with you. (Yes, I've mentioned the magazine a lot lately--though it has its biases, The Economist is my main source of news.) They find our lack of private saving much more worrisome than our balance-of-payments deficit with China and others, or our federal budget deficit.

The answer to your question is: when housing prices drop, or even level off, and the spending from homeowners drops with it, as people can't bank (or borrow) on the increasing value of their homes, they won't buy those electronics and cars anymore. Price deflation then occurs, which is bad for manufacturers and retailers, but good for those who have great piles of money in the bank. It would be good for the consumer, too, but many of those consumers' jobs will have become casualties.

Why should I read Phillips, when I ca read Stirling Newberry at BOPNews? Who not only analyzes the extraction wars, the rentier counter-revolution(debt), and the attractions of neo-feudalism, but shows their intrinsic connections, the deterministic economic origins, and the solution in an meso-economic energy economy. Long and difficult reads, but try a couple.

The Three Eras of Globalization

From the Grave of Neo-Liberalism

Two Post WWII Economies

For instance, the debt is not a bad choice, but a concious asset inflation to keep the oilarchies from buying up the West. Phillips is at best a middleweight.

(To clarify, The Economist most often warns of excessive private debt in the context of the trade deficit with China, and says that China's pegging of their currency at 8 Yuan to the Dollar is less to blame for the deficit problem than our lack of private saving is)

Bob, thank you for the post. I'll certainly read those, and keep reading them. There's a lot there. I take particular exception, as usual, against the railing against protectionism (and the Economist rails against protectionism too). The statement that "The obvious result of protectionism will be a world war with millions dead" makes me say, "Come on, already." Protectionism is a dirty word, but I like saying dirty words. I see protectionism as being like a hothouse. Not all, or even most, plants should be in hothouses. But to do away with all hothouses is to lose something precious. We have a very nice one in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

What would we lose? Well, French gastronomy, for one important thing. French artisanal bakers are under grave threat from big supermarket chains in France. As French cuisine is known the world over as something very precious, protecting these artisans from their competition is no more sacrilegious than protecting Stonehenge from wear and vandalism, or protecting the Louvre's works of art, so that people can enjoy them on a tour. If the bottom line is the only consideration, why not sell off these works of art, and use the funds to balance the budget? Sure, we'd never get to see the Mona Lisa, but artificially protecting it from the world's art market would be against liberal economics, and would surely lead to world war. Besides protecting national treasures, there are certain industries that need to be artificially protected, until they can get off the ground. China's industries have been artificially protected by their currency's low exchange rate, and low labour costs in China. The destruction of the level of "labour rent," as your man puts it, is then not only a result of our lack of protectionism; it serves to positively protect Chinese industries. No?

Judicious use of protectionism, in a few cases, is warranted.

Nevertheless, there's an awful lot of meat there, and thanks again for posting something that is certainly valuable.

I'm going to add "yuppies love French food and it must be protected" to my list of arguments to never make.

Very interesting, in your links, is this bit of meat:

The problem is relatively simple and has been sitting in plain site - namely, we are involved in a long term shift of economic basis. This is reflected in a host of ways. We are seeing a very typical endplay of an old economy - namely those that control it attempt to create a hyper-financialized system, which makes it possible, when the old economy runs out, to buy the new economy. It doesn't generally work, for three reasons.

The first is that money has an ultimate basis. That ultimate basis is what the monopoly producer will take for his goods. For a long time a dollar is what an arab would take for a barrel of oil. But before that, long before that, a dollar was what a banker would take in repayment of a loan. That is, he wanted gold-stock currency.

Others have pointed out that the US is gaming its finance and exchange advantage to extend our prosperity, but that this is an endgame for a failing system. The British had terrible problems when Churchill returned Britain to the gold standard in the 1920s, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. This caused deflation, though because people hadn't been able to buy during World War I, there was a lot of pent-up demand, which kept things going for a few years. The fluctuations in the value of the Pound Sterling caused terrible problems for the British in the last few decades of their Empire. The British and French had to back down during the Suez Crisis, for instance, because there was a run on the Pound, and America put the screws to Britain as the fee for bailing them out.

Now that Bretton Woods has gone, and the gold standard is no more, I think we're getting fucked by the fiat. There are a billion workers in China; therefore, if their manufacturers stand to gain by their economic system and exchange rate, that's a huge imbalance of such gain. It's a strange idea to have all these different types of money. Exchange-rate imbalances are bound to crop up, having disastrous, dislocating effects on huge numbers of people at a stroke. Don't want to go all "One-world Government" on you all, but having just one currency might lead to less chaos in the world's economic exchange.

Eli, would you give it a rest, already? Your ad hominem is showing.

For the record, too, the artisanal bakers I speak of are village or town bakers, who serve the rich, poor, and middle class in France, not yuppies. I'm speaking of them because there have been protests from the French people on the subject, including farmer Jose Bove, who drove a tractor through a McDonalds to protest fast-food's destruction of the French lifestyle. Mr. Bove, and many others, have spoken urgently on the supermarkets' and fast-food chains' decimation of the French farmer, restarateur, and artisanal bakers.

That's funny, because your initial argument was this:

As French cuisine is known the world over as something very precious, protecting these artisans from their competition is no more sacrilegious than protecting Stonehenge from wear and vandalism, or protecting the Louvre's works of art, so that people can enjoy them on a tour.

Your backtracking is showing.

Even your modified version of the argument is unconvincing. Why should we subsidize the existence of these artisans in perpetuity at the expense of consumers, who obviously value alternate choices more highly?

Incidentally, I don't know what to "give a rest." Chill out. You're being "predictably schoolmarmish" as someone once said.

Q: How many 1984s does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Yes, it is a serious study, and his work through the years has been particularly prescient. Most recently he's written a devastating critique of the Bush family and a history of wealth in America.

I have not read this new book, but I have read his 1994 work, Arrogant Capital, which put forth the same idea minus the religion and dependence on oil. In it, Phillips makes a compelling case that the national debt and rampant lobbying is a sign of the decline of our nation similar to other empires that have fallen (Rome, Britian, Netherlands, etc.) and that because of the rise of special interest politics the people were only marginally represented by their elected representatives.

With the deficit now at 9 trillion, the number of lobbyists having doubled in the last four years, and Reuters anticipating only 33 of 435 seats to be competitive in the next election, I think Phillips has demonstrated that he's a voice worth taking heed of.

Way to prove me wrong, Eli. No, you're not acting out in some vindictive, childish way, with any snide comments. Rather than take this thread off-topic, let me answer you on the Go Fug Yourself thread.


I've been a big admirer of Phillips' since he wrote "Politics of Rich and Poor." That was the book that marked his break from the Republican party, as he saw that Reagan had changed it from a defender of the middle class to an elist rich boy's club.

His first appearance in print was a cameo role in Joe McGinnis' "The Selling of the President," which followed the 1968 campaign. While McGinnis admired the determination and media savvy of the young Roger Ailes, he laughed at Phillips.

Phillips was portrayed as a guy who always seemed to be pecking away at his adding machine, and whose closet-sized office was jammed with indecipherable charts. He kept saying looney things like, "The generation in college today is more conservative than their parents! The Democrats will be lucky to win any presidential elections for the next 20 years!"

To be fair to McGinnis, though, when Phillips published "The Emerging Republican Majority" just 5 years after Johnson's landslide, few took him seriously.

I have read the chapters on the surge in support for religion in politics. For those who have already read some of Phillips' books using the finest techniques of political analysis, it is a very convincing case that the religious right is aimnig at major changes the way we live our lives. They are currently using the vehicle of the Republican party to achieve their goals. He also documents the connections with the ambitions of the South in thier return to power. All serious students of politics and all those who cherish the imprtance of separation of church and state i our governing system, this booik is a must read.

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