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American Theocracy, By Kevin Phillips (Viking, 2006)


Do you feel the United States is headed in the wrong direction? Are you a Christian who resents the name of God being tied to nationalism, militarism, and an anti-scientific worldview?

If so, then you will find much to agree with in American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips, a former Republican strategist and acerbic critic of George Bush, father and son.

The book is divided into three sections dealing with oil, religion, and debt. Phillips summarizes his case on the first page: “Reckless dependency on shrinking oil supplies, a milieu of radicalized (and much too influential) religion, and a reliance on borrowed money — debt, in its ballooning size and multiple domestic and international deficits — now constitute the three major perils to the United States of the twenty first century.”

Comparing 21st Century America to past great powers such 16th Century Spain, 17th Century Holland, and 19th Century Great Britain, Phillips draws disturbing parallels. Each, to varying degrees, became overextended militarily, relied on an energy source soon to be eclipsed, moved from an economy based on manufacturing to one based on finance, and indulged in religious excess.

In great detail, Phillips shows how much the need for cheap oil has influenced U.S. policy toward the Middle East, including the invasion of Iraq.

With similar insight, Phillips writes of the “financialization” of the U.S. economy in recent decades, with manufacturing strongly surpassed by the finance, real estate, and insurance sectors. This rise has been closely tied to record levels of debt and to the emergence of what he calls “a debt-and-credit industrial complex.”

Warns Phillips: “Crippling indebtedness is like the ghost of leading world economic powers past.”

Phillips calls the 21st Century Republican Party the nation’s first religious party, embodying the anti-scientific, nationalistic, and militaristic world-view of its most fervent evangelical supporters. Serious Catholics might reflect how far the vision of the radical right is from the vision of Catholic social teaching.

Phillips paints a convincing picture of a great power in decline in American Theocracy. I highly recommend it.

—Mark E. Rondeau

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