Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Review of the Book "American Theocracy"

American Theocracy – Kevin Phillips, published 2006

This book is by a former strategist for the Nixonian Republican Party, who has strayed far from the ranch. I call it Nixonian because Nixon was a veritable realist ‘liberal’ compared to the people Phillips now sees running that party. Phillips initiated the ‘southern strategy’ for Nixon. It is quite appropriate that Phillips is now writing the epitaph for the Republican ‘southern strategy’ after 35 years. He notes that the South is the strongest regional base the Republicans have anywhere, as they have slowly lost their hold on the western, southwestern and some northeastern states recently.

What is happening to the United States, according to Phillips? 3 concepts: fading power technologies, excess religion and overwhelming debt. Phillips unique contribution is to go back into the history of the Spanish, Dutch and English imperialisms to show how the ascendancy of all 3 of these ‘horsemen of the apocalypse’ marked the end of primitive accumulation, mercantilism and colonialist empires in the past. And by association, he suggests that the hegemony of U.S. imperialism is in its last declining stages. Not bad for a former Republican. The whole book for the most part jibes with Marxist thinking, at least in the sense that no stage of human development or any imperialism is eternal, and ‘beyond history.’ Those who declare the end of history are bound to be caught up in it, as even Mr. Fukayama now admits.

The Three Horsemen -

The first part of his book shows how the collapse of wind power for the Dutch, and coal for the English, forecast the decline of their respective powers. Phillips considers oil to be the equivalent source of power in the U.S., and its decline will parallel the decline of the United States. He is doubtful that this country will be able to adapt to a new technology. Oils and American military, economic and political power have been entwined in a death grip from the beginning.

The second part deals with the rise of radical fundamentalist religion in the U.S. Phillips wrote a book prior to this on the Bush dynasty, and how our ‘democratic’ presidency has now started to devolve into an American political aristocracy. He points out that Bush is the most religious president in U.S. history, and his main voting base is primarily fundamentalist Christian. By allowing the Republican Party to be taken over by Southern Baptists and other Pentecostalist groups, the Party has become almost a theocratic party. It no longer believes in the separation of church and state, and has based itself in the South as a consequence of this. He traces the similar rise of rigid, irrational state religion in Spain, the Netherlands and Britain as aspects of their decline, as their state religions blinded them to the objective processes that were going on, and made them unable to adapt. He points out irrationalism is a sign of intellectual decay.

The third part relates to debt. Unlike most traditional Marxist analyses, which see imperialism ‘exporting’ capital all over the world, Phillips sees the U.S. as the largest exporter of debt, ‘importing’ capital from all over the world to float the U.S. economy. We are now the biggest debtor nation in history, and our population has the deepest debt of any in history. Our treasury bills are mostly owned by Chinese, Saudi and some European nations, supplying money to us so that we can continue to buy their products.

At the same time, Phillips sees the U.S. as consciously abandoning the production of products in the last 35 years. Any blue collar worked knows what this has meant. In the place of it, for the first time in U.S. history in 2003, finance is now the largest sector of the U.S. economy, while employing far fewer people than production ever did. This is one reason for the impoverishment of the U.S. working class, and its gradual change in character to that of lowly-paid service workers. This corresponds to Lenin’s analysis of the primacy of finance capital in late imperialism. It also explains why so many blue collar jobs have moved overseas.

Phillips shows this same predilection for finance and debt at the END of the Spanish, Dutch and English regencies. The Spanish ran out of gold from the ‘new’ world and turned to Italian and German bankers to fund their increasingly weak economy and wars. The Dutch ended the production of products, and became the bankers to the world, then had to pay for the expensive 30-years war with no products. The English involvement in World War One almost bankrupted them, although their productive sector was no where as weak as the U.S. one is now. But finance ruled there too during this period.

The Perfect Storm -

You can see where this is going. The involvement in Iraq is the ‘perfect storm’ for U.S. imperialism, involving all three empire-ending aspects – oil, religion and debt. The ruling elite, from the Carter doctrine that the Middle East is ‘strategic’ to U.S. interests, and the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war, all support some kind of a fight for unexplored oil in Iraq, and military control of the rest of this region. Hussein was reportedly going to give the concessions for this oil, not to U.S. companies, but to Chinese, Russian and some European ones (the damned French…). British companies were not going to get any either, which explains their participation in the war. This jibes with Greg Palast’s analysis. And it also neatly fits into a Marxist view of inter-imperialist rivalry. Peak oil has made the life-blood of the U.S. system even more important.

Religion plays a largely unexamined role in the Middle East, but for the Bush voter, the re-establishment of the State of Israel (which was supported initially by the British for religious reasons too) and then the subsequent prophecy of the coming of the Messiah play a role in their support for war in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and elsewhere. Much Rapture and Armageddeon theology posits that the anti-Christ is in the Middle East now, and the final battle between “good” and “evil” is upon us. Bush’s own statements play up his theological view of the issue, which is why no amount of facts deter him.

Finally, the war in Iraq is so expensive that the U.S. quite literally cannot afford it. When it is piled on top of our economy built on financial cards, it can create long term economic stress and vast debt. This can lead to recessions that will make the ones in the 70s and 80s, partly produced by the debt from Vietnam, look like tea parties. Washington Tea Parties.

Red Frog, 7/21/2007

----- and I got it at May Day Books!