Derby Unitarians

American Theocracy

This book by Kevin Phillips has the sub-title 'The Perils and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century'. The author is described as being a 'former Republican strategist' and 'political and economic commentator' writing for "The Los Angeles Times" and "Harper's Magazine".

This 400-page book is an engrossing read. It makes insightful observations of America's superpower status, and compares it with the history of earlier superpowers - now in decline! Are there lessons to be learnt from history? Each of these earlier superpowers made use of circumstances and available resources. Oil (whaling), sea mastery, windmills, for the Dutch; coal and iron for the British; imports of gold and silver for the Spanish; oil for the Americans. Other factors played a part: leadership, ambition, religion. Successes seemingly signified God's approval, thus justifying greater endeavours. However, religion can have a downside. It can impede scientific advance as it has done in the past. Today, American scientists are worried about the increasing involvement of religion in government leading to underfunding of their projects, the distortion of their findings, the adverse effect on the problem-solving abilities of American youth, on evolution theory. Another hindrance to the further advance of these early 'empires' was the unequal distribution of wealth, the author contends.

The book deals with the 100-year oil wars. In the light of current events it is useful to be reminded of earlier political and military machinations. For instance, British troops in Basra in 1914. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 to carve up the Middle East between Britain and France in order to gain control of the oil supplies. The 1953 coup organised by the American Central Intelligence Agency which overthrew Mossadegh because of his nationalisation of the British-owned Iranian Oil Company. Proposals mooted in 1973 by James Schlesinger, Secretary of Defence, for a joint airborne attack by Britain and America to sieze the oilfields of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Abu Dhabi, an idea taken up some two years later by Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, writing under a nom de plume. Of primary importance to the American oil companies of the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the prospects it opened up for the making of massive profits through their control of Iraqi oilin the event of a successful outcome of the war.

Some items of news from America (about gays, etc.) give an impression of a liberal, secular society. This book quickly dispels such a conclusion. Religion holds great sway in America. The author accounts for this as being due to the large influx of dissenters from Europe, especially from Britain. The largest American religious group today are the Southern Baptist Convention (40 million adherents). It leans towards fundamentalism. The mainline churches have some 15 million members. Some of the fundamentalist groups approve of the death penalty for gays, adulterers, prostitutes, etc., and would limit the franchise to male Christians. Some see the judiciary as an enemy impeding the advance of their beliefs, are unhappy about the separation of church and state, and would abolish bodies like the Environmental protection Agency. Other fundamentalist beliefs concern the 'end times', Armageddon, and the Rapture. Many preachers of these ideas have become millionaires through the sale of books, videos, TV appearances. The Republican Party is greatly associated with religion. Coors,the brewers, have helped build four organisations supportive of the Republican party's business and religious interests.

The mainline churches, especially the Catholics, are critical of fundamentalist views. Yet it is these fundamentalist views that greatly influence top republicans in the U.S. Senate, including George W. Bush whose speeches are often couched in language that the religious can warm to.

The last 100 or so pages of the book are devoted to borrowed money. Alarmingly, President Bush and other political leaders have called for Americans to borrow more and spend more as a way out of the nation's problems. Manufacturing has declined, replaced by banks shuffling money around. In 2004 44% of corporate profits came from the financial sector, 10% from manufacturing.

One factor to which the author attributes the decline of earlier empires is the unequal distribution of wealth. That same factor seems to be reasserting itself - in the subprime mortgage crisis affecting the whole banking system, and in the repossession of people's homes. Religiosity may abound in America, but the essence of Christianity - love of one's neighbour - is being lost sight of, it seems.

- George Cope

ISBN 978-0-14-303828-3