American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century

by Kevin Phillips

Hardcover, 2006




New York : Viking, 2006.


Former Republican strategist Phillips takes an uncompromising view of the political coalition, led by radical religion, that is driving America to the brink of disaster. From Ancient Rome to the British Empire, Phillips demonstrates that every world-dominating power has been brought down by a related set of causes: a lethal combination of global over-reach, militant religion, resource problems, and ballooning debt. It is this same axis of ills that has come to define America's political and economic identity in the past decade. Military miscalculations in the Middle East, the surge of fundamentalist religion, the staggering national debt, the costs of U.S. oil dependence--together these factors are undermining our nation's security, solvency, and standing in the world. If left unchecked, the same forces will bring a debt-bloated, preachy, energy-starved America to its knees.--From publisher description.… (more)

Media reviews

Phillips (American Dynasty, 2004, etc.), the apostate former Republican strategist, once coined the term “Sun Belt” and envisioned the Southernization of American politics. He is now in the unhappy position of bearing witness to the birth of a Texas-fried, small-tent politics that blends religious orthodoxy and unwavering uncertainty in presidential infallibility with an economics predicated on indebtedness and extraction. The red state/blue state schism marks several old divides, he holds, one between “a preference for conspicuous consumption over energy efficiency and conservation,” one between secularism and theocracy.
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Phillips has remained a prolific and important political commentator in the decades since, but he long ago abandoned his enthusiasm for the Republican coalition he helped to build.... he presents a nightmarish vision of ideological extremism, catastrophic fiscal irresponsibility, rampant greed and dangerous shortsightedness. By describing a series of major transformations, by demonstrating the relationships among them and by discussing them with passionate restraint, Phillips has created a harrowing picture of national danger that no American reader will welcome, but that none should ignore.

User reviews

LibraryThing member JBreedlove
One of the best non-fiction books I have ever read. A Nixonite Republican bemoans the overtaking of his party by southern religious extremists. He describes how the depletion of world oil reserves, debt, and the placing of religion over science in our education system is leading to the end of the American Empire as we know it. Full of historical comparisons. I read this during the great financial melt down of 2008. In the end its the fault of every American. We want something for nothing and we elected a fool (twice) who told us what we wanted to hear.… (more)
LibraryThing member kasualkafe
its incredible how accurately this book predicted the current economic realities we are currently experiencing , It was written over 3 years ago. This book makes credible arguments that oil and religion have been the focus of our politics at the cost to the american people. I mean , we went into Iraq for Oil and we didn`t even get it ...the chinese won the first contract. The direction and political decisions influenced by religion is staggering and scary. A worthwhile and eye-opening read. This book will not make you happy. It points out the ugly truths and trends in America which could lead to its demise. And the downside of the book is that there were no solutions ventured forth . I for one believe that with the new President and congress some of the issues this book sheds light on , Obama already repealed some of the religious fueled policies of Bush and we have our first study FDA approved trial of stem cells therapy. I believe that Obama`s focus , unlike the oilmen Bush and Cheney , is truly to ween us off of Oil and I believe the economy meltdown has put market forces back to work in the right way for that to happen. As far as the economy and debt , The economic recession has also radically changed the corporate financial landscape , Obama will push through more regulatory oversight to prevent such recurrence and we as Americans have no choice but to become savers not spenders and one can see this happening now as more and more retail stores shut down , and businesses cut back. We may raise our National debt in the short term but I feel that the painful corrections at home and in business are well under way. There is hope.… (more)
LibraryThing member Clif
Phillips' articulates the concerns of many Americans that are troubled by the current blending of American religion and democracy. He moves on to assess the dangers oil diplomacy and excessive national and household debt. This book was written before the current home mortgage crises, but it clearly predicts that the real estate boom spurred by the Federal Reserve cannot continue. That now appears to be an easy prediction to make. So why weren't the bankers smart enough to anticipate it?

Read in April, 2007
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LibraryThing member klmccauliff
Technically I "listened" to this book on cd. I really enjoyed it and found it very helpful in understanding the danger of our current political landscape. It gets a tad boring in places.
LibraryThing member midlevelbureaucrat
This is a fascinating look at the trifecta of oil politics, right wing religion, and the massive US debt society, brought to us by the Bush administration, that threatens to end the era of American domination of the world.
LibraryThing member dlovins
Just starting to read. Scope of narrative is impressive, i.e., tracking the convergence of petroleum interests, fundamentalist Christianity, and national debt, but sometimes Phillips's style can get too cute, e.g., when he writes that Texas in the '80s had become "the gleaming clip on three of the GOP's principal ideological suspenders: the Sun Belt, the Petroleum Belt, and the Bible Belt. As the Grand Old Party become Houstonized, Fort Worthified, and Wacoed, the state stopped voting for Democratic presidents" (p. 42). This kind self-conscious wordplay seems unworthy of an otherwise compelling analysis.

As I continue reading, I stop caring about my earlier complaint. This really is an outstanding book. Frightening too, since, if correct, Bush is just the tip of the iceberg, and even dramatic "regime change" in the U.S. won't be able to stop our accelerating decline.

One thing I hadn't thought about (or known about, really) before: our adventures in the Middle East may not be so much about petroleum as about petro-dollars, i.e., the seldom-discussed agreement with Saudi Arabia to price all petroleum sales in U.S. dollars (thereby making this the world's preferred reserve currency, which in turn supports America's burgeoning debt). Saddam's Iraq threatened to end the dollar's monopoly, according to Phillips, by officially pricing his oil in euros as of 2000 (p. 93) [the U.S. quickly reversed this in June 2003].
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LibraryThing member nerichardson
a smart, wise and dry look at issues that most commentors get a little to over-emotional about. The last section, on America's reckless economic short-termism is the least sensational but most disconcerting.
LibraryThing member Niecierpek
Kevin Phillips, a supposedly very effective former Republican adviser and speechwriter (1960s),
argues very convincingly that the American empire is crumbling due to its overdependence on oil, unwillingness to change, consumer debt culture and religious fundamentalism. Very interesting and convincing, if overburdened with examples and repetitious. Definitely worth reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member popejephei
Brilliant and thorough. So thorough in fact that it's a long slog all the way through. So brilliant that it's hard to find fault with. This is the only book I've ever seen that combines the three big ideas that liberals stunned by their recent fall from power and grasping for causes to blame their fall on have formulated -- conservative religion, oil and ballooning debt. They didn't seem at all related to me, until I made it to the last page of this book-- now I have a hard time separating them.… (more)
LibraryThing member ebnelson
Very interesting section on debt. Lots of interesting statistics and what seemed to be solid conclusions. The problem was I'm not sure I can trust them given the holes in the preceding sections.

Section on oil was a bit alarmist, as he unjustly places oil far above all other commodities. Much of what he says about oil is true of any resource that is needed for survival, but unlike food stuffs, oil is not quite a necessity. This was overly apparent when he attempted to prove American obsession with oil prior to the rise of the automobile.

Also, he fails to recognize the economic reality that just as oil rose quickly to dominate the marketplace, so too another replacement could just as easily rise in a free market, penetrating as thoroughly and unexpectedly in a way that would seem to us as unlikely as the rise of oil distribution seemed in America in 1900.

Section on religion was horrible--he blurs the distinction between Evangelical and fundamentalist as suits his foreordained anti-conservative argument. Essentially, he wants to use statistics to show that fundamentalists are everywhere in America, so he conflates fundamentalists with Evangelicals, while tightening the definition of fundamentalists to radical conservatives--a major error, especially since the more radically conservative an American is, the more likely they are to abandon the Republicans for a truly conservative party.
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LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
A very troubling recognition of the symptoms of the disease that was Bush's America. Why oh why didn't more people read this sooner.

Does focus a bit on Bushian policies, but also on broader societal trends that started in the 1970s, and some earlier. Deepening worries of consumerism, fundamentalism, religion as intermediary in political issues, the greed for oil as political motivator. All of these topics are covered in greater detail in other books, but this one provides a solid overview of them all.

I find it quite interesting that the author was a Nixon strategist - he was arguably one of the presidents most responsible for this deepening fissure in American society.

The author does accurately foresee the 'Great Recession' crash of 2007-8, and the continued resurgence of the Far Right in the current presidential election is troubling (if morbidly amusing) to watch. One wonders if the end is nigh yet.
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LibraryThing member Devil_llama
The author's thesis, that the joining of politics, religion, and oil can't possibly lead to a good outcome for our democracy, is hard to argue with. The biggest downside of this book is that it drags a great deal, particularly in the sections on oil, and gets too deeply involved in policy for the lay person the book is aimed at; however, the message is timely: if we continue to go down the path we've started on, we could very well end up with an oil-driven theocracy. The author speaks as a Washington insider, and for this reason, his voice carries a ring of authority.… (more)
LibraryThing member PointedPundit
In his latest book, Kevin Phillips draws an alarming picture of where we are politically and where we are heading.

Unlike other best-selling polemics, “American Theocracy” is extensively researched and, for the most part, persuasive.

Phillips, a former Republican strategist and current media pundit, has an impressive tack record. Almost four decades ago as a young political strategist for the Republican Party, he wrote a remarkable book called “The Emerging Republican Majority.”

Published in 1969, he forecast the movement of people from the industrialized north to the south and the west would produce a conservative Republican majority that would dominate American politics for decades. The benefit, he wrote, was that it would restore stability and order to a society that was experiencing disorienting and at times violent change.

Although controversial at the time, it was the first book I read that forecast what, now, is history.

Shortly before publishing that book, the author joined the Nixon administration. He hoped to advance his forecast changes. Although a prolific political commentator, he has lost his enthusiasm during the ensuing decades for the Republican majority he forecast and helped create.

In his latest book, Phillips identifies three trends which threaten the United States’ future:

1. The defining, yet distorting role of oil in foreign and domestic policy.
2. Religion’s growing intrusion in politics and government.
3. Debt’s astonishing growth.

Using these three themes, Phillips weaves a convincing and well-written condemnation of the failure of our leaders to look beyond their self-interest and immediate ambitions to plan for the country’s future.

Although he continues the trend of his recent books to be critical of the policies of the current Bush Administration, for the most part, the author avoids inflammatory invectives

Rather he uses training as a lawyer, to deliver a skillful and thought-provoking indictment against this country’s leadership. However, unlike his first book, Phillips fails to offer the reader an original prescription for this country’s current problems.

Never-the less, this book’s broad and structural discussion of political and social changes makes it worth reading. Phillips’ passionless discussion draws a portrait of American society that readers may not welcome.

Yet, they will ignore it at their peril.
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LibraryThing member lriley
And for my first non-fiction review we have Kevin Phillip's 'American Theocracy'. It helps of course if you agree with his 3 main premises (which I do--and as it happens I also agree with many of his minor ones too). Phillip's is definitely in 'mea culpa' mode. From my own vantage what I consider conservative viewpoints are not all bad things for instance No. 1 would be you don't buy things you cannot afford--or if you do borrow you do so with the object of paying it back in short order or that balancing your checkbook is a good thing. More or less this is a principle that Phillip's past as Republican party know it all would rest upon. So the 3 main principles are this--that the oil well has run dry (with the exception of Alaska) in the USA and has peaked in many other parts of the world but most notably not in Iraq which is the principle reason why U.S. troops are today patrolling the streets of Baghdad. The suggestion is there that the need for the more or less unilateral strike against the Hussein regime was to cut certain countries out when it came to divvying up the oil. Certain of the present president's and vice-president's past associations in the energy field are used to fill out the picture. An analysis that neglect in other evolving energy fields (such as wind, solar or even fuel based) may lead us in the future into what he describes as 'resource wars' which will be dressed in patriotic colors. Hard for me to argue with that.

So does God exist or not? Good question. The next several chapters of Phillip's book pertain to the rise of a particularly pigheaded kind of fundamentalist christianity which Bush and by extension his political party pander to--even when it comes to pandering to absurdities. They are his base. They have kept him in power. Phillip's believes that many of them believe that the 'Anti-christ' is here right now and the Apocalypse is right around the corner. No doubt that there are those who are dim-witted enough (and I suspect I know some; but I'm not in any hurry to get to know these suspects better) to believe anything that their earthly representative with God's ear will tell them. Phillip's calculates the numbers of them and corresponds them regionally most strongly to the south and the southwest where the much more secular Democratic party is busy getting clobbered.

Which brings us to borrowed money. The Asian countries in particular China have been bankrolling our economy by buying US treasury bonds. Much about these last chapters is about how currency is manipulated--how manufacturing and industrial concerns vital to the nation are sold off piecemeal as profits are being made chasing paper credits and debits around the globe resulting in a few people making vast fortunes while less and less goes back to the population as a whole. Paralells are drawn here to other so-called world powers of the past (Spain In I believe its Golden Age; Holland which replaced it and in fact was replaced by Great Britain as the principal world power of the 18th and 19th century); countries also intent on de-industrializing while financializing their economies which Phillips contends (and to which I agree) is a recipe for disaster.

A couple other points he makes--that the policy of an unregulated Adam Smith type of free trade Capitalism is not going to work--that it does not bring costs down but leaves the population at the mercy of for instance the health care or energy industries just for two. That social safety net programs (demonized as socialism) while anathema to those of the religious right and the above mentioned free trade capitalists are essential to a nations' well being and part of the nations' fabric.

To finish off is the idea posited that a yahoo--any yahoo can spend his way to prosperity. So why not a country? Me too. One looks at our staggering trade deficit and then adds to it our staggering national budget deficit and wonders how in the world did this guy with a Harvard business degree ever get that degree or the present job that he has? We're paying for a war we cannot afford with money we cannot calculate in the present (so will have to be paid for by future administrations).???? It's quite like giving a 16 year old an unlimited credit card and encouraging him to go hog wild. With that for now I'm done.
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