March 21, 2006

American Theocracy

Here are two NYT reviews of Kevin Phillips's new book, American Theocracy (by Michiko Kakutani and Alan Brinkley, respectively).

Reading these reviews, one thing troubles me. Phillips makes a three-pronged at current conservative politics—it has placed religious extremism, petro-politics, and debt at or very near the foundation of the party's energy and power. These are fairly facile criticisms, which led me to think that perhaps Phillips dazzles us all at the end and ties them together, showing how they depend on one another for their importance or at least how they relate one to another, likely showing how "theocracy" factors into all three. However, no mention of such a conclusion is made, and I doubt it is in deference to the reader's suspense.

I'm not sure one can tie these three elements together, a fact which is perplexing me. Important elements in large ideologies do not need to cohere perfectly, but the success of an ideology depends greatly on people's ability to relate different aspects or manifestations of that ideology to one another more or less simplistically.

I cannot link Christ, oil, and debt to one another in any convincing way that doesn't depend on superficial relations, such as Christ and oil sharing the Middle East. Exxon's profit margin does not, I think, explain why many Red Staters think that abortions should be criminalized. Debt, furthermore, seems to be awfully incongruous with both the Protestant Ethic and the oilman's head for business.

Perhaps I am wrong and all three fit together very nicely. I can't see it, though, and the radical incongruities I see make me wonder what the hell is really going on.

More: TPMCafe is having a week-long book club discussion of Phillips's book. The best discussion so far is, I think, this: "Are we a Christian nation? Will we be at the end of the 21st Century?"


  1. This is a longshot, but I was reading about it the other day. Apparently, 44% of Americans believe the Rapture will occur during their lifetime. This could lead to them not caring about debt or the politcal and environmental problems they cause up until the point of them being brought up to heaven.

  2. That's an immensely disturbing statistic regardless of its effect on debt or environmentalism.

    Anyway, I think that may be what Phillips is getting at, but I don't really buy it. For one thing, Christians have been anticipating imminent Armageddon since Pentecost, and that expectation has not been an obstruction to the kind of penny-pinching and tight-fistedness certain strains of Protestantism have been known for. In fact, I think historically, one might even find a positive correlation of millennialism and tightwaddery. In addition, among the rank and file conservatives, I would be surprised if evangelicals are likely to have more debt on average than non-evangelicals.

    But I would definitely like to see a study done on this, for sure.

  3. i believe that infinite novelty will cause the world to disappear in 2012 and we will all experience the rapturous post-larval stage evolution into broader consciousness etc. for further information please see terence mckenna's "time wave zero" as well as that other book he wrote where he says that cavemen used psychotropic mushrooms to invent fire, etc., thank you for asking