Archive for December, 2006

American Theocracy

I started listening to American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century by Kevin Phillips, a difficult book to take in by CD-ROM because of the incredible density of Phillips’ prose.  But with lots of backing up and replaying, I’ve managed to get through nearly the first three chapters in a few days of driving.  Phillips builds on his earlier work in American Dynasty, Wealth and Democracy, and The Cousins’ Wars in this book, which can almost be viewed as a kind of intersection of the three.  The part I’m almost finished with, “Part I:  Oil and American Supremacy,” traces the history of oil as the “emergent fuel resource” that America as a leading power “rode into history.”  The powerful insight that he provides comes in the comparative history lessons as he looks back to the previous dominant world leaders (Spain in the 16th century, Holland in the 17th, and Britain in the 18th and 19th) and points out how we are committing the same mistakes as they did in terms of becoming stuck in an energy regime (for Holland, wind and wood; for Britain, coal).

Phillips’ analysis is relevant to a program of energonomics at the national level which attempts to “manage” its raw energy needs.  In one sense, part I is about America’s militaristic form of energonomics (as he writes in the preface, “Because the United States is beginning to run out of its own oil sources, a military solution to an energy crisis is hardly lunacy” p. xii), and it runs through the various ways that oilmen have penetrated and dominated American politics (he calls it “the Texification of America” at one point [p. 43] as he provides a roll-call of Texan candidates for president and vice-president over the past 20 years).  What I find helpful is that it weaves together the various strands that I’ve been reading about for the past four years in one place:  e.g. the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected leader in 1953, “petroleum-related interpretations of Clinton’s commitment of U.S. military forces to the Balkans” (82) for the purpose of securing pipelines, the fear that the petro-dollar would become the “petro-euro,” the Harper’s publication of an anonymous work by “Miles Ignotus” (a.k.a. Henry Kissinger) arguing for the military take-over of the Middle East (published in 1975!)–which James Akins, the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, referenced when talking about the current War in Iraq (“Of the war about to start in 2003, Akins said, ‘It’s the Kissinger plan.  I thought it had been killed, but it’s back'” p. 73).

Phillips’ discussion of our “car culture” (especially interesting when he looks at the nostalgia inherent in the various petroleum and car museums that have emerged since the 1980s) and the “fuelishness” of Reagan-era de-emphasis of energy conservation that had been underway since Carter’s election was especially sad to read about, given the opportunity we had to keep a good thing going:

The embrace of high-powered automobiles, air strikes, and invasions, all departures from the Carter mind-set, drew on distinctly Republican values.  The war to expel Iraq from Kuwait was oil related, undertaken in part to protect the American lifestyle, as President George H.W. Bush acknowledged. (56)

And the analysis of car preference as it revealed electoral preference was telling in and of itself:  Kerry, he says, “led handily among those selecting fuel-efficient imports such as Toyotas and Subarus.  Volvos, with their Swedish safety emphasis, have been the stereotyped liberal choice, but five out of six owners of fuel-saving hybrids picked the Massachusetts senator, his biggest edge.” (59)


1 December 2006 at 10:10 pm Leave a comment

December 2006
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