Monday, October 23, 2006


Online at:

Book Round Up #15: "American Theocracy" and "The Spanish Civil War"
By Thomas Riggins [PA Archives]

Here is another one of our previews (reviews of reviews) of new and important books of interest to the progessive community. The 14 previous Book Round Up entries are archived on our website. If anyone would like to read one of these books and write a full review (800 words) please contact me at

This is another book from the genre of ex-Republicans who have awakened to the fact that the party they once believed in has become the tool of elite business interests and has nothing to do with real democracy. Kakutani lists three previous books by Phillips--the first one is a famous pro-Republican manifesto. The books are "The Emerging Republican Majority" (1969), and then, some thirty years later, "furious jeremiads" against the Establishment: "Wealth and Democracy" (2002) and "American Dynasty" (2004) in the last one, Kakutani says, the author portrayed the Bush family as practicing, in his own words, "blatant business cronyism" on behalf of oil and other corporate interests and allied with the military-industrial complex.

Phillips, in his new book, ranges through history describing the symptoms of imperial decline (the Romans, Hapsburgs, the British Empire, etc.,) and comes up with five conditions reflecting, in his words, "a power already at its peak and starting to decline." They are 1, "widespread public concern over cultural and economic decay" 2, "growing religious fervor" 3, "a rising commitment to faith as opposed to reason and a corollary downplaying of science" 4, "considerable popular anticipation of a millennial time frame" 5, "hubris-driven national strategic and military overreach." Kakutani writes that Phillips adds a sixth, namely, "high debt, which can become 'crippling in its own right.'"

Bush and the Republicans are spearheading a counter-Enlightenment based on "the 30 to 40 percent of the electorate caught up in Scripture." according to Phillips. Kakutani writes, "As Mr. Phillips sees it, 'the Southernization of American governance and religion' is 'abetting far-reaching ideological change and eroding the separation of powers between church and state.' while moving the Republican party toward ' a new incarnation as an ecumenical religious party, claiming loyalties from hard-shell Baptists and Mormons, as well as Eastern Rite Catholics and Hasidic Jews,' who all define themselves against the common enemy of secular liberalism."

Phillips thinks that the growing influence of religion on the state can have disastrous influences with respect to the state's continuing viability. Kakutani quotes him on the past: "militant Catholicism helped undo the Roman and Spanish empires; the Calvinist fundamentalism of the Dutch Reformed Church helped to block any 18th-century Dutch renewal; and the interplay of imperialism and evangelicalism led pre-1914 Britain into a bloodbath and global decline."

Phillips thinks something similar is happening to the U.S. today. Bush and the Republicans are responsible or egging on "U.S. oil vulnerability, excessive indebtedness and indulgence of radical religion" he writes. Kakutani seems a bit skeptical of some of Phillips arguments and conclusions. It is true that this book does not contain a Marxist analysis but from what Kakutani says about it, and the quotes given from Phillips, one can see that elements of the ruling class are worried about the extremist policies of the Bush administration.

Kakutani ends his review with some remarks about the book's "afterward" wherein the author "suggests that the G.O.P. coalition is 'fatally flawed from a national-interest standpoint' partly because it is dominated 'by an array of outsider religious denominations caught up in biblical morality, distrust of science and a global imperative of political and religious evangelicalism,' but he does not really explain why this development could lead to a Republican downfall." He then cynically concludes, "Perhaps he is saving that for his next book-- when the results of the midterm elections are known." This indicates he thinks Phillips is basically a Monday morning quarterback.

THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION by Helen Graham, Oxford University Press 2005, 175 pp., reviewed by Peter N. Carroll in The Volunteer: Journal of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, March 2006.

There have been umpteen thousand books written about the Spanish Civil War-- one of the great Left struggles of the pre-WW2 years of the last century. Young progressives of today owe it to themselves to know about this Civil War. Older progressives too, if they have not made a special study of the conflict, should also learn the facts. Fortunately this small book from Oxford fits the bill of providing a short, painless, introduction to this controversial subject matter. Carroll, author of La Odisea de la Brigada Abraham Lincoln, tells us that Graham, in this work, basically condensed to 175 pages her 2002 work The Spanish Republic at War: 1936-1939 (2002) and that her "ideas and insights pop and sizzle on the page."

Progressives will like the fact that the book lays to rest all the ultra-right and down right fascist propaganda about the role of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of Spain in the war. Carroll notes that Graham "takes on some recent historical critics who blame the defeat of the Spanish Republic on the policies of the Communist party and who have suggested that Franco's victory was probably good for the Spanish people."

As far as the Soviet Union is concerned, fears of its wanting a "satellite" state, the reviewer quotes the book which calls this a "deeply anachronistic reading of history -- namely that the Soviet Union intervening in Spain in 1936 was already the political and economic superpower of the post-Second World War period."

Carroll also points out that the war in Spain was not just about politics and economics. He maintains that the book makes clear "the Spanish Civil War was truly a battle of ideologies-- not just democracy versus fascism, but free minds challenging a monolithic world of fixed belief." Communists can be proud of the fact that they fought on the side of democracy and the free minds.

Thomas Riggins is the Book Review Editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

No comments: