Transiting from Mearsheimer and Walt to Phillips, is something of a leap over a creek with only a few small, slick stepping stones. The M&W focused on a lobby, created in the cast of traditional American Interest Group politics, with that huge anomaly that one part of the interest group, the Lobby, is identified by its belief that success involves the spiritual, cultural if not physical elimination of the other. But taste if not taboo prevent us from focusing our gaze on this fault line that in most political science oriented analysis of a Lobby, would be a significant dysfunctional trait at the core of analysis. The irony is complete once one comprehends how influential the Lobby has been in the formulation and practice of American Foreign Policy, and that those who question one or another tenet of it are the likely targets of smear and accusations of anti-Semitism. Apparently, when the New York Sun sought to review M&W's book, they first called David Duke of the KKK, and after describing for him several themes of the book (he had never heard of the book or the authors), he apparently offered up some approving language, resulting in a review that Headlined David Duke as "recommending" the book. Aah the practice of the Journalistic Smear! Of course the irony is that those who predicate their world view and thus their notions of foreign policy on an End-Times narrative that would eliminate their political partners never have to answer the key question -- is that Narrative essentially anti-Semitic? Among other things, M&W suggest breaking the taboo, and asking that question.
Phillips approach to this question is quite different -- he is less concerned with the sociological approach (a study of the social bond that forges institutional social structures such as a Lobby), and much more concerned with cultural history, and his thesis emerges from his study of American Protestant History rooted in the largely British sects and cults that initially settled the US, and essentially continued in an American context, the conflicts that date back to the English Civil Wars of the early 1600's. Phillips sees both the American Revolution and our own Civil War -- reconstruction, and ultimately the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's - 1970's, as a continuation of that 17th Century conflict transported from the United Kingdom to the US. Through a process of repeated "Revival" movements, American Protestantism constantly churns, first, through sectarian emotional rejection of institutionalized religious forms for having "compromised" in building the new Jerusalem in the American Wilderness, second, by creating a less worldly and more uncompromising loose institutional structure (or new cult), and third, as that new structure makes the necessary accomodations, setting the stage for the process to repeat itself in the next or a near future generation. Phillips contends that it is this pattern of cycles that constantly return to the theme of building the new Jerusalem in the Wilderness -- that is the foundation for the belief in American Exceptionalism, with all the baggage that carries. Phillips comprehends Wilson, for instance, sailing off to the Versailles Conference with his 14 points as a Preacher for American Exceptionalism, a theme repeated in the current administration with GWB's neo-Wilsonian waving the flags of Freedom and Liberty and a thin gruel notion of Democracy. Phillips sees this "process" as easily co-optable by those who do politics by putting a religious veneer on essentially political power objectives, and thus he sandwiches his religious cultural history analysis between a first and third part of his book, the first devoted to Oil, and the rather high probability of a world war for Oil Resources -- and the third devoted to the implications of the Financialization of the US, and the likely social and political decay resulting from the US debt, the collapse of the dollar, the bursting of various bubbles, (Phillips predicted the real estate bubble bursting in 2005), all of which, he further predicts, will be offered up to America in the Theocratic garments he describes in the middle core of his book.
Phillips offers up many perhaps stray issues around which he makes a fairly weak but still plausible argument for a better than worst case outcome. (Phillips has to be understood as publishing in early 2005 -- before Katrina, before Bush's poll numbers started going south, and before the press aroused itself, and began to critically examine many parts of the Republican Religious Establishment.) Nonetheless, Phillips finds hope in the fairly substantial statistical disagreement between hard theologically based positions of the religious right (the litmus test issues) and academic studies and public polling around these issues, and suggests many of these may be keys to understanding the phase of the cycle or pattern at the core of Phillips thesis about the theocratic tendency in American Protestantism, leading to the kind of compromises Phillips postulates eventually lead to a weakening in evangelical revivalist movements. And because at heart, Phillips started his publishing and consulting career as a Republican Strategist for that "new new Nixon" movement in the late 1960's, in essence his purpose is to suggest the terms of divorce more moderate Republicans might use to end their dependence on the Religious Right that has captured control of his, (Kevin Phillips's) party. In essence his argument is that Republicans have to propose solutions to Oil dependency that work -- without having a world war for control of commidities, colored as a religious war -- and at the same time, fashion some new form of "sound dollar" economic program that addresses the profound economic inequalities Phillips addressed in "Wealth and Democracy" that he contends have been legitimized by the "Wealth doctrines" of many Republican linked evangelical movements.
Where I suggest Mearsheimer and Walt essentially agree with Phillips is on the matter of the distorting power of the religious right -- more general in Phillips analysis, more specific in M&W's analysis of the place of the Christian Zionists in the Israel Lobby coalition. Their frame of analysis is very different -- M&W as International Relations Realists see the distortion in the rejection of normative national interest approaches to setting American Foreign Policy and the willing incorporation of the End-Times narrative as the core of policy, whereas Phillips comprehends the distortion in the willing electorial dependence of Republicans on theologically based irrational beliefs that prevent Republicans -- and indeed many independents -- from straightforwardly addressing real problems, such as Oil Dependency or the collapse of segments of the US financial system, and the profound weakening of the dollar.
In the case of Phillips, this leads to his essential prescription, with which I strongly agree -- and which I can reduce to a simple political slogan, namely BRING BACK THE ENLIGHTENMENT! In the case of Mearsheimer and Walt one might phrase it as FORGET THE TABOOS, LET'S TALK.
Summed up, and coming from very different directions, these books do converge on the core distorting character of the American Religious Right. Our next book -- Damon Linker's insider's tale "The Theocons" will take us inside the movement. Linker was for a number of years editor of "First Things" -- the leading Theocon Journal, and his "tell all" story adds more flesh to the necessary comprehension of the Politics - Religion relationships.