Empire Falls

American Theocracy

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

Kevin Phillips

Viking, $26.95, 428 pp.

Augustine composed The City of God sixteen centuries ago, but its scathing survey of Rome’s waning imperial culture still seems fresh, especially his central indictment of libido dominandi-the love of domination, that ugly and relentless desire for power that perverts and destroys all our blessings. Augustine’s picture of Rome captured a populace content “so long as it enjoys material prosperity and the glory of victorious war.” Lacking a common good because “anyone should be free to do as he likes with his own, or with others, if they consent,” the people sing a mercantile hymn of praise: “we should get richer all the time, to have enough for extravagant spending every day.” Rome’s leaders rely on the “docility of their subjects,” and with death as the highest sacrifice, encourage those subjects to divinize war as a hallowed furnace for forging and purging their souls.

Sound familiar? With a few tweaks here and there, The City of God could double as a prophecy of twenty-first-century democratic capitalist America. And indeed, American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips’s report on the state of the empire, portrays an impending...

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About the Author

Eugene McCarraher is associate professor of humanities and history at Villanova University. He is completing The Enchantments of Mammon: Corporate Capitalism and the American Moral Imagination.