Here is the book review by Sandip Roy, today in the Chronicle, of Theodore Roszak's book, "World, Beware! American Triumphalism in an Age of Terror."
What shall it profit a superpower to gain the whole world and lose his soul? In the new world order, the United States seems to be poised to do just that, argues social critic Theodore Roszak in his anguished, impassioned book "World, Beware! American Triumphalism in an Age of Terror." Roszak claims the United States is sliding rapidly into the thrall of an Axis of Evil: triumphalists, "corporados" and fundamentalists whose idea of freedom is a worldwide market economy under corporate control. No debate, no dissent, only profits.
Roszak says a highly energized set of right-wing ideologues now dominate the think tanks with the main goal of "electoral supremacy at home, military supremacy abroad." The corporados, epitomized by super CEOs, provide the money, he argues, because they want to be unencumbered by any government regulation or concern for social justice. Forty percent of the nation's wealth is already owned by 1 percent of the population. And the fundamentalists provide the dependable electoral muscle.
It's a grim portrait, but it gets bleaker still. Roszak finds no comfort in the Michael Moore-ish pin-the-tail-on-the-president games that make George W. Bush the butt of jokes. Roszak sees Bush as just a product, the pinup president of this unholy alliance of religion, corporate greed and neoconservative world-shaping zeal that will outlast any presidency. He finds no comfort in the notion that fair-minded Americans are just being hoodwinked. As if, once the truth really comes out, (and if they could only stop watching "Extreme Makeover" and "Desperate Housewives"), they will rise and throw the rascals out. What if the people are not deceived? In Roszak's mind: "They know exactly what Bush is up to -- and they approve."
After all, those he calls the triumphalists do not hide their world vision. "The powers of government will be placed wholly at the disposal of those who occupy the commanding heights of the corporate economy." How did this come about? Roszak, who once chronicled the counterculture of the 1960s, writes that after the agony of Vietnam, many thought benighted militarism was finally exposed and a multicultural America that embraced human rights would emerge. Instead, more and more Americans lost faith in liberal social values and a generation of "disgruntled, narrow-gauged voters" emerged who voted based on a single issue: opposition to abortion, gun control or gay rights.
As big dams and the defense and aerospace industries made the desert bloom, the Sun Belt emerged as a new base of power (what Roszak calls "the single most significant development of the late twentieth century" in domestic politics). Sun Belt voters, many of them older, white retirees, rejected the loose morality they associated with liberalism. Evangelical churches became the political base of the Republicans, which morphed from being a party about big business and tax cuts to one that was carrying "an all-out war on pluralism."
In fact, Roszak argues the triumphalists want to kill Roosevelt's New Deal, not by cutting spending but by hiking the military budget so high that all social programs will have to be either sacrificed at the altar of permanent war or, even better, privatized. Roszak tries to pre-empt the usual attack of liberals as being the "blame America first" lobby by eschewing political correctness and expressing his unease with Islam's "penchant for cruel and unusual punishment, its misogynistic puritanism, its use of vengeful self-immolation." But he appears queasy about religion in general. Instead of trying to understand the evangelical streak in America, he appears contemptuous of it, scoffing at its debates on whether those swept away by the Rapture will go to heaven naked or fully clothed.
He tries to dissect the liberal failure of nerve in countering the rise of the Archie Bunkers in American politics, but his critique of liberalism remains more-sinned-against-than-sinning. As if the liberals had all the noble ideas (perhaps with a smidgen too much of bureaucracy) until Ronald Reagan brainwashed the country into believing it was essentially conservative. Where he gets uncomfortably closer to the truth is when he traces the roots of liberalism to the Progressive and Populist movements and their dubious histories on race relations, viewing racial and ethnic minorities as the "shame of the cities." Even the New Deal, fearful of losing the South, never really confronted the issue of race. Now, Roszak writes, "institutionalized racial injustice is the dirty secret at the heart of the triumphalist ascendancy." So what now? How does today's liberal fight the take-no-prisoners American imperium?
Roszak thinks that the soft spot will come from within, when materialistic corporados see their alliance with prudish fundamentalist Christians as a double-edged sword. But Roszak also sees hope in America's global constituency as the United States, with ever growing trading deficits, becomes more dependent on the rest of the world despite its unilateral bravado. That is why he calls the book "World, Beware!" -- concluding hopefully, if rather wistfully, "Friends don't let friends build empires."
Sandip Roy is an editor with New America Media and the host of "UpFront" on KALW (91.7 FM).