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Who's Winning the Revolutions?
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Kevin Phillips

      . . . is a political analyst and author whose 1969 book, The Emerging Republican Majority, won him instant recognition. Among his eight prior books is also The Politics of Rich and Poor (1990). Mr. Phillips is a commentator for National Public Radio's Morning Edition, a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times and repeatedly has been a national elections commentator for CBS Television News. He left Washington, D.C., for Connecticut, where he now makes his home.

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      If you think the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the American Civil War are just history -- think again. According to political analyst Kevin Phillips, each of these wars is a ladder to the next. Together, they set the context for what Mr. Phillips considers today's most important question: Can a mature society create mechanisms for people who disagree to let off steam when that society's middle class will not tolerate war?

      Religion, economics and war were inextricably intertwined in the three Anglo-American encounters. (Mr. Phillips calls them The Cousins' Wars in his newest book by the same title.) The big winners of all three were also similar -- democrats with a small "d" and republicans with a small "r". Each time, the people who won were those who were more democratic, adventuresome, entrepreneurial, middle-class, and urban, low-church instead of high-church and hostile to monarchy.

      First, the wars. Mr. Phillips says that we didn't waste them, they actually settled some big issues. Things changed when they were over. Democracy prevailed. The middle class ascended into comforts which make wars unacceptable. War is (mostly) out but tensions still mount among people who disagree -- hence today's culture wars, which our current political system is not resolving.

      Economics next. All three cousins wars are characterized by moves away from the feudal and the mercantile, toward industrialism and an entrepreneurial strain. But with the end of the American Civil War which assured democracy and a republic, capitalism ran amok. It took the the Populist and Progressive Movements and the likes of Teddy Roosevelt to reign in the rampant abuses. We've fallen off the track again, according to Mr. Phillips, who joins critics of today's unbounded capitalism from both the political left and right. He decries today's condition as financial mercantilism focused on aggrandizing only the financial sector of the economy. But the solution may be in the problem. Mr. Phillips is confident today's speculative bubble will -- however painfully -- burst, taking today's excesses with it. Sadly, he sees it taking a crisis of that proportion to get people re-engaged in the (small "d" democracy which carried the day three times before.

      Religion? Mr. Phillips is confident that we have only a decade or two to redefine the Puritan God. We simply can no longer afford the God who won the Cousins' Wars -- The God of Success, the Marketplace and War.

      While a fourth cousins' war is probably not on the horizon, the past is not passed. Ethnic conflicts flare around the world. Lingering ethnic patterns still impacting Anglo-Americans (think Ireland), stretching all the way back to the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Perhaps the ultimate lesson to be learned from the Cousins' Wars is the need for people to find ways to get along.

[This Program was recorded April 28, 1999, in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Kevin Phillips gives Paula Gordon and Bill Russell a sense of how vital it is to establish the historical context for today's changes. He declares it unsafe to look at American and British history separately, using four centuries of examples. Mr. Phillips describes three R/republican majorities which emerged even before the one he describes in his 1960's book: Lincoln's in 1860, the republican coalition during the American Revolution and the first one under Oliver Cromwell in England.


Conversation 2

With most of today's countries republics, Mr. Phillips reminds us how unusual a republic was when the United States began. He explores the interrelation of history's inevitability and its randomness, with a bow to luck and flukes. He describes how he discovered the similarities between England's Civil War, America's Revolution, and the American Civil War. He describes the winners of all three as more democratic, adventuresome, entrepreneurial, middle-class, low-church, urban, and hostile to monarchy -- democratic (small-d) and republican ( small-r). He describes how the three conflicts were ladders arising out of each other. Today's critical question, Mr. Phillips believes, is how has the framework changed and how do those changes affect current cultural fights? He describes America's lingering ethic patterns which stretch back to the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation.


Conversation 3

Religion, politics, and war were the wheels of 16th and 17th century international relations and internal conflicts, according to Mr. Phillips, who compares that time to this. He assures us our civil conflicts were infrequent and not wasted. He describes how differently wars on the Continent affected various European countries. He notes similarities in the experience of American Germans and Irish. He describes conflicts making each of the three Anglo-American wars inevitable. He wonders if a new culture has evolved out of our current lack of wars, concerned our politics are ineffective in resolving mounting tensions among people. He theorizes about the overall effects of civil wars on countries.


Conversation 4

Mr. Phillips compares America and Great Britain to the aging Roman Empire of the 3rd and 4th century. He explains why he believes we learn and change only on the margins. He plugs human nature into the equation of what changes, what remains the same. He describes why geography is a vitally important part of the equations he sees, citing examples. He compares his reliance on County Census Data to new yardsticks one needs to understand America's western sunbelt, where "Anglo" takes on an entirely different meaning. He considers the implications of Californians increasing out-migrations. He describes how Americans have always been malcontents.


Conversation 5

Mr. Phillips focuses on the importance of economics in his three wars: Puritans were eager to replace England's feudal economy; Americans wanted to break free of the Britain's mercantilist system; and the emerging industrial North was pitted against the South's slaveocracy. Mr. Phillips notes how capitalism ran amok after the Civil War, resulting in the populist and progressive movements. He describes today's capitalism as propped up by "financial mercantilism." He sees religious constituencies on the rise. With America the capital of the world's untrammeled entrepreneurialism, he notes criticism both from the political left and right. He characterizes the religion of the Puritans. Mr. Phillips wonders how one keeps the vitality of a mature society when combat is not acceptable. Confident that answers to pressing questions are not available from people in today's political arena, Mr. Phillips describes them in withering terms.


Conversation 6

Many of the things and people not working in today's political scene are noted, as Mr. Phillips looks out half a dozen years, hopeful that our voting turnout will increase. He anticipates a clarifying crisis which will create a real need and desire to participate in the political system and explains why. Declaring the Protestant God the "God of the Marketplace, of War and of Success," Mr. Phillips expresses his belief that this deity must be redefined in the next 10 or 20 years.



We are deeply impressed with Mr. Phillips clear thinking and gracious willingness to share his insights. We appreciate his effective ways of redirecting preconceptions and opening new perspectives. We particularly thank him for the enormous amount of first-rate scholarly work he did in his effort to shed new light on old subjects.


Related Links:

You can learn more about Mr. Phillips at his website.

The Cousins' Wars is published by Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group.

Our three later programs with Mr. Phillips: Dynasty & Crony Capitalists, American Trinity: Religion/Oil/Debt and Money, Empire and Collapse?

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