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White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the…

White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement

by Allan J. Lichtman

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The Shifting Faces of American Conservatism

One of the most comprehensive volumes I've come across on the origins and rise of modern American conservatism. "White Protestant Nation" chronicles the arc of the conservative movement from its Protestant beginnings during the progressive era through to the George Bush era. The book is probably more political history than social history, but Lichtman dabbles into some of the cultural influences here and there.

The central thesis of the book is this: "[C]onservatives have engaged in a struggle for control over American public life against a liberal tradition they have seen as not just wrong on issues but sinful, un-American, and corrosive of the institutions and traditions that made the nation great.... Lichtman concludes that conservative ideology is grounded not in specific issues... most of which are disposable ideas that the right has been quick to embrace or reject to suit the needs of the moment - but rather a dual vision of America as a White Protestant nation, and a country whose greatness is driven by private enterprise." (p. 6)

I'd like to point out a couple of points that serves Lichtman's arguments.

Early beginnings: The highly influential Protestant middle-class reformers of the social gospel movement had the moral authority (Addams, etc) but these early conservatives felt social reform was a trap that led to secularism rather than the salvation of America's puritan roots.

Anti-communism: Conservatives are usually thought to be for laissez-faire, limited government. But in the fight against "communist sin", conservatives often lobbied for bigger and more invasive government than ever before to fight it.

Barry Goldwater: Despite Goldwater's grassroots appeal, the ultimate failure of Goldwater in 1964 was blamed on his "irresponsible extremism" and inability to unite the various factions of conservatism under the Republican party banner during the high point of the liberal consensus.

K Street: While liberals were busy fornicating at Woodstock and dropping acid, conservatives were organizing, fund-raising, and creating the most successful lobby institutions in the world. The early beginnings were the John Birch Society, Young Americans for Freedom and led to the Heritage Society and the American Enterprise Institute. The early founders were Daniel Bell, James Burnham, Irving Kristol, William Buckley, etc...

After Watergate: The real driving force behind the rise of evangelicalism ironically after Republican Tricky Dickie Nixon. They overwhelmingly went for the socially liberal but devout Jimmy Carter in 1976 over Ford. Another interesting aside Lichtman points out is the Reverend Moon from South Korea who poured tens of millions into conservative coffers to support anti-communism, social conservatism, etc...

The Moral Majority of 1980: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson's "invisible army," the rise of the TV evangelicals and the "fourth great awakening" that aligned with Reagan who was more socially liberal than he was conservative. Conservatives saw this "deal with the devil" as necessary in order to give him the majority to finally triumph and reverse the legacies of FDR and LBJ.

Gingrich Revolution: The dream realized, the uniting of white Protestants entrenching themselves as the conservative base within the GOP. The marriage of big business and Christian moralists. The launching of viscous attacks on Clinton and the Lewinsky affair despite two-thirds approval ratings. And finally the rise of George W Bush.

Culture Wars: As mentioned, the book is light on social and cultural history, but Lichtman does a good job outlining the major characters and movements. From the influential second generation neocons such as Bill Kristol, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and many others.

Ultimately, the anti-pluralist vision of conservatism attempts to reconcile the contradictions through a self-righteousness based on the doctrinal authority of a Christian God. Unlike pluralist Libertarians, Conservatives back the loss of constitutional restraints on big government, misguided imperial ventures and social engineering, all in the name of God and country - to protect American pocketbooks and to save their souls.

But Lichtman asks, can conservatives serve both God and mammon? That is the question that faces the GOP in the face of a triple defeat in 2008. But while Bush may have setback the conservative movement, the combination of puritan values and free-enterprise is something ingrained into the DNA of Americanism - the right will rise again, it is just a matter of time.

The book is a mammoth volume at 450+ pages and 100+ pages of endnotes. Lichtman has used mostly the original papers from the Library of Congress for his primary research that spans an impressive 100 years. As someone who is well read in American history, the book read very much like a survey text, but the detail will certainly appear daunting for the average reader. Overall, I have to recommend this book because it not only explains why America is a center-right country, but also why it will remain that way for the foreseeable future. ( )
3 vote bruchu | Nov 8, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0871139847, Hardcover)

Spanning nearly one hundred years of American political history, and abounding with outsize characters--from Lindbergh to Goldwater to Gingrich to Abramoff-- White Protestant Nation offers a penetrating look at the origins, evolution, and triumph (at times) of modern conservatism. Lichtman is both a professor of political history at American University and a veteran journalist, and after ten years of prodigious research, he has produced what may be the definitive history of the modern conservative movement in America. He brings to life a gallery of dynamic right-wing personalities, from luminaries such as Strom Thurmond, Phyllis Schlafly, and Bill Kristol to indispensable inside operators like financiers Frank Gannett and J. Howard Pew. He explodes the conventional wisdom that modern conservative politics began with Goldwater and instead traces the roots of today’s movement to the 1920s. And he lays bare the tactics that conservatives have used for generations to put their slant on policy and culture; to choke the growth of the liberal state; and to build the most powerful media, fundraising, and intellectual network in the history of representative government. White Protestant Nation is entertaining, provocative, enlightening, and essential reading for anyone who cares about modern American politics and its history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:44 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Examines the origins, development, and achievements of conservatism in the United States, from the birth of the modern right in the 1920s through the restoration of the conservative consensus at the end of the twentieth century.

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