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Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections): The Battles That Define America from Jefferson's Heresies to Gay Marriage

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In this timely, carefully reasoned social history of the United States, the New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God Is Not One places today’s heated culture wars within the context of a centuries-long struggle of right versus left and religious versus secular to reveal how, ultimately, liberals always win. Though they may seem to be dividing the coun In this timely, carefully reasoned social history of the United States, the New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God Is Not One places today’s heated culture wars within the context of a centuries-long struggle of right versus left and religious versus secular to reveal how, ultimately, liberals always win. Though they may seem to be dividing the country irreparably, today’s heated cultural and political battles between right and left, Progressives and Tea Party, religious and secular are far from unprecedented. In this engaging and important work, Stephen Prothero reframes the current debate, viewing it as the latest in a number of flashpoints that have shaped our national identity. Prothero takes us on a lively tour through time, bringing into focus the election of 1800, which pitted Calvinists and Federalists against Jeffersonians and “infidels;” the Protestants’ campaign against Catholics in the mid-nineteenth century; the anti-Mormon crusade of the Victorian era; the fundamentalist-modernist debates of the 1920s; the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s; and the current crusade against Islam. As Prothero makes clear, our culture wars have always been religious wars, progressing through the same stages of conservative reaction to liberal victory that eventually benefit all Americans. Drawing on his impressive depth of knowledge and detailed research, he explains how competing religious beliefs have continually molded our political, economic, and sociological discourse and reveals how the conflicts which separate us today, like those that came before, are actually the byproduct of our struggle to come to terms with inclusiveness and ideals of “Americanness.” To explore these battles, he reminds us, is to look into the soul of America—and perhaps find essential answers to the questions that beset us.


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In this timely, carefully reasoned social history of the United States, the New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God Is Not One places today’s heated culture wars within the context of a centuries-long struggle of right versus left and religious versus secular to reveal how, ultimately, liberals always win. Though they may seem to be dividing the coun In this timely, carefully reasoned social history of the United States, the New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God Is Not One places today’s heated culture wars within the context of a centuries-long struggle of right versus left and religious versus secular to reveal how, ultimately, liberals always win. Though they may seem to be dividing the country irreparably, today’s heated cultural and political battles between right and left, Progressives and Tea Party, religious and secular are far from unprecedented. In this engaging and important work, Stephen Prothero reframes the current debate, viewing it as the latest in a number of flashpoints that have shaped our national identity. Prothero takes us on a lively tour through time, bringing into focus the election of 1800, which pitted Calvinists and Federalists against Jeffersonians and “infidels;” the Protestants’ campaign against Catholics in the mid-nineteenth century; the anti-Mormon crusade of the Victorian era; the fundamentalist-modernist debates of the 1920s; the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s; and the current crusade against Islam. As Prothero makes clear, our culture wars have always been religious wars, progressing through the same stages of conservative reaction to liberal victory that eventually benefit all Americans. Drawing on his impressive depth of knowledge and detailed research, he explains how competing religious beliefs have continually molded our political, economic, and sociological discourse and reveals how the conflicts which separate us today, like those that came before, are actually the byproduct of our struggle to come to terms with inclusiveness and ideals of “Americanness.” To explore these battles, he reminds us, is to look into the soul of America—and perhaps find essential answers to the questions that beset us.

30 review for Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections): The Battles That Define America from Jefferson's Heresies to Gay Marriage

  1. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    In 2006, S.T. Joshi explained why conservatives were so shrill in The Angry Right: Why Conservatives Keep Getting It Wrong. With FDR’s “unchristian Social Security” a popular program, birth control widely available and most public places successfully integrated, he showed how conservative anger stems from losing. Now, Stephen Prothero poses that it isn’t the losing that makes conservatives angry, it’s the changes that drive them to start the “war" (and he firmly says its conservatives who start t In 2006, S.T. Joshi explained why conservatives were so shrill in The Angry Right: Why Conservatives Keep Getting It Wrong. With FDR’s “unchristian Social Security” a popular program, birth control widely available and most public places successfully integrated, he showed how conservative anger stems from losing. Now, Stephen Prothero poses that it isn’t the losing that makes conservatives angry, it’s the changes that drive them to start the “war" (and he firmly says its conservatives who start the culture wars). After the “war” the issue that is won becomes part of the norm and the conservatives act as though they never objected and liberals rarely get any credit for their work and foresight. First he gives an historically grounded narrative showing that conservatives emotionally react once they see too much of a change that upsets their view of the world. By the time they react they are essentially fighting a lost cause. Another factor is that by its nature a “culture war” involves a principle of including who is in the “American family” and allowed its freedoms. Reaction against changes that favor expanded freedom and more inclusion go against the weight of US legal foundations and the general national DNA. Recent acts in one of today’s culture wars prove Prothero’s point: After the conservative Supreme Court has weighed in on gay marriage and state-wide referenda reflect growing support for the gay community, North Carolina’s governor is totally blindsided. His state is losing billions in business revenue and federal aid over a rest room non-issue drama. When conservatives pushed this legislation, like their Indiana counterparts, they did it in reactive anger. They had no idea that the issue was settled for most in the nation. The longest portions of the book show the history of primarily religious issues. He exhaustively quotes the anti-Jefferson (charging him with deism along with being a Francophile), anti-Catholic and anti-Mormon diatribes, showing them to be more poisonous than today’s culture war rhetoric. He writes of the fight over alcohol which was led by religious leaders. Interesting to me, were how these “wars” ended. Jefferson was elected; the Catholic community grew and integrated; the Mormons made an official statement banning polygamy; World War I helped usher in the 18th Amendment and the depression helped usher it out. The section on today’s culture wars was too breezy. While liberal successes are clear, Prothero does not discuss the big loss: sensible gun control. Leaving this out leaves out a discussion of how money can distort the debate. The conservative think tanks and their access to media can and have changed the playing field and Prothero’s thesis that in America liberty continues to expand may not survive as conservative (reactive) institutions become more entrenched in the political landscape. While the book is weighed down in demonstrating how vitriolic the past culture wars were, there is a lot of food for thought. I recommend this book for those interested in this topic with the caveat: If you have time pressures (and we all do) you might want to skim some parts to get the heart of the thesis.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sean Chick

    Not a bad summation of past culture wars, with Prothero making a good argument for why conservatives often lose the culture wars. Yet, the idea that they are always started by conservatives after they have already "lost" is simplistic and undermined by recent events where the cultural left has been far more aggressive. More to the point, a reversal of this trend could happen, and arguably the conservatives have won their share of cultural battles in the past. The history falls apart in so far as Not a bad summation of past culture wars, with Prothero making a good argument for why conservatives often lose the culture wars. Yet, the idea that they are always started by conservatives after they have already "lost" is simplistic and undermined by recent events where the cultural left has been far more aggressive. More to the point, a reversal of this trend could happen, and arguably the conservatives have won their share of cultural battles in the past. The history falls apart in so far as it is reductionist, rigid, and based on assumption of unlimited progress.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie McDaniel

    I took a brief non-fiction break for this book, and it turned out to be a fascinating history lesson. This book goes back to the Founders, and the elections of 1796 and 1800, to weave a well-researched story about culture wars, and oppression, and how, at least in these kinds of fights, liberal progress is inevitably made. (Also, if you think the 2012 elections were nasty, and this current cycle will be worse yet--well, the Thomas Jefferson of 1800 would like to have a word with you.) Topics inclu I took a brief non-fiction break for this book, and it turned out to be a fascinating history lesson. This book goes back to the Founders, and the elections of 1796 and 1800, to weave a well-researched story about culture wars, and oppression, and how, at least in these kinds of fights, liberal progress is inevitably made. (Also, if you think the 2012 elections were nasty, and this current cycle will be worse yet--well, the Thomas Jefferson of 1800 would like to have a word with you.) Topics include "The Jefferson Wars," "Anti-Catholicism," "The Mormon Question," "Prohibition and Pluralism," and "The Contemporary Culture Wars." Notice a theme running through these chapters? Yes, fights over religion have been at the heart of most of it. I'd read a bit before about how terribly the Mormons were treated (although, to be fair, they did participate in a few massacres of their own), but I had no idea how deeply anti-Catholic sentiment ran at one time in this country. Convents were burned, discriminatory laws were passed, they were reviled in print and political cartoons, there were anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia and other places, property was destroyed and people died. All because people were afraid there was a "Catholic plot to overrun America." It was enlightening reading, but damn it was hard to get through. The most interesting chapter, to me, was Chapter 5, "The Contemporary Culture Wars." We think of today's Christian Right as hellbent against abortion and gay marriage, and holding tight to "traditional family values." This is certainly the way they present themselves now, but it is not the way they started out. This chapter tells a little-discussed but fascinating tale as to what really woke this sleeping religious giant in the late 70's/early 80's, and it had nothing to do with any of the above. The author quotes Paul Weyrich, a "conservative strategist who coined the term 'moral majority' and would go on to become a kingmaker in the Religious Right" (p. 194): "What galvanized the Christian community was not abortion, school prayer, or the ERA...I am living witness to that because I was trying to get these people interested in those issues and I utterly failed. What changed their mind was Jimmy Carter's intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation." You know, I remember reading a quote (and I'll be hanged if I know from who) that said if you scratch any American wound deeply enough, you will find racism and/or a fear of the Other underneath the scab. Certainly that common thread runs through this book. This is quite the interesting history lesson, but it makes me glad to know that, as Dr Martin Luther King Jr said, the arc of history bends toward justice.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dustin

    A fascinating look at how religion (as well as racism, bigotry, and xenophobia) plays into the American political scene (from the Founding Fathers to President Obama). I highly recommend this book to all Americans before they cast their votes in November.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brittany

    I feel a little tricked by this book. The title and introduction chapter present a very clear idea of what the book will be about, but then the book itself seems to only sort of touch on what I expected. I guess I expected more of an answer to the "why" posed in the title and I didn't really get it. That said, there was clearly a lot of research that went into the book and it was enjoyable nonetheless. "It is 'immoral to pursue a middle line'." - Thomas Jefferson "Pratt made some familiar argument I feel a little tricked by this book. The title and introduction chapter present a very clear idea of what the book will be about, but then the book itself seems to only sort of touch on what I expected. I guess I expected more of an answer to the "why" posed in the title and I didn't really get it. That said, there was clearly a lot of research that went into the book and it was enjoyable nonetheless. "It is 'immoral to pursue a middle line'." - Thomas Jefferson "Pratt made some familiar arguments (about how monogamy is unnatural for men because 'it is his to move in a wider sphere'), but she also spoke surprisingly candidly about how polygamy gave women respite during menstruation from the otherwise overwhelming sexual needs of their husbands...And Mormon women in both monogamous and polygamous marriages gathered in mass in favor of polygamy as divine commandment and common sense - 'the only family system that safely contained men's sexual urges'." Literally imagine if the expectation for relationships or family systems catered to women's sexual needs. "At least a thousand bras were burned in the imaginations of cultural conservatives to every one burned in real time." "They have much to say about the wickedness of limiting posterity, whether by birth control or abortion, but very little if anything to say about the kind of world children will be born into or about the systematic destruction of a rightful inheritance of natural resources." - Henry Steele Commager

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Helpful addition to U.S. political/religious history, even if I don't agree fully with the ultimate narrative (indicated by the title). Helpful addition to U.S. political/religious history, even if I don't agree fully with the ultimate narrative (indicated by the title).

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chris Jaffe

    This is an interesting book, though it overstates its case. Prothero argues that when you look at the big cultural battles in US history, a pattern emerges. A conservative faction sees a change, denounce it, fight against it, but lose. Prothero argues that they tend to take on lost causes – they take on a change after it’s already become part of the dominant culture and isn’t going backwards. He also argues the conservatives initiate the culture wars even when they claim the other side is the on This is an interesting book, though it overstates its case. Prothero argues that when you look at the big cultural battles in US history, a pattern emerges. A conservative faction sees a change, denounce it, fight against it, but lose. Prothero argues that they tend to take on lost causes – they take on a change after it’s already become part of the dominant culture and isn’t going backwards. He also argues the conservatives initiate the culture wars even when they claim the other side is the one changing it. He defines a cultural war as something containing these four features: public disputes, extend clearly beyond economic issues like taxation and into moral/religious/cultural concerns, they bring up questions of what it means to be an American and what America itself is, and have a heated rhetoric of war driven by the conviction that the enemies are also the enemies of the nation. To make his point, he looks at five instances of culture was in America and shows how they fit this pattern: 1) The Jefferson wars (over the alleged atheism of Thomas Jefferson), 2) the anti-Catholic crusade, 3) the anti-Mormon fight, 4) prohibition, and 5) modern culture wars. By and large, yeah – culture wars tend to end in conservative losses. He even notes some modern conservative cultural warriors bemoaning the losses of the last few decades and how liberal opinion on issues like gay rights and multiculturalism have gained power. But I found myself wondering how much of this was selective picking. Ultimately, even Prothero notes that the conservatives won the ERA battle in the 1970s. And that’s the one problem with the book’s thesis – conservatives can win if they convince many others that they are right. (Heck, you can see something similar if you look at the increasing support for gun rights and corresponding decline in gun control over the last 20 years). Immigration restriction can be considered a cultural war – and in the 1920s conservatives won it. Even prohibition – yes it was a fiasco, but it was after decades of success at the state/local levels. Really, it’s all in how you define it. Also, the chapter on modern culture wars was far too loosely focused. Prothero does argue at the end that culture wars have extended in recent decades. OK, fine. But he’s got a page and a half on about 20 topics in that last chapter, after previous chapters spent a long time on one topic each. It’s a bit flabby and flaccid. That also points out: there are always multiple culture wars going on. They may not be as big as nowadays, but there are always some. He talks about prohibition in the 1920s, but that also had immigration restriction, Sacco/Vanzetti, the Scopes Monkey Trial, and others. It’s a decent book, but nothing great.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Smith

    I enjoyed this book but as always, it is a book I am predestined to agree with given my political worldview. Historically this was particularly interesting and the overall theme of the book is that conservatives are always fighting a rearguard action in a vain attempt to prevent the loss of some treasured ideal, and blaming the un-American liberal as the font of all that is evil in bringing this about. I guess the argument is basically that what they do is too little, too late, and that the cult I enjoyed this book but as always, it is a book I am predestined to agree with given my political worldview. Historically this was particularly interesting and the overall theme of the book is that conservatives are always fighting a rearguard action in a vain attempt to prevent the loss of some treasured ideal, and blaming the un-American liberal as the font of all that is evil in bringing this about. I guess the argument is basically that what they do is too little, too late, and that the culture war is already moving away from them by the time they try to save matters so they are doomed to failure. That is accurate, but hardly a new insight. At least, that is how I have always viewed conservatives, in particular the extreme right wing (Tea Party etc.) that is currently spewing out such rhetoric. There doesn't seem to be a place for constructive or moderate conservatism these days, which I would think are the natural political habitat for many. So this book, to me, fell more into an account of the liberals coming out on the winning side in the culture wars, but the promise in the title of WHY this should be so was a little lacking to me. Apart from the theme above, there isn't much else that I could see. Maybe that is all there is to it but I would have liked more on what has driven the conservative agenda to the extreme right? How has this manifested itself in the past and how did the liberals win those arguments? It seems to me that the general population moving left on certain issues doesn't really fully explain it. The most recent culture wars over gay marriage etc. may not be entirely over (although I hope that they are) but this wasn't given the coverage that I had hoped, nor was the rise of evangelical conservatism, at least not in the depth I would have liked to see. So interesting, worth a read for the historical context but didn't quite go as far as I was hoping.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Kost

    Having read this book when it was first published, I found myself referring to its thesis often and decided to revisit it with a thorough re-read. I'm glad I did. Prothero, a professor of Religious Studies at BU asserts that since its inception the US has always been both a Christian and a secular country, a fact that make culture wars inevitable. Primarily, he cites the inclusion of religious diversions from Protestantism (Jeffersonian beliefs, Catholics, and Mormons) to support his thesis: 1. C Having read this book when it was first published, I found myself referring to its thesis often and decided to revisit it with a thorough re-read. I'm glad I did. Prothero, a professor of Religious Studies at BU asserts that since its inception the US has always been both a Christian and a secular country, a fact that make culture wars inevitable. Primarily, he cites the inclusion of religious diversions from Protestantism (Jeffersonian beliefs, Catholics, and Mormons) to support his thesis: 1. Culture wars are" instigated and waged disproportionately by conservatives anxious about the loss of old orders and the emergence of new ones. What liberals see as progress, they see as loss. And they are willing to fight to defend what is passing away." Hence, the conservatives enter too late. The cause is often already lost. 2. They are won by liberals, "the force of American traditions on their side, not least the Bill of Rights itself, which on any fair reading protects the rights of minorities against the impositions of majorities. Liberals also win because the causes conservatives pick up to rev their supporters are, surprisingly, lost from the start." 3."...[I]n the end, the arc of our culture wars bends toward more liberty not less. As each of our cultural battles comes to an end, we are left with a more inclusive country with an understanding of 'we the people' that reflects more of 'us.'" It is imperative to understand Prothero's particular definition of cultural conservatism, and that it is a concept that has changed over time. He views conservatism as restrictive at its core, characterized by "a) anxiety over beloved forms of life that are passing away, b) a commitment to restore what has been lost, [okay so far] and c) an effort to exclude from full cultural citizenship those who are responsible for this loss" [which sounds like something a non-conservative might opine]. There is no mention of taking personal responsibility or sustaining the nation's indisputable [yet perplexingly in dispute] Judeo-Christian roots, which I would argue are tenets of contemporary conservatism. In contrast, cultural liberalism for Prothero is expansive and "characterized by a) an eagerness to embrace new forms of culture, b) a belief in progress, and c) a determination to include more and more groups in the public life of the nation". In this treatment, libertinism is virtually equated with the common good. What was once a liberal perspective "is now an American value." And in his view, liberals seem to win every time. A culture war for Prothero has four elements. They are public disputes recorded in presidential speeches, the Congressional Record, etc. They extend beyond economic questions to moral, religious and cultural concerns, which are typically less amenable to negotiation and compromise. They give rise to normative questions about the meaning of America and who is and who is not a true American. They are heated, fueled by a rhetoric of war and driven by the conviction that one's enemies are also enemies of the nation. Prothero examines several cases in American history that prove his thesis that liberals win the culture wars: the election of Jefferson (Congregationalists and urban Federalists vs. "'infidels' and Jeffersonians"), the efforts to exclude Catholics (essentially an anti-immigrant movement fearful of Catholicism's congeniality with monarchy) and Mormons (particularly over the polygamy issue) from full participation in American life, and the prohibition of alcohol (which in his view was mainly against beer drinking Catholic Irish and Germans and racial pluralism in speakeasies--a popular view that is not espoused by historians), the argument over the educational canon (transmitting the foundation of Western Civilization vs. scrapping it for multiculturalism et al.), the arts (Mapplethorpe and the NEA), Roe v. Wade, Obergefell v. Hodges, and Islam. These are convenient examples, but what of the repeated mass shootings and general gun violence? Liberals used to protect labor unions, privacy laws (tracking, hacking, trading information), due process and free speech [for conservatives], but now actively erode these foundations of our nation, particularly on university campuses. These positions gnaw at Prothero's definitions and dilute his thesis. Prothero proclaims the liberals and the cause for inclusiveness emerge as victors in every case. He glosses over the fact that the conservatives often temper the liberal side forcing concessions. After having free reign to support any vulgar or pornographic artifact an artist could create, the NEA is now required to consider “general standards of respect and decency for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public.” That is clearly a conservative win. Other issues are open to interpretation. The century long temperance effort leading to Prohibition was a women's issue in large measure since men would spend the family's income on drink and abuse wives and children. Prothero tells us that visiting Europeans were shocked at how much alcohol was woven into American life (even Puritan children consumed large quantities of alcohol; no US History book I've ever read mentioned that, to be sure). To paint the repeal of Prohibition as primarily a win for pluralism is to torture the brushstrokes. The desperately needed revenue from the excise tax during the Depression is the primary explanation historians provide for the repeal: 30%-40% of the federal government's income and even more for the states-- 75%(!!) of New York's revenue was from alcohol sales. This was economic, not some win for the embrace of pluralism. [c.f. Did Prohibition Really Work? Alcohol Prohibition as a Public Health Innovation Jack S. Blocker, Jr Am J Public Health. 2006 Feb; 96(2): 233–243.] In the polygamy chapter, Prothero doesn't mention the early advocate for polygamy AND women's rights, Emmeline Wells, who asserted that “Polygamy gives women more time for thought, for mental culture, more freedom of action, a broader field of labor." If we reject the lens of presentism, which privileges the way events have turned out as the right and inevitable way, both Prohibition and the outlawing of polygamy can be construed as losses for women. The recent liberal media has certainly turned its attention to polyamory; we'll see how that plays out. It is instructive to examine the ways that culture wars end: conservatives can temper the liberals as they did with the NEA; minorities make accommodations as the Mormons did; unanticipated consequences can lead to repeal as in Prohibition. Women must hope the patently absurd situation of male bodies claiming the right to compete in athletic competitions against female bodies on the basis of emotion (like Shania Twain, they "feel like a woman") will be resolved on the basis of scientific fact before we become erased from our athletic competitions and Title IX. And that male bodies with disturbed minds (comorbidity is extremely high of gender dysphoria with a constellation of other psychiatric disorders like dissociative disorder, etc.) will not be continue to be allowed access to female-only spaces (locker rooms, lavatories, prisons) where already scores of predators needed only claim gender identity to feast their eyes or sex organs on authentic females. The ideology of critical gender theory is already being taught in schools from kindergarten, however, thus we ask is the cause already lost or will it be tempered? Regardless of one's personal politics, read this book for a greater understanding of American history, its cycles and mechanisms.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey Anderson

    An interesting read. Outlines 5 major cultural wars in US history since the Revolutionary era: Revolutionary, anti-Catholic, anti-Mormon, Prohibition, and Contemporary. I find one comment early in the book especially enlightening for the framework of the book: the force of the left is centrifugal while the right is centripetal. The left seems to move away from the center and incorporate all that it finds as the ideology expands outward. The right seems to move toward the center and exclude all t An interesting read. Outlines 5 major cultural wars in US history since the Revolutionary era: Revolutionary, anti-Catholic, anti-Mormon, Prohibition, and Contemporary. I find one comment early in the book especially enlightening for the framework of the book: the force of the left is centrifugal while the right is centripetal. The left seems to move away from the center and incorporate all that it finds as the ideology expands outward. The right seems to move toward the center and exclude all that it finds too far from that center.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Malcolm

    Stephen Prothero has written an extremely readable and well researched history of the culture wars from the founding of the republic until the present. This book is relaxed in tone and very informative. Readers interested in the current state of American politics would be well served to see how our modern history rhymes with the past.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Probably 3.5 stars. I thought the premise was really interesting, but I found myself ski(mm/pp)ing large sections. It is not fair to review a book that you did not read parts of, I suppose. But, I am glad that I read the introduction and the conclusion. The rest was not worth the time and effort for me.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Leo Walsh

    Very interesting look at historical the precedents of today's "Culture Wars." Prothero stars with a simple thesis: Progressive have won the vast majority of past culture wars, and those victories become the new "American Orthodoxy" or status-quo. Any change to that status-quo causes the Right to over-react to the perceived loss, causing conservatives to fire the first volley in a new Culture War. Which the left wins. At first, I was skeptical. I thought it was just Prothero's liberal fantasy. But Very interesting look at historical the precedents of today's "Culture Wars." Prothero stars with a simple thesis: Progressive have won the vast majority of past culture wars, and those victories become the new "American Orthodoxy" or status-quo. Any change to that status-quo causes the Right to over-react to the perceived loss, causing conservatives to fire the first volley in a new Culture War. Which the left wins. At first, I was skeptical. I thought it was just Prothero's liberal fantasy. But then, I saw his evidence. From slavery, to anti-Catholic terrorism in the 1800's, to Prohibition, Prothero traces what Hofstadter called the "paranoid style in American politics." He shows how the resolution of those conflicts lead to the more liberal, expansive position becoming the "new normal." For instance, he traces some virulent anti-Catholic terrorist acts executed by the Nativist "Know nothing" party in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. In 1928, Catholic Al Smith lost the Presidency to Herbert Hoover. Hoover ran a campaign that emphasized Smith;s reigion. His follows spread the tenuos Conspiracy Theory that Smith would turn the government over to the Pope. And people brought that line. But over the 40's and 50's, Protestant Americans fought wars, lived and worked next to Catholic-Americans. As a result, JFK was elected President. And until Jusctice Scalia died recently, 6 of the 12 Supreme Court Justices were practicing Catholics. Liberals won. And American's conception of acceptable religion expanded from "Protestant" to the more inclusive "Christian," which encompassed all people following the New Testament teachings of Jesus. Liberals won again when "Christian" proved too small, and the term "Judeo-Christian tradition" became the moniker of acceptable religion, adding Jewish people and Mormons to the fold. Note how much that our "new normal" accepts Catholics, Jewish people and Mormons as "mainstream." That definition is being challenged by the Right-Wing rejection of Islam and an "evil cult" --echoing earlier anti-Catholic and anti-Mormon rhetoric. Though it's not a certainty, there seems little doubt that within ten years our definition of acceptable religion will expand, once again, to accept Islam and mainstream. History is on our side. But what I found most appealing was his history of the religious Right from Reagan onward. It is still relevant today, and does lay broad outlines of how to understand the movement. All told, "Why Liberals Win" was an enjoyable eye-opener. Based on facts and sound reasoning, it traces the history of America's current and past Culture Wars. Four stars.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Keith Davis

    Prothero places the recent U.S. culture wars about gay marriage and abortion in a historical context of past American culture wars. He is careful to qualify his analysis to admit that there are many other factors involved in this events beyond religion and morality, but his does show an ongoing conservative vs. progressive cultural conflict going back to colonial times. His thesis is that while conservatives often win short term victories, in the long term the progressive agenda always comes out Prothero places the recent U.S. culture wars about gay marriage and abortion in a historical context of past American culture wars. He is careful to qualify his analysis to admit that there are many other factors involved in this events beyond religion and morality, but his does show an ongoing conservative vs. progressive cultural conflict going back to colonial times. His thesis is that while conservatives often win short term victories, in the long term the progressive agenda always comes out on top. Prothero first looks at the 1800 election of Thomas Jefferson. Because of Jefferson's reluctance to publicly discuss his religious beliefs many religious leaders took advantage of his silence to denounce Jefferson as a closet atheist or even a "Mohammedan." He goes on to look at the anti-Catholicism movement that started in the 1830's and the anti-Mormonism movement of the 1850's. Catholics are so throughly integrated into American society today that it is hard to believe there was a time when they were treated with the same hostility as Communists were in the 20th century. Anti-Catholicism was as much anti-immigrant as it was a religious movement, but it and anti-Mormonism reflect the conservative tendency to fear change and fight against a loss of cultural dominance. Finally he looks at the Prohibition movement that successfully outlawed the sale of alcohol in the U.S. from 1920 - 1933. This may have been the last time that a morals crusade grew into a big enough national movement to impose its will on the general public. It is hard to argue with Prothero's thesis that progressives tend to prevail in the long term. He could have expanded the argument to include Abolition, labor movements, the Civil Rights movement, and women's rights as well, but while those were long term progressive victories the conservative opposition was less focused on morality, so they would be a bit beyond the scope of Prothero's argument.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tom Rowe

    Meh. This started out very interesting examining the religious aspects of the election of 1800, moving on to the persecution and riots against Catholics in the mid-1800s, and then the prejudice against Mormons. After that, it went on to talk about prohibition, and I didn't find the argument quite as convincing. Finally, it ended with today's culture wars which I'm just tired of because: Facebook. So if you think the world is ending because Trump will be president, read this book. It might help g Meh. This started out very interesting examining the religious aspects of the election of 1800, moving on to the persecution and riots against Catholics in the mid-1800s, and then the prejudice against Mormons. After that, it went on to talk about prohibition, and I didn't find the argument quite as convincing. Finally, it ended with today's culture wars which I'm just tired of because: Facebook. So if you think the world is ending because Trump will be president, read this book. It might help get you through whatever length of time he has in office. If you think your way of life is being destroyed by foreigners or brown people, or people who don't believe in your god, don't read this book. It will just make you paranoid. For me, first half: great, second half: just draining.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Willis

    It would probably be more appropriate to title the book, "How Conservatives Lose Culture Wars." For example, the battles of the modern era such as gay marriage and abortion he simply talks about the conservative response as if these subjects had a long cherished history in the nation and conservatives suddenly took a turn on them. I was hoping to discover how the liberal side had successfully pushed their issues. However, the book was focused on the conservative response and their losing tactics It would probably be more appropriate to title the book, "How Conservatives Lose Culture Wars." For example, the battles of the modern era such as gay marriage and abortion he simply talks about the conservative response as if these subjects had a long cherished history in the nation and conservatives suddenly took a turn on them. I was hoping to discover how the liberal side had successfully pushed their issues. However, the book was focused on the conservative response and their losing tactics which was informative but not what I was expecting based on the title.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rosalie

    Informative, insightful, compassionate and timely, an altogether excellent read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    JaNel

    Very insightful, illuminating, and a good analysis of history and our modern situation. Do not skip the introduction. I especially liked chapters 1 and 5, but those in between introduce ideas he ties together later. p. 17 "Cultural wars" are started by conservatives--who "typically choose for their rallying cries causes that are already on the verge of being lost." p. 16 " fight to restore their beloved past (real or imagined)". Then that idea is eventually defeated and becomes part of the America Very insightful, illuminating, and a good analysis of history and our modern situation. Do not skip the introduction. I especially liked chapters 1 and 5, but those in between introduce ideas he ties together later. p. 17 "Cultural wars" are started by conservatives--who "typically choose for their rallying cries causes that are already on the verge of being lost." p. 16 " fight to restore their beloved past (real or imagined)". Then that idea is eventually defeated and becomes part of the American fabric and the Conservatives choose another losing battle--in the meantime, the overall arc of history leans left toward liberalism (inclusive and toleration) p. 18 Cycle of Cultural Wars 1. Conservatives "experience cultural change as a loss", this starts the conservative primal scream of "them" vs "us", 2. liberals counter attack w/ A) the change is a positive good B)American principal of libery i.e. the Constitution supports greater freedom for citizens to do whatever-it-is 3. some sort of accomodation or adjustment is made by the change-makers or those demanding more freedom 4. Battleground shifts to next question, but meanwhile mostly acceps the old one 5. Conservatives become martyrs to the lost cause and say that Am. society is going to hell 6. Look for new enemies so they can remain morally superior p. 27 George Washington on party politics sounds like a op-ed on the recent Russian meddling in our election: It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public adminstration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarems, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself throuhg the channels of party passions. p. 52 conservatives turn differences of opinion into differences of principal, good vs. evil p. 184 Much of the "leftist" movements are more reactionary than radical--a response to long-standing bigotry; a social reform rather than a religious crusade. It is social conservatives who inject into these debates the rhetoric of war." p. 184 If liberals are wide-eyed parents-to-be, hoping for a better future for their children, conservatives are anxious parents, clutching their children close and willing to fight not to lose them in an increasingly bewildering world." -instead of making it blatantly about race (which it was/is), the Right pivoted it to an attack on religion (as an attack on Christianity--many racist stances being justified in the Bible--and turning themselves into the victims) and the family (traditional, of course. There's only ONE way to be a family) p. 197 "conservatives have a long history of adopting liberal rhetoric--"talking left, while walking right" i.e. abortion is a "holocaust", ERA violates religious women's rights, affirmative action is "reverse discrimination" p. 200 "instead of defending white superiority and the Souther way of Life, they called it "Christian America" "According to this narrarive of loss, the US is not an experiment in Enlightenment virtue undertaken by Deists and Unitarians who wrote a godless constitution. It is a Christian project initiated by men who followed Jesus Christ...The First Amendment was not designed to protect the state from church interference, but the Church from government overreach. Secular humanism became unAmerican and those who proselytize for it were guilty of treason as well as apostasy." -Extreme conservatism is a charade that protects racism and patriarchy under the guise of "America"--calling it religion and family because it sounds better. And anything anyone does to widen the net or achieve true equality is seen as a federal attack into family and religion, and anyone who wants it is a traitor. p. 210 conservatives may "worry about liberty lapsing into anarchy and equality into mediocrity, but...we should cast our vote for American values (of equality under the law) nonetheless." p. 252 conservatives are anxious about things out of place--women not in the home, blacks and gays anywhere, most change

  19. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections) is history of the conservative tradition of trying to keep the past and the liberal tradition of continually dragging society into a more inclusive future. According to Prothero, this happens mostly because society is always changing, and conservatives tend to only panic about it when the past they remember though rose-colored goggles is pretty much gone (a tendency to fight for lost causes). I thought Prothero did a good of expla Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections) is history of the conservative tradition of trying to keep the past and the liberal tradition of continually dragging society into a more inclusive future. According to Prothero, this happens mostly because society is always changing, and conservatives tend to only panic about it when the past they remember though rose-colored goggles is pretty much gone (a tendency to fight for lost causes). I thought Prothero did a good of explaining the historical context of several culture wars (Jefferson's refusal to speak on religion, whether Catholics could really be american, the meaning of prohibition, etc) throughout american history and the effect that those culture wars have had on wider american society. I think the best take-away from this book is that the rights and traditions we now take for granted today were fought over at one time or another and didn't always have the same meaning. However, I did think the conclusion of the book was a bit overly conciliatory and didn't necessarily take into account how more information fits into the wider picture of society. Prothero spends a good chunk of the conclusion arguing that 'total victory' warriors on both sides of the political spectrum do more harm than good. One of his rhetorical examples is 'should we force catholic adoption agencies to accept gay parents?' His implied argument is that we shouldn't; we should let well enough alone and wait for the tide to change these institutions from within. However, that doesn't take into account that the real affects that sort of wait-for-it policy in the now (assuming the institution actually changes for the better, which is might not; right-leaning institutions have been known to double-down on unpopular policies in the face of protest even from within their institutions). As of 2017, the state of Texas had about 100,000 children waiting for adoption, but would not allow non-heterosexual and/or non-christian couples to adopt. It is an agency policy that the state is trying to enshrine in law. Even putting aside the issues of LGBT+ and religious discrimination, those are 100,000 kids that are being denied parents and homes for no reason other than bigotry. Turning the other cheek will only get you so far. Additionally, I can't help but think of how Prothero's own views may have changed in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. Despite the majority of the american public in general disagreeing with their politics and policies, the republican party and evangelical voting bloc have shown that they don't care. Republicans pushed through their spending bill even though 75% of the general public disagreed with it (a percentage which has gone up in the months since its passage and the public has seen the utter lack of the promised benefits). The conservative members of the Supreme Court approved Trump's muslim ban even though a vast majority of public sees it for what it is: codified religious discrimination. The Trump administration only recently 'solved' the self-generated problem of family separation at the southern border, and even that was only because of the massive public outcry over inhumane treatment of children in detention centers. I don't think Prothero's calls for respecting public space and civility while the conservative supposedly negotiate among themselves the terms of their surrender are really relevant at this point in time because it is obvious that they have no plans to surrender. Conservatives and evangelicals - galvanized by the fact that they control all 3 branches of government through filibuster, shady and possibly treasonous dealing, and gerrymandering - plan to simply dictate their demands for morality and superiority by force, damn any and all opposition. So, all in all, I think Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections) is a decent book. But I took off a star for the conclusion and likely will not recommend it to anyone.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    This book has an interesting and compelling premise, that the culture wars we experience today are not unique to modern America and that liberal ideals of pluralism and diversity ultimately win out over the conservative resistance to pluralism and diversity. It seems that Prothero makes his case, but I felt that the case studies selected were somewhat limited. He chose five examples: the Federalists (conservatives) vs the Democratic-Republicans (liberals-and in particular Jefferson), the protest This book has an interesting and compelling premise, that the culture wars we experience today are not unique to modern America and that liberal ideals of pluralism and diversity ultimately win out over the conservative resistance to pluralism and diversity. It seems that Prothero makes his case, but I felt that the case studies selected were somewhat limited. He chose five examples: the Federalists (conservatives) vs the Democratic-Republicans (liberals-and in particular Jefferson), the protestant majority (conservatives) vs the immigrant Catholics (liberal cause) in the early 1800s, the protestant majority (conservatives) vs the Mormon faith (liberal cause), the Prohibitionists (conservatives) vs the anti-Prohibitionists (liberal), and finally the modern American conservative vs liberal culture war. Several things struck me as interesting. First, you have to cast off the modern definitions of liberal and conservative and go with the traditional definitions, meaning different (liberal) and not different (conservative). And even then, the case of Prohibition gets a little murky because of the coalition of forces that brought it about and the fact that Prohibition was itself a change (albeit a change to restrict a right.) The case of Mormon discrimination gets a bit murky as well because much of the negative press (albeit not all) was centered around polygamy. I found that the anti-Catholic sentiment of the early 19th century very strongly resembled the anti-Semitism of the late 19th century and early 20th century, which strongly resembles the anti-Muslim sentiment present in today's America. I think Prothero makes that case very well. Conspicuously missing from this analysis of the culture wars is the ultimate culture war, the issue of slavery. I think a fair treatment of slavery as an issue that divides America would require that the book be twice as long and would perhaps seems the author into America's most analyzed period in history, so I don't blame him for leaving that out. Onto the other major premise of the book, that conservatives usually start culture wars and ultimately lose, not so much because of the adept effort of the liberals, but because of the fact that they start the war only after the change they are opposing is already irreversible. I think Prothero makes his case here, with the exception of the Mormon case related to polygamy. In the case of the Mormons, the main issue of polygamy was never seen as acceptable in American society, and so that particular type of diversity never became mainstream. I guess we can be glad pluralism doesn't always succeed. I like the way the book ends, which is with an optimistic and constructive view. The author suggests that the way to overcome all the wasted time spent on culture wars is to communicate with people who are different. So do I recommend the book? Yes, but only if you plan to read it with an open mind. If you are opposed to the premise of the book based on the title then you probably shouldn't waste your time. If you are a liberal who is bummed about the 2016 Presidential election then I think you might take solace in the fact that freedoms and rights, once granted, are very difficult to revoke. For example, if gay marriage licenses are revoked then the outrage will be much greater than it would have been if they had never been permitted. Once accepted, the liberal position of expanding rights becomes the conservative position of protecting those rights. The arc of history bends towards justice, and justice strongly favors acceptance of those who are different.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Book

    Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections): A History of the Religious Battles That Define America from Jefferson’s Heresies to Gay Marriage Today by Stephen Prothero “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars" is a very interesting book that seeks to make sense of American culture wars. New York Times bestselling author and chair of the religion department at Boston University, Stephen Prothero takes the reader on a journey that takes us back to the earliest moments when Americans Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections): A History of the Religious Battles That Define America from Jefferson’s Heresies to Gay Marriage Today by Stephen Prothero “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars" is a very interesting book that seeks to make sense of American culture wars. New York Times bestselling author and chair of the religion department at Boston University, Stephen Prothero takes the reader on a journey that takes us back to the earliest moments when Americans clashed over moral questions to current hot-button issues. This stimulating 341-page book includes the following five chapters: 1. The Jefferson Wars, 2. Anti-Catholicism, 3. The Mormon Question, 4. Prohibition and Pluralism, and 5. The Contemporary Culture Wars. Positives: 1. Interesting, well-researched and well-written book. Fair, civil and respectful treatment. 2. A fascinating premise, why liberals win the culture wars and the recurring patterns. “Today’s culture wars, this book argues, are part of a recurring pattern in U.S. history—episodes in the story of one not-so-indivisible nation forever at war with itself.” 3. Stephen Prothero has mastery of the topic and provides compelling arguments to back his main premise. “In almost every case since the founding of the republic, conservatives have fired the first shots in our culture wars. Equally often, liberals have won.” 4. A comprehensive Introduction where the author explains the culture wars cycle and provides a generous appetizer. “This book is the result of my investigations. It provides a new lens on the contemporary culture wars—a lens that views our current battles over abortion and homosexuality and Islam as part of a long story of cultural conflict dating back to the withdrawal of George Washington from political life.” 5. The book’s approach is episodic rather than exhaustive. It breaks American history into five episodes: the Jefferson wars, the anti-Catholic crusade in ante-bellum America, anti-Mormonism before and after the civil war, prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s, and the culture wars of the 1970s and beyond. 6. Defines the foundation and focus of this book, culture war. “The term ‘culture wars’ refers to angry public disputes that are simultaneously moral and religious and address the meaning of America.” 7. Does a wonderful job of distinguishing between conservatives and liberals. “‘The big idea’ behind modern conservatism is this: a form of culture is passing away and it is worth fighting to revive it.” “Conservatives typically choose for their rallying cries causes that are already on the verge of being lost.” 8. Explains the four stages of the culture wars cycle that can be summarized as: conservative anxiety over a cultural issue, liberal counterattack, accommodation, and liberals win. “But the most important reason they win is because their opponents attach themselves to lost causes.” 9. A fascinating look at the Jefferson cultural wars. “The lowest blows concerned Jefferson’s faith. Federalists read his call for national church–state separation—his disestablishmentarianism—as a fig leaf over his alleged atheism.” 10. Repeat-worthy quotes. “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” – Thomas Jefferson. 11. A look at the separation of church and state. 12. Explains the perceptions of Catholics in ante-bellum America. Views from Presbyterian minister Lyman Beecher, “Catholic schools were intended to convert Protestants, overthrow Protestantism, and turn the United States into a papal colony, he reasoned.” “The growing presence of Catholics troubled this vision, threatening to turn the dream of Protestant freedom into a nightmare of Catholic control: a puppet nation run by a dictator in Rome.” 13. Fascinating tidbits during colonial times. “Also outlawed was celebrating Christmas, which Puritans (in the original war on Christmas) saw as a popish festival.” 14. A look at the basis for a secular nation. “There was talk at the founding of turning the United States into a Protestant nation, but the founders decided on a secular state with guarantees of religious liberty and without religious tests.” 15. The Supreme Court and Mormonism. “Even the Supreme Court would weigh in. Its justices, in their first-ever decision on the First Amendment’s free-exercise clause, would rule that religious liberty extended only to belief, not to the controversial Mormon practice of plural marriage.” 16. A look at Mormon defense of polygamy. “Biblically, Mormons argued that polygamy was better than monogamy at fulfilling God’s commandment to ‘multiply, and replenish the earth’ (Genesis 1:28).” 17. A fascinating look at prohibition. “It passed because, as historian Ronald Walters wrote, “Americans had a drinking problem,” and because prohibitionists had a plan to fix it.” “But the most common objection was that prohibition infringed on personal liberty.” 18. A look at contemporary culture wars. “Although he would later repent of his segregationism (and admit blacks to his school and his church), Falwell was at the time a white supremacist.” “Yes, the Religious Right was born of anxieties over racial mixing and the demise of white supremacy.” 19. Interesting factoids. “George W. Bush was different. In the first official act of his ‘faith-based presidency,’ he declared his inauguration day a National Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving. His cabinet meetings began with prayer.” 20. An excellent Conclusion chapter. “Nowadays it is Republicans, not Democrats, who are increasingly out of touch with ordinary voters on immigration, race, drugs, guns, women, homosexuality, and the environment.” Negatives: 1. Notes are not linked. 2. No formal bibliography. 3. Charts and timelines would have added value. 4. No visual material to complement the excellent narrative. 5. As is the case of most books, the diagnosis is better than the cure. In summary, I enjoyed this book. Prothero provides readers with an interesting premise and well thought-out arguments in support of it. My only major criticism is the lack of supplementary material and not making use of the links. This is a social science book worth reading, a solid recommendation. Further recommendations: “Why the Religious Right Is Wrong about Separation of Church and State” by Robert Boston, “One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America” by Kevin Kruse, “Nonbeliever Nation” by David Niose, “The Dark Side of Christian History” by Helen Ellerbe, “Birth Control, Insurance Coverage, & the Religious Right” by A.F. Alexander, “The God Argument” by A.C. Grayling, “Freethinkers” by Susan Jacoby, “Moral Combat” by Sikivu Hutchinson, “Republican Gomorrah” by Max Blumenthal, “American Fascists” by Chris Hedges, “Doubt” by Jennifer Michael Hecht, and “Society Without God” by Phil Zuckerman.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Book

    Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections): A History of the Religious Battles That Define America from Jefferson’s Heresies to Gay Marriage Today by Stephen Prothero “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars" is a very interesting book that seeks to make sense of American culture wars. New York Times bestselling author and chair of the religion department at Boston University, Stephen Prothero takes the reader on a journey that takes us back to the earliest moments when Americans Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections): A History of the Religious Battles That Define America from Jefferson’s Heresies to Gay Marriage Today by Stephen Prothero “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars" is a very interesting book that seeks to make sense of American culture wars. New York Times bestselling author and chair of the religion department at Boston University, Stephen Prothero takes the reader on a journey that takes us back to the earliest moments when Americans clashed over moral questions to current hot-button issues. This stimulating 341-page book includes the following five chapters: 1. The Jefferson Wars, 2. Anti-Catholicism, 3. The Mormon Question, 4. Prohibition and Pluralism, and 5. The Contemporary Culture Wars. Positives: 1. Interesting, well-researched and well-written book. Fair, civil and respectful treatment. 2. A fascinating premise, why liberals win the culture wars and the recurring patterns. “Today’s culture wars, this book argues, are part of a recurring pattern in U.S. history—episodes in the story of one not-so-indivisible nation forever at war with itself.” 3. Stephen Prothero has mastery of the topic and provides compelling arguments to back his main premise. “In almost every case since the founding of the republic, conservatives have fired the first shots in our culture wars. Equally often, liberals have won.” 4. A comprehensive Introduction where the author explains the culture wars cycle and provides a generous appetizer. “This book is the result of my investigations. It provides a new lens on the contemporary culture wars—a lens that views our current battles over abortion and homosexuality and Islam as part of a long story of cultural conflict dating back to the withdrawal of George Washington from political life.” 5. The book’s approach is episodic rather than exhaustive. It breaks American history into five episodes: the Jefferson wars, the anti-Catholic crusade in ante-bellum America, anti-Mormonism before and after the civil war, prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s, and the culture wars of the 1970s and beyond. 6. Defines the foundation and focus of this book, culture war. “The term ‘culture wars’ refers to angry public disputes that are simultaneously moral and religious and address the meaning of America.” 7. Does a wonderful job of distinguishing between conservatives and liberals. “‘The big idea’ behind modern conservatism is this: a form of culture is passing away and it is worth fighting to revive it.” “Conservatives typically choose for their rallying cries causes that are already on the verge of being lost.” 8. Explains the four stages of the culture wars cycle that can be summarized as: conservative anxiety over a cultural issue, liberal counterattack, accommodation, and liberals win. “But the most important reason they win is because their opponents attach themselves to lost causes.” 9. A fascinating look at the Jefferson cultural wars. “The lowest blows concerned Jefferson’s faith. Federalists read his call for national church–state separation—his disestablishmentarianism—as a fig leaf over his alleged atheism.” 10. Repeat-worthy quotes. “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” – Thomas Jefferson. 11. A look at the separation of church and state. 12. Explains the perceptions of Catholics in ante-bellum America. Views from Presbyterian minister Lyman Beecher, “Catholic schools were intended to convert Protestants, overthrow Protestantism, and turn the United States into a papal colony, he reasoned.” “The growing presence of Catholics troubled this vision, threatening to turn the dream of Protestant freedom into a nightmare of Catholic control: a puppet nation run by a dictator in Rome.” 13. Fascinating tidbits during colonial times. “Also outlawed was celebrating Christmas, which Puritans (in the original war on Christmas) saw as a popish festival.” 14. A look at the basis for a secular nation. “There was talk at the founding of turning the United States into a Protestant nation, but the founders decided on a secular state with guarantees of religious liberty and without religious tests.” 15. The Supreme Court and Mormonism. “Even the Supreme Court would weigh in. Its justices, in their first-ever decision on the First Amendment’s free-exercise clause, would rule that religious liberty extended only to belief, not to the controversial Mormon practice of plural marriage.” 16. A look at Mormon defense of polygamy. “Biblically, Mormons argued that polygamy was better than monogamy at fulfilling God’s commandment to ‘multiply, and replenish the earth’ (Genesis 1:28).” 17. A fascinating look at prohibition. “It passed because, as historian Ronald Walters wrote, “Americans had a drinking problem,” and because prohibitionists had a plan to fix it.” “But the most common objection was that prohibition infringed on personal liberty.” 18. A look at contemporary culture wars. “Although he would later repent of his segregationism (and admit blacks to his school and his church), Falwell was at the time a white supremacist.” “Yes, the Religious Right was born of anxieties over racial mixing and the demise of white supremacy.” 19. Interesting factoids. “George W. Bush was different. In the first official act of his ‘faith-based presidency,’ he declared his inauguration day a National Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving. His cabinet meetings began with prayer.” 20. An excellent Conclusion chapter. “Nowadays it is Republicans, not Democrats, who are increasingly out of touch with ordinary voters on immigration, race, drugs, guns, women, homosexuality, and the environment.” Negatives: 1. Notes are not linked. 2. No formal bibliography. 3. Charts and timelines would have added value. 4. No visual material to complement the excellent narrative. 5. As is the case of most books, the diagnosis is better than the cure. In summary, I enjoyed this book. Prothero provides readers with an interesting premise and well thought-out arguments in support of it. My only major criticism is the lack of supplementary material and not making use of the links. This is a social science book worth reading, a solid recommendation. Further recommendations: “Why the Religious Right Is Wrong about Separation of Church and State” by Robert Boston, “One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America” by Kevin Kruse, “Nonbeliever Nation” by David Niose, “The Dark Side of Christian History” by Helen Ellerbe, “Birth Control, Insurance Coverage, & the Religious Right” by A.F. Alexander, “The God Argument” by A.C. Grayling, “Freethinkers” by Susan Jacoby, “Moral Combat” by Sikivu Hutchinson, “Republican Gomorrah” by Max Blumenthal, “American Fascists” by Chris Hedges, “Doubt” by Jennifer Michael Hecht, and “Society Without God” by Phil Zuckerman.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kati

    This book really just did not work. There are a number of problems, but three are especially big. First, the sides in these historical culture wars don't really have good analogs to modern conservatism and modern liberalism. This especially comes to a head with Prohibition, where even the author admits that you can assign either side to either label with equal validity. So, liberals win because the label "liberal" was assigned to the winning side. Second, the author's definition of "win" is... ina This book really just did not work. There are a number of problems, but three are especially big. First, the sides in these historical culture wars don't really have good analogs to modern conservatism and modern liberalism. This especially comes to a head with Prohibition, where even the author admits that you can assign either side to either label with equal validity. So, liberals win because the label "liberal" was assigned to the winning side. Second, the author's definition of "win" is... inadequate. It's great that Catholics an Mormons are allowed to hold political office now, but there's still a lot of bigotry towards both groups. Prohibition of alcohol may have been overturned, but we have large number of people jailed for drug offenses, including tens of thousands just for marijuana. Even with the Jeffersonian Wars, there is still an societal undercurrent that rich people are inherently better than everyone else. The author tries to handwave these issues away in his conclusion as necessary concessions for peace, but when it comes to human rights, 'nearly there' is 'not there'. The big elephant in the room, though, is his refusal to tackle the issue of civil rights in regard to race. He states that those issues are 'race wars' and he is only doing 'culture wars'. However, all of his culture wars end up relating back to bigotry and most of them to racism, sometimes in surprising ways. For example, pre-Civil War Southerners didn't want to weight in against polygamy in the anti-Mormon conflicts or in favor of Prohibition, because the same arguments against those issues could also be used against slavery. It ends up with this awkward situation where the author doesn't want to talk about race conflict, but most chapters have to talk about race conflict. Overall, it just didn't come together well. I don't recommend it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Robert Kortus

    Very enjoyable read. The title of the book pretty much says it all; no further explanation needed. Another title could have been, "Liberals May Loose Some Battles, but They Always Win the War." This book looks back at the history of culture wars in America, from the election of 1800 to modern issues of gay marriage, Islam, immigration, etc. A couple of interesting point to note. One is the "culture wars cycle", a sort of SOP of how these battles are fought - conservatives always strike first, fo Very enjoyable read. The title of the book pretty much says it all; no further explanation needed. Another title could have been, "Liberals May Loose Some Battles, but They Always Win the War." This book looks back at the history of culture wars in America, from the election of 1800 to modern issues of gay marriage, Islam, immigration, etc. A couple of interesting point to note. One is the "culture wars cycle", a sort of SOP of how these battles are fought - conservatives always strike first, followed by a counter attack by liberals, then there is some sort of accommodation, and finally liberals win. Another interesting point can be summed up in the old adage, "Today's liberal is tomorrow's conservative." Many of the positions conservatives once fought tooth and nail for decades ago they would never dream of even mentioning today (The number of Republicans who like to quote MLK, a man they would have stood in stark opposition too, is a perfect example) As the author notes at the end of the book, "Culture wars do typically end with victories for liberals, but over time conservatives also accept the more inclusive vision of America those victories have secured. In this way, liberal conviction becomes national norms". I also found it strangely comforting to know that despite all the rhetoric about America being "more divided than ever" that this is hardly true. The current division we are seeing played out in the media today is nothing new. We are a country that has always been divided, yet have somehow managed to soldier on and keep this great experiment going, despite the constant and reoccurring tropes about the "end of America as we know it."

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dale

    A Review of the Audiobook Published in January of 2016 by HarperAudio. Read by Tristan Morris. Duration: 10 hours, 42 minutes. Unabridged. Stephen Prothero takes a look at American history through the lens of "culture wars". Culture wars, for Prothero, are more than the typical left-right discussion - they are a left-right discussion with serious religious overtones. Prothero's thesis is that the major debates in American history have been those types of debates. He looks at 5 areas: 1) The fight over w A Review of the Audiobook Published in January of 2016 by HarperAudio. Read by Tristan Morris. Duration: 10 hours, 42 minutes. Unabridged. Stephen Prothero takes a look at American history through the lens of "culture wars". Culture wars, for Prothero, are more than the typical left-right discussion - they are a left-right discussion with serious religious overtones. Prothero's thesis is that the major debates in American history have been those types of debates. He looks at 5 areas: 1) The fight over who would run the country after George Washington - the inheritors of the Calvinistic Puritans (John Adams) or those with a vaguely defined faith (Thomas Jefferson); 2) Catholics vs. Protestants; 3) Everyone vs. Mormons; 4) Fundamentalism vs. Modernism as commonly typified by the Scopes Monkey Trial (which only gets a passing mention in this book); 5) Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority types vs. abortion, gay marriage, the Equal Rights Amendment and more. While his discussions were interesting and make a lot of good points, I don't think they... Read more at: https://dwdsreviews.blogspot.com/2020...

  26. 4 out of 5

    FM

    I love reading about American history and there were stories in this book that were fascinating and certainly enlightening. I'm glad I read this book and I found much that resonated with me, but for two things: 1. I am not completely convinced of the author's definition of "liberal" which seemed quite elastic, and 2. I really hate the title of this book, which seems to me to be quite off-putting (and I consider myself a liberal). I can think of some people who would really enjoy this book but wou I love reading about American history and there were stories in this book that were fascinating and certainly enlightening. I'm glad I read this book and I found much that resonated with me, but for two things: 1. I am not completely convinced of the author's definition of "liberal" which seemed quite elastic, and 2. I really hate the title of this book, which seems to me to be quite off-putting (and I consider myself a liberal). I can think of some people who would really enjoy this book but wouldn't be able to get past the title! Perhaps a better title would have been "Lurching Forward: How America Progresses Despite Itself." At any rate, some interesting themes throughout. I wonder how the author sees the election of 2016? My guess would be: Oh, THAT again.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Matt "The Bibliognost"

    Interesting take. I disagree with his premise that prohibition was a conservative mediated policy. It was led by Democrats, abolitionists, women's suffrage voters, and other groups I would hardly consider conservative. I realize it's hard to stomach the idea that Democrats might have brought us one of the most disagreeable movements of the 20th century, buts its true nonetheless. He's going to have to claim that. And in the end Prohibition was successful in decreasing the amount of daily alcohol Interesting take. I disagree with his premise that prohibition was a conservative mediated policy. It was led by Democrats, abolitionists, women's suffrage voters, and other groups I would hardly consider conservative. I realize it's hard to stomach the idea that Democrats might have brought us one of the most disagreeable movements of the 20th century, buts its true nonetheless. He's going to have to claim that. And in the end Prohibition was successful in decreasing the amount of daily alcohol Americans imbibe. Otherwise, it was a good read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gwen

    This was an interesting overview of various "culture wars", but I don't think the author actually answered the question of why liberals win. His main thesis seemed to be that by the time there's conservative outrage and people start yelling about culture war, the liberal progress is already unstoppable, which was interesting and encouraging, but takes the conclusion as a premise. "Why do Liberals win culture wars?" "Because by the time there's a culture war they've already won." "Okay but WHY do t This was an interesting overview of various "culture wars", but I don't think the author actually answered the question of why liberals win. His main thesis seemed to be that by the time there's conservative outrage and people start yelling about culture war, the liberal progress is already unstoppable, which was interesting and encouraging, but takes the conclusion as a premise. "Why do Liberals win culture wars?" "Because by the time there's a culture war they've already won." "Okay but WHY do they win?" Eh.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dave Lester

    As if that title is not a mouthful. Upon finishing Boston College Professor Stephen Prothero's "Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars", a huge part of me wondered how he would have written this book if it had come out after the election of Donald Trump in November 2016 as opposed to the book being released in January 2016. That being said, this still is a fascinating read as Prothero goes back to the disputes between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams around 1800 and gives us a proverbial highlight reel As if that title is not a mouthful. Upon finishing Boston College Professor Stephen Prothero's "Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars", a huge part of me wondered how he would have written this book if it had come out after the election of Donald Trump in November 2016 as opposed to the book being released in January 2016. That being said, this still is a fascinating read as Prothero goes back to the disputes between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams around 1800 and gives us a proverbial highlight reel of religious cultural conflict between liberals and conservatives. Although many people (especially in 2018) consider politics and utterly nasty business, they would do well to read up on the presidential mud slinging between Jefferson and Adams. Prothero highlights the 19th century anti-Catholic agitation, he dives deep into anti-Mormonism that highlighted much of the mid to late 1800s, runs through the prohibition debates and conservative Christians' role in that fiasco (including Billy Sunday), and then moves to more modern debates on sex, education and art. His main thesis is that liberals shift culture in significant ways (think gay marriage) and conservatives often react and fight against the new shifting. Eventually, the way that liberals move the culture becomes the accepted norm among most and then the cycle renews with another issue. While liberals move cultural change forward, conservatives win elections by appealing to fear and a negative reaction to the change. There is probably a lot of truth to this very generalized approach although the jury is still out on who will win some of the issues of contemporary times including gun rights/control and abortion. Abortion may actually be an example of a cultural stalemate of sorts. Most Americans would proclaim to be "pro-life" but most Americans would also not want the government to make abortion illegal. A complexity to consider while reading this book: how are we defining who is conservative and who is liberal when examining a historical context? For instance, Abraham Lincoln (a republican) issued the emancipation proclamation and freed the slaves. Prothero seems to suggest that both the Republican party and the Democrat party have been liberal or conservative depending upon the issues of the time. Obviously, a book like this cannot really be exhaustive but as I mentioned, Prothero does a decent job of episodically walking us through major religious and cultural clashes and giving us enough history to make his point. I especially found fascinating some of the religious history of Mormonism that Prothero brought out including persecution of Mormons but also the Mormons acquiescing to the state (for example on the polygamy issue). In our scorched earth, partisan times which have begun to resemble a re-run of "The Jerry Springer Show", it is important to get historical context on our most fundamental disputes. Down in the trenches of heated warfare between liberals and conservatives in 2018, we are in need of studying history and learning about our nation's unique past in regard to these battles.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    I have been a big fan of Stephen Prothero's writings for a long time . Yet the premise of this book fails from the start in that conservatives are the only ones who are starting culture wars and only do so after they have already lost. All through the book he makes conservatives look as if they are anti intellectual, and doesn't treat each side even handedly. On the surface, he offers an excellent history behind each of these issues that arise, but he clearly sees conservatives as on the wrong s I have been a big fan of Stephen Prothero's writings for a long time . Yet the premise of this book fails from the start in that conservatives are the only ones who are starting culture wars and only do so after they have already lost. All through the book he makes conservatives look as if they are anti intellectual, and doesn't treat each side even handedly. On the surface, he offers an excellent history behind each of these issues that arise, but he clearly sees conservatives as on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of America.

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