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White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement Hardcover – June 1, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This comprehensive study of conservative politics from the post-WWI era to the present is replete with clear analysis and good nuggets of information. Lichtman (The Keys of the White House) profiles the behind-the-scenes operators who have crafted the marching orders for right-wing Americans in the last half-century—financiers like J. Howard Pew, Frank Gannett and the Du Ponts, direct-mail kingpin Richard Viguerie and drawing-room conservatives like William F. Buckley and Bill Kristol. Lichtman observes how a clique of probusiness, mainly Protestant, Americans chaffed at the birth of the welfare state under Democratic administrations and built a network of organizations to resist social engineering and encroaching federal power. The book argues that in postwar America, rising fears over immigration, desegregation and sexual egalitarianism gave bloom to an ethic of Anglo-Saxon supremacy—but Lichtman ignores the deep roots such ideas have in American culture. Lichtman also neglects the transformation in the post–civil rights era, when the conservative movement tried to shed its extreme racial and cultural doctrines and began attracting minority voters and politicos. As a structural blueprint of conservative political power, however, this book is without peer, giving readers a wonderful historical survey of the last 80 years of conservative politics. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From the Inside Flap

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 and comprehensive look at the origins, evolution, and triumph (at times) of modern conservatism

In the long-awaited new book from the author of The Keys to the White House--which the Baltimore Sun called "a must book for political junkies" and which remains influential after more than fifteen years in print--Allan J. Lichtman has produced what may be the definitive history of the modern conservative movement in America.

Lichtman is both a professor of political history and a veteran journalist, and he has spent the past ten years combing through more than 150 manuscript collections--confidential memos, internal strategy papers, secret correspondence, and much more--to capture the entire tapestry and trajectory of the conservative movement. He brings to life a gallery of dynamic right-wing personalities, from luminaries such as Strom Thurmond, Billy Graham, Phyllis Schlafly, William F. Buckley Jr., and Bill Kristol to indispensable inside operators like financiers Frank Gannett, J. Howard Pew, and Richard Mellon Scaife. He explodes the conventional wisdom that modern conservative politics began with Goldwater and instead traces the roots of today's movement to the 1920s. He shows how modern conservatism was born out of post-World War I fears that secular, pluralistic, and cosmopolitan forces threatened America's national identity. 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 from the New Deal era to the Great Society to the Clinton years; and to build the most powerful network of media, fundraising, and intellectual organizations in the history of representative government.

Ultimately, Lichtman concludes that conservative ideology is grounded not in specific issues such as limited government, low taxes, or free markets--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 in a dual vision of America as a white Protestant nation, and a country whose greatness is driven by private enterprise. He argues that President George W. Bush is the heir to both the strengths and weaknesses of this tradition, and he explores whether Bush is presiding over the demise of the modern conservative movement.

Lively, comprehensive, and built on unprecedented primary research, White Protestant Nation tells the whole story of the modern conservative movement and its place within the big picture of American history. This book is entertaining, provocative, enlightening, and essential reading for anyone who cares about American politics and its history.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; 1st edition (June 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871139847
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871139849
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,054,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Because of the provocative title, I at first thought that this was one of those in-your-face political harangues that populate the front tables of bookstores. However I quickly found that this was a serious, scholarly study of American conservative thought (and action) in the 20th century.

I think Lichtman is on to something. I had read Sean Wilentz'z "The Rise of American Democracy" a few months ago and this book seems that it could have been a good companion. I guess the central thesis that could be argued is that America was founded as a democracy, albeit a democracy only for white, anglo, Protestant, property-owning heterosexual males. Much of the dynamics of American culture and politics in both the 19th and 20th centuries has been both the attempt to expand this definition of democratic government and the resulting response to defend and/or restore the status quo. This really highlights how much the "idea" of America is a highly politically contested concept.

The strength of Lichtman's book is how he shows the continued line of conservative thinking from the 1920 (which was sort of a reset point for American conservatives after the upheavals of the Progressive Era and internationalism of Wilson) to the present. His discussion of the role of the woman's vote was very enlightening, showing how that otherwise conservative men supported woman's vote as a counterweight to the growing immigrant voting population. For me the whole discussion of the pre- 1970s conservative movement is the major strength of the book.

Now for the book's drawbacks.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been curious for many years. We can talk about various economic or political systems as if they're acceptable. But one about which we cannot speak without being treated like we've used inappropriate language is "Communism." It struck me that the "conservatives" must have a pretty powerful platform since we can't even talk about that concept except negatively.

This volume I read not long after completing Alan Dawley's "Struggles for Justice," while listening to David Halberstram's "The Coldest Winter: American and the Korean War," and while reading a fine article by Thomas Frank in "Harper's" magazine about the neo-cons in today's government. Combined, they paint a fairly clear picture of the "evolution" of American conservatism.

The book is set up both chronologically and thematically; one can see the "evolution" (thought some might think of is as devolution) of America's right wing throughout the years. And that mix made the book compelling.

The book's first chapter is entitled "The Birth of the Modern Right: 1920 - 1928." Conventional wisdom seems to attribute the beginning of the "modern right" to the era of Goldwater, but Lichtman thinks it took place quite a bit earlier. This was the post-WWI era. During that war, Americans had to be stimulated by the Creel Commission, or Committee on Public Information to despise the heathen Huns (Germans). After the war, that zeal went against the bomb-throwing Bolsheviks. And this was the era of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge.

What the "right" feared later took place when Franklin Roosevelt was elected. Lichtman seems to make clear--as have other authors--that Roosevelt wasn't some red-flag waving socialist.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Academic tomes are rarely scintillating reading and this book is no exception. The prose is dry, informative with a few nice descriptive sparks. But this kind of book is not read for entertainment. Lichtman lays out the history of the American conservative movement in detail. He shows the mutual interdependent evolution of protestant and political influence on our society. I read the book because I wanted to understand the philosophy and motivation behind the modern conservative movement. This book provided that.
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Format: Paperback
This history of the evangelical Christian movement in the twentieth century is an important contribution to understanding both the recent political arena and the culture wars. It approaches history with a decided present-tense interest in helping to explain current issues. Author Allan J. Lichtman, professor of history at American University in Washington, D.C., demonstrates how conservative religious traditions coalesced in the first half of the twentieth century around issues of morality and society ranging from marriage patterns to economic priorities.

The author's assertion that this was born out of the split between the modernists and the traditionalists is not new, but his positioning of the movement in the context of a larger pro-business, mainly Protestant, coalition of interests is path breaking. Moreover, the rise of intellectuals and financiers such as J. Howard Pew, Frank Gannett, the Du Ponts, William F. Buckley, and William Kristol gave power to the movement beyond its insular borders as never before in the last half century.

These various groups and individuals disagreed with each other on many issues but were united in their hatred of the modern welfare state put into place in successive Democratic administrations between the 1930s and the 1960s and built a network of organizations to resist what they considered the evils both of social engineering and federal power. They used oftentimes misplaced fears of immigration, race relations, and sexual politics as triggers to create powerful political organizations. "White Protestant Nation" offers a well-reasoned, excellently and entertainingly written history of the rise of conservative political power.
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