Wednesday’s Book Review: “White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement”

White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement. By Allan J. Lichtman. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008. 570 pages. ISBN-10: 0871139847. $27.50 Hardcover with dustjacket. References, illustrations, index.

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 and its ties to religion.

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