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

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  286 ratings  ·  69 reviews
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
Hardcover, 264 pages
Published January 5th 2016 by HarperOne (first published April 28th 2015)
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May 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: us-policy
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
Sean Chick
Nov 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
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
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
It can be comforting to read a history that tells us our current political battles are more of the same since the beginning of the republic. Basically, the thesis of this book is the culture wars a perennial problem in our republic from the alien and sedition acts in the 1790s to the Anti-Catholic Know-nothings of the 1840s, Temperance and Prohibition and immigration restrictions of the 1920s, to our current culture wars against homosexuals and immigrants and women. I want to think that everythi ...more
Jan 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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.
Nov 30, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2019
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
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 ...more
Jerry Smith
Jan 24, 2016 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Aubrey Anderson
Apr 12, 2020 rated it liked it
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
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.
Mar 03, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Leo Walsh
Jun 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Keith Davis
Aug 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Tom Rowe
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
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
Andrew Willis
Mar 30, 2016 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Jul 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, politics
Informative, insightful, compassionate and timely, an altogether excellent read.
Jun 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: interest
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
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 ...more
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 ...more
Jun 23, 2019 rated it liked it
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
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
Jul 01, 2017 rated it liked it
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
Matt "The Bibliognost" Harrison
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 ...more
Jul 23, 2017 rated it liked it
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
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
Mar 27, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: culture
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 ...more
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this more. But it wasn't until the last 2 chapters that it got interesting (and current and relevant). I'm not sure that it really needed the in-depth historical review of 4 previous American "culture wars" to make its point. Which, honestly, is included in the jacket-flap summary, so one could totally save 8 weeks of reading time and just read the summary and the concluding chapter.
Garth Slater
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
I personally enjoyed this book. I try to keep an open mind and educate myself in different philosophies and principles. I thought this was extremely well written. The topics and categories discussed are not easy and all are politically charged.
Thank goodness we live in a country where we can share opposing positions.
I think some of the conclusions drawn were off target and I found myself confused from time to time on the authors points.
Mark Johnson
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a reformed culture warrior, this one was simultaneously encouraging and discouraging.

It was encouraging to see that, as bad as they seem (or are), many of today's bitter, mean-spirited struggles over ideology are in no way new--even in the relatively short history of the US. It was encouraging to see positive examples of historic "out" groups eventually being embraced (Catholics, Mormons, Irish, Italians, etc.).

It was discouraging to see that such rampant tribalism has been so widespread acro
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Stephen Prothero is a professor in the Department of Religion at Boston University and the author of numerous books, most recently Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—And Doesn't and American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Idol. He has commented on religion on dozens of National Public Radio programs and on television on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, MSNBC and Comedy Cent ...more

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