Summary of Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections)

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Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections) book summary
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  • Overview
  • Background
  • Engaging


“Culture wars” are almost as old as the American republic. The bitter election of 1800, with the Democratic-Republicans of Thomas Jefferson on the left and John Adams’s Federalists on the right, was only the beginning. In subsequent years, American conservatives and liberals argued about religious discrimination and alcohol long before their contemporary culture wars over abortion, civil rights, feminists and homosexuals. Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, sums it all up. Trivia buffs may find a few small miscues. For instance, most 1920s movies weren’t “talkies.” Nonetheless, Prothero proves highly readable and thought provoking. Voicing a strong historic point of view, he doesn’t let modern political correctness water down his descriptions of past conflicts. While always politically neutral, getAbstract recommends his overview for its valuable historical context and suggests it to anyone who’s had enough of the culture wars.

About the Author

Boston University professor Stephen Prothero also wrote God Is Not One and Religious Literacy.



What Makes a “Culture War”?

America’s modern culture wars are nothing new. The United States has “a long story of cultural conflict” that began around the time its first president, George Washington, left office. Each culture war follows a similar pattern. Almost all of these conflicts spring from conservative roots and culminate in liberal wins.

America’s culture wars share these features:

  • They are “public disputes” that citizens conduct on a national stage.
  • They spring from “anxiety” and grow into “moral, religious and cultural” debates.
  • They breed arguments about the “meaning of America” and who qualifies as a citizen.
  • They are impassioned, and they conjure images of armed combat.
  • Conservatives usually start them, even though their cause may already be hopeless.
  • They follow this pattern: “The Right strikes out, the Left strikes back.” They reach “some sort of accommodation” and “in the fourth stage, liberals win.”

Five culture wars stand out in American history:

1. The Election of 1800

The nation’s first culture war revolved around the unusually contentious, ugly presidential election of...

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