Book Summary: “Cousins’ War: Religion, Politics, Civil War, and the Triumph of the Anglo-America” by Kevin Phillips


Title: Cousins’ War: Religion, Politics, Civil War, and the Triumph of the Anglo-America
Author: Kevin Phillips
Scope: 3.5 stars
Readability: 4 stars
My personal rating: 5 stars
See more on my book rating system.

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Topic of Book

Philips explores British and American history between 1600 and 1900 and concludes that they both were fractured between two types of societies that often came into violent conflict which each other.

Key Take-aways

  • The following four political events critically shaped both Britain and the United States:
    • English Civil War of 1640-1649
    • Glorious Revolution of 1688
    • American Revolution of 1775- 1783
    • U.S. Civil War of 1861-1865
  • Each conflict created divisions within both Britain and the American colonies.
  • Each conflict pit the same two sides against each other:
    • Regions that were highly-developed commercially, relatively urbanized, relatively democratic and had a strong Dissenting Protestant culture and religion.
    • Regions that were Anglican/Catholic, rural and hierarchical.
  • That the commercialized, urbanized Dissenting Protestants won each conflict played a key role in both Britain and the United States becoming commercial and democratic powers.

Important Quotes from Book

This book is about a famous trio of English-speaking civil wars—the English Civil War, the American Revolution, and the American Civil War. It is also a book about religion— about the interaction of creed, politics, and war during three centuries when faith played a much larger role than now.

But most of all, it is a book about how three great internal wars seeded each other and, in so doing, guided not only politics but the rise of Anglo-America from a small Tudor kingdom to a global community and world hegemony. The English Civil War laid the groundwork for the American Revolution and the political breakaway of North America’s English-speaking Low Church Protestants. This gave the English-speaking nations the dual framework so important to their long term future. The American Revolution, in turn, laid the groundwork for a new independent republic split by slavery and an American civil war in which cotton-starved Britain came close to pro-Southern intervention. The American Civil War, when it was over, reformed and framed modern Anglo-America—the principal English-speaking nations.

The emergence of England and then Great Britain during these three centuries was extraordinary. The same can be said of the formation and eventual ascendancy of the United States. What has been unique is the division of the English-speaking community into two major nations and successor great powers: one aristocratic, “chosen,” and imperial; one democratic, “chosen,” and manifest destiny-driven.

It was these three cousins’ wars—the English Civil War of 1640-1649 (and its follow-up in i688), the American Revolution of 1775- 1783, and the U.S. Civil War of 1861-1865—that the English- speaking world critically reshaped itself. Broadly, the result was to uphold political liberties, commercial progress, technological inventiveness, linguistic ambition, and territorial expansion.

Let me underscore: Directly and indirectly, each conflict—and all three of them combined revolution and civil war—rescripted society, economics, and government on both sides of the ocean.

The grand framework of The Cousins’ Wars has already been stated: putting a new political, religious, and war-based perspective around the dual emergence of America and Great Britain.

This framework, in turn, yields the following thesis: that from the seventeenth century, the English-speaking peoples on both continents defined themselves by wars that upheld, at least for a while, a guiding political culture of a Low Church, Calvinistic Protestantism, commercially adept, militantly expansionist, and highly convinced, in Old World, New World, or both, that it represented a chosen people and a manifest destiny. In the full, three-century context, Cavaliers, aristocrats, and bishops pretty much lost and Puritans, Yankees, self-made entrepreneurs, Anglo-Saxon nationalists, and expansionists had the edge, especially in America.

One point cannot be made strongly enough: The English Civil War is the necessary starting point, not just for a piece of Britain’s history but for America’s. This is where the events and alignments leading up to the American Revolution began. The latter was really a second English-speaking civil war, drawing many of its issues, antagonisms, and divisions from the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British Isles.

If you would like to learn more about history, read my book From Poverty to Progress: How Humans Invented Progress, and How We Can Keep It Going.

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