736 pages, Basic Books, ISBN-13: 978-0465013692
Political commentator Kevin Phillips has always seen unfolding events and emerging trends with remarkable clarity. Taking a break from contemporary politics Phillips has, at first glance, written a book about three wars – the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the American Civil War. However, The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, and the Triumph of Anglo-America reads less like a scholarly analysis of English and American history than a graduate student’s thesis. His basic argument is that these three wars were all battles in the same civil war: Roundhead vs. Cavalier; Merchant vs. Noble; Yankee vs. Virginian; Whig vs. Tory; North vs. South – the names might change but the opponents were essentially the same. According to Phillips, the origins of the struggles lay in geographic, religious, and socio-economic divisions in England.
On the one side were East Anglian Puritans, low-church protestant tradesmen and merchants, both those who stayed in England and those who emigrated to New England. On the other side were the bishops, high church Anglicans, aristocrats, and other loyalists, including lower-class foot-soldiers from the northern border regions of England who migrated to the inland, mountainous regions of the South and mid-Atlantic North America, while their upper-class allies became the Virginian colonial elite. Phillips evidence is strong: the towns and communities which opposed the King in the English Civil War and sent colonists to the new world also tended to oppose the King in the Revolution, and wanted to maintain America during the American Civil War. If all politics is local, as Tip O’Neill said, than the battle-lines of these three wars were always drawn by local matters: religion, economics, and geography. Thus, these wars led to the triumph of the Anglo-Saxon world of England and America, which has in turn been a blessing upon the world today.
The freshness of Phillips’ thesis for an American audience comes from his attention to the English Civil War of the mid-17th Century. From that perspective, the main conflict of the Revolutionary War was not between Britain and the United States, but between old enemies that cut across national boundaries within the English-speaking world. Then, following that conflict through the U.S. Civil War give a fresh perspective on a war that is in need of one.
If you are fairly well versed in the American Revolution and American Civil War, this is a good book because it views those conflicts from an entirely new angle – however, I would advise against reading this book if you know little about those conflicts as there is no narrative of the events here; Phillips assumes you know the basics. It is a sympathetic account, as Phillips clearly approves of Anglo dominance, but the book is worth reading even for those who don’t.