First Person

Political commentator Kevin Phillips on the American Revolution

In his latest book, 1775: A Good Year for Revolution, he argues that that year, not 1776, deserves attention.

Kevin Phillips, who lives in Goshen, Connecticut, is best known for identifying the conservative realignment in national politics in the late 1960s.

Photograph from Martha Phillips

Kevin Phillips, who lives in Goshen, Connecticut, is best known for identifying the conservative realignment in national politics in the late 1960s.

In the 1990s, I decided I’d had enough of politics for a while and wrote a book calledThe Cousins’ Warsabout three English-speaking civil wars. By 2008, I had it in mind that it was time to take another vacation from [modern politics], that I would do [a book] on the Revolution itself and try to analyze what I’ll refer to as the emerging republican majority, small r. I’d always been interested in the REALIGNMENTS OF AMERICAN POLITICS, and this was the grandest realignment of all.

I would say people in Massachusetts and Boston, in particular, are predisposed to believe in THE IMPORTANCE OF 1775, but perhaps not in the fullness of its 13-colony context. By early 1775, people were really feeling — I don’t want to say invincible — but they truly believed that their arms would be strong and JUSTICE WOULD PREVAIL. That was very much the mind-set, and it guided people in the Revolution.


One of the things that 1775 can make clear to people is the enormous impact of ethnicity and religion in HOW PEOPLE CHOSE SIDES. I can’t go through Syria or even Iraq in terms of the religions in any really informed way, but obviously they have enormous differences. Whether you’re talking about the failures of conservatives who didn’t think about it before they went to war or the failures of liberals who didn’t understand enough to critique it, an awful lot was missed.

I guess I have a fondness for reappraisals because I can tell you, the emerging Republican majority in the late 1960s was a reappraisal that had the political science departments in universities tee-heeing until they FELL OUT OF THEIR CHAIRS. I guess I believe in reappraisals because I’ve had some luck with them.     — As told to Joel Brown

Interview has been edited and condensed.

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