FOR MANY of those who observe it closely, the current state of conservative Protestantism in the United States is a source of considerable shock. For political liberals, the shock derives from the strength of the movement (Habermas 2006; Taylor 2006). They wonder why the United States is not a normal country, like, say, England or Holland, countries in which religious belief is much quieter, and churchgoing much rarer. For religious conservatives, on the other hand, it is the weakness of conservative Protestantism that is the source of shock. They wish the United States could become a Christian nation once again, a country aware of the providential link between public morality and national greatness (Barton 1992; Rushdoony 1978; DeMar 1995; Kennedy and Newcombe 2005). How can two sets of observers arrive at such disparate assessments of the same phenomenon? My goal in this chapter is to critique and move beyond these assessments by placing the folk theories and the phenomenon itself within a comparative-historical context. Any comparative and historical analysis necessarily takes a particular set of comparisons and a particular period of history as its starting point, and that starting point inevitably influences the questions that arise and the answers that result. This chapter is no exception to that rule, so I would like to be clear about my starting point, which is the Reformation era in western Europe, a period I studied intensively before becoming interested in modern America. Against that background, the title of this chapter is transformed into a question, even a perplexity: conservative Protestantism in the United States? Why the perplexity? There are several reasons. One is that the two traditions that constitute the theological and organizational core of conservative Protestantism at the moment-the Reformed and the Baptistare typically categorized as radical or even revolutionary within the early modern historiography (Baylor 1991; Hill 1962, 1975; Williams 1992). And not without reason: Calvinists have been variously credited with inventing capitalism, fomenting revolution, and promoting democracy (Camic, Gorski, and Trubek 2005; Gorski 1999, 2001, 2006; Marshall 1980, 1982; Walzer 1968); Max Weber accordingly described the Calvinist ethos as one of world mastery and world transformation, terms one does not immediately associate with political conservatism (Weber 2001; Weber, Gerth, and Mills 1964). As for the Baptists, they were tried and convicted of a variety of radical misdeeds, including antinomianism and free love and, later, of pacifism and sectarianism. How then, one wonders, does one start from the Puritan radicals of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the seventeenth century and arrive at their theological descendants, the conservative Presbyterians of J. Gresham Machen's Westminster Seminary? Or start from the German Anabaptist revolutionary Thomas Müntzer and arrive at the American Baptist conservative Billy Graham? If the notion that some denominations of American Protestants are both theologically and politically conservative is one source of puzzlement, another is that conservative Protestantism should have come to be seen as something specifically and peculiarly American. In this case, we need only think back a century or so to see just how surprising this state of affairs really is. In 1900, when many of their European counterparts were still desperately clinging to the "marriage of throne and altar," American Protestants had long accepted the separation of church and state, at least as it was then understood (Gaustad 2003; Handy 1991; Rémond 1999). In some countries, such as Norway and the Netherlands, conservative Protestants were going so far as to organize political parties to protect their churches, their schools, and their families against the twin onslaughts of secularism and liberalism (Dunk 1975; Skillen and Carlson-Thies 1982); in Germany, on the other hand, to be Protestant was to be ipso facto conservative. Meanwhile, the temperance movement and other moral crusades championed by many Protestants in the United States attracted equal or greater amounts of support in certain parts of Europe (Gusfield 1986; Hurd 1994, 1996; Young 2006). It was not at all obvious then that the United States would eventually become the global center of conservative Protestantism. This raises an important question, the central question of this chapter: how and in what sense or senses did the majority of American Protestants come to see themselves as conservative? These are not easy questions to answer. What makes them so slippery is that the terms conservative and Protestant are not analytical or theoretical categories whose meaning can be fixed by definitional fiat. Rather, they are practical and political terms whose meanings are themselves sources and sites of conflict (Bourdieu 2000). Even within the narrower confines of recent American history, conservative is a polysemous concept, that is, contains multiple dimensions and layers of meaning not necessarily consistent with one another: small government and strong defense, conservation and free markets, strict constructionism and law and economics, biblical literalism and confessionalism, traditional values and libertarianism, and neoconservatism and isolationism. And the meanings become even more varied if we look at the longer sweep of American history. The boundaries of Protestantism have themselves been the subject of ongoing dispute. The old Protestant mainliners, dominated by the New England establishment, were hesitant to accept the holiness and Pentecostal movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries into their confessional family. Today, the denominations to which these movements gave birth (for example, Nazarenes and Assemblies of God) are at the core of a new and conservative Protestant establishment (Roof and McKinney 1987). This is not to deny that terms such as conservative and Protestant can acquire relatively stable and widely shared meanings within a given context or community, nor that the words conservative Protestantism can serve as a rallying cry or source of solidarity amongst these groups. It is simply to emphasize that shared understandings of the term, to the extent they exist, are the result of considerable symbolic and organizational work, that the resulting constructions are not necessarily logically coherent or politically enduring, and that partisan attempts to project present meanings into the historical past should not be uncritically accepted. It is not possible to trace these shifts and accretions exhaustively or systematically in a single chapter. I instead enumerate several of the key turning points in the story and identify a few of the key mechanisms that underlie them. In so doing, I invoke cross-national comparisons, for the most part between the United States and the (predominantly) Protestant countries of northern Europe. For reasons of space, these comparisons will necessarily be rather brief and stylized. My goal, then, is modest: I do not pretend to provide definitive answers but instead to sharpen questions and develop hypotheses. My first task is to construct the object I wish to explain-conservative Protestantism. To do that, I first need to deconstruct two folk constructions of it.