How to Respond to the Cultural Scream of Identity Politics by Carl Trueman for The Gospel Coalition
If there is one thing that stands at the center of our current political chaos and drives the increasingly unpleasant social rhetoric, it’s surely identity politics. While it’s hard to define this term with precision, it can perhaps be best characterized as the politics that emerges when the traditional foundations of identity (nation, religion, economic class, and family) are either in a state of flux or rapid decline and have been supplanted by other categories (race and sexuality being the two most obvious and influential at this moment in time).
It’s this topic which Mary Eberstadt, senior research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, D.C., addresses in her latest book, Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics. Readers of her earlier work will be familiar both with her approach (she is convinced that sexual liberation, particularly as facilitated by the widespread availability of contraception, lies at the heart of modern ills) and also her style (she writes with clarity and without rancor). This book is thus vintage Eberstadt: clearly argued with conviction.
Her basic thesis is simple: The sexual revolution of the 1960s irreparably damaged the traditional family and left people adrift in terms of who they considered themselves to be, and that same sexual revolution then provided key categories by which new identities and new ways of belonging to something larger might be realized. One might recast her argument to say that the sexual revolution created a problem to which it then proposed itself as the solution.
In this sense the book is a response to Mark Lilla’s The Once and Future Liberal. Lilla himself is one of three writers—along with Rod Dreher and Peter Thiel—who offers thoughtful reflections on Eberstadt’s argument at the end, and he concedes the point that his book had only dealt with the supply side of the problem (how the liberal vision had fractured and fragmented) and not with the demand side (why so many young people seem to crave the politics of identity).
Eberstadt’s work isn’t a collection of abstract reflections on the problems she addresses. Her arguments are carefully documented with empirical data and examples. She notes, among other things, the shifting attitude among feminists toward pornography, the ambiguities of the sexual revolution for women, the effect of androgyny, and the rise of public crudity, in each case attempting to trace the problem back to the collapse of the family.