Primal Screams

How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics

Mary Eberstadt

A bitter divisiveness afflicts America. To act “with malice toward none, with charity toward all” has become a faded ideal as citizens silo themselves into hyper-partisan tribes defined by politics, race, gender, and sexuality. The rancor of news pundits, the incivility of social media, and the storm of opposition to free speech on college campuses are symptoms of a fraying social fabric familiar to anyone with even a casual eye on current affairs. 

Explanations of this discord have been offered from many quarters but have failed to get at its roots. To the dispassionate observer, the hostility between “tribes” seems simply irrational. But Mary Eberstadt, accomplished essayist and cultural critic, may have gotten to the bottom of it. Applying her peerless lens of analysis, she argues that the rise of identity politics is a direct result of the collapse of the family.

Her logic—backed by startling new data—runs as follows: humans from time immemorial have forged their identities within the structure of the traditional family. The family, in a real sense, is the first tribe. But with the decline of the family, generations of people have been set adrift and lack a firm sense of who they are. To fill the void, they shape their identity according to their membership in a politicized group, and their seemingly constant fury is, in fact, a primal scream for the familial root system of which they have been deprived.