Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics

  • 06:00 PM

Who am I? The question today haunts every society in the Western world.  

Legions of people—especially the young—have become unmoored from a firm sense of self. To compensate, they join the ranks of ideological tribes spawned by identity politics and react with frenzy against any perceived threat to their group. As identitarians track and expose the ideologically impure, other citizens face the consequences of their rancor: a litany of “isms” run amok across all levels of cultural life; the free marketplace of ideas muted by agendas shouted through megaphones, and a spirit of general goodwill warped into a state of perpetual outrage.

How did we get here? Why have we divided against one another so bitterly? In Primal Screams, acclaimed cultural critic Mary Eberstadt presents the most provocative and original theory to come along in recent years. The rise of identity politics, she argues, is a direct result of the fallout of the sexual revolution, especially the collapse and shrinkage of the family.

As Eberstadt illustrates, humans from time immemorial have forged their identities within the structure of kinship. The extended family, in a real sense, is the first tribe and first teacher. But with its unprecedented decline across a variety of measures, generations of people have been set adrift and can no longer answer the question Who am I? with reference to primordial ties. Desperate for solidarity and connection, they claim membership in politicized groups whose displays of frantic irrationalism amount to primal screams for familial and communal loss.

Written in her impeccable style and with empathy rarely encountered in today’s divisive discourse, Eberstadt’s theory holds immense explanatory power that no serious citizen can afford to ignore. The book concludes with three incisive essays by Rod Dreher, Mark Lilla, and Peter Thiel, each sharing their perspective on the author’s formidable argument.

Book signing and reception to follow the lecture.


About the Author:

Mary Eberstadt is an American author of several influential works of non-fiction, including How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization; Adam and Eve after the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution; and It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies.

Her 2010 novel The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death, and Atheism was adapted for stage and premiered at the Catholic University of America’s Hartke Theater in fall 2016. She is also editor of the anthology Why I Turned Right: Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journeys.

A frequent contributor to magazines and journals including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, National Review, and First Things, Mrs. Eberstadt (nee Tedeschi) has also served as an editor at The Public Interest, The National Interest, and Policy Review. She has been associated with various think tanks, and in 2016 became a senior research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute. In 2011, she founded a literary organization called the Kirkpatrick Society that has mentored hundreds of writers. In 2014, she delivered the Commencement address at Seton Hall University, which awarded her an honorary doctorate in humane letters.

During the Reagan administration, Mrs. Eberstadt spent two years as a speechwriter to Secretary of State George Shultz. She graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a double major in philosophy and government. In summer 1981, she became the first female voting member of the student body at formerly all-male Deep Springs College.

Editorial Reviews:

“A well-researched, powerfully argued, and profound account of the deepest sources of our current cultural crises. Wise and courageous, Mary Eberstadt has written an indispensable book for understanding our time.”—Leon R. Kass, Professor Emeritus, Committee on Social Thought, The University of Chicago

Primal Screams is a deeply thought-provoking reflection on human nature and the fate of our republic.”—Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University
“Some basic questions of identity have overtaken Western politics in the 21st century, and before they can be addressed, they must be understood. With her characteristic clarity and breadth of learning, Mary Eberstadt offers a powerfully persuasive guide to why we are beset by these challenges, and how to take them on.”—Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs
“Mary Eberstadt proves, yet again, that she is one of America’s most insightful—as well as compassionate—social analysts.”—George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, Ethics and Public Policy Center
“Mary Eberstadt understands ‘identity politics’ better than its practitioners—and any of its critics to date. She takes seriously the question of why so many people feel a need for the sense of belonging that identity politics seeks to provide. Her answer is terrifying—a loss that human beings of modern times have suffered, but of which we have been almost entirely unaware. Until now.”—Tod Lindberg, author of The Heroic Heart: Greatness Ancient and Modern
 “It is scarcely a foregone conclusion that our society will return to sanity on questions of sexual morality and marriage. But if we do, then prophets like Mary Eberstadt will be celebrated in song and story.”—Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University
“In Primal Screams, Mary Eberstadt responds to the deepest cries of the wounded souls of our time. Read it and share it.”—Kathryn Jean Lopez, National Review Institute