Over the last sixty years, America has been wrestling with continual changes to its moral fabric. Perhaps no single event has changed America more than the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. It ushered in a whirlwind of cultural shifts that altered society and led to the rise of identity politics and the embrace of politics over family.
Allow me to explain. At its core, conservatism is about preserving America. Yet, have we stopped to ask precisely what it is we are trying to preserve?
Is it an idea?
Is it a lifestyle?
Is it a form of government?
The answer to all three is yes.
Yet, we have been wrestling so intently with our own identity as conservatives in a radically changing culture that many have missed what was going on all around us. We’ve been so busy defending ourselves that many have failed to understand the cultural underpinnings informing our politics. The 2022 midterm elections highlighted this point. While conservatives were debating about improving the economy, liberals were painting a picture that conservatives were a threat to democracy and wanted to take a women’s right to choose away. They significantly overperformed.
To answer the question — what are we trying to preserve? — conservatives must objectively evaluate our recent history.
Mary Eberstadt is the Senior Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute. In 2021, her book, Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics, sought to answer the question, “Who am I?” In her assessment, the sexual revolution of the ’60s and ’70s led to the subtraction of relationships in many people’s lives. As people encountered more sexual partners, it created distrust between genders. It broke down the social fabric of relationships and enshrined a destructive form of feminism that said women and men were the same despite the obvious.
As divorce increased substantially over the following decades, kids were left to struggle with profound questions for the first time in history.
What is a family?
Who is my father and mother?
Is a step-sibling really my brother or sister?
Insecurity, fear, and loneliness replaced security, close relationships, and love.
By the 1980s and 1990s, pop music and rap told the story of people experiencing pain and hurt over broken families. In “When Doves Cry,” Prince asked,
How can you just leave me standing
Alone in a world that’s so cold? (So cold)
Maybe I’m just too demanding
Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold
Maybe you’re just like my mother
She’s never satisfied (she’s never satisfied)
Why do we scream at each other?
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry
It was just one of many songs in the era that captured the heart of the new changes to family relationships. Children grew up around promiscuity and experienced mass divorce, single parenting, and fatherlessness. Sexual addiction through pornography was on the rise in the 1990s. For decades, abortion has served as contraception. Today, society is struggling to define marriage and is wrestling with transgenderism. At the same time, sexual assault is on the rise, and young people are in counseling more than ever over mental health struggles.
Eberstadt noted that throughout history, families existed to protect one another within the unit. When those deep ties were removed, she said people embraced themselves over others. Yet, when protections break down and personal struggles ensue, who does one turn to?
One of the characteristics of the sexual revolution was the rise in identity politics. Eberstadt defined identity politics as a frantic search for the re-creation of the family and religion through a collective identity that gives people a place in the world and answers the fundamental question, “who am I?”
Instead of looking to the family or a faith community for the answer to the most basic of profound questions, people are turning to politics. It’s a natural consequence when there isn’t a family. Politics has become a religion.
As young people grappled with the reality that traditional family and faith were out of reach, they rushed to embrace a new societal standard. Identity politics gives people a sense of family and belonging. These new associations make it difficult to discuss political issues because opposition thinking is treated as an attack on the new family and faith. If one questions the logic, they are labeled as toxic haters, homophobes, racists, and other horrible things. The attacks are designed to protect the identity and credibility of the new family.
Eberstadt rightly argued this redefining of family and faith is extremely dangerous to a self-governing society. The Left argues conservatives want to keep the country locked up in the dark ages. Yet, the reality is that if there is no loyalty to the country, it can only belong to one’s clan.
This is why conservatives feel that the Left’s embrace of identity politics is often not patriotic.
Making matters worse, if Eberstadt’s theory is correct, then the Left’s prescription for happiness — embracing self over family, don’t get married, and don’t have children — is wrong. She identified the real underlying issues contributing to societal transformation were deeply rooted in insecurity and compounding loneliness brought about by the sexual revolution and the embrace of it by the Left.
So, is there an opportunity or opening for conservatism?
Eberstadt argued there is hope. She said empirical evidence suggests a reckoning is coming as the outcomes of progressive liberalism continue to make matters worse for people, not better. She noted that scientific research had proven the cause-and-effect relationship between family and faith, or lack of it, in this case, is the root cause of loneliness and depression.
Over the last sixty years, the progressive political philosophy has proven to be a trap by imprisoning people in their pain and hurt. It also inhibits the guarantee of personal liberties. Where is hope, opportunity, or happiness? How is identity politics making life better for millions of Americans?
That’s not going back to the dark ages. It’s embracing a bright and hopeful future.
The Conservative Era, Copyright 2023