The latest issue of The Weekly Standard carries a fascinating piece by Mary Eberstadt on the “why” of identity politics. The piece wanders through several of the most influential pieces written recently and as far back as four decades to arrive at a singular and important conclusion:
Identity politics cannot be understood apart from the preceding and concomitant social fact of family implosion.
Summarized towards the end of the piece this way:
Yes, conservatives have missed something major about identity politics: its authenticity. But the liberal-progressive side has missed something bigger. Identity politics is not so much politics as a primal scream. It’s the result of what might be called the Great Scattering—the Western world’s unprecedented familial dispersion.
With a zinger just a couple of paragraphs earlier:
No-fault divorce, out-of-wedlock births, paid surrogacy, absolutism about erotic freedom, disdain for traditional moral codes: The very policies and practices that chip away at the family and drive the subsequent flight to identity politics are those that liberals and progressives embrace.
That sounds about right to me. What I found most interesting is when Eberstadt turns from the descriptives and begins to discuss the “why’s” she cites an Andrew Sullivan piece from September introducing tribalism which she then goes on to posit as a surrogate for the family now missing.
Yet what, exactly, has caused so many Americans to want to join one of these tribes in the first place? Sullivan advanced a list of many “accelerants” from the past few decades: the failed nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, mass illegal Latino immigration, Newt Gingrich’s GOP revolution, talk radio, Fox News, MSNBC, partisan gerrymandering, the absence of compulsory military service, multiculturalism, declining Christianity, the rural brain drain, and more.
Needless to say, the reference to “declining Christianity” caught my eye. Particularly in light of a Stephen Hayward Powerline piece from this morning in which Hayward discusses an Episcopal church in Alexandria, Va – a church which counts George Washington amongst its founders – removing all memorials to the first president as “too controversial.”
Hayward opens the piece with this notation:
There’s a saying attributed variously to Robert Conquest or John O’Sullivan that “any institution that is not explicitly right-wing will become left-wing over time.”
That aphorism says so much about declining Christianity. As Hayward notes, the Episcopal church was once “the Republican Party at prayer,” but is currently leading the way for most of Christian denominationalism in becoming very left leaning – mostly by trying to be “all things to all people” – when in fact it needed to be explicitly right-wing. In the name of compassion and unconditional love most mainline Protestant denominations have embraced the very sexual revolution that has divided us into tribes, yet as Eberstadt makes plain such “liberation” comes with grave and anything-but-progressive consequences.
Unity matters, “The unity of the church is an essential piece in God’s cosmic puzzle. Church unity not only allows God’s saving and redeeming work to be spread throughout the world, but also serves as a demonstration that God’s plan is working.” Yet we seem to rapidly be embracing that which inevitably leads to disunity. The tribalism that so marks our politics also marks our churches and all of it demonstrates something other than the operability of God’s plan. But the problem is not the plan or the planner, it is those of us that execute the plan and our failure to be explicitly right leaning when it comes to the family and family structure.