Every Man a Victimrnby Alan J. Levinern”Mankind is tired of liberty.”rn-Benito MussolinirnA Nation of Victims: The Decay ofrnthe American Characterrnby Charles /. SykesrnNew York: St. Martin’s Press;rn289 pp., $22.95rnAn acquaintance of mine, who isrnnot particularly conservative, oncernheard a television newsman quack aboutrnhow bad the 1950’s were. Disgusted,rnhe burst out, “What was wrong with thern1950’s? People were norma/then!”rnPeople certainly seem a lot less “normal”rnnowadays. Charles J. Sykes hasrnwritten a worthy successor to his Profscamrnand The Hollow Men, which helpsrnexplain much of the deterioration inrnAmerican life over the last 30 years. Therncharm of his work lies in the way it tiesrntogether many of the seemingly quiterndifferent signs of social disintegrationrnthat are such a marked feature of life inrnthe late 20th century: political correctness;rnpeople who believe saying “hi” to arnwoman over the telephone is “sexist”;rnthe jury that awarded $650,000 in damagesrnto a man who deliberately jumpedrnin front of a subway train; the judge whornlet Jeffrey Dahmer out on probation forrnoffenses that, even under our crazy laws,rnshould have kept him in jail for 20 years.rnThese phenomena, at first sight, havernlittle to do with each other, although allrnare familiar instances of the insanity ofrnour age. But what they have in commonrnis this: they are all an expression ofrnvictimology—the idea that individualsrnand, even more, groups are victims, andrnnothing but victims; and that the victim,rnonce defined as such, no longerrnbears any responsibility for his actionsrnor any obligations to society, which isrnthe author of all evils.rnVictimology is a science replete withrnbizarre contradictions and reversals. AsrnSykes notes, at some point in the theoreticalrnprocess, the universal moral standardrnby which some groups—such asrnAlan J. Levine is a historian and writerrnliving in New York City.rnblacks, Amerinds, women—are dchnedrnas “victims” is discarded. (Otherwise,rnit might be necessary to admit that thern”victim” has obligations, too.) And by arnfurther transformation, responsibility forrnthe act of victimization is collectivizedrnand made hereditary. While no victimrnis responsible for his personal behavior,rnall of his alleged “oppressors” becomernresponsible for crimes the existence ofrnwhich they do not admit. The ultimaternstage is a sort of snowball effect, as morernand more groups demand to be perceivedrnas victims and as the process ofrndefining victimhood becomes increasinglyrnimprecise and subjective. The victimsrnare increasingly bogus, and real andrnbogus victims fall out. The confrontationrnbetween Clarence Thomas andrnAnita Hill, both invoking victimologicalrncategories, symbolizes this final stage.rnAnd, Sykes notes, victimology is governedrnby a variety of Gresham’s Law:rnbogus victims tend to drive people withrngenuine grievances from the publicrnarena, as babblings about “feelings,”rn”sensitivity,” and “compassion” replacernobjective standards of reason and justice.rnVictimology did not develop overnight.rnSykes traces it ultimately tornRousseau, whose romantic treatmentrnof societal victims was critically transformedrnby the psychologization ofrnmorality begun by Freud and by thernpoliticization of psychology, as practicedrnby Theodore Adorno and the other authorsrnof The Authoritarian Personality.rnIn the past, many people have describedrntheir political enemies as mad,rnsometimes with justification; it was forrnAdorno and his colleagues to transformrntheir own political views into psychoanalyticalrndiagnoses of their rightist opponents.rnIn purely political terms. The AuthoritarianrnPersonality was an importantrnmilestone in the progressive blurring ofrnthe difference between conservatismrnand fascism and in the identification ofrnmiddle-class values as the roots of fascism.rnThe politicization of psychology andrnthe psychologization of politics arerndeeply intertwined with “medicalization,”rnthe creation of a “therapeutic society.”rnEvery problem is elevated to arnsymptom of disease, and the concept ofrn”illness” replaces “evil” or “sin.” Moreover,rnSykes notes, “it is an essential partrnof the therapeutic culture to define normalrnfeelings as problems.” We are allrnpatients, or at least potential patients.rn(There are, however, converse developments,rnwhich Sykes fails to explore. Underrnthe reign of the pseudo-therapeuticrnculture, certain types of behavior whichrnwere traditionally considered illnesses—rn28/CHRONiCLESrnrnrn