A NATION OF VICTIMS by Charles J. Sykes


The Decay of the American Character
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 In an alternately provocative and cranky jeremiad on the decline of individual responsibility, Sykes (The Hollow Men, 1990) sounds like a latter-day Walt Whitman--except that he hears America whining, not singing. Much of this vitriolic indictment rehashes the ``political correctness'' battles in academe over the last few years--a topic covered with more originality and dexterity by Sykes's fellow conservative Dinesh D'Souza in Illiberal Education (1991). Sykes is after bigger game, though, discussing how the ``squalling howl of grievance'' now also resounds in the courtroom, on the psychiatrist's couch, and on TV panels. He traces the rise of ``victimism'' to several sources, including psychiatry, whose ``therapeutic culture,'' he says, has stigmatized bourgeois family values and encouraged fruitless searches for personal happiness, and the civil-rights movement, which, he contends, switched its agenda from equal opportunity to equal results and spawned a host of other aggrieved interest groups that did the same. Sykes particularly scores in criticizing Theodor Adorno's The Authoritarian Personality for labelling traditional conservative beliefs as psychologically diseased, and he discovers hilarious lawsuits that reveal claimants' astonishing chutzpah (e.g., a worker fired for sexual harassment sued his former employer on the ground that his aberrational conduct qualified him as a handicapped person). But Sykes caricatures the 1960's by making its lunatic fringe representative of the entire culture. Moreover, the vast majority in his crowd of crybabies are liberals: What about Richard Nixon, who blames his troubles on Democrats and the media? Or auto company execs who blame the Japanese for ending their love affair with the American consumer? A lively, if not always balanced, contribution to the unexpected Presidential campaign debate on character and ``family values.''

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1992
ISBN: 0-312-08297-5
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1992


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