The Politicisation of Victimhood

“There is injustice and oppression, inequality and exclusion, and in the past whole groups—Jews, blacks, gypsies, women, homosexuals, transsexuals—have found themselves subjugated, marginalised, ill-treated, and ignored. Those injustices must be fought and ended. That is a given. Compassion, the emotion we feel toward victims, is among the constitutive elements of the moral sense. It defines what is best in the great ethical and religious traditions. Nothing should be taken as qualifying this emotion and the acts for good it evokes. What is dangerous, though, is the politicisation of victimhood: its transfer from individuals to groups, and from there to the public square. In every age there are victims, and we must help them. “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” says the Bible. “Learn to do right,” says Isaiah. “Seek justice. Relieve the oppressed. Defend orphans. Plead for the widow.” What is new and dangerous is the culture of victimhood. It involves the blurring of the boundaries between the personal and the political. It has to do with what Philip Rieff called “the triumph of the therapeutic.””

Morality, p. 205