American society is often characterized as a “guilt culture,” as opposed to non-Western “shame cultures.” But is this distinction still valid today? Through examples like shaming penalties in criminal law, “fat shaming,” and cyberbullying on the social media, The Rise of the Shame Society: America’s Change from a Guilt Culture into a Shame Culture shows how shame is increasingly invading our lives, leading to feelings of humiliation and depression. Marcel Van Herpen identifies three causes of this phenomenon: new childrearing methods, the advent of the social media, and a transformation of Western individualism. He weighs the arguments for and against a shame society and concludes that a guilt-centered approach remains preferable. Although shame increasingly permeates everyday life, the author argues that its rise is not a fatality. He emphasizes that shame is a dynamic phenomenon and that one can observe trends which lead to an increase of shame, as well as to its decrease. Examples of the latter are a growing sensitivity to the pain caused by anti-Black racism, the decrease of anti-LGBTQIA+ prejudices, and efforts to end the stigmatization of people with disabilities. Along with exploring its increase, The Rise of the Shame Society demonstrates that there are ways to overcome shame.
Marcel H. Van Herpen is a Dutch sociologist and political analyst. He is director of the Cicero Foundation, a think tank, and a collaborator of the US think tank “The National Interest.” He is the author of seven books on political philosophy and foreign policy which have been translated in five languages.
Introduction: The Rise of the Modern Shame Society
Prologue: Guilt Versus Shame
Chapter 1: What Is Shame and What Is Guilt and Which of the Two Is “Better”?
Chapter 2: New Shaming Practices: Back to the Past?
Part I: The Rise of the Western Guilt Society
Chapter 3: The Changing Character of Individualism
Chapter 4: Economic Individualism: Individualism’s “Ugly Face”?
Chapter 5: The “Other-Directed Person”: Conformity Instead of Individualism?
Chapter 6: Joyless Consumption
Chapter 7: Expressive Individualism and Its Holy Grail: “Authenticity”
Part II: Narcissistic Individualism and the Rise of the Modern Shame Society
Chapter 8: How Expressive Individualism Morphed into Narcissism
Chapter 9: The Narcissist’s Pursuit of the Perfect Body
Chapter 10: Narcissism Goes Global
Chapter 11: The Happiness Revolution
Part III: The Development of a New Dialectic: “Old Shame” Versus “New Shame”
Chapter 12: De-Shaming Processes I: Is Racial Shame Becoming “Old Shame”?
Chapter 13: De-Shaming Processes II: De-Shaming of LGBTQI People and People with a Disability
Chapter 14: The Emergence of New Shame I: Fat Shaming
Chapter 15: The Emergence of New Shame II: Hikikomori: The Young Hermits
Conclusion: Respect: What Is It and to Whom Do We Owe It?
About the Author
“Shame and guilt are not two sides of the same coin; rather, they differ in provenance, praxis, and consequences. Marcel H. Van Herpen’s The Rise of the Shame Society is an insightful, deeply researched, and thoroughly readable treatment of a societal shift which has profound implications. Simply put, guilt as an internal ordering influence in America and the West is giving way to a ‘shame culture’ that has its roots in postindustrial narcissism, permissiveness, and the technologies that now facilitate so much public censure. This sweeping study borrows from a range of disciplines and draws on a wide array of thinkers, from Aristotle, Rousseau, and Nietzsche to Freud, Riesman, Sartre, and Lasch. The Rise of the Shame Society is an impressive work of scholarship that is sure to spur much discussion and debate.”