Defining Deviancy Down

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Defining Deviancy Down (liberal plot)

Coined by: Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D., N.Y.)


the 1990s equivalent of "permissiveness" in political rhetoric about crime and criminal justice.

The term implies that the problem is public tolerance of intolerable behavior and that the solution is resurrecting traditional standards by stepping up repression of underclass conduct.

But this critique sidesteps the possibility that some activities formerly considered deviant which are now widely accepted were unjustly stigmatized in the past.

Also totally ignored is the opposite tendency of "defining deviancy up," in the sense that deviant behavior that went unpunished in the past is now subject to penalties.

Police brutality, hate crimes, date rapes, wife-beating, child abuse, indiscriminate corporal punishment, and other depredations by persons of greater power and privilege against people of lesser status are no longer considered acceptable.

A recognition that the balance of power has shifted in a more egalitarian direction corrects Moynihan's one-sided and negative depiction that standards of conduct in American society have drifted downward in the last generation.[1]

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"Defining Deviancy Down"
is a part of's dictionary, "Watch What You Say". For the full dictionary, click here.

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