It was the decline of personal responsibility, as measured by the growing reluctance to accept responsibility for and the consequences of one's mistakes or bad behaviour, that gave rise to the notion of the death of shame.
The tendency to bleat "it wasn't my fault" regardless of evidence to the contrary was encouraged by a certain type of progressive who added a hefty squeeze of bleeding heart to a grab-bag of political theory, et voila: the wrongdoer is transformed into a helpless victim of social and economic forces. This world view can be condensed into those self-parodying catch-cries "Society is to blame" and "We are all guilty".
The virus attacking our capacity to feel shame mutated into a more aggressive form and the unwillingness to accept responsibility became a refusal to acknowledge error or harm done, let alone atone for it.
We might now be witnessing the third and presumably terminal phase in shame's long goodbye. Having enriched themselves on a scale that would make 19th-century robber barons blush while squandering the billions entrusted to their care, the titans of the finance industry have sought to redefine the whole concept of the bonus - from reward to entitlement - in order to pocket yet more loot even as they hold out their hands for taxpayer support.
As shame becomes an anachronism, the vacuum is being filled by outrage. This must be the most easily offended generation in history, thanks in no small part to the media. Ever alert to things that might offend us and ever ready to be offended on our behalf, the media simultaneously performs the roles of both Professor Pavlov and his dogs.
Much of this stems from political correctness, which boils down to an insistence that there are certain things we must be offended by if we wish to be seen as right-thinking people.
In its defence, political correctness' focus on the vocabulary of bigotry has had the desirable effect of largely eliminating the public expression of casual, vernacular racism. But its problematical aspects are flourishing, thanks to its symbiotic relationship with outrage - political correctness defines what's offensive; a few people take offence; the media inflates their bruised sensitivities into public outrage. Political correctness and the orthodoxy it seeks to advance are further entrenched.
One of those problematical aspects is the telling of tales, which can propel something said in jest and in private on to the front page. It's no coincidence that all totalitarian systems seek to create a nation of informers.
Take the case of Margaret Thatcher's daughter Carol, recently fired by the BBC for calling a black tennis player "a golliwog". The comment was made off-air to a colleague and a guest on her show.
Not content with giving Thatcher a well-deserved flea in her ear, they complained to network executives who showed her the door, partly because her colleagues were so "outraged" they didn't feel they could work with her, partly because her explanation/apology - that it was a jocular, indeed fond, reference to the old marmalade label - was viewed as insufficiently contrite.
Another is its blanket application which denies the possibility of legitimate exceptions. Take the case of Prince Charles, who for 15 years has called an Asian-born polo friend "Sooty". Khuldip Dhillon says he likes the nickname, which his friends use affectionately, and insists the Prince of Wales "is a man of zero prejudice".
Neither his testimony nor the Prince's well-documented championing of tolerance and diversity cut any ice with the Give Racism the Red Card campaign. Its spokesman declared sniffily, "In our view there is no friendly banter where racism is concerned. Members of the royal family should be aware that calling people Sooty is unacceptable."
Not to Dhillon, but he obviously doesn't know what's bad for him. It could be argued that it's patronising, if not actually racist, to imply that an Asian is too dim to realise he's being insulted by his so-called friends, or too much of a social climber to take offence.
And there's the threat to free speech. Last week the anti-Islamic Dutch politician Geert Wilders was barred from entering Britain to screen his short film Fitna, which was deemed inflammatory and likely to offend Muslims because it asserts a direct connection between the Koran and terrorism.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband declared that Britain has a profound commitment to freedom of speech but ... One is reminded of the Monty Python routine: "I am not a racist but ..." A big but in both cases.
Al Qaeda, meanwhile, has called for Wilders to be murdered. As George Bernard Shaw said, assassination is the extreme form of censorship.