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Ressentiment (redux)


I said I didn’t think ressentiment is real, but then I quoted Alexander Hamilton on the proto-Democrats as saying, “They have a womanish affection for France, and a womanish resentment against Great Britain.” And that seems to confirm the idea that the left originates in resentment, like Nietzsche says.

I don’t deny that resentment is a factor in politics, nor in individuals—nay, “womanish resentment” even. However, that is not what Nietzsche’s theory of ressentiment says—and, indeed, what is “ressentiment”, not “resentment”? We shall see.

Nietzsche didn’t just say “people are resentful” or even that “socialists are resentful”. He made the strong claim that Christianity and socialism, movements like them, are primarily actuated by ressentiment—and he claimed to see that represented in Christian archetypes like St. Augustine.

It’s that claim that I don’t think is true.

As noted, I read a lot of Augustine, 1,000s of pages, and I detected one resentful comment among them all—overall, I found that Augustine, himself actually a successful man, in both his career and with women, from a minor noble family, admires aristocrats (especially if they’re interested in Christianity).

I think what actuated Augustine was that he was a sensitive and emotional man who was desperate for some certainty in life and he found it in the rigid dogma and unchanging verities of Christianity—in the beautiful vision of a harmonious future state (that never changed).

And I think that’s what primarily motivated him, and motivates socialists and nationalists.

Christians despise pagans not because they resent them for their power and beauty but because they stand between Christ and the salvation of mankind, the beautiful future state—socialists hate capitalists because they stand in the way of the earthly harmonious state of socialism; and nationalists hate Jews because they stand in the way of the homogeneous and harmonious volkish community.

Resentment doesn’t come into it, these groups have a beautiful vision and are desperate to save everyone, or as many people as possible, and so denigrate anyone who stands in their way—as I say, if anyone was resentful it was Nietzsche; he was less successful with women than old Augustine, who was a figure like Roosh or Andrew Tate in his day.

It’s Nietzsche, the peripatetic early-retired professor, who writes about how he feels so lonely and that nobody understands him—nobody for hundreds of centuries past or to come will understand him, so he says at one point. It’s Nietzsche who is resentful and impotent—and can’t make beautiful music like Wagner, whom he comes to hate (and wants to, as it happens, tear down).

Nietzsche claimed all philosophy is biography—and he was right, since his own philosophy reflects his internal state, the chronically ill and powerless philology professor dominated by women (Lou Salomé and his sister). His own philosophy is largely an attempt to “talk himself well”.

What Nietzsche says as a strong claim, as a theory, isn’t true. Does that mean that resentment doesn’t play a role in, for example, socialism? No—it may well be that socialists are more resentful than conservatives, though I often see resentment in conservatives, particularly in the more stuffy “suburban” types, the pedantic rule-followers who would cut loose (if only they had the courage).

“You can’t say anything nowadays, it’s political correctness gone mad.” That’s a rightist archetype, it’s a real character type—and it’s also resentful. So resentment isn’t the preserve of the left, as a Nietzschean would expect.


Ressentiment is not exactly the same as “resentment”. Imagine a child in the backseat of a car, age about 10—his mother says, “Put your seatbelt on,” and he ignores her, “Put your seatbelt on now,” but he continues to mess about with his plastic Ironman toy, “I said put it on right now,” and so, very slowly, mock slowly, the child begins to bring the belt into contact with the clunker, he makes a show of “trying” to put it in but he always “just” misses, “Put your seatbelt on. I’m not moving this car until you put that seatbelt on,” the belt just misses once again, “But I am trying, can’t you see—it’s too dwifficult.”

That is resentful. Technically, it’s passive aggressive—the passive aggressive position seeks to “prove authority wrong”, the 10 y.o. child is always subordinate to the parent but has his first glimmerings of independence; hence he wants to express autonomy, but he can’t—and so what he does is engineer situations to “prove authority wrong” <<you think you’re in charge, but you’re not>>.

Women are like this for pretty much their entire lives, and it amounts to implicit sabotage. “He thinks he can go off and do what he wants, leave me here—well, I’ll show him.”

However, though that is resentment, it’s not really what Nietzsche means by ressentiment—his idea is more active, it has a notion in it that includes “poison spiders”; it has to have some conscious desire for revenge within it, to destroy, to pull down (like he pulled down Wagner). And so it isn’t the same as “having a sulk” or “being passive aggressive”, which are forms of resentment—but not necessarily destructive, more a protest.

The term ressentiment is from the French, though it was borrowed into French from Old English. It really means “the sore spot”, it refers to a part of your psyche that is tender—it’s the wound you nurse, and because you nurse it you want to revenge yourself on other people. The original sense was literally medical—it was to “re-sentir” or “re-feel” the wound, like a soldier who has shrapnel in his body and “feels it move” so as to produce “a twinge in the leg”.

Imagine if you were in a competition for a bicycle and you lost and then you saw the winner cycle round with it every day—and every time you saw it you felt the twinge, until it became “the old twinge”, that should have been mine. This is what ressentiment is. Whether that leads you to then sabotage and pull down that man is more debatable.

It doesn’t make me feel that way, but perhaps I’m not a vengeful person—perhaps there are people who feel that way and act upon it, but it doesn’t feel that way to me.

Ressentiment is really a family thing—that “sore spot” comes about between siblings. “He got the rocking horse with the golden mane—and, twenty years later, he’s still getting the rocking horse with the golden mane,” so one boy, the less favourite, may feel about his brother.

But does that mean that you become someone who “tears down” and “revenges” himself upon others?

I said Augustine wasn’t like that, and neither was Friedrich Engels. As with Augustine, Engels was another man from a superior social environment who invented a democratic idea—he ran a factory, went fox-hunting, mixed in the best society, had an Irish mistress. You couldn’t say Engels was some social failure who burned with resentment—as Nietzsche’s theory would predict.

He seems to have been actuated by a genuine humanitarian concern for the condition of the English working class, which was, at the time, grim. He had a vision for a better future state—socialism; and, as a successful man himself, what was there for him to tear down?

Yet if Nietzsche were right, you would expect Engels to be an embittered resentful loner (like Nietzsche). Similarly, Marx, though in more modest circumstances, came from a fine family and achieved well in the academic environment—he’s sarcastic, but that’s because he thinks he has worked out a better way to run the world and that most people are fools. It’s not that he’s a “loser” with nothing, on the contrary he’s inflated—he thinks only Mr. Karl Marx understands the whole history of the world and the economy.

So socialists might be motivated by many factors, from humanitarian concern to idealism to intellectual grandiosity—but ressentiment doesn’t really figure in it.

Hence Nietzsche is incorrect—which is not to say Christianity and socialism are correct, nor that there aren’t resentful people in those movements; it’s just that, based on actual archetypes for those movements, ressentiment just doesn’t figure in their psychology—but it figures in the psychology of one Friedrich Nietzsche. As the oracle at Delphi said: “Know thyself!”.


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