The French have a word for it: ressentiment. It describes a concept that has been widely discussed by a number of philosophers including Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Max Scheler even wrote an entire book about this emotion, its power and the various ways it can surface and motivate people. It has to do with the phenomenon discussed by J.D. Vance which I posted recently by way of understanding the mind-set of the followers of Donald Trump. How could so many people be taken in by a charlatan who sells them snake oil which can only make them sick?

Vance gives us a very interesting picture of the sense of ressentiment that so many people feel in our society where they are looked down upon while the good things seem to be going to others and life is passing them by. They are hungry and outside a posh restaurant; through the window they see many a fat cat sitting down to a gourmet meal while they can only look on. That they are on the outside and not inside eating their fill is not their fault. And those who are in there are so by accident or subterfuge. Resentment can easily give rise to hatred. Trump invites them into the restaurant. It matters not what he says or how many lies he tells when he says what he says. What matters is that he promises them some sense of self which is otherwise lacking. This they firmly believe: they are hungry, tired of eating grits, and they are grasping at straws. Moreover, the internet and the evening news are filled with a confusing mass of misinformation disguised as “facts” and they have no idea what is true and what is false.

To take a quick peek at the philosophical discussion of the concept of ressentiment, I give some general information, borrowed from the always reliable Wikipedia (in this case trustworthy) and then quote first Kierkegaard and then Nietzsche:

Ressentiment is a reassignment of the pain that accompanies a sense of one’s own inferiority/failure onto an external scapegoat. The ego creates the illusion of an enemy, a cause that can be “blamed” for one’s own inferiority/failure. Thus, one was thwarted not by a failure in oneself, but rather by an external “evil.”
According to Kierkegaard, ressentiment occurs in a “reflective, passionless age”, in which the populace stifles creativity and passion in passionate individuals. Kierkegaard argues that individuals who do not conform to the masses are made scapegoats and objects of ridicule by the masses, in order to maintain status quo and to instill into the masses their own sense of superiority.
Ressentiment, for Nietzsche, comes from reactiveness: the weaker someone is, the less their capability to suppress reaction. According to Nietzsche, the more a person is active, strong-willed, and dynamic, the less place and time is left for contemplating all that is done to them, and their reactions (like imagining they are actually better) become less compulsive.

One of the reasons I myself have had difficulty in coming to grips with the mindset of the minions who follow Trump blindly is my own status as one inside the restaurant. I have been unable to envision a world where ressentiment reigns supreme. I am not rich by any means, but I live comfortably and I am an educated person who thinks as well as feels. I eat three square meals each day. I have my insecurities and even feel ressentiment at times, though it does not possess my soul. For many who are stepping forth these days at the urging of the Trumpet, ressentiment is all-consuming: it possesses them and drives them toward irrational behavior that is directed against those inside the restaurant. Please note that those in the restaurant are regarded as “enemies”; they are “evil” and somehow they must be dealt with. They are filling their bellies while those outside go hungry.

The minions themselves, like Trump, are totally without fault. Of course. When things go bad it cannot be their fault. The feeling of ressentiment, according to those who have studied the emotion, is very powerful indeed. Those outside the restaurant want some of the rich food; they suspect that those inside cheated their way in and are no “better” than they themselves; and they look to the man with the funny hair, the incoherent speech, and the tiny hands to take them in and pay for their meals. He has promised them that much. That promise they understand and they are becoming increasingly agitated and hopeful. Their disappointment, when it comes, will assuredly have consequences for all of those who are within the restaurant — whether they are eating filet mignon or merely hamburger.


13 thoughts on “Ressentiment

  1. Trump has tapped into an identified angst. He then has showed them that others are too blame keeping it simple, as the real blame is complex and includes the victims’ role, He then said he alone can fix it and we must drain the swamp. How he will do that escapes me.

    In short, the GOP has overlooked half of its voter base and has not allowed things to help them occur. Congressional gridlock is not an evenly distributed fault, as much of the fault lies in the extreme members of the GOP, who often represent these constituents. For example, Ted Cruz cannot be the solution to the problem because he represents the problem.

    Yet, back to your point, Trump’s jet is more than a prop, it is a message. It shows these folks the promise of what money can bring. He is not unlike a tele evangelist that speaks of owning four planes and three houses and buying them in cash. He conveys an understanding that he really does not possess of their problems. As Obama said, how can you expect someone to be your champion when he has never shown any inclination to help anyone but himself.

    Thanks, Keith

  2. ok, i chuckled about the grits.. i will choose grits any day over rice!!!

    it’s so easy to see how so many are allowing themselves to be manipulated, and why they don’t wake up —- i draw a blank… many are intelligent people, and maybe some just don’t have a strong backbone and they’re tired.. and angry.. and yes, someone is articulating their emotions….

    pass the grits, please!

  3. I like grits with butter, salt, and LOTS of pepper! Alas, nobody else in my household will eat them, so rice it is! Anyway, nice assessment, Hugh … I’m sure that for many this is the draw. A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that we should thank God for sending us a candidate who will bring our country back to God. I gritted my teeth and moved on without comment, but this man is not a mindless minion … he has a Ph.D. and managed a large, nation-wide company for much of his career. Pass the grits … and the wine.

  4. If you have taken anything meaningful away from Kierkegaard, you have done very well, indeed; better than taking anything away from Kant. Take a measure and compare. I have. One remains a total mystery. The other a perfect infatuation, whatever the net result.

    One had abandoned Faith as an impossible proposition for the Modern Mind. A very unhappy and obtuse mind. Nobody, Nobody wanted nor would want to be the one. The Other was jolly, friendly, punctual (to a fault and famous thereby) and without any qualm about why people desire the things or ways that they do. He got it right.

    Maybe I’m off-base here..but Soren was a maniacal and extra-verbose genius whose traditional Faith failed and leaving him no way OUT of his own desperate loss; whereas Kant, equally or superior of mind found the way which Soren could not. Just my Opinion.

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