Guest Blog Post

The following comment by Jerry Stark expanded and improved upon my attempt to explain the notion of ressentment. It is extremely well done and helps us understand the mind-set of those who follow our sitting president and worship at his shrine. I post it here with Jerry’s permission.

The concept of ressentiment is intriguing, especially when applied to our current circumstance.

Nietzsche’s (pre-postmodern) claim was that morality is defined and established by the powerful and inflicted upon those whom they dominate. He further argues that new moral regimes can emerge out of a process of ressentiment, wherein those who are viewed as social inferiors by the powerful, and who have come to view themselves as socially inferior, develop a resentful hatred against those they view as elites — their “betters”. Ressentiment is not about class consciousness; it is about the revenge of the unworthy.

Ressentiment is characterized, in part, by a thoroughgoing refusal to accept conventional definitions of good, bad, and evil. Further, according to Nietzsche, ressentiment bears within it, implicitly at first, a new definition of good, bad, and evil. As ressentiment spreads throughout the populace, a populist revaluation becomes more explicit, more refined, and more powerful. If the morality of the extant elites is displaced, then a new moral order emerges to reflect the new social order that gives rise to it.

Nietzsche does not claim that the new moral order will be better or more virtuous than the pre-existing order, only that it will be chronologically newer. . . .

Though I seldom turn to Nietzsche for philosophical insight, what intrigues me about the notion of ressentiment are (1) the parallels between Nietzsche’s concept and our current political situation and (2) the possible morality that might emerge from it. I offer four points to this discussion.

First, the self-perception of disempowerment and cultural displacement, not economic insecurity, are driving forces behind support for Trump’s campaign and his presidency. This takes several forms, often overlapping: (1) White ressentiment at being culturally displaced by non-whites; (2) Male fear of being politically and economically displaced by women or of falsely being accused of sexually insulting or assaulting women; (3) Christian evangelical fear of being culturally displaced by non-Christians and non-believers.

The way Trump has manipulated and magnified these fears has been nothing short of masterful. It matters little that this reveals less about his mastery of politics than it does about his own pathological narcissism. What matters is that he has turned ressentiment into a political weapon, a political strategy, and a form of political governance – all at the same time.

Second, an emergent morality comprehensively dismissive of previous norms of moral conduct emerges out of this populist ressentiment, guided, of course, by those who stoke the fires of fear and who dismiss conventional notions of good, bad, evil – and even truth. It does little good to appeal to so-called “common morality” in response to the anti-morality, anti-truth dispositions of populist ressentiment. Any attempt at reasoning, be it logical or moral, will be dismissed. Any attempt to counter unfounded claims will be disregarded as false, a priori [italics added].

The parallel between Nietzsche’s conception of populist ressentiment and Trump’s dismissal of any truth, fact, or morality other than his own could not be clearer.

Third, a key element of the replacement of the old moral order is the extent to which significant portions of the existing elite accommodate to the values that emerge from popular ressentiment. What appears clear is that the wealthy and powerful, for the most part, are willing to accept Trump-guided ressentiment as a political framework if they get what they want: power and money. Every successful fascist regime has made peace with the wealthy and the powerful. They are useful.

Some members of this country’s elite will feel they can moderate and manipulate Trump. Others will accommodate to Trump in the pursuit of specific policies consistent with their interests, all the while holding their noses. Some will actively support and endorse Trumpism. Finally, some will actively oppose it. The relative balance of these different segments of the political and economic elite can be of decisive importance to the consolidation of the new regime of Trumpian anti-morality and anti-truth.

Thus far, the wealthy and the powerful have received more than they could have hoped for: a rubber-stamp Republican Party; a president who wants, to a pathetically obvious degree, to be accepted by them; a federal judiciary and Supreme Court that are increasingly pro-corporate at every turn; an insanely expensive and profitable permanent war economy; a decreasingly problematic (for them) regulatory system; a government increasingly insulated from the policy risks of potentially democratic influences upon government decision-making, legislation and regulation.

Fourth, the outlines of a new morality become clear. The morality of Trumpism is based upon a number of premises that counter traditional morality and knowledge:

(1) There is no truth other than the truth of the powerful. Any truth other than that of the powerful is not only false and fake; it is evil. The Leader is the source of Truth.

(2) Bigotry in defense of white supremacy is good. Non-white people are inferior. Social equality between races and religions is a dangerous lie.

(3) Nationalism, nativism and authoritarianism are good. Globalism, cosmopolitanism, and intellectualism are forms of weakness.

(4) Men are superior to women.

(5) Christians are superior to non-Christians.

(6) Real Americans, that is white Americans, are superior to all others.

(7) Strength is better than weakness. Military and economic strength are all important. Diplomacy and cooperation are signs of weakness.

(8) The strong are morally worthy; the weak are morally unworthy.

(9) Leadership is action for its own sake. Destruction is better than reform. Intelligence and policy analyses are unnecessary. All that is required is the will to act decisively and to prevail — in Trump’s words, to be a winner.

(10) Ignorance is virtue; intellect is vice.

The extent to which Nietzsche would agree with these anti-moral premises is not the issue (though it is likely he would agree with several). What matters here is whether Nietzsche’s concept of “ressentiment” is relevant to an understanding of the current situation in this country.

Sadly, I agree with Professor Curtler that it is.

Even more sadly, we have heard this all before.


42 thoughts on “Guest Blog Post

  1. Jerry, Hugh, well done. It is frustrating to see your summary of the Trumpian premises. What is also troubling is the number of so-called leaders who know this, but tolerate the man because of how he rallies the tribe. They also fear his tweeting fingers and comments not known for the truth.

    Gary Cohn, who is his former economic advisor knew all about Trump before he took the job. As CEO for Goldman Sachs, he had rule for his company not to do business with the Trump organization. Why? Because Trump was known for stiffing people and suing them. In other words, he has always been untrustworthy. Before Cohn left, after trying to correct a Trump lie that he did not commit to no steel tariffs on Australia to its PM, Cohn said the following, “Trump is a professional liar.”

    I have been calling Trump’s base a “cult,” the past few days, because that is what it is. The reasons are summed up in the premises you wrote. And, he knows this as evidenced by his rare truthful line that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and no one would care in his base.


  2. Resentment or ressentiment, is an easy emotion to stoke and one that lends itself perfectly to massive exaggerations and lies about other people’s motives, words and acts, and even about the way they look. It forms the basis for racism, IMO.

  3. What a brilliant mind Neitzsche had he was not content to know but sought the reasons. ‘ Revenge of the unworthy ‘ but it must be managed or we may have a revolution on our hands. I loved the ‘ chronologically newer ‘ but not necessarily better , I would add better for some worse for others , don’t get in the way of the steam roller. ‘ The existing elite accommodate ‘ it depends how smart they are and what compromises they are prepared to make. ‘ The leader is the source of truth ‘ sounds almost religious and finally ‘ ignorance is a virtue intellect a vice ‘ .
    I’m reminded of the cleansing that the Chinese are spending vast sums of money on : deradicalisation of the Uighur Muslims no beards allowed.

  4. What an excellent analysis & assessment of our current situation. Frustrating, for it highlights the difficulty, if not impossibility, of overcoming the current populist wave and returning to what the majority of us would consider a saner, safer time. I have been asking the question for two years or longer now: Why? This post goes a long way toward answering that question.

  5. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    As those of you who have followed this blog throughout the ‘Reign of Trump’ know, one of my biggest frustrations has been a failure to understand the reason Trump has been given free rein, despite the fact that his values are in complete opposition to those who support him. Our friend Hugh has hosted a guest post by Jerry Stark that goes a long way toward answering the question: WHY??? It has given me much food for thought, and I will yet need to do some pondering on his words, but today I wanted to share them with you, for I think they have tremendous value. Only when we understand the forces we are fighting, do we stand much chance of bringing about a return to a kinder, saner world. Many thanks both Hugh and Jerry for permission to share this worthy post.

  6. Interesting premise. Yet I know ordinary white people that have had good lives, good jobs, are financially secure, not religious in the extreme and are otherwise what you’d consider decent people. Yet they love and support trump. I will say they all watch Fox and some listen to Rush and his ilk.

    I truly believe if we had no Fox News and no far right websites etc. trump would have never been president and our world would be much different and better. And Fox began before Obama, but really kicked in with him.

    Propaganda is a big issue as well.

    • There are exceptions to every general rule, of course. But I think Jerry’s analysis goes a long way toward an understanding of many, if not most, of those who follow the Trumpet. As you say, propaganda adds fuel to the fire.

    • If the ordinary white people to whom you refer are, indeed, ordinary, I suspect they harbor hidden resentments against non-whites.

      As difficult as it may sometimes be to admit, bigotry and misogyny ARE normal, that is to say, ordinary, in this society.

      Listen carefully to them. You will soon learn what they see in Trump.

    • Still the arrogance of the middle class liberal! The Trump voters were manipulated, had no ideas of their own, and if you could just get rid of Fox News and far right websites they would do as their told and vote according to how YOU want them to! Have you no critical intellgence? Can’t you see it was this attitude that gave Trump his chance? The arrogance of the left has been driving the electorate to the right across North America, Europe and even Australia for decades, and none of you saw this coming. I did.

  7. Pingback: Guest Blog Post | MEMOIRS OF A HUSK

  8. We have heard it before, haven’t we? What’s that quote about history repeating itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce? It does seem to be playing out that way, but I had no idea there’d be so much tragedy mixed into the farce.

      • I believe the quote is from Karl Marx who was referring to Louis Bonaparte (Napolean’s nephew) and the coup establishing the French Second Republic. See The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napolean, written between 1851 and 1852.[18 Brumiere refers to a date in the French calendar. Early November for us, I believe.]

        Marx had a way with words. Some of those words are even intelligible — on occasion.

  9. Dear Jerry and Hugh,

    This post about Nietzsche’s ressentiment is both enlightening and frightening. I do feel that we in the USA are experiencing the initial stages of fascism.

    It is so frustrating to counteract this development because facts, evidence, sound reasoning, truth has no effect in this new reality created by the likes of President Trump.

    With those in the president’s world where winning is everything, cheating is no problem. Morality is not a consideration.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that it would help if the media didn’t cover his most minute farts. By just reporting on what he and his cronies say, their words garner more traction.

    What is the antidote, once Trumpism takes hold like it has?

    Hugs, Gronda

    • The long-term solution (if there is one) is to restore our education system to its former glory — such as it was — which is to say, teaching young people to use their minds. In the short term we must hope the democrats sweep into office in November and can muster the courage to take on the monster. In the meantime, hope and pray!

    • I don’t know about an antidote. In time, history tells us that dictators are destroyed by the followers. Unlikely for Der Trumpfer, because he is not (yet) a president for life.

      I started reading a lot more about fascism and I read a lot of social research research on the Trumpistas. I got a lot more involved in local resistance politics, as well.

      Becoming more active locally and attending regular demonstrations was far more healthy for me than sitting at home, watching the news, and throwing glassware through my television screen. Cheaper, too.

      Maybe not an antidote. Therapy, perhaps.

      Keep on keepin’ on!

    • the initial stages of fascism are most evident in the antics of Antifa, allegedly liberals but seeming to all very much like the Brownshirts. Does smashing all opposing views add up to liberalism these days? You’re all looking at the result, Trump, instead of the cause, the arrogant superiority complex of privileged liberals.

  10. Yet another [convoluted] attempt to ‘explain’ the failure of the elite by blaming Trump or any other contrarian, never once an admission that the liberal-left political elite across the developed world caused their own unpopularity by their arrogance, corruption and unwillingness to listen, since they were the experts who knew. The assumption of the right to rule is a dangerous delusion entertained by royalty in the past, the elite failed to understand anything but their own entitlement, and have been sidelined by what they call populists; ie. more popular than them because they address issues real people are concerned with.
    The anti-democratic fury of the US elite and their chatterati supporters in the media since the electorate chose Trump has been illuminating, self-styled liberals demanding the abandoning of democracy because it hasn’t given the result they wanted, their disappointed supporters rioting in the streets like a fascist mob, the media united in anti-Trump stories, true or not..
    Assuming this is the fault of the electorate moving to the right again illustrates the inability of the left to learn anything, the same is true of the Labour Party in the UK, still trotting out their much-loved liberal postures which take no account of the real lives of real people, so enmeshed in the political bubble are they. They continue to pose as immigrant lovers [multiculturalism being their shorthand] despite the massive increase in illegal migration that makes this attitude dangerously deranged for any society to cope with. In short, ‘progressives’ are much more interested in virtue signalling than facing reality.

    • Many thanks for the good comment. I do think Jerry and I have both attempted to “take account of the real lives of real people.” I know this is what I have tried to fathom. I do think your comment will help in that regard. But, surly, you don’t think Trump is simply a radical right-wing thinker who speaks for thousands who think like him? He is that and a great deal more (or less).

      • No, he’s not even a thinker! He’s been saying what would earn popularity, he doesn’t have to believe in anything he says any more than Clinton, the elite rage is all about an outsider out conning the electorate which thought it had it sewn up. America is far to the right of the UK and rest of Europe, so labels can become blurred. I consider the Democrats to the right of the Lib Dems in the UK, but a lot of Americans think then dangerously left wing.
        A few things are clear though; Trump is an emotionally-retarded narcissist with the vocabulary as defficient as a ‘bluecollar’ worker’s, possibly a large part of his appeal is he never talks over their heads because he doesn’t know the language. He wants to be noticed, liked or hated it doesn’t matter. In many ways he’s typical of all who aim for high office and ultimate power; psychopaths usually with an inflated idea of their own intelligence, Blair and Clinton come to mind as well as that other dullard Bush junior! Roandl Reagan made a superb resident, he was an actor, so he played the President. Who would vote for Morgan Freeman?

      • I really doin appreciate your input. You make a number of important points. The left can be at least as blind as the right, no doubt. But I do think we have stumbled into a snake pit on this one — even though I am beginning to see why it happened. Thanks again.

    • There are a few interesting points, but it’s still a biased view, coming from one side of the binary rather than an objective assessment. The ‘conservative brain’ says more about the writer than any science! Replete with a range of smears to diminish ‘the other side’, suggest mental weakness, emot6ional weakness, vulnerability, and so it goes on. We are to assume the ‘left’ is by contrast rational, intellgent, educated, and not beset by self interest or emotionalism, and is intelligent and educated en masse.
      Many, if not most, are influenced by the politics of their upbringing, or in resistance to it, as well as many other factors including personal experience and influences, so far there is no evidence that conservatibves and progressives are born. Nor that one side is intelligent and the other dim. The assumption of many liberals is that ‘if you don’t agree with me you must be uncaring, uneductaed or plain nasty. This is simply bias with no basis in fact. Most of the problem is created by an electoral system which is just deranged. It forces people into taking up sides and becoming more enmeshed in groupthink as time goes by. It’s largely still the civil war being fought, and may have been better if the continent had settled into two neighbouring states,. or remained in its constituent states, many of which are larger than most European countries. No one can imagine separate states being a threat to world peace like the USA is. Small is beautiful, big is bad! No politician should be trusted with so much poiwer.

  11. You do make some valid points as far as the electoral system. It’s not a fair way. It should simply be popular vote and no shenanigans on either side to suppress votes.
    A divided neighboring countries or little countries like Europe with alliances in trade, commerce and military support, only if necessary from a common enemy perhaps, would have been better. But there are problems either way.

    You appear to have some deep seated resentment against liberals who you associate with the term elite. When I think of elite, I think it has nothing to do with party affiliation, but wealth arrogance and privilege arrogance…the inability to feel empathy for people who are different or have come onto hard times through no fault of their own.

    The way I see it is humans evolved over millennia and formed groups depending on race, culture, upbringing, religion and location. The past has shown it is very difficult to gel together peacefully especially when tyrants come along and their ego is involved.

    But like it or not, this is one planet, which we are probably destroying anyway, and if we don’t figure this out to at least have some form of peace and a decent life for all, we are screwed.

    I know you don’t agree, but in my everyday life I see the “liberals” as the ones who are more concerned with the environment and the welfare of people at large and fairness in life. And I see the conservatives as concerned with their wealth and forcing their religious views and their white privilege on others. I feel better inside my head being a so called liberal.

    • Well said. It’s one thing to be on the attack against the earth that sustains us — and the attack seems to be ongoing — but we need to back off and talk with one another. I, too, object to labelling. But it occurs on both sides of the debate and it closes minds in both cases.

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