Immer wieder führt sie sich mit der Wendung ein, es sei doch „nicht genug Liebe in der Welt“, als daß man einen Teil noch an außermenschliche Wesen abgeben könnte—eine echte von Ressentiment diktierte Wendung!
Abhandlungen und Aufsätze (1915), p. 184
There is not enough love in the world to squander it on anything but human beings.
Ressentiment must therefore be strongest in a society like ours, where approximately equal rights (political and otherwise) or formal social equality, publicly recognized, go hand in hand with wide factual differences in power, property, and education.
L. Coser, trans. (1973), p. 50
It is peculiar to “ressentiment criticism” that it does not seriously desire that its demands be fulfilled. It does not want to cure the evil. The evil is merely the pretext for the criticism.
L. Coser, trans. (1973), p. 51
Existential envy which is directed against the other person’s very nature, is the strongest source of ressentiment. It is as if it whispers continually: “I can forgive everything, but not that you are— that you are what you are—that I am not what you are—indeed that I am not you.” This form of envy strips the opponent of his very existence, for this existence as such is felt to be a “pressure,” a “reproach,” and an unbearable humiliation. In the lives of great men there are always critical periods of instability, in which they alternately envy and try to love those whose merits they cannot but esteem. Only gradually, one of these attitudes will predominate. Here lies the meaning of Goethe’s reflection that “against another’s great merits, there is no remedy but love.”
L. Coser, trans. (1973), pp. 52-53
The “noble” person has a completely naïve and non-reflective awareness of his own value and of his fullness of being, an obscure conviction which enriches every conscious moment of his existence, as if he were autonomously rooted in the universe. This should not be mistaken for “pride.” Quite on the contrary, pride results from an experienced diminution of this “naive” self-confidence. It is a way of “holding on” to one’s value, of seizing and “preserving” it deliberately. The noble man’s naive self-confidence, which is as natural to him as tension is to the muscles, permits him calmly to assimilate the merits of others in all the fullness of their substance and configuration. He never “grudges” them their merits. On the contrary: he rejoices in their virtues and feels that they make the world more worthy of love. His naive self-confidence is by no means “compounded” of a series of positive valuations based on specific qualities, talents, and virtues: it is originally directed at his very essence and being. Therefore he can afford to admit that another person has certain “qualities” superior to his own or is more “gifted” in some respects—indeed in all respects. Such a conclusion does not diminish his naïve awareness of his own value, which needs no justification or proof by achievements or abilities. Achievements merely serve to confirm it. On the other hand, the “common” man (in the exact acceptation of the term) can only experience his value and that of another if he relates the two, and he clearly perceives only those qualities which constitute possible differences. The noble man experiences value prior to any comparison, the common man in and through a comparison. For the latter, the relation is the selective precondition for apprehending any value. Every value is a relative thing, “higher” or “lower,” “more” or “less” than his own. He arrives at value judgments by comparing himself to others and others to himself.
L. Coser, trans. (1973), pp. 54-55
The ultimate goal of the arriviste’s aspirations is not to acquire a thing of value, but to be more highly esteemed than others. He merely uses the “thing” as an indifferent occasion for overcoming the oppressive feeling of inferiority which results from his constant comparisons.
L. Coser, trans. (1973), pp. 55-56
The medieval peasant prior to the 13th century does not compare himself to the feudal lord, nor does the artisan compare himself to the knight. … From the king down to the hangman and the prostitute, everyone is “noble” in the sense that he considers himself as irreplaceable. In the “system of free competition,” on the other hand, the notions on life’s tasks and their value are not fundamental, they are but secondary derivations of the desire of all to surpass all the others. No “place” is more than a transitory point in this universal chase.
L. Coser, trans. (1973), p. 56
If the awareness of our limitations begins to limit or to dim our value consciousness as well—as happens, for instance, in old age with regard to the values of youth—then we have already started the movement of devaluation which will end with the defamation of the world and all its values. Only a timely act of resignation can deliver us from this tendency toward self-delusion.
L. Coser, trans. (1973), p. 59
The “old maid” with her repressed cravings for tenderness, sex, and propagation, is rarely quite free of ressentiment. What we call “prudery,” in contrast with true modesty, is but one of the numerous variants of sexual ressentiment. The habitual behavior of many old maids, who obsessively ferret out all sexually significant events in their surroundings in order to condemn them harshly, is nothing but sexual gratification transformed into ressentiment satisfaction. Thus the criticism accomplishes the very thing it pretends to condemn.
L. Coser, trans. (1973), pp. 61-62
The process of aging can only be fruitful and satisfactory if the important transitions are accompanied by free resignation, by the renunciation of the values proper to the preceding stage of life. Those spiritual and intellectual values which remain untouched by the process of aging, together with the values of the next stage of life, must compensate for what has been lost. Only if this happens can we cheerfully relive the values of our past in memory, without envy for the young to whom they are still accessible. If we cannot compensate, we avoid and flee the “tormenting” recollection of youth, thus blocking our possibilities of understanding younger people. At the same time we tend to negate the specific values of earlier stages. No wonder that youth always has a hard fight to sustain against the ressentiment of the older generation
L. Coser, trans. (1973), pp. 62-63
Even after his conversion, the true 'apostate' is not primarily committed to the positive contents of his new belief and to the realization of its aims. He is motivated by the struggle against the old belief and lives on for its negation. The apostate does not affirm his new convictions for their own sake; he is engaged in a continuous chain of acts of revenge against his own spiritual past. In reality he remains a captive of this past, and the new faith is merely a handy frame of reference for negating and rejecting the old. As a religious type, the apostate is therefore at the opposite pole from the 'resurrected,' whose life is transformed by a new faith which is full of intrinsic meaning and value.
L. Coser, trans. (1973), pp. 66-67
To a lesser degree, a secret ressentiment underlies every way of thinking which attributes creative power to mere negation and criticism. Thus modern philosophy is deeply penetrated by a whole type of thinking which is nourished by ressentiment. I am referring to the view that the “true” and the “given” is not that which is self-evident, but rather that which is “indubitable” or “incontestable,” which can be maintained against doubt and criticism.
L. Coser, trans. (1973), p. 67
All the seemingly positive valuations and judgments of ressentiment are hidden devaluations and negations.
L. Coser, trans. (1973), p. 67
Whenever convictions are not arrived at by direct contact with the world and the objects themselves, but indirectly through a critique of the opinions of others, the processes of thinking are impregnated with ressentiment. The establishment of “criteria” for testing the correctness of opinions then becomes the most important task. Genuine and fruitful criticism judges all opinions with reference to the object itself. Ressentiment criticism, on the contrary, accepts no “object” that has not stood the test of criticism
L. Coser, trans. (1973), pp. 67-68
Ressentiment is always to some degree a determinant of the romantic type of mind. At least this is so when the romantic nostalgia for some past era (Hellas, the Middle Ages, etc.) is not primarily based on the values of that period, but on the wish to escape from the present. Then all praise of the “past” has the implied purpose of downgrading present-day reality.
L. Coser, trans. (1973), p. 68
We have a tendency to overcome any strong tension between desire and impotence by depreciating or denying the positive value of the desired object.
L. Coser, trans. (1973), p. 73
When we cannot obtain a thing, we comfort ourselves with the reassuring thought that it is not worth nearly as much as we believed.
L. Coser, trans. (1973), p. 73
To its very core, the mind of ressentiment man is filled with envy, the impulse to detract, malice, and secret vindictiveness. These affects have become fixed attitudes, detached from all determinate objects. Independently of his will, this man’s attention will be instinctively drawn by all events which can set these affects in motion. The ressentiment attitude even plays a role in the formation of perceptions, expectations, and memories. It automatically selects those aspects of experience which can justify the factual application of this pattern of feeling.
L. Coser, trans. (1973), p. 74
The man of ressentiment cannot justify or even understand his own existence and sense of life in terms of positive values such as power, health, beauty, freedom, and independence. Weakness, fear, anxiety, and a slavish disposition prevent him from obtaining them. Therefore he comes to feel that “all this is vain anyway” and that salvation lies in the opposite phenomena: poverty, suffering, illness, and death. This “sublime revenge” of ressentiment (in Nietzsche’s words) has indeed played a creative role in the history of value systems. It is “sublime,” for the impulses of revenge against those who are strong, healthy, rich, or handsome now disappear entirely. Ressentiment has brought deliverance from the inner torment of these affects. Once the sense of values has shifted and the new judgments have spread, such people cease to been viable, hateful, and worthy of revenge. They are unfortunate and to be pitied, for they are beset with “evils.” Their sight now awakens feelings of gentleness, pity, and commiseration. When the reversal of values comes to dominate accepted morality and is invested with the power of the ruling ethos, it is transmitted by tradition, suggestion, and education to those who are endowed with the seemingly devaluated qualities. They are struck with a “bad conscience” and secretly condemn themselves. The “slaves,” as Nietzsche says, infect the “masters.” Ressentiment man, on the other hand, now feels “good,” “pure,” and “human”—at least in the conscious layers of his mind. He is delivered from hatred, from the tormenting desire of an impossible revenge, though deep down his poisoned sense of life and the true values may still shine through the illusory ones. There is no more calumny, no more defamation of particular persons or things. The systematic perversion and reinterpretation of the values themselves is much more effective than the “slandering” of persons or the falsification of the world view could ever be.
L. Coser, trans. (1973), pp. 76-77
Beyond all conscious lying and falsifying, there is a deeper “organic mendacity.” Here the falsification is not formed in consciousness, but at the same stage of the mental process as the impressions and value feelings themselves: on the road of experience into consciousness. There is “organic mendacity” whenever a man’s mind admits only those impressions which serve his “interest” or his instinctive attitude. Already in the process of mental reproduction and recollection, the contents of his experience are modified in this direction. He who is “mendacious” has no need to lie! In his case, the automatic process of forming recollections, impressions, and feelings is involuntarily slanted, so that conscious falsification becomes unnecessary.
L. Coser, trans. (1973), pp. 77-78
All ancient philosophers, poets, and moralists agree that love is a striving, an aspiration of the “lower” toward the “higher,” the “unformed” toward the “formed,” … “appearance” towards “essence,” “ignorance” towards “knowledge,” a “mean between fullness and privation,” as Plato says in the Symposium. … The universe is a great chain of dynamic spiritual entities, of forms of being ranging from the “prima materia” up to man—a chain in which the lower always strives for and is attracted by the higher, which never turns back but aspires upward in its turn. This process continues up to the deity, which itself does not love, but represents the eternally unmoving and unifying goal of all these aspirations of love. Too little attention has been given to the peculiar relation between this idea of love and the principle of the “agon,” the ambitious contest for the goal, which dominated Greek life in all its aspects—from the Gymnasium and the games to dialectics and the political life of the Greek city states. Even the objects try to surpass each other in a race for victory, in a cosmic “agon” for the deity. Here the prize that will crown the victor is extreme: it is a participation in the essence, knowledge, and abundance of “being.” Love is only the dynamic principle, immanent in the universe, which sets in motion this great “agon” of all things for the deity.
Let us compare this with the Christian conception. In that conception there takes place what might be called a reversal in the movement of love. The Christian view boldly denies the Greek axiom that love is an aspiration of the lower towards the higher. On the contrary, now the criterion of love is that the nobler stoops to the vulgar, the healthy to the sick, the rich to the poor, the handsome to the ugly, the good and saintly to the bad and common, the Messiah to the sinners and publicans. The Christian is not afraid, like the ancient, that he might lose something by doing so, that he might impair his own nobility. He acts in the peculiarly pious conviction that through this “condescension,” through this self-abasement and “self-renunciation” he gains the highest good and becomes equal to God. …
There is no longer any “highest good” independent of and beyond the act and movement of love! Love itself is the highest of all goods! The summum bonum is no longer the value of a thing, but of an act, the value of love itself as love—not for its results and achievements. …
Thus the picture has shifted immensely. This is no longer a band of men and things that surpass each other in striving up to the deity. It is a band in which every member looks back toward those who are further removed from God and comes to resemble the deity by helping and serving them.
L. Coser, trans. (1961), pp. 85-88
There are two fundamentally different ways for the strong to bend down to the weak, for the rich to help the poor, for the more perfect life to help the “less perfect.” This action can be motivated by a powerful feeling of security, strength, and inner salvation, of the invincible fullness of one’s own life and existence. All this unites into the clear awareness that one is rich enough to share one’s being and possessions. Love, sacrifice, help, the descent to the small and the weak, here spring from a spontaneous overflow of force, accompanied by bliss and deep inner calm. Compared to this natural readiness for love and sacrifice, all specific “egoism,” the concern for oneself and one’s interest, and even the instinct of “self-preservation” are signs of a blocked and weakened life. Life is essentially expansion, development, growth in plenitude, and not “self-preservation,” as a false doctrine has it. Development, expansion, and growth are not epiphenomena of mere preservative forces and cannot be reduced to the preservation of the “better adapted.” … There is a form of sacrifice which is a free renunciation of one’s own vital abundance, a beautiful and natural overflow of one’s forces. Every living being has a natural instinct of sympathy for other living beings, which increases with their proximity and similarity to himself. Thus we sacrifice ourselves for beings with whom we feel united and solidary, in contrast to everything “dead.” This sacrificial impulse is by no means a later acquisition of life, derived from originally egoistic urges. It is an original component of life and precedes all those particular “aims” and “goals” which calculation, intelligence, and reflection impose upon it later. We have an urge to sacrifice before we ever know why, for what, and for whom! Jesus’ view of nature and life, which sometimes shines through his speeches and parables in fragments and hidden allusions, shows quite clearly that he understood this fact. When he tells us not to worry about eating and drinking, it is not because he is indifferent to life and its preservation, but because he sees also a vital weakness in all “worrying” about the next day, in all concentration on one’s own physical well-being. … all voluntary concentration on one’s own bodily wellbeing, all worry and anxiety, hampers rather than furthers the creative force which instinctively and beneficently governs all life. … This kind of indifference to the external means of life (food, clothing, etc.) is not a sign of indifference to life and its value, but rather of a profound and secret confidence in life’s own vigor and of an inner security from the mechanical accidents which may befall it. A gay, light, bold, knightly indifference to external circumstances, drawn from the depth of life itself—that is the feeling which inspires these words! Egoism and fear of death are signs of a declining, sick, and broken life. …
This attitude is completely different from that of recent modern realism in art and literature, the exposure of social misery, the description of little people, the wallowing in the morbid—a typical ressentiment phenomenon. Those people saw something bug-like in everything that lives, whereas Francis sees the holiness of “life” even in a bug.
L. Coser, trans. (1961), pp. 88-92
In the ancient notion of love, on the other hand, there is an element of anxiety. The noble fears the descent to the less noble, is afraid of being infected and pulled down. The “sage” of antiquity does not have the same firmness, the same inner certainty of himself and his own value, as the genius and hero of Christian love.
L. Coser, trans. (1961), p. 92
The fake love of ressentiment man offers no real help, since for his perverted sense of values, evils like “sickness” and “poverty” have become goods.
L. Coser, trans. (1961), p. 92
The important thing is not the amount of welfare, it is that there should be a maximum of love among men. The act of helping is the direct and adequate expression of love, not its meaning or “purpose.” Its meaning lies in itself, in its illumination of the soul, in the nobility of the loving soul in the act of love. Therefore nothing can be further removed from this genuine concept of Christian love than all kinds of “socialism,” “social feeling,” “altruism,” and other subaltern modern things. When the rich youth is told to divest himself of his riches and give them to the poor, it is really not in order to help the “poor” and to effect a better distribution of property in the interest of general welfare. Nor is it because poverty as such is supposed to be better than wealth. The order is given because the act of giving away, and the spiritual freedom and abundance of love which manifest themselves in this act, ennoble the youth and make him even “richer” than he is.
L. Coser, trans. (1961), p. 93
Antiquity believed that the forces of love in the universe were limited. Therefore they were to be used sparingly,and everyone was to be loved only according to his value.
L. Coser, trans. (1961), p. 94
There is a completely different way of stooping to the small, the lowly, and the common, even though it may seem almost the same. Here love does not spring from an abundance of vital power, from firmness and security. Here it is only a euphemism for escape, for the inability to “remain at home” with oneself (chez soi). Turning toward others is but the secondary consequence of this urge to flee from oneself. … Modern philosophical jargon has found a revealing term for this phenomenon, one of the many modern substitutes for love: “altruism.” This love is not directed at a previously discovered positive value, nor does any such value flash up in the act of loving: there is nothing but the urge to turn away from oneself and to lose oneself in other people’s business. We all know a certain type of man frequently found among socialists, suffragettes, and all people with an ever-ready “social conscience”—the kind of person whose social activity is quite clearly prompted by inability to keep his attention focused on himself, on his own tasks and problems.
L. Coser, trans. (1961), pp. 95-96
It is precisely the essential feature of egoism that it does not apprehend the full value of the isolated self. The egoist sees himself only with regard to the others, as a member of society who wishes to possess and acquire more than the others. Self-directedness or other-directedness have no essential bearing on the specific quality of love or hatred. These acts are different in themselves, quite independently of their direction
L. Coser, trans. (1961), p. 96
In ressentiment morality, love for the “small,” the “poor,” the “weak,” and the “oppressed” is really disguised hatred, repressed envy, an impulse to detract, etc., directed against the opposite phenomena: “wealth,” “strength,” “power,” “largesse.” When hatred does not dare to come out into the open, it can be easily expressed in the form of ostensible love—love for something which has features that are the opposite of those of the hated object. This can happen in such a way that the hatred remains secret. When we hear that falsely pious, unctuous tone (it is the tone of a certain “socially-minded” type of priest), sermonizing that love for the “small” is our first duty, love for the “humble” inspirit, since God gives “grace” to them, then it is often only hatred posing as Christian love.
L. Coser, trans. (1961), pp. 96-97
When we are told, in the same tone, that these people will be rewarded in “heaven” for their distress, and that “heaven” is the exact reverse of the earthly order (“the first shall be last”), we distinctly feel how the ressentiment-laden man transfers to God the vengeance he himself cannot wreak on the great. In this way, he can satisfy his revenge at least in imagination, with the aid of an other-worldly mechanism of rewards and punishments.
L. Coser, trans. (1961), p. 97
The “kingdom of God” has become the “other world,” which stands mechanically beside “this world”—an opposition unknown to the strongest periods of Christianity.
L. Coser, trans. (1961), p. 97
The highest and ultimate personality values are declared to be independent of contrasts like rich and poor, healthy and sick, etc. The world had become accustomed to considering the social hierarchy, based on status, wealth, vital strength, and power, as an exact image of the ultimate values of morality and personality. The only way to disclose the discovery of anew and higher sphere of being and life, of the “kingdom of God” whose order is independent of that worldly and vital hierarchy, was to stress the vanity of the old values in this higher order.
L. Coser, trans. (1961), p. 98
The precepts “Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you” … are born from the Gospel’s profound spirit of individualism, which refuses to let one’s own actions and conduct depend in any way on somebody else’s acts. The Christian refuses to let his acts be mere reactions—such conduct would lower him to the level of his enemy. The act is to grow organically from the person, “as the fruit from the tree.” … What the Gospel demands is not a reaction which is the reverse of the natural reaction, as if it said: “Because he strikes you on the cheek, tend the other”—but a rejection of all reactive activity, of any participation in common and average ways of acting and standards of judgment.
L. Coser, trans. (1961), pp. 99-100
Jesus’ “mysterious” affection for the sinners, which is closely related to his ever-ready militancy against the scribes and pharisees, against every kind of social respectability … contains a kind of awareness that the great transformation of life, the radical change in outlook he demands of man (in Christian parlance it is called “rebirth”) is more accessible to the sinner than to the “just.” … Jesus is deeply skeptical toward all those who can feign the good man’s blissful existence through the simple lack of strong instincts and vitality. But all this does not suffice to explain this mysterious affection. In it there is something which can scarcely be expressed and must be felt. When the noblest men are in the company of the “good”—even of the truly “good,” not only of the pharisees—they are often overcome by a sudden impetuous yearning to go to the sinners, to suffer and struggle at their side and to share their grievous, gloomy lives. This is truly no temptation by the pleasures of sin, nor a demoniacal love for its “sweetness,” nor the attraction of the forbidden or the lure of novel experiences. It is an outburst of tempestuous love and tempestuous compassion for all men who are felt as one, indeed for the universe as a whole; a love which makes it seem frightful that only some should be “good,” while the others are “bad” and reprobate. In such moments, love and a deep sense of solidarity are repelled by the thought that we alone should be “good,” together with some others. This fills us with a kind of loathing for those who can accept this privilege, and we have an urge to move away from them.
L. Coser, trans. (1961), pp. 100-101
"Instead of defining the word, let us briefly characterize or describe the phenomenon. Ressentiment is a self-poisoning of the mind which has quite definite causes and consequences. It is a lasting mental attitude, caused by the systematic repression of certain emotions and affects which, as such, are normal components of human nature. Their repression leads to the constant tendency to indulge in certain kinds of value delusions and corresponding value judgments. The emotions and affects primarily concerned are revenge, hatred, malice, envy, the impulse to detract, and spite.
Thirst for revenge is the most important source of ressentiment. As we have seen, the very term “ressentiment” indicates that we have to do with reactions which presuppose the previous apprehension of another person's state of mind. The desire for revenge—in contrast with all active and aggressive impulses, be they friendly or hostile—is also such a reactive impulse. It is always preceded by an attack or an injury. Yet it must be clearly distinguished from the impulse for reprisals or self-defense, even when this reaction is accompanied by anger, fury, or indignation. If an animal bites its attacker, this cannot be called “revenge.” Nor does an immediate reprisal against a box on the ear fall under this heading. Revenge is distinguished by two essential characteristics. First of all, the immediate reactive impulse, with the accompanying emotions of anger and rage, is temporarily or at least momentarily checked and restrained, and the response is consequently postponed to a later time and to a more suitable occasion (“just wait till next time”). This blockage is caused by the reflection that an immediate reaction would lead to defeat, and by a concomitant pronounced feeling of “inability” and “impotence.” Thus even revenge as such, based as it is upon an experience of impotence, is always primarily a matter of those who are “weak” in some respect. Furthermore, it is of the essence of revenge that it always contains the *consciousness* of “tit for tat,” so that it is never a mere emotional reaction.
These two characteristics make revenge the most suitable source for the formation of ressentiment. The nuances of language are precise. There is a progression of feeling which starts with revenge and runs via rancor, envy, and impulse to detract all the way to spite, coming close to ressentiment. Usually, revenge and envy still have specific objects. They do not arise without special reasons and are directed against definite objects, so that they do not outlast their motives. The desire for revenge disappears when vengeance has been taken, when the person against whom it was directed has been punished or has punished himself, or when one truly forgives him. In the same way, envy vanishes when the envied possession becomes ours. The impulse to detract, however, is not in the same sense tied to definite objects—it does not arise through specific causes with which it disappears. On the contrary, this affect seeks those objects, those aspects of men and things, from which it can draw gratification. It likes to disparage and to smash pedestals, to dwell on the negative aspects of excellent men and things, exulting in the fact that such faults are more perceptible through their contrast with the strongly positive qualities. Thus there is set a fixed pattern of experience which can accommodate the most diverse contents. This form or structure fashions each concrete experience of life and selects it from possible experiences. The impulse to detract, therefore, is no mere result of such an experience, and the experience will arise regardless of considerations whether its object could in any way, directly or indirectly, further or hamper the individual concerned. In “spite,” this impulse has become even more profound and deep-seated—it is, as it were, always ready to burst forth and to betray itself in an unbridled gesture, a way of smiling, etc. An analogous road leads from simple *Schadenfreude* to “malice.” The latter, more detached than the former from definite objects, tries to bring about ever new opportunities for *Schadenfreude*.
Yet all this is not ressentiment. These are only stages in the development of its sources. Revenge, envy, the impulse to detract, spite, *Schadenfreude*, and malice lead to ressentiment only if there occurs neither a moral self-conquest (such as genuine forgiveness in the case of revenge) nor an act or some other adequate expression of emotion (such as verbal abuse or shaking one's fist), and if this restraint is caused by a pronounced awareness of impotence. There will be no ressentiment if he who thirsts for revenge really acts and avenges himself, if he who is consumed by hatred harms his enemy, gives him “a piece of his mind,” or even merely vents his spleen in the presence of others. Nor will the envious fall under the dominion of ressentiment if he seeks to acquire the envied possession by means of work, barter, crime, or violence. Ressentiment can only arise if these emotions are particularly powerful and yet must be suppressed because they are coupled with the feeling that one is unable to act them out—either because of weakness, physical or mental, or because of fear. Through its very origin, ressentiment is therefore chiefly confined to those who serve and are dominated at the moment, who fruitlessly resent the sting of authority. When it occurs elsewhere, it is either due to psychological contagion—and the spiritual venom of ressentiment is extremely contagious—or to the violent suppression of an impulse which subsequently revolts by “embittering” and “poisoning” the personality. If an ill-treated servant can vent his spleen in the antechamber, he will remain free from the inner venom of ressentiment, but it will engulf him if he must hide his feelings and keep his negative and hostile emotions to himself.
Impulses of revenge lead to ressentiment the more they change into actual *vindictiveness*, the more their direction shifts toward indeterminate groups of objects which need only share one common characteristic, and the less they are satisfied by vengeance taken on a specific object. If the desire for revenge remains permanently unsatisfied, and especially if the feeling of “being right (lacking in an outburst of rage, but an integral part of revenge) is intensified into the idea of a “duty,” the individual may actually wither away and die. The vindictive person is instinctively and without a conscious act of volition drawn toward events which may give rise to vengefulness, or he tends to see injurious intentions in all kinds of perfectly innocent actions and remarks of others. Great touchiness is indeed frequently a symptom of a vengeful character. The vindictive person is always in search of objects, and in fact he attacks—in the belief that he is simply wreaking vengeance. This vengeance restores his damaged feeling of personal value, his injured “honor,” or it brings “satisfaction” for the wrongs he has endured. When it is repressed, vindictiveness leads to ressentiment , a process which is intensified when the *imagination* of vengeance, too, is repressed—and finally the very emotion of revenge itself. Only then does this *state of mind* become associated with the tendency to detract from the other person's value, which brings an illusory easing of the tension."
"We do not use the word “ressentiment” because of a special predilection for the French language, but because we did not succeed in translating it into German. Moreover, Nietzsche has made it a terminus technicus. In the natural meaning of the French word I detect two elements. First of all, ressentiment is the repeated experiencing and reliving of a particular emotional response reaction against someone else. The continual reliving of the emotion sinks it more deeply into the center of the personality, but concomitantly removes it from the person's zone of action and expression. It is not a mere intellectual recollection of the emotion and of the events to which it “responded”—it is a re-experiencing of the emotion itself, a renewal of the original feeling. Secondly, the word implies that the quality of this emotion is negative, i.e., that it contains a movement of hostility. Perhaps the German word “Groll” (rancor) comes closest to the essential meaning of the term. “Rancor” is just such a suppressed wrath, independent of the ego's activity, which moves obscurely through the mind. It finally takes shape through the repeated reliving of intentionalities of hatred or other hostile emotions. In itself it does not contain a specific hostile intention, but it nourishes any number of such intentions."
"Another situation generally exposed to ressentiment danger is the older generation's relation with the younger. The process of aging can only be fruitful and satisfactory if the important transitions are accompanied by free resignation, by the renunciation of the values proper to the preceding stage of life. Those spiritual and intellectual values which remain untouched by the process of aging, together with the values of the next stage of life, must compensate for what has been lost. Only if this happens can we cheerfully relive the values of our past in memory, without envy for the young to whom they are still accessible. If we cannot compensate, we avoid and flee the “tormenting” recollection of youth, thus blocking our possibilities of understanding younger people. At the same time we tend to negate the specific values of earlier stages. No wonder that youth always has a hard fight to sustain against the ressentiment of the older generation. Yet this source of ressentiment is also subject to an important historical variation. In the earliest stages of civilization, old age as such is so highly honored and respected for its experience that ressentiment has hardly any chance to develop. But education spreads through printing and other modern media and increasingly replaces the advantage of experience. Younger people displace the old from their positions and professions and push them into the defensive. As the pace of “progress” increases in all fields, and as the changes of fashion tend to affect even the higher domains (such as art and science), the old can no longer keep up with their juniors. “Novelty‟ becomes an ever greater value. This is doubly true when the generation as such is seized by an intense lust for life, and when the generations compete with each other instead of cooperating for the creation of works which outlast them. “Every cathedral,” Werner Sombart writes, “every monastery, every town hall, every castle of the Middle Ages bears testimony to the transcendence of the individual's span of life: its completion spans generations which thought that they lived for ever. Only when the individual cut himself loose from the community which outlasted him, did the duration of his personal life become his standard of happiness.” Therefore buildings are constructed ever more hastily—Sombart cites a number of examples. A corresponding phenomenon is the ever more rapid alternation of political regimes which goes hand in hand with the progression of the democratic movement. But every change of government, every parliamentary change of party domination leaves a remnant of absolute opposition against the values of the new ruling group. This opposition is spent in ressentiment the more the losing group feels unable to return to power. The “retired official” with his followers is a typical ressentiment figure. Even a man like Bismarck did not entirely escape from this danger."
"There is usually no ressentiment just where a superficial view would look for it first: in the criminal. The criminal is essentially an active type. Instead of repressing hatred, revenge, envy, and greed, he releases them in crime. Ressentiment is a basic impulse only in the crimes of spite. These are crimes which require only a minimum of action and risk and from which the criminal draws no advantage, since they are inspired by nothing but the desire to do harm. The arsonist is the purest type in point, provided that he is not motivated by the pathological urge of watching fire (a rare case) or by the wish to collect insurance. Criminals of this type strangely resemble each other. Usually they are quiet, taciturn, shy, quite settled and hostile to all alcoholic or other excesses. Their criminal act is nearly always a sudden outburst of impulses of revenge or envy which have been repressed for years. A typical cause would be the continual deflation of one's ego by the constant sight of the neighbor's rich and beautiful farm. Certain expressions of class ressentiment, which have lately been on the increase, also fall under this heading. I mention a crime committed near Berlin in 1912: in the darkness, the criminal stretched a wire between two trees across the road, so that the heads of passing automobilists would be shorn off. This is a typical case of ressentiment, for any car driver or passenger at all could be the victim, and there is no interested motive. Also in cases of slander and defamation of character, ressentiment often plays a major role. . ."
"Among the types of human activity which have always played a role in history, the soldier is least subject to ressentiment. Nietzsche is right in pointing out that the priest is most exposed to this danger, though the conclusions about religious morality which he draws from this insight are inadmissible. It is true that the very requirements of his profession, quite apart from his individual or national temperament, expose the priest more than any other human type to the creeping poison of ressentiment. In principle he is not supported by secular power; indeed he affirms the fundamental weakness of such power. Yet, as the representative of a concrete institution, he is to be sharply distinguished from the homo religiosus—he is placed in the middle of party struggle. More than any other man, he is condemned to control his emotions (revenge, wrath, hatred) at least outwardly, for he must always represent the image and principle of “peacefulness.” The typical “priestly policy” of gaining victories through suffering rather than combat, or through the counterforces which the sight of the priest's suffering produces in men who believe that he unites them with God, is inspired by ressentiment. There is no trace of ressentiment in genuine martyrdom; only the false martyrdom of priestly policy is guided by it. This danger is completely avoided only when priest and homo religiosus coincide."
"This law of the release of tension through illusory valuation gains new significance, full of infinite consequences, for the ressentiment attitude. To its very core, the mind of ressentiment man is filled with envy, the impulse to detract, malice, and secret vindictiveness. These affects have become fixed attitudes, detached from all determinate objects. Independently of his will, this man's attention will be instinctively drawn by all events which can set these affects in motion. The ressentiment attitude even plays a role in the formation of perceptions, expectations, and memories. It automatically selects those aspects of experience which can justify the factual application of this pattern of feeling. Therefore such phenomena as joy, splendor, power, happiness, fortune, and strength magically attract the man of ressentiment. He cannot pass by, he has to look at them, whether he “wants” to or not. But at the same time he wants to avert his eyes, for he is tormented by the craving to possess them and knows that his desire is vain. The first result of this inner process is a characteristic falsification of the world view. Regardless of what he observes, his world has a peculiar structure of emotional stress. The more the impulse to turn away from those positive values prevails, the more he turns without transition to their negative opposites, on which he concentrates increasingly. He has an urge to scold, to depreciate, to belittle whatever he can. Thus he involuntarily “slanders” life and the world in order to justify his inner pattern of value experience.
But this instinctive falsification of the world view is only of limited effectiveness. Again and again the ressentiment man encounters happiness, power, beauty, wit, goodness, and other phenomena of positive life. They exist and impose themselves, however much he may shake his fist against them and try to explain them away. He cannot escape the tormenting conflict between desire and impotence. Averting his eyes is sometimes impossible and in the long run ineffective. When such a quality irresistibly forces itself upon his attention, the very sight suffices to produce an impulse of hatred against its bearer, who has never harmed or insulted him. Dwarfs and cripples, who already feel humiliated by the outward appearance of the others, often show this peculiar hatred—this hyena-like and ever-ready ferocity. Precisely because this kind of hostility is not caused by the “enemy's” actions and behavior, it is deeper and more irreconcilable than any other. It is not directed against transitory attributes, but against the other person's very essence and being. Goethe has this type of “enemy” in mind when he writes: “Why complain about enemies?—Could those become your friends—To whom your very existence—Is an eternal silent reproach?” (West-Eastern Divan). The very existence of this “being,” his mere appearance, becomes a silent, unadmitted “reproach.” Other disputes can be settled, but not this! Goethe knew, for his rich and great existence was the ideal target of ressentiment. His very appearance was bound to make the poison flow.
But even this apparently unfounded hatred is not yet the most characteristic achievement of ressentiment. Even here, it is still directed against particular persons or (as in class hatred) particular groups. Its effect is much more profound when it goes beyond such determinate hostilities—when it does not lead to a falsification of the world view, but perverts the sense of values itself. What Nietzsche calls “falsification of the tablets of value” is built on this foundation. In this new phase, the man of ressentiment no longer turns away from the positive values, nor does he wish to destroy the men and things endowed with them. Now the values themselves are inverted: those values which are positive to any normal feeling become negative. The man of ressentiment cannot justify or even understand his own existence and sense of life in terms of positive values such as power, health, beauty, freedom, and independence. Weakness, fear, anxiety, and a slavish disposition prevent him from obtaining them. Therefore he comes to feel that “all this is vain anyway” and that salvation lies in the opposite phenomena: poverty, suffering, illness, and death.
This “sublime revenge” of ressentiment (in Nietzsche's words) has indeed played a creative role in the history of value systems. It is “sublime,” for the impulses of revenge against those who are strong, healthy, rich, or handsome now disappear entirely. Ressentiment has brought deliverance from the inner torment of these affects. Once the sense of values has shifted and the new judgments have spread, such people cease to be enviable, hateful, and worthy of revenge. They are unfortunate and to be pitied, for they are beset with “evils.” Their sight now awakens feelings of gentleness, pity, and commiseration. When the reversal of values comes to dominate accepted morality and is invested with the power of the ruling ethos, it is transmitted by tradition, suggestion, and education to those who are endowed with the seemingly devaluated qualities. They are struck with a “bad conscience” and secretly condemn themselves. The “slaves,” as Nietzsche says, infect the “masters.” Ressentiment man, on the other hand, now feels “good,” “pure,” and “human”—at least in the conscious layers of his mind. He is delivered from hatred, from the tormenting desire of an impossible revenge, though deep down his poisoned sense of life and the true values may still shine through the illusory ones. There is no more calumny, no more defamation of particular persons or things. The systematic perversion and reinterpretation of the values themselves is much more effective than the “slandering” of persons or the falsification of the world view could ever be."
One cannot love anybody without turning away from oneself. However, the crucial question is whether this movement is prompted by the desire to turn toward a positive value, or whether the intention is a radical escape from oneself. “Love” of the second variety is inspired by self-hatred, by hatred of one’s own weakness and misery. The mind is always on the point of departing for distant places. Afraid of seeing itself and its inferiority, it is driven to give itself to the other—not because of his worth, but merely for the sake of his “otherness.” Modern philosophical jargon has found a revealing term for this phenomenon, one of the many modern substitutes for love: “altruism.” This love is not directed at a previously discovered positive value, nor does any such value flash up in the act of loving: there is nothing but the urge to turn away from oneself and to lose oneself in other people’s business. We all know a certain type of man frequently found among socialists, suffragettes, and all people with an ever-ready “social conscience”— the kind of person whose social activity is quite clearly prompted by inability to keep his attention focused on himself, on his own tasks and problems. Looking away from oneself is here mistaken for love! Isn’t it abundantly clear that “altruism,” the interest in “others” and their lives, has nothing at all to do with love? The malicious or envious person also forgets his own interest, even his “preservation.” He only thinks about the other man’s feelings, about the harm and the suffering he inflicts on him. Conversely, there is a form of genuine “self-love” which has nothing at all to do with “egoism.” It is precisely the essential feature of egoism that it does not apprehend the full value of the isolated self. The egoist sees himself only with regard to the others, as a member of society who wishes to possess and acquire more than the others. Selfdirectedness or other-directedness have no essential bearing on the specific quality of love or hatred. These acts are different in themselves, quite independently of their direction.
Dr. Scheler has attempted in this volume an exhaustive discussion and exposition of what he regards as the philosophical method par excellence. He has endeavored to combine the transcendental method so called with the psychological method. The present situation is one that in the author’s opinion imperatively demands a reconstruction of philosophical ways of procedure, and the question, as Dr. Scheler puts it, is not contained in Windelband’s maxim that “To understand Kant is to transcend Kant,” but rather “How shall Kant be transcended.” That this has yet been done Dr. Scheler cannot bring himself to admit, even in the face of the many admirable contributions that have latterly been made to philosophy. Under the influence of Professor Eucken, the philosophical method which Dr. Scheler has developed is termed the noological method. The following are some of the results: Apart from the principles of formal logic, there is no absolutely solid or self-evident datum from which philosophy in any or its forms may proceed. Neither the axioms of mathematics, nor theorems of physical science, nor “experience” in the transcendental sense, nor sensation, are entitled to lay claim to the dignity of such datum. The transcendental method is quite inadequate for treating the problems of philosophy; so is the psychological method. The noological method is an attempt to combine the divergent methods of procedure of the transcendental philosophy and the transcendental psychology. Its fundamental concepts are: “World of work” (Arbeitswelt) and “form of spiritual life” (Geistige Lebensform). By “world of work” are understood the relations recognized as interconnecting the achievements of human civilization; it is not in itself a self-evident datum, but a “well-grounded phenomenon.” Mind, and therefore also its constituent “intellect,” is at the beginning of the quest for its contents a perfectly problematic conception. It is the x that renders the “world of work” possible. Inasmuch as the “world of work” is being continually enriched by the progress of human history, it is not possible to say precisely at any one point in history what the conception of mind is. A systematic deduction of a priori principles for “all possible experience” is impossible. The formal principles have too much content to hold valid for all possible historical experience, and have too little contents to be vigorously applied in any actual historically-determined civilization. Such is the sum of Dr. Scheler’s philosophy. It will be seen that it conforms to many respects to the spirit of our time, which is gradually drifting away from the anchorage of the formal philosophy of which Kant was the greatest exponent, and of that ideal of rigor which the stupendous development of the mathematical and physical sciences of the eighteenth and the first part of the nineteenth centuries had established as the goal of perfection which research in every department of human inquiry should strive to attain. Dr. Scheler’s work is not uninstructive reading, and his discussion of some of the present dilemmas in philosophy are not without value.
At one time in his life the apostate radically changes his political, religious or philosophical convictions by taking up all possible means of argumentation against that which he formerly held to be true, and lives now for the sake of its negation. His new ideas and opinions consist in continuous acts of revenge on his spiritual past.
Manfred Frings, Max Scheler (1996), p. 60
Scheler himself emphasizes the passive aspect of resentment and remarks on the prominent place it occupies in the psychology of women who are dedicated to desire and possession. The fountainhead of rebellion, on the contrary, is the principle of superabundant activity and energy. Scheler is also right in saying that resentment is always highly colored by envy. But one envies what one does not have, while the rebel’s aim is to defend what he is. He does not merely claim some good that he does not possess or of which he was deprived. His aim is to claim recognition for something which he has and which has already been recognized by him, in almost every case, as more important than anything of which he could be envious.
According to Scheler, resentment always turns into either unscrupulous ambition or bitterness, depending on whether it is implanted in a strong person or a weak one. But in both cases it is a question of wanting to be something other than what one is. Resentment is always resentment against oneself. The rebel, on the contrary, from his very first step, refuses to allow anyone to touch what he is. He is fighting for the integrity of one part of his being.
Our vulnerability [to ressentiment], is unavoidable (and probably incurable) in a kind of society in which relative equality of political and other rights and formally acknowledged social equality go hand in hand with enormous differences in genuine power, possessions and education; a society in which everyone “has the right” to consider himself equal to everybody else, while in fact being unequal to them.
Zygmunt Bauman, paraphrasing the view of Max Scheler in The Art of Life (Cambridge: 2008), p. 25