Comments On Max Scheler’s Ressentiment

I spent the afternoon reading the book Ressentiment (1912) by German Phenomenologist Max Scheler. 

Ressentiment is a satisfying and gracefully written rejection of Nietzsche’s thesis that Christianity was invented as a defense mechanism by runts to lessen the pain of their inborn inferiority and scapegoat their natural superiors as evil.

Scheler convincingly makes the case that Nietzsche profoundly misjudges the essence of Christian morality. Nietzsche took no notice of the fact that Christian love and charity is about cultivating an ideal spiritual personality, not becoming a socialist, a pacifist or taking up universal altruism/equality. 

So, Scheler was not impressed with Nietzsche’s attack of Christian virtues. He was, however, pleased with Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment and considered it to be the profound discovery of an unexplored moral phenomenon . Scheler expounds on ressentiment, and – let me tell you – he paints a detailed picture of a poisonous physiological state that is uncanny in its similarity to the permanent mental anguish suffered by leftists. These passages floored me. 

Ressentiment is the spiritual pathology that can assert itself when a low status individual is impotent to improve his rank; and the pain of this evergreen humiliation drives him to blame those that are beautiful/smart/successful/high status for his frustration. 
Scheler catalogs the common behaviors, motivations, secrets, prejudices and degeneracies of those possessed by ressentiment.

Ressentiment may cause people to: 

  • Be “socially conscious”. Have you ever met someone who is incapable of keeping even the most basic aspects of their own life in order, nevertheless, they’re always involving themselves in the business of others or striving to enact social change through altruism?  That’s ressentiment
  • Demand that inferiority, evil, savagery and ugliness be “understood”, “excused” “tolerated” and subsidized
  • Be traitorous – prioritizing the well-being of enemies and hostile outsiders before that of their ingroup 
  • Invert values – Sexual deviants = heroes Christian families = bigots 
  • Deny the existence of objective beauty, intelligence, goodness, ect. We’re all the same, ect
  • Demand that systems and hierarchies be rearranged to make things more “fair” and increase “equity” 
  • Try to convince high-status people that their virtues are actually sins. For example, trying to convince a charismatic man that his confidence is actually just arrogance or “D-baggery”. 
  • Pretend to love the “small”, the “poor”, the “weak” and the “oppressed”. In reality, they just loathe the “big”, the “wealthy,” the “strong,” the “powerful” 

Before, I wrote that the leftist psychology shared similarities with ressentiment; I take that back – after writing the above list, it’s plain to see that leftist psychology IS ressentiment!

I’ll leave you with a few stand out passages from the book.

“But 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. 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. 19 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? “

“Thus the “altruistic” urge is really a form of hatred, of self-hatred, posing as its opposite (“Love”) in the false perspective of consciousness. In the same” way, 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.”

“The humanitarian movement is in its essence a ressentiment phenomenon, as appears from the very fact that this socio-historical emotion is by no means based on a spontaneous and original affirmation of a positive value, but on a protest, a counter-impulse (hatred, envy, revenge, etc.) against ruling minorities that are known to be in the possession of positive values.”

“The very fact that love is directed at the species implies that it is essentially concerned with the inferior qualities which must be “understood” and “excused.” Who can fail to detect the secretly glimmering hatred against the positive higher values, which are not essentially tied to the “species”—a hatred hidden deep down below this “mild,” “understanding,” “humane” attitude?”

“HITHERTO WE have traced only one fundamental value of modern “morality” to the forces of ressentiment. “universal love of mankind.”

“The motive behind this transvaluation has nothing whatever to do with the presumed realization that moral values—in contrast with others, such as aesthetic values—must be based on free acts. 4 This is shown by the fact that the same shift takes place in extramoral domains of value, in legal and economic life. The theories of property and value of the English political and economic theoreticians, first John Locke and then Adam Smith and David Ricardo, merely formulate and conceptualize an existent tendency of modern valuation. They hold that the right of ownership as well is derived from labor on the objects, not from occupation or other origins. It is clear that this new standard must lead to a most radical critique of the existing systems of ownership insofar as they can be historically traced back to occupation, war, 5 donations, primogeniture, etc. Indeed with this premise, the entire law of succession is disputable in principle, wherever it cannot be justified as a merely technical means for the distribution of things which ensures maximum usefulness. But just as all moral activity takes place within the framework of moral existence, all labor on objects presupposes their ownership—the aims, organization, techniques, and forms of labor are historically dependent On the systems of ownership and change with them. 6   Who cannot see that this “theory” has sprung from the laboring classes‟ envy of groups that did not acquire their property through work? The right of ownership of the latter is declared to be illusory, or merely the consequence of an illegal situation which one has a “right” to shake off. The theory of labor value is analogous. There are original value distinctions between the materials in the goods, which vary with the nature of the country. The formal values of the goods are independent of “labor,” they are due to the inventiveness of resourceful persons who set models for labor. Another value lies in the combination of the results of labor which is brought about by the activity of the coordinator and supervisor. Yet all these values are now disregarded from the outset, or they are to be converted into the currency of “labor”—in order to found the senseless tenet that each has a right to a quantity of values equal to that which he has produced by his “labor” (the so-called “right to the whole product of labor”.

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