Donald Trump has increasingly been regarded as dangerous due to his often incendiary rhetoric. This fear is arguably justified. I do not advocate voting for Trump and have no intention of voting for him myself. Indeed, there is a great deal of fear that he is simply playing on the emotions of angry, likely “racist,” and largely uninformed white Americans. This is arguably true, this does not warrant an uncritical or one-dimensional condemnation of the phenomenon. While Donald Trump is not the cure for what ails America, his popularity is a kind of symptom, a major expression of inflammation in a deadly underlying disease that needs desperately to be attended to.
But what is this disease? While far from being the only person to point out this phenomenon, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche arguably provided history’s first systematic exposition of a psychological phenomenon known as “ressentiment.” This is the French word for “resentment,” but in the mouth of Nietzsche, it takes on a more technically specific meaning. Typically in someone who has absorbed blows to their self-esteem with sufficient severity or frequency, especially during the formative years of one’s psychobiological development, this person not only learns to hate, but learns to envy.
Whether real or imagined, this injury becomes the occasion of envying others for qualities or possessions that the injured person does not possess. This affect of sadness produced by the injury can be assuaged through the discharge of some kind of violence against the object of our enmity, but if this is not carried out, the individual begins to suffer from a habitual psychological condition which stems from repression of emotions which are socially unacceptable if openly expressed. This individual comes to habitually act out spitefully towards those who are imagined (rightly or wrongly) to be the source of their misery, but, since lashing out at others on account of envy of their superior qualities, status, wealth, success, etc. is socially unacceptable, they need some means of justifying their spleen.
Herbert Schlossberg explains the importance of the phenomenon of envy to resentment:
“This phenomenon differs from mere envy or resentment because it is not content to suffer quietly but has a festering quality that seeks outlet in doing harm to its object. Ressentiment has its origin in the tendency to make comparisons between the attributes of another and one’s own attributes: wealth, possessions, appearance, intelligence, personality, friends, children. Any perceived difference is enough to set the pathology in motion. Ressentiment “whispers continuously: ‘I can forgive everything, but not what you are — indeed that I am not you’”. The other’s very existence is a reproach. “There is no vice of which a man can be guilty”, said an English newspaper more than a century ago,. no meanness, no shabbiness, no unkindness which excites so . much indignation among his contemporaries, friends and neighbors as his success. This is the one unpardonable crime, which reason cannot defend, nor humility mitigate. “When heaven with such parts blest him, have I not reason to detest him?” is a genuine and natural expression of the human mind. The man who writes as we cannot write, who speaks as we cannot speak, labours as we cannot labour, thrives as we cannot thrive, has accumulated on his own person all the offenses of which man can be guilty. Down with him! Why cumbereth he the ground?””
The resentful person tries to justify their tendency to spite and debase those of whom they are envious. In order to do this, they engage in what Nietzsche described as a transvaluation of values. Originally, Nietzsche argued, there was no distinction between good and “evil,” but rather, good and bad. The physically and mentally superior and strong regarded their superior qualities as good and they considered it bad to not have them or to be particularly deficient in them. The most deficient of society, envious of the strong and lacking contentment in their inferior estate, decided to justify their lashing out against the strong by articulating a new morality of “good vs. evil” which would displace the antecedent, pre-moral distinction between “good vs. bad.” Therefore, it became good to be sexually “abstinent,” for example, which was merely the justification of the sexually impotent for monastic celibacy; it is good to be pacifistic rather than violent, and so the physically weak and infirm shamed the strong for their strength and taught that their supposed superiority is actually a kind of inferiority.
Nietzsche identified two sources he believed to be the ultimate expression of this psychosocial phenomenon, which he came to regard as “slave morality”: Political leftism and Christianity. As a Christian, of course, I take exception to the idea that Christianity is an expression of mental pathology. There are important psychological differences between the Christian and the leftist. However, Nietzsche believed that both phenomena sprang from this poisonous root of “ressentiment.” Thus, he would say that Jesus says that it is more difficult for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven because he and his disciples are envious of the rich person, and seek to spite him by tearing him down. No longer do they even desire to possess his wealth out of jealousy; instead, they cannot stand its existence and seek to destroy the object of their envy so that no one, including themselves, are able to enjoy its fruit.
Of course, Nietzsche did not believe that only Christians or leftists are susceptible to this kind of perverse morality. Those of both parties clearly are; even as a Christian I can accept, with the philosopher Max Scheler, that Christian values are easily corrupted by unscrupulous professors of the religion into a kind of morality whose purpose is solely to tear others down, using ideology as a pretext for more purely psychological motives. While Nietzsche was particularly critical of Christianity and political leftism, he himself regarded those of the political right to be no less susceptible to this morality. Far from being a German nationalist, Nietzsche regarded the anti-Semitism of his fellow Germans as being the result of ressentiment. Perhaps these Germans were merely envious and made to be afraid of the perceived intellectual superiority of the Jews, and sought to take out their own insecurities on them.
In the case of the leftist, qualities associated with a superior estate, such as being white, being wealthy, possessing political power is uncritically condemned as being evil, whereas those who possess the opposite qualities, such as having darker skin, being poor, being politically subordinate impotent and disenfranchised, is uncritically regarded praiseworthy. Jacques Ellul complained of the uncritical “divinization of the poor” by leftists. This is why a feminist can condemn white, anglo-saxon Protestants for refusing to share their privileged power with Muslims even though Islam has historically tended to be far more sexist and degrading to women than white Protestants. The concern in such a feminist is not to assist disenfranchised Muslims but to spite white, wealthy individuals. The Muslim, although his values might be completely opposite the feminist, becomes a useful tool in the hands of the feminist, who mobilizes him as a kind of war hammer to bludgeon privileged whites. Thus is often the pretext for “altruism,” as Schlossberg both articulates these psychological tendencies among political humanitarian pretensions in leftists, while also vindicating Christian morality and distinguishing it from secular humanitarianism:
“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, and impulse to detract…directed against the opposite phenomena: “wealth”, “strength”, “power”, “*largess*”. When hatred does not dare come out into the open it can be easily expressed in the form of ostensible love—love for something which has features that are opposite of those of the hated object. This can happen in such a way that the hatred remains secret.
Altruism is thus best interpreted as a counterfeit of Christian love, informed by the ideology of humanism and powered by ressentiment. It permits demeaning the successful, or those who display any form of superiority, by pulling over that act the mask of concern for the poor and weak. Scheler believed that the counterfeit is often good enough to fool the astute, and he concluded that Nietzsche confused Christian love with its imitator. Of course, by the time Nietzsche wrote, the church was sufficiently infused with humanism to make his mistake understandable.
Christian love, says Scheler, does not help the weak, sick, and helpless because it values those attributes but because of concern for the person who lies behind them… The fake love of altruism perverts the sense of values so that sickness and poverty approach the status of virtues.Christian love seeks to help the person but refuses to elevate the problem by giving it ontological status and worth. It also avoids helping the weak as a means of causing harm to the strong. In this it heeds the apostle’s admonition that love “does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right” (1 Cor. 13:6). That is the meaning of Goethe’s statement that “against another’s great merits, there is no remedy but love”. Christian love is directed toward persons who need help and not at abstractions such as humanity or the general welfare.”
How can so envious an individual as a leftist truly love the poor, black, Muslim, homosexual, transgender, etc., or anyone at all, for that matter? The simple answer to this question is that they cannot. The rich and poor alike are both objectified: the rich is merely the object of spite due to the intolerable envy it produces in the leftist, and the poor is a mere object mobilized by the leftist to take the powerful down a notch.
This slave morality has become utterly epidemic in Western society. The Anglo-American and European. I dislike the word “white” due to its lack of specificity; non-Europeans, such as certain groups of Semites (Syrians, for example) can have white skin while not really falling under the purview of those being discussed. I here exclude those, for example, light-skinned ethno-cultural denizens of Western or Southwest Asia (The “Middle East”) and refer strictly to Northern, Southern, Western and Eastern Europeans and include Americans and Canadians among “Europeans” due to our ethno-cultural descent from Europeans.