Friday, December 15, 2006

The Politics of Ressentiment

Spotted on Crooked Timber, offered without comment:

It used to be part of the conservative ideological boilerplate that belief in one’s status as victim was something fostered by left-wing academia, identity politics, etc. No more. But the right does not simply appropriate that attitude by reversing the flow of grievances.

Unlike the multiculti version (which at least gives lip service to belief in the possibility of liberation from oppression), the right-wing discourse of victimization revels in the thought that its suffering will continue, and must soon deepen.

Often the implied scenario is religious (how cruel will be the reign of the anti-Christ!) though not necessarily (how cruel will be the reign of Hillary!) Either way, there is a superficial pretense of panic and alarm that barely disguises contentment at wallowing in ressentiment.

Per Max Scheler, who, literally, wrote the book:

Improvements in the conditions criticized cause no satisfaction – they merely cause discontent, for they destroy the growing pleasure afforded by invective and negation. Many modern political parties will be extremely annoyed by a partial satisfaction of their demands or by the constructive participation of their representatives in public life, for such participation mars the delight of oppositionism. It is peculiar to “ressentiment criticism” that it does not seriously desire that it demands be fulfilled. It does not want to cure the evil: the evil is merely a pretext for the criticism.
Scheler was a conservative. No doubt the “modern political parties” he had in mind were socialist/labor parties. He lived long enough to see the emergence of reactionary mass movements wielding the same kind of “ressentiment criticism.” What he couldn’t have anticipated—and what still proves an enigma—is the present situation, in which a movement can hold state power for years, yet whine incessently about its own powerlessness.