The Decadence of Democracies: Ressentiment, Hatred, and the Enemy

Tolerance is simply bigotry on a leash – and no matter how strong the leash might seem, it could always snap at any moment.

—Peter King

At the heart of democracy is a disease: ressentiment, the hatred of the self-reflecting enemy in the mirror of one’s nothingness.  The failure to exist is at the core of this dark stain that has tried for two centuries to impose its will to nothingness upon the world as a Universal dictum. Nihilism is the limit factor of democracies everywhere, and we have come to the end game of democracy in our time. A war that began with the enlightenment against humanity is only now bearing its ultimate universalizing message: our hatred of the past, our hatred of Christianity and Christianity’s God has guided this universalizing tendency to replace every aspect of its religious codes with those of the secular and demythologized programs of a radicalized nihilism.

Here precisely is what has become a fatality for Europe—together with the fear of man we have also lost our love of him, our reverence for him, our hopes for him, even the will to him. The sight of man now makes us weary—what is nihilism today if it is not that?—We are weary of man.

—Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

Fredrich Nietzsche would be the first but not last psychologist of this dark enlightenment. It was his diagnosis and cure that would demarcate the inner kernel of this genealogical nightmare. Against this reversal of values produced by ressentiment—namely the replacement of the instinct for strength and happiness with the blame and guilt attributed to all drives—Nietzsche proclaims the very necessity of a new Umwertung aller Werte. The revaluation of all values would infiltrate the Enlightenment’s diseased body like a lightning strike against the stain of human pretension, its universalist religion: Progress. The notion that humans could be improved made better through a new form of governance by the ‘will of the people’, that the global religion of tolerance could wipe out the ancient hatred of people’s everywhere. Haven’t we seen through the truth of this?

The Enlightenment with its secular gospel of emancipation and the egalitarian redemption of man into democracy promised to raise the common man from mob to empowered benefactor, but instead the new moneyed classes would instigate certain contracts to ensure a smooth transition into a top-down narrative of supervention:  representative democracy. A nice lie for the stupid to believe they had power not in the sense of action, but rather in the semblance of a passive reliance on a fictional figure who would enact their desires. In brief, democracy was from the beginning rigged. Secular man would heretofore become the duplicitous subject of a process of redistribution: the slow befuddlement of the masses at the hands of a new religion of atheism – the demythologization of the religious value systems, a revaluation of the Judeo-Christian traditions. Replacing God with Capitalism, and the priestly class with the entrepreneur and Industrialist. As the narrative goes “A community of Puritans fled to America and founded the theocratic colonies of New England. After its military victories in the American Rebellion and the War of Secession, American Puritanism was well on the way to world domination. Its victories in World War I, World War II, and the Cold War confirmed its global hegemony. All legitimate mainstream thought on Earth today is descended from the American Puritans, and through them the English Dissenters.” (Mencius Moldbug)

The ‘redemption’ of the human race (from ‘the masters,’ that is) is going forward; everything is visibly becoming Judaized, Christianized, mobized (what do the words matter!). The progress of this poison through the entire body of mankind seems irresistible, its pace and tempo may from now on even grow slower, subtler, less audible, more cautious—there is plenty of time. (Genealogy of Morals)

The democratic religion of progress, or progressivism has shadowed us into the 21st Century. As Christopher Lasch would say of it “Once we recognize the profound differences between the Christian view of history, prophetic or millennarian, and the modern conception of progress, we can understand what was so original about the latter: not the promise of a secular Utopia that would bring history to a happy ending but the promise of steady improvement with no foreseeable ending at all. The expectation of indefinite, open-ended improvement, even more than the insistence that improvement can come only through human effort, provides the solution to the puzzle that is otherwise so baffling— the resilience of progressive ideology in the face of discouraging events that have shattered the illusion of utopia.”1

Yet, within the progressive ideology of improvement was a growing sense of distain as well, a sense that people needed to overcome their self-righteous priggery and resentment of the rich and powerful who were guiding them to the secular heaven-haven. From its beginnings a politics of pity and fear deepened the split between the “moneyed minority” and the poor majority, as liberals now thought of it. Progressive ideology originating in a powerful challenge to self-righteousness and resentment, ended by reinforcing the worst qualities in American liberalism: a sense of superiority to the unenlightened masses, a refusal to credit opponents with honorable intentions, a growing reluctance to submit their policies to public approval. (Lasch, p. 411) What ensued over time was the slow and methodical encroachment of a politics of ressentiment. From its beginnings modern democracies in Europe and America would devolve into the have’s and have not’s, the rich and poor: this failure of the egalitarian dream would turn into a politics of ressentiment in the Nietzschean sense of a growing sense of shame and guilt at having not only not progressed, improved one’s lot in life but that the world was rigged from the beginning. The common man on the street would come to believe that he was being exploited by a false hopes of improvement, a progressive world of justice, happiness, and success that would never come. History was not progressing, but rather was churning round and round in a decaying vat of enslavement in which he, the common man, was the central pawn in a false morality play, a victim in a charade in which the rich minority were the only victors.

At the heart of Nietzsche’s diagnosis of ressentiment (a French term taken over from his reading of Dostoyevsky translated into French)  is the brutal sense of a dark reactionary mentality, a spirit of misery and pain within the mind of the enslaved masses who are denied the ability to act against those who command and control their lives:

The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of natures that are denied the true reaction, that of deeds, and compensate themselves with an imaginary revenge. While every noble morality develops from a triumphant affirmation of itself, slave morality from the outset says No to what is “outside,” what is “different,” what is “not itself; and this No is its creative deed. This inversion of the value-positing eye—this need to direct one’s view outward instead of back to oneself—is of the essence of ressentiment: in order to exist, slave morality always first needs a hostile external world; it needs, physiologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act at all—its action is fundamentally reaction.2

This need of an external enemy against which one’s ressentiment can exact its “imaginary revenge”: a false reaction that entails a cowardly group consensus, a flagrant movement of anonymous and powerless force. Carl Schmitt in his critique of the liberal progressive spirit and politics of modernity developed the conceptual heuristics of conflict between the friend and enemy in an attempt to re-connect what in the twentieth century had become disconnected: the material existence of people and their interpretation of that experience.3 As Slomp states it Schmitt put forward his theory of the political and the friend/enemy principle in response to national and international crises and in order to address the problem of the growing danger of civil and global war. (Slomp, p. 7)

In this sense the friend/enemy distinction is one of inclusion/exclusion within the political itself. For Schmitt the politics of enmity (or, what Nietzsche termed ressentiment) is at the heart of modern democratic systems. The reversal of aristocratic values that began with the enlightenment in its overturning of the ancient/modern categories of thought and behavior would instill a hatred from the ancient forms of aristos in which the rule and governance of society was based upon both mental and physical prowess of the best, noblest, bravest, most virtuous. In this we see the conflict between hierarchical and non-hierarchical systems of privilege and democratic leveling come to the fore. It was against the hierarchical or ranking spirit that the modern democracies would form their defining category of tolerance: “Tolerance has progressed to such a degree that it has become a social police function, providing the existential pretext for new inquisitional institutions.”4 Whereas for Schmitt there should be no enmity within a political entity and no domestic friend/enemy groupings we’ve discovered lately that just this distinction has become the order of the day in our post-liberal democracies. Intolerance and bigotry, partisan politics of hate and enmity have become the mainstays of our supposed post-truth society.

One might say that our post-democratic world has become the hotbed of political Gnosticism in which as Leo Strauss once warned Schmitt to the fact that his definition of the political coincided with the Hobbesian state of nature and that his definition of depoliticization coincided with the Hobbesian political state.5  As Eric Voeglin in Science, Politics and Gnosticism: Two Essays once described it

Philosophy springs from the love of being; it is man’s loving endeavor to perceive the order of being and attune himself to it. Gnosis desires dominion over being; in order to seize control of being the gnostic constructs his system. The building of systems is a gnostic form of reasoning, not a philosophical one.6

For the Greeks of course Being and Harmonia were synonymous, while the heretical sects of the Gnostics – those post-Christian hermeunauts of the dark Archons would develop a reactionary vision of evil at the heart of the cosmos, an ontological evil within the very singular world of the human itself. At the core of political gnosis is the sense that the enemy is evil, and that with the depolitiicization of politics and its leveling to the state of violence in nature our era is bound to a Manichean vision of ressentiment in which the extremes of Left and Right take on the hues and colors (tropes) of the ancient Gnostics. The apolitical world of post-democracies has folded itself into a realm of pure hate in which the category of the other as enemy defines a mode of war of all against all. The irrationalist methodology of this apolitical world governed by a system that justifies its own construction as political artifice at the same time disallows any reaction or questioning of its formation as a system: it’s power to rule must be assumed as beyond all question and reproach. No alternatives will be tolerated.

The Enemy

How much reverence has a noble man for his enemies!—and such reverence is a bridge to love.—For he desires his enemy for himself, as his mark of distinction; he can endure no other enemy than one in whom there is nothing to despise and very much to honor! In contrast to this, picture “the enemy” as the man of ressentiment conceives him—and here precisely is his deed, his creation: he has conceived “the evil enemy,” “the Evil One,” and this in fact is his basic concept, from which he then evolves, as an afterthought and pendant, a “good one”—himself!

—Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

In our time the a-politics of ressentiment is at the core of the progressive Left and their intolerance of the Right. Both hatred of the Left for the Right and vice versa, and the leveling of politics to the state of Hobbesian nature, has left us living within what the ancient Gnostics termed the kenoma – the vastation or great emptiness of things. This Manichean vision of a global meltdown into anti-democratic civil war and decadence, intolerance, and extreme hatred pervades every aspect of our post-political society. Oh, we still pretend to democracy, we still allow the stage show of its mediatainment and academic charade to delude us into believing that democracy still lives. And, like obedient zombies we passively cannibalize the images that are fed to us daily by the simulacrum.

No one wants to admit that democracy is dead. To admit that would be to enter that final stage of nihilism that Nietzsche once prophesied through his masked wisdom bearer, Zarathustra:

But the worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests. Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself! And your way goes past yourself, and past your seven devils! You will be a heretic to yourself and witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and villain. You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?

It is the hatred of the impotent, of those without power – of those who resent the powerful and seek only revenge that have become the leading element of our post-democratic societies. “Human history would be altogether too stupid a thing without the spirit that the impotent have introduced into it,” says Nietzsche. Civil war and revolution are always from below, from the powerless and impotent worlds of ressentiment, where hatred and the dark counter-worlds of heresy and gnosis prevail in their fear and terror. Again, Nietzsche,

Observe the ages in the history of people when the scholar steps into the foreground: they are ages of exhaustion, often of evening and decline; overflowing energy, certainty of life and of the future, are things of the past. A predominance of mandarins always means something is wrong; so do the advent of democracy, international courts in place of war, equal rights for women, the religion of pity, and whatever other symptoms of declining life there are. (Genealogy)

Our post-democratic society shaped by the elite pundits of the academic and mediatainment industrial complex bound as they are by the post-liberal ideology of the Left, that sponsors a world based on political correctness in which speech, habits, and behaviours are policed and governed under the all pervasive eye of the neomedia social matrix – a digital tyranny that is at once a-political and intolerant of alternatives.

I’ve watched the growth of this intolerance over the past thirty years and how it has insinuated itself into the minds and hearts of the young and naïve, collapsed the old Leftist thought into an amalgam of multicultural rhetoric and deconstructive postmodern tropes through the imposition of French New Thought. And, yes, let us admit that most of our post-modern worldview is the dictatorship of French philosophical and non-philosophical discourse and its appropriation and absorption within the mainstream academic community across the globe. The anti-realist and anti-humanist core of this vision espoused by Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard, and a multitude of other intellectuals of the French lineage have become the hidden source within current post-philosophical discourse. Even those that espouse a new realism or speculative realism do so as antagonists of these post-modern masters of ressentiment.

The spirit of Pyrrho, Cynicism, Irony have all infiltrated our current mental landscapes. A certain callousness and cold lucidity works out its dark modes of thought and action within our post-political world. Even as politics is staged as a mediatainment extravaganza most citizens realize it is a simulacrum, a false world of images filled with Hollywood actors from a D rated flick. Our politicians are mere puppets on the Oligarchic strings of hidden power mongers and moneyed minions who think of themselves as a new aristoi or aristocracy, when in fact they are nothing but the inverse and perverse enactment of that ancient Ideal. No, our modern elite are mere panderers and mountebanks, Archons and secular devils in disguise whose actual power is like the Federal Reserve Bank, backed up by nothing but nothing.  This is the completed nihilism of ressentiment – the movement of the world into a final density of thought and being where apocalypse becomes the revelation or unveiling of the naked truth of our empty world, a world emptied of the degradation of the last human: our Kenoma.

“Man is something that shall be overcome. Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman – a rope over an abyss. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

  1. Lasch, Christopher. The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics (pp. 47-48). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
  2. Walter Kaufmann; R. J. Hollingdale; Friedrich Nietzsche. On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo (Kindle Locations 592-598). Vintage Books. Kindle Edition.
  3. Slomp, Gabriella. Carl Schmitt and the Politics of Hostility, Violence and Terror. Palgrave, 2009.
  4. Land, Nick. The Dark Enlightenment.
  5. Meir, Heinrich. Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss The Hidden Dialogues. University of Chicago, 1995.
  6. Voegelin, Eric. Science, Politics and Gnosticism: Two Essays (Kindle Locations 570-572). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

4 thoughts on “The Decadence of Democracies: Ressentiment, Hatred, and the Enemy

  1. “All legitimate mainstream thought on Earth today is descended from the American Puritans, and through them the English Dissenters.” and “everything is visibly becoming Judaized, Christianized” may be the two most important factors in Western thought, in my opinion. Though Asia in a large way is becoming Westernized, there is still hope in that huge swaths of Earth’s population has not fed into the narrative we as European-Americans have bought—that everything originates with the bible-story. I am still convinced that Jewish writers, philosophers and comedians: Karl Marx, Freud, Spinoza; Philip Roth, Saul Bellows; Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, Mort Saul, to name only a few, are followed, revered and loved because they are so entwined in our psyche. We were raised on their language of words from childhood by the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah and his Flood, Christ and his disciples. These were all fabrications of the Hebraic mind. In this sense we have inherited that legacy by virtue of being “christianized”. Maybe this is why Hitler hated them so; why anti-semitism is so rampant in our society. Even the Muslim faith owes its roots to the Abrahamic God. Asians do not. And, as far as I know, they are not anti-Semitic. Is it resentment? Perhaps. Chafing at the bit? An attempt to throw off the yoke of religious oppression by attacking it at the root? Maybe. I’ve had to lose that thinking, and separate people from their religious beliefs, view them as individuals, lose the leash Peter King describes in your article: “Tolerance is simply bigotry on a leash – and no matter how strong the leash might seem, it could always snap at any moment.” I’m not going to let bigotry rule me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • To make my point, I think what you’re saying here is true. America was a great country because we made attempts at treating each other with dignity. We vilified the bigot, shut down the racist. We made great efforts at raising the black man, the immigrant and the indigenous Indian to an equal standing. With the New America, we’ve lost that. We have become the bigotry cut loose from its leash.

      Liked by 1 person

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