On Ressentiment: The Post-Liberal Blues?

Why so much ressentiment? I sometimes think the Left has forgotten it was once strong rather than weak, and has in this age of fragmentation become both stultifying and resentful. Are we seeing the End Game of Liberalism playing out? Is this the death of politics and democracy?

As Kierkegaard long ago said:

“The ressentiment which is establishing itself is the process of leveling, and while a passionate age storms ahead setting up new things and tearing down old, raising and demolishing as it goes, a reflective and passionless age does exactly the contrary; it hinders and stifles all action; it levels. Leveling is a silent, mathematical, and abstract occupation which shuns upheavals. In a burst of momentary enthusiasm people might, in their despondency, even long for a misfortune in order to feel the powers of life, but the apathy which follows is no more helped by a disturbance than an engineer leveling a piece of land.”

—Søren Kierkegaard, The Present Age

Nietzsche would put it in much harsher terms:

“It is not surprising that the lambs should bear a grudge against the great birds of prey, but that is no reason for blaming the great birds of prey for taking the little lambs. And when the lambs say among themselves, “These birds of prey are evil, and he who least resembles a bird of prey, who is rather its opposite, a lamb,—should he not be good?” then there is nothing to carp with in this ideal’s establishment, though the birds of prey may regard it a little mockingly, and maybe say to themselves, “We bear no grudge against them, these good lambs, we even love them: nothing is tastier than a tender lamb.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality

Haven’t we seen this of the Left since the Fall of Communism? Despair, defeatism, victimization… lashing out, envious, jealous, raging… a sense of futility and apathy? Reflective, passionless… the endless dialogues, speeches, conferences, journals, books: a parade of thought rather than action, a world bereft of change and yet circling round and round the reflections of an empty void, a self-reflecting nothingness (Zizek)?

According to Kierkegaard, ressentiment occurs in a “reflective, passionless age”, in which the populace stifles creativity and passion in passionate individuals. Kierkegaard argues that individuals who do not conform to the masses are made scapegoats and objects of ridicule by the masses, in order to maintain status quo and to instill into the masses their own sense of superiority.

According to Nietzsche, the more a person is active, strong-willed, and dynamic, the less place and time is left for contemplating all that is done to them, and their reactions (like imagining they are actually better) become less compulsive. The reaction of a strong-willed person, when it happens, is ideally a short action: it is not a prolonged filling of their intellect.

So many Leftist journals and in-groups have for a while now undermined their own message, derided those within their own cadre. Are we playing an end game of decadence, here? All democrats in the supposed media zoo can do is resent Trump, rather than speak to the urgent needs of rebuilding the Party. To me this shows that the Party is over, done, caput… maybe, as I’ve surmised for a while both politics and democracy are over. If so, what next?

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