The Long Dark Tunnel of Resentment
I have been reading Max Scheler's Ressentiment, an analysis of the inversion of moral values that occurs when someone who is in an inferior position, unable to strike out openly in vengeance and wrath, and unable to eliminate the condition that makes him feel inferior, turns the virtues of the superior into vices, and sees his own hatred, weakness, envy, and vindictiveness as virtues. Nietzsche said that Christianity was a religion of ressentiment, but Scheler corrects him on that crucial point, affirming the generous rejoicing in excellence that characterizes the saint. If saints strive with one another, it is in the happiness of giving. They are indifferent to that bourgeois competition, says Scheler, which takes the place of the saintly and the courtly, and which perceives inequality as at best a necessary evil, and at worst an evil to be obliterated, even at the cost of liberty or of many a masterwork that never will be wrought.
The premise of political ressentiment in our time is that if laws were just and if people were not racist or sexist or whatever else is considered opprobrious, equality would result. But what if the premise is not true? What if the condition that galls, the condition of inferiority in some respect that the man or woman of ressentiment cannot forget, is irremediable, because it is a fact of nature generally, or of the nature of the individual in question? What if it is remediable, but only by a cultural renewal that, with all the good will and determination in the world, must require two or three generations to accomplish?
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Anthony Esolen is the author of over thirty books, including Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Ignatius). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House). He and his wife Debra publish a web magazine, Word and Song (anthonyesolen.substack.com), on poetry, hymnody, language, classic films, and music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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