Ethics philosophy Philosophy Proper ReformedExistentialist

That Hideous Subversion Part I: Nietzsche’s Ressentiment and Neo-Liberal Fanaticism

That lambs dislike great birds of prey does not seem strange: only if one gives it no ground for reproaching these birds of prey for bearing off little lambs. And if the lambs say among themselves: ‘these birds of prey are evil; and whoever is least like a bird of prey, but rather its opposite, a lamb — would he not be good?1‘”  -Friedrich Nietzsche

What is Ressentiment?

Ressentiment is a moral or religious usurpation in act or attitude which attempts to negate the strength of presiding entities by the objections of the weak. Ressentiment features itself as an objection of morality, a trump card of principle, which is enacted through the compliance of those in power to the demands of the weak subversively favoring human weakness as a form of vengeance. It is a ruse and slight of hand which levels individual and corporate strength through principles of religion and morality. This idea was formulated by the nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche which critiqued morality and religion in order to understand them as restrictive elements which hinder the trajectory of man’s potential. As Nietzsche expressed it, ressentiment emphasized a moral usurpation of human strength by moral philosophy and the crucified Jesus followed by his moralistic disciples. The mounted univocation positing that Socrates and Christians throughout the centuries weakened man through asphyxiated structures imposed upon humanity’s strength finds itself to be a true and actual occurrence observed upon the plane of human interaction. This consists of a dominant interplay between the weak and the strong whereby the powerful are restricted through some religious or moral incentive (these questions, which history has already answered, indicate the present pervasiveness of the triumph of weakness: did the morality of Socrates limit the impulses of Dionysus?/did the frailty of Jesus restrict the strength of the Roman empire?).

Even if this is admittedly true, is the ironic triumph of weakness in man inherent in Christianity indicative of an ultimate degeneration of human strength? All moral structures are an effort to restrict an individual priority of power and redirect it to serve the good or to serve God. Strength, utilized by Christianity and moral philosophy, is a point of an individual’s service, not a point of personal advantage over people or circumstance. Nietzsche’s comments on Socrates in Twilight of the Idols displays the extent of his condemnation of Socratic thought to illustrate this degeneration: “Socrates was a misunderstanding; the entire morality of improvement was a misunderstanding…the harshest daylight, rationality at all costs, life bright, cold, cautious, conscious, instinct-free, instinct-resistant: this itself was just an illness, a different illness, a different – and definitely not a way back to ‘virtue’, ‘health’, happiness…To have to fight against the instincts – this is the formula for decadence: so long as life is ascendant, happiness equals ascent.2” For Nietzsche’s Socrates, the pursuit of something higher than desire, to see the quality of life as something more than “appetite” and less than the triumph of conquest, is to commit an unacceptable sacrifice of strength on the altar of weakness. The mortification of metaphysical priority in exchange for blind and constant hunger calls for the subjugation of all things to power without question or priority. Man has nothing more to serve than himself, nothing higher to pursue than what he wants. No other purpose and no higher reason can possibly steer him away from this. What is the result? Socrates (according to Nietzsche) is subject to ressentiment against what was dominant in him – the strength of his own passions.

Ressentiment As Irony With Noted Movements of Agreement and Divergence Resulting In a New Paradox

To demand of strength that it should not express that strength, that it should not be a desire to overcome, a desire to throw down, a desire to become master, a thirst for enemies and resistances and triumphs, it is just as absurd to demand of weakness that it should express itself as strength.3 -Friedrich Nietzsche

Ressentiment is the ironic play of strength (the ruse) from the high grounds of morality and religion (the contradictors of nature) cast by the weak (moralists and Christians) upon the powerful (those uninhibited by moral and religious restraint) to ensnare them. Nietzsche leaves no room for the inherent paradox in history (the Incarnation) and in his own time when he ignores this fact: weakness did express itself as strength, and the advent of Christianity changed the world. Regardless of the absurdity of it, Christianity deposed the powerful through the absurd coalescence of power and weakness convening together in the paradoxical incarnation of God (“the foolishness of God is wiser than men”).

Where Christianity agrees with Nietzsche is when it confirms weakness as a moral and religious cast restricting the unlimited appetite of human power. This delimitation happened when God became man, and it also occurs when the followers of Jesus “make not provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Those who have faith bear their cross and “put to death the deeds of the body” while seeking to become the “servant of all.” Perhaps the most daring aspect of servanthood is to “love your enemies” (in this case the identity of a servant is indistinguishable from its more forceful synonym, slave). How can one not look at the example of Jesus dying on the cross for his enemies and not see that his love brought him to unmediated suffering in weakness? Christianity through this example and the call to follow Jesus agrees with the Nietzschean notion that moral and religious restraints are the establishment of weakness in human life. The action of men upon these teachings completely restricts the unfocused potential of power and places it beneath the will of God in pursuit of Christ’s incarnate example. When you serve others, you give to them your strength rather than taking their strength from them. Humility is the opposite movement of pride in the same way that weakness is the opposite movement of human power (“he was crucified in weakness”), and to descend to need is not to rise through self-indulgence. By this example, the road to God is not known as an immediate triumph over others, apprehending their error through the narrow rightness of one’s beliefs, the popularity of Christian truth, its prosperity, or anything else that may benefit the individual or collective people over other. Rather, the road to God is known as a long and descending path of humility in pursuit of Jesus. Simply put, it is strength sacrificed to the purposes of God.

Where the observed phenomenon of ressentiment qualitatively diverges is when it establishes that reasons for weakness (moral or religious) are not valid to adopt and practice in human experience. This also has an effect on whether or not the goal of weakness is a form of revenge against human strength. Nietzsche’s caricature of Christianity and moralism diverge from Christianity because the latter does not avenge itself against another. To pity those in need—the diseased, ugly, and unwise or those who are malformed in mind and body—in such a way as to not exploit or reject their presence is motivated by a view of tarnished man that exalts him as the image of God no matter what his weakness is. The weakness of man is not dispensed with to assume strength, but the strength of man is subservient to the presence of weakness. Not to eliminate or rule, but to serve and transform it graciously. An emphasis which denies that harmony between people is a priority and sees love as a form of “pity” which has no justification in human society eliminates what makes humanity capable of strength. When you serve others, you make them strong. You enrich them with a sense of priority that will offer them some measure of relief and strength. Otherwise, what then is the solution? Is it to rid the weak from our midst and to condition society to only accept with love that which is strong and robust? Is it to “lock up” priests and pastors as such because a contrary perspective threatens “public morality” as Nietzsche curiously suggests at the conclusion of The Anti-Christ? When human power becomes an unlimited priority, what is left of humanity, and who can reconcile its divergences? Nothing becomes sustainable but power, and even that is bound to collapse because humanity as a resource can only last for so long under such conditions. Christianity justifies weakness in order to potentiate love. Nietzsche condemns it to potentiate power. These delineated points of agreement and disagreement are the distinctive backdrop for the modern paradox of ressentiment as amorality and moral practice with the illusive opinions interchanging between marginalized and general perception within the realm of popular opinion. The paradox takes shape in two ways: it is amoral, or immoral, and it is without actual basis in reality but applies itself as an anti-morality while taking shape as the marginalization of the general and the generalization of the marginal. The modern paradox to be observed possesses the mediating character of irony because it is an appearance of instinctual perversity that has within it the components of both moral justification and the trajectory of a new identity. The first category is shared by Christianity and moral philosophy. The second is uniquely Christian and indirectly parodies the Pauline doctrine of the new creation.

Paradox Mediated Through Irony

Although Nietzsche sees Christianity and preceding moral philosophy as committing the transgression of ressentiment, it might be more clearly observed as a modern social manifestation or cultural phenomenon stripped of all moralistic and religious garb as an act of vengeance. Ressentiment finds its expression from small to great measures: ressentiment is your little brother asking you to play as a weaker video game character simply because you are better at the game than him, because he thinks it’s the fair thing to do; it’s the person who likes a photo of someone else on social media out of envy and covetousness (the exchange of individual priority to desire a thing that others ascribe value to); it’s the perspective that competitive sports don’t make winners because everybody is a winner (a leveling athletic phenomenon justifying weakness as the moral uniting factor); it’s minority groups seeking to punish others and denounce them based on their distinctive strength from the delusional platform of a moral high ground justified by an internal or external sense of alienation. Nietzsche had to reach retrospectively history and identify when primal weakness was usurped by moral philosophy and Christianity. In his day, Christianity was still the dominant intellectual position of the time. Because of this, perhaps, it could best be argued that his distinction did not distinguish him as someone who exposed moral philosophy and Christianity as a usurpation of the strong by the weak, but rather exposed him as an ironic subject of his own thinking. Whatever the case, his paradigm exists today even though the past and present contexts are very different.

In America, Christian religion exists increasingly as a diminishing substance and a lengthening shadow resulting in a strange form of instinctivism. However, this instinctivism is not an actual return to the strength of the pre-Socratic Greeks, as Nietzsche would have idealized, but an unresolved contradiction between the priority of potentiated love and potentiated power that ultimately results in ressentiment. As far as power goes, whatever you want you should get through a social platform. You should acquire this whatever the cost, without respect to any truth outside of your opinion and the opinion of those who agree with you. The potentiation of love is the mirage of moral intent and farce of a new identity solidified by social acceptance. The problem with this lies in the fact that there is no new identity that can be real or moral cause that can be championed without a movement by the transcendent God. Any motioning of these higher realities is irrational; any paradigm for behavior beyond individual and collective imagination is seen as restrictive.

Many people in America experience this contradistinction in the weight of a cultural shift whereby a Christian nation has become an increasingly atheistic society. This leaves a void in identity and moral value. The ironic evidence of this void finds its bearing in persons like Nkechi Amare Diallo (born Rachel Dolezal) who self-identified as a black American and who successfully became an N.A.A.C.P president in Spokane, WA. The “ruse” (as an article in The New York Times aptly called it) consisted of a fabricated narrative identifying her as a black American (instinctivism conjoined to a fabricated sense of morality). Unlike Nietzsche’s Socrates, her ressentiment had nothing to do with the truth about reality sought by the practice of dialectical inquiry, but it was maintained through the incarnation of a farce which in the place of a moral premise served a moral point of application (perhaps Nietzsche would equivocate these two subjects of observation). Rachel Dolezal commits ressentiment by assuming a civil rights vesture. To restrict the powerful, the oppressor, herself, she identifies as something she is not and gives it an imaginary moral dimension of beneficence.

How Is Dolezal a Paradoxical Figure Subject To Ironic Considerations?

Nietzsche says in his book On the Geneology of Morals:

The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment itself becomes creative and  of natures that are denied the true reaction, that of deeds, and compensate themselves with 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 a reaction.4

The creative aspect of Dolezal’s ressentiment was the assumption of a completely new identity through a fabricated narrative. This narrative adopted a deep sense of value for the racially marginalized, but it involved a restriction of personal identity (trans-ethnicism) in order to promulgate a seemingly moral cause. Here is the anti-morality subsuming morality by paradox: in order to really identify as herself, she is ultimately removed from herself and her identity is transfigured into fictitious proportions. The irony is that a lie is justifiable and that through this someone may find a new way by which to create themselves, through which to be true to reality. What is this but the cover up of instinctual perversity? What is this but getting what you want at all costs and making it moral to do so? Her moral obligation, which was contextualized through her involvement with the N.A.A.C.P., was a reaction to the external world, a reaction against injustice and marginalization (very real causes that should be rightly championed). But what is left of Rachel Dolezal? There is no right view of actual self in her paradigm, only an untrue identity which reacts against an unjust world through the tragic medium of a farce. Was her sense of value actually value at all in a proper sense if her ethnicity and new identity are fabrications of an imaginative dimension? Any reaction through this medium can hardly be considered good but can reasonably be considered an illegitimizing act of vengeance upon herself and upon a history of oppression, not a moral act. Her “no” to reality is a negation of who she is in favor of an identity and world that exists fundamentally in her imagination and cannot be credibly mediated from there to reality.


  1. Friedrich Nietzsche, Basic Writings of Existentialism. Edited by Gordon Marino: Modern Library, 2004
  2. Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols And Other Writings. Edited by Aaron Ridley and Judith Norman: Cambridge University Press, 2010
  3. Friedrich Nietzsche, Basic Writings of Existentialism. Edited by Gordon Marino: Modern Library, 2004
  4. Friedrich Nietzsche, Basic Writings of Existentialism. Edited by Gordon Marino: Modern Library, 2004


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