Circling of thoughts

Thinking about a reaction that has not been carried out or is considered ‘wrong’ always triggers similar emotions. It also sensitizes to similar injuries. This tyranny of obsessive thinking takes hold especially when we no longer keep a distance from our emotions and thus cut ourselves off from our more subtle feelings.

When you overthink you look through the distorted lens of your negative mood, then follow the brightly lit paths in your brain to the negative nodes. All these paths are connected by your negative mood, so as you leave one negative node, you immediately go down another brightly lit path to another negative node.”1

Suction of emotions

On the one hand, emotions have the potential to wake us up and guide us in making vital decisions. On the other hand, they can become dangerous if we follow their pull blindly, either in thought or action. Once strong emotions have completely dominated our lives, feelings lose the ability to navigate us through life.

To know our direction in life, our feelings and emotions must provide us with information instead of dominating us. Nevertheless, we must get hold of emotions before they flood us with their full intensity. Peter Levine mentions two important techniques that can help us to sense emotions before they become too strong:

Awareness and embodiment

When we notice that obsessive ruminating begins to overshadow the more subtle nuances of feeling, the intention helps to consciously return to those subtle sensations. Even when it is difficult, especially in situations in which we feel powerless at the mercy of emotions, we have to keep this distance. Only when we can take an observing position do we make these gentle feelings heard. In this way, our intuition can give us clues as to why we are reacting so strongly emotionally to those situations or sentences.

Restraint enables us to tame emotions and make friends with them so that they can guide us. In this way, we can become aware of the subliminal flow of our emotions before they get out of control. The tools we use to do this are the twin sisters’ awareness and embodiment.”2


An observational attitude makes the more subtle aspects of feeling accessible. However, if this distance is missing, there is a risk of infinite feedback between emotions and thoughts. Because when we go into the emotion without distance, the loud emotional reaction will always dominate us and our reactions repeat themselves eternally and senselessly. The thought process, which might help us to solve the problems, that were raised by the emotions, then itself re-evokes emotions. Emotional thinking itself becomes the problem. Therefore, Patanjali distinguishes in the Yoga Sutra ‘Buddhi‘- the mental ability to distinguish, from ‘Manas‘ – a mere mental activity that does not always lead to more clarity.

If […] our physical sensations and feelings are clearly communicated, the worrying decreases, and our creativity and sense of meaning increases […]. By uncoupling the complex of sensation-thought-emotion, the experience moves towards more subtle, freer shades of feeling. This restraint is not suppression, but allows the creation of a larger ‘vessel‘ and thus opens up a wider range of experience to hold and differentiate sensations and feelings.”3


When emotions trigger certain thoughts by ‘translating’ them into feelings, these thoughts become emotionally charged. At the same time, they associate with the situation that triggered both, the emotions and the thoughts associated with them. These thoughts, set in motion by felt emotions, can in turn take on a life of their own. They work beyond the actual emotional wave and in turn evoke new emotions.

“According to scientific findings, all thoughts are filed in the mind’s memory bank under a filing system based on the associated feeling and its finer gradations (Gray-LaViolette, 1982). They are filed according to feeling tone, not fact. Consequently, there is a scientific basis for the observation that self-awareness is increased much more rapidly by observing feelings rather than thoughts.”4

Trigger for the realization-process

Feelings are at first just hints from the body that disturb the flow of thoughts to make us aware of something. Antonio Damasio shows in his cultural-historical observation ‘The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures‘, how feelings initiated the most important cultural developments. In the history of mankind, emotions and the feelings they aroused triggered processes of problem-solving. The insights that emerged from this process eventually led to cultural achievements.

Mental turmoil

The source of the feeling is life on the tightrope, balancing between prosperity and death. Therefore feelings are mental turmoil, disturbing or magnificent, gentle or intense. They can excite us subtly and more intellectually, but they can also be violent and insistent so that they demand our full attention. Even in their most positive form, they tend to violate peace and disturb the tranquillity.”5

This consideration of the emergence of cultural achievements from problems makes it clear that feelings are necessary to trigger our intellectual development. Feelings are mental phenomena, but they refer to physical processes or states.

Nuances and transitions

We can feel the skin and the inside of the body; body contact; the erotic attraction of a close, desired body; the speed with which a body approaches us; physical and psychological pain; energy; an offense, emotion, mood, or state of mind (nervousness, pleasure, tension); aesthetic pleasure or sublimity; but also the intangible and ephemeral, such as the connection to another person or the absence of it; inner emptiness or fulfillment; as well as an infinite number of nuances and transitions, which Robert Musil has so masterfully captured in his stories ‘Three Women‘.

Feelings and Emotions

While emotions can be recognized by the expression, feelings are not apparent to outsiders. Feelings can be defined more precisely as “sensory patterns that become conceptions, and which are signaling pain, pleasure, and emotions.”6

Antonio Damasio defines emotions as ‘complex stereotyped patterns of reaction‘. They “include secondary [or social] emotions [such as embarrassment, jealousy, envy, shame, guilt, pride], primary emotions [joy, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust] and background emotions [tension or relaxation, exhaustion or drive, discomfort or well-being, fear or anticipation].7

Regulatory function of emotions

Emotions are triggered automatically. They have a regulatory, homeostatic function, i.e. they should restore a balance disturbed by internal or external circumstances. In addition, they ideally lead to the creation of favorable conditions for the organism.

In organisms equipped with consciousness, consciousness can support the regulating effect of emotions. Only by feeling emotions can they become the ‘object’ of perception. By conveying the feelings, emotions become accessible to knowledge.

As perceptions, those emotions and drives come to the surface of consciousness and can thus penetrate the mental process. On the other hand, they can also be permeated by the mental process, as is the case with writing about feelings. The body raises questions with its emotions and moods. However, through feelings of happiness, which we want to experience repeatedly, the body also provides clues that can lead to new insights.


From a functional point of view, physical/sensory emotions are the compass by which we orient ourselves in our life. They allow us to assess what is of value to us, what we include in our life, or what we need to adapt to. […] Feelings based on sensations control the adaptive reactions to what we value. Emotions, on the other hand, occur precisely when behavioral adaptations (based on these assessments) have failed. […] A person who can run away from a threat unhindered does not feel fear.”8

Without the turmoil of felt emotions, thinking would have no challenge, and could not evolve. It would also lack a certain depth that binds thinking to existence. Emotions not only initiate mental developments by ‘disturbing‘ the flow of thoughts. Even more, they are indispensable for existential decision processes. This becomes very clear when areas of the brain responsible for emotions fail.

Avidya, the root of all emotional involvements

Patañjali calls these disturbing emotions ‘Kleshas‘, the obstacles on the yoga path. The second chapter of the Yoga-Sutra (‘Sadhana Padha‘) deals with these Kleshas and their modes of action, among other things.

Sutra II.3. ‘avidya–asmita–raga–dvesha–abhinivesah-kleshah

Avidya (misapprehension about the real nature of things), Asmita (egoism), Raga (attachment), Dvesha (aversion), and Abhinivesa (fear of death) are the five Kleshas (afflictions).9

Avidya, the confusion of the seer (‘Purusha‘) with the seen (‘Prakrti‘) is the breeding ground for all other Kleshas. This is why Patanjali positions Avidya before all other Kleshas. Asmita is our identification with body, mind, organs of perception, and action. It expresses itself as pride, egocentricity, arrogance, as well as feelings of inferiority, self-pity, sadness, limitedness, and stubbornness; raga expresses itself as addiction, desire, jealousy, envy, greed, longing, and passion; Dvesha as aversion, disgust, anger, rage, wrath, hate; Abhinivesha as survival instinct, fear, fear of death.

Weak, sleeping, interrupted, or active

According to Patañjali in Sutra 2.4, these Kleshas can be present in different stages. They can occur as ‘prasupta‘ (sleeping), ‘tanu‘ (weak), ‘vicchinna‘ (interrupted) or ‘udara‘ (active). Kleshas wake up as soon as we perceive or remember appropriate events such as provocations or insults. A Klesha can also be interrupted by another, different Klesha.

The activation of a certain Klesha, in turn, triggers certain ‘Vrittis‘ (thought processes) that follow certain patterns. Samskaras in turn generate thought processes that carry out the wishes, tendencies, or dislikes of the Kleshas. Thus, they create further thoughts and actions, which in turn lead to new Samskaras and finally to Karma.

Thoughts that cause suffering

Patañjali, therefore, distinguishes between ‘klishta‘ (suffering-producing) and ‘aklishta’ (not suffering-producing) thought processes. He also differentiates between ‘Pramana‘ (correct perception), ‘Viparyaya‘ (wrong perception or error), ‘Vikalpa‘ (conceptions), and ‘Smrti‘ (memory).

This distinction of mental activities is important for the development of ressentiment. Since usually memories of earlier experiences (‘Smrti‘) lead to ‘Viparyaya‘ (‘false perception‘) and subsequently to ‘klishta Vritti‘ (‘thoughts which cause suffering‘).


When a person is traumatized, his/her beliefs are extremely narrow and cumbersome. Examples of these rock-solid beliefs, which work like mantras inwardly, are sentences such as: ‘You cannot trust people’. ‘The world is a dangerous place’ or ‘I am not lovable’. These beliefs are often associated with primal fears and are mostly negative and restrictive. I coined the term premature knowledge for these obstructive prejudices.10

However, unlike trauma, the inhibition or shifting of the counter-impulse in ressentiment is very slow. Above all, it is not a physical process, but a mental process based on imagination and weak, hurtful thinking. Although, as in the case of retraumatization, it can also trigger emotions.

Re-living with delay

Ressentiment is the repeated living through and reliving of a certain emotional response against another, which causes that emotion to deepen and sink deeper into the center of the personality and thus move away from the person’s zone of expression and action. This repeated experience and afterlife of the emotion is very different from a mere intellectual memory of it […]. It is a re-experiencing of the emotion itself – a feeling, a re-feeling.”11

According to Max Scheler, the most important starting point for a ressentiment is the impulse of revenge, a reaction to a perceived insult. The inhibition and postponement of the reaction arise from a feeling of helplessness.

The comparison between the emergence of trauma and ressentiment should not imply that trauma must necessarily be followed by a ressentiment. Even if the trauma implies an experience of violence, the traumatized person does not have to react with thoughts of revenge. And even if such thoughts appear: A ressentiment will only arise when the impulses for revenge accumulate into an addiction to revenge. This happens, when we repeatedly suppress and postpone these impulses until ‘the next time’.

Revenge impulses

Impulses of revenge lead to the formation of ressentiment all the more, the more the feeling of revenge becomes actual vindictiveness. As this process advances, the direction of the revenge impulse shifts to indefinite object circles, which only have to have certain characteristics in common. The more this happens, the less this vindictiveness is satisfied by carrying out revenge on a certain object. When vengeance has occurred, incidents that can lead to an internal act of revenge are instinctively sought (without a conscious act of will), or intentions to hurt are perceived in all possible actions and utterances of others that were not intended to be hurtful. The existing vengeance is looking for opportunities to break out.12

Suppression of revenge

According to Scheler, the suppression of the original impulse for revenge is becoming increasingly subtle. Thus, first, we suppress the violations of self-esteem, then the fantasies of revenge, and finally even the revenge impulse itself.

But what does revenge mean anyway? […] Revenge […] means: pushing, driving, drifting, chasing, stalking. […] The revengeful reenactment resists in advance what it took revenge on. It opposes it in such a way that it belittles it in order to put itself in a superior position over the belittled and thus to restore its own validity, which is believed to be the only one. For, the desire for revenge is driven by the feeling of being defeated and damaged.”13

Envy: the ‘right’ to compare

Max Scheler emphasizes that a ‘certain equality of the violator with the injured‘ is part of the development of ressentiment. For if the person to whom we compare, reaches far above our own position or capacity, this can become a threat to our self-esteem and finally trigger a ressentiment.

The ultimate charge of ressentiment must therefore arise in a society, in which, as in ours, roughly equal political and other rights or publicly recognized, formal social equality goes hand in hand with very large differences in factual power, factual property, and factual education: in which everyone has the ‘right’ to compare with everyone else, and yet, in fact, cannot compare him/herself.”14

Status through work?

Urban sociologist Richard Sennett gives another reason for envious comparisons. These are particularly common where people from different classes come together. Because of a new idea of work, we are ‘personalizing‘ the social class. In other words, we attribute a person’s status to his/her professional achievements, without taking other factors into account. This personalization of the class means that everyone has to compare him/herself with everyone else. Therefore, social status takes on an existential significance.

Unlike inherited privileges, the idea of meritocracy states that status in society should depend on how good someone is at his/her work. […] Meritocracy combines the belief in equal starting conditions with the legitimacy of unequal results. […] Although industrial capitalism did very little to create a level playing field for young people […] the unequal outcomes were nevertheless attributed to talent or drive or some other personal characteristics rather than to circumstances in which individuals could do little to change them.15

Felt dependency

Since the suppression of the impulse for revenge often results from a (perceived) dependency, Friedrich Nietzsche speaks of ‘slave morality‘ with regard to ressentiment. He characterizes the perspective of ressentiment in the ‘Genealogy of Morality‘ mainly as envious looking up from ‘slaves‘ to ‘masters‘ or from ‘below‘ to ‘above‘.

While all noble morality grows out of a triumphant saying ‘yes’ to oneself, Slave morality says from the start ‘no’ to an ‘outside’, to an ‘other’ to a ‘non-self’: and this ‘no’ is its creative act. The reversal of the appreciative gaze – this necessary direction from outside instead of back to oneself – is just part of the ressentiment.16

Ressentiment of the weak?

But ressentiment and envy – as can be seen from Xenophobia – is not always directed ‘upwards‘. Envy can be directed against competitors. But, as in the case of ‘Resentment of Distinction’, it can even be aimed at socially weaker sections of the population.

[Nietzsche] remains tied to conservative elite thinking in which criticism of ressentiment is part of a cultural war from above that seeks to delegitimize claims of lower strata and classes as envy and ressentiment […] But his considerations can be fruitful if they are freed from their elitist foreshortening. Ressentiment then means much more than just an envious ‘slave revolt’.”17

Political profit

Like Scheler, the author Reinhard Olschanski emphasizes in ‘Ressentiment. About the Poisoning of European Spirit‘ that ressentiment is fairly evenly distributed across all strata, classes, and ranks of society. Nevertheless, ressentiment can divide society, when politicians instrumentalize it for their agenda. It is precisely this instrumentalization of ressentiment by political right-wing parties that is currently booming in Europe (and not only there). Therefore, it is more important than ever to understand the emotional logic of ressentiment.

Right-wing politicians of all countries exploit the mechanism of projective identification, inherent in ressentiment, by loudly expressing the resentful ‘needs‘ of their voters. This mechanism consists of projecting repressed parts of the self onto an outside, perceived as hostile. Desired parts, on the other hand, are appropriated in an identification without distance. The populist seditionist reflects in this appropriation the narcissistic power fantasies of his voters. At the same time, he embodies the ‘strength’ and quick-wittedness that the voter lacks.


The Dutch right-wing populist Geert Wilders, for example, followed precisely this logic of ressentiment. In a denunciatory action, Wilders stylized the free access of citizens from eastern EU member states to the European labor market as a target of envy.

With his Freedom Party PVV […] he set up a ‘Meldepunt Midden- en Oost-Europeanen’, a reporting point for ‘disturbances’ by Central and Eastern Europeans which allegedly result from the free movement of persons: ‘Are you being harassed by (Central and Eastern) Europeans?’ – This is a question on the website of the reporting point. ‘Or have you lost your job to a Pole, Bulgarian, Romanian, or other Central and Eastern European? We would like to hear it. Other problems that could be reported on the reporting form, together with ‘problems you experienced yourself’, were pollution, lack of parking space, drunkenness, rotting, integration, and accommodation problems.18

Who complains is ‘right’

In this exemplary action, a typical form of the ‘new ressentiment‘ or ‘New Right‘ becomes evident. The new ressentiment associates in an underhanded strategy the ‘neo-liberal complaints policy‘ with xenophobic prejudices and resentful feelings of envy.

The new ressentiment is part of a policy that seeks to make political capital out of the long-practiced de-solidarization by deducing the social problems that have arisen from it to the supposed characteristics of another culture.”19

Reversal of cause and effect

After the ‘victims’ of the ressentiment have projected everything onto the strangers that is not compatible with the ego ideal, the strangers become the ’cause’ of their impotence. This ‘logic’ of ressentiment does not only confuse cause and effect but also reverse values. When envy leads to a threat to self-worth, ultimately only that which lies within our limited possibilities can be recognized as worthy. Thus, our worldview and ability to appreciate become very restricted.

When this happens, all values are pulled down, which ultimately leads to the defamation of the world and its values. By the ‘reversal of the appreciative gaze‘ – to speak with Nietzsche’s words – Wilder’s action is obviously intended to ‘create’ a map of the devalued exterior and the thereby upgraded interior.

Disgust: internalization of enemy constructions

Following the twisted line of argument of the ‘New Right‘, the minorities declared to be the enemy should also be stigmatized as disgusting ‘abjects’ by using keywords such as ‘pollution’, ‘drunkenness’, ‘loser’.

This is a common practice in the construction of the enemy image, the last step of which is the dehumanization of the opponent. After the PVV under Geert Wilders had already won over 15 percent of the vote in 2010 by fomenting Islamophobia, Wilders had found the next scapegoats. In addition to the object of the ‘harassment‘, in this action, the ‘victims‘ of ‘disturbances‘ should indicate both, the origin of the ‘disturber‘ and the place where the disturbance took place.

Channel of hate

The mental mapping that Wilders undertakes is also so disturbing because it seeks to colonize the most elementary operations of orientation, display, and indexing, for the spatial occupation of ressentiment. The project of ressentiment does not consist precisely in designating the wound, but rather in the paradoxical attempt to split off this [wound] by means of its symptoms and move it outwards. The symptomatic identification of the enemy becomes its therapy program. Here it creates its […] channel of hatred and the object that it floods with its hatred.”20

The populist politics based on envy and ressentiment has also led to more repressive laws, which persecute even the smallest disturbance of the public with prison sentences. By focusing on groups that are already marginalized, the social hierarchy is once again publicly reinforced and cemented. It starts with the police in France, for example, increasingly patrolling banlieue settlements, where the proportion of immigrants from the former French colonies is very high. Young migrants in particular are under general suspicion.

Punishment as a selection process

In the United States, African Americans and Hispanics make up the bulk of the growing prison population. Often innocent accused remain in pre-trial confinement for months or even years and are only released if they plead guilty to an offense that they have often not even committed. These are predominantly ‘offenses’ that cannot be proven, as they are only based on the statements of police officers – such as ‘resistance to state power‘ or ‘insulting officials’. These forced ‘confessions’ or self-accusations not only confirm again and again the prejudices of the police, the judges, and the population. They are also reflected in the criminal record of the accused, which in turn has economic consequences for those affected.

Over the past 20 years, the rate of bail-to-trial releases and bail-offs have increased steadily in the United States. Regardless of the gravity of the allegations, the economic selection process has thus become a significant source of discrimination with regard to maintaining pre-trial detention. […] It is estimated that of the 2.2 million detainees in the United States, more than two million are in jail without a right to trial, a significant proportion of whom, regardless of their innocence, has pleaded guilty [because they were promised early release].”21

Drawing down all values

The first shift, which lies at the source of the ressentiment – the temporal postponement of the reaction to an injury – shifts further and further, jumps to ever-higher levels of meaning until the ressentiment infects the entire worldview and the ratings based on it. But this nihilism, this devaluation of values is, according to Scheler, a self-delusion.

The phenomenal peculiarity of the deception of values caused by ressentiment, the experiential peculiarity of the inner attitude of a person who, for example, ‘slanders’ the foreign values that oppress him, does not consist in the fact that the foreign positive values ‘as’ positive, ‘high’ values are not present in his experience at all; that they are not there for his experience. […] The values are still there for him as positive and high values, but as if they were covered up by the values of deception, through which they shine through only weakly, as it were ‘transparently’.22

The scapegoat-phenomenon

The emotional logic of ressentiment not only determines our personal lives. Rather, when it can unfold its effects without reflection, it poisons the public discourse and the social climate. Especially in times of crisis, according to René Girard, fear and collective frustration find their satisfaction by being projected onto the scapegoats‘.

The term ‘scapegoat’ refers simultaneously to the innocence of the victims; the collective polarisation directed against them, and the collective finality of this polarisation. The persecutors [of the scapegoated minority] lock themselves into the ‘logic’ of the notion associated with persecution and can no longer escape it.”23

According to Rene Girard, the only victims are those against whom the feelings of hatred are directed. Victims of right-wing mobilization, bullying in school and at work, or under extreme conditions, even collective lynching.

What subverts the victim issue is the fact that right-wing agitators also portray their voters as ‘victims’ of a policy that welcomes strangers too friendly and gives them disproportionate help. Help that should actually go to the ‘victims’ of the ressentiment.

Envy reasoning

So by awakening feelings of envy, victims are played off against victims. Actually, this maneuver only serves the neoliberal right-wing parties to dismantle more and more social achievements for everyone, which ultimately also affects the ‘victims’ of ressentiment

For example, before Hartz IV was introduced in Germany, reports were often broadcast on private and public television channels that were supposed to ‘uncover’ how recipients of governmental social aid live in clover.

Just as the complaints about disturbances are making the public space ever poorer, the feelings of envy serve to creepingly weaken social cohesion more and more. Like complaints about harassment in public places, these feelings of envy are merely a means to an end. They should justify the dismantling of the social system.

Stereotypes of persecution

Girard names three ‘stereotypes of persecution‘. The search for ‘culprits‘ becomes particularly acute when society is in an existential crisis that threatens its order and creates a strong collective feeling of powerlessness. Girard cites plague epidemics in the Middle Ages and in antiquity, drought disasters, and social upheavals as examples. At present, financial crises, terrorist attacks, Pandemics, and the effects of climate change are just some of the examples. The diversity of actual causes has little influence on the way how people experience disasters. The important thing is: that someone must be to blame!

Secondly, the persecution of the victim is always justified by a ‘breach of taboo‘ or an allegedly committed monstrous ‘scapegoat‘ crime. This misdeed is considered as directly or indirectly responsible for the catastrophe or the collapse of the ordered cosmos.


The third stereotype is that the scapegoats belong to a group that is particularly exposed to persecution. Mostly they are strangers, members of another religion, ethnicity, race, or physically or mentally ill. Individuals who deviate from the norm, or are ‘catalysts’ of a possible transformation of society, are also prone to becoming scapegoats.

There is a close connection between the first two stereotypes. The victims are charged with ‘dedifferentiating’ [chaos-creating] crimes [breaking taboos that question the foundations of the ruling order] in order to be able to relate the ‘dedifferentiation’ of the crisis to them. In reality, however, it is their marks of sacrifice that mark them as victims of persecution. […] The victim categories seem to be predisposed to dedifferentiating crimes.24

The desire to belong

Strangers also often become scapegoats because they usually indicate through their language and their deviating customs that they ‘do not belong’.

By ‘mimetic desire’, Rene Girard understands that desire is transferable. What one person desires also becomes interesting and desirable for the other. This creates a bond as well as envy of the competition. “If one does not imitate the other, he says: What is the matter with you? And so they try to achieve complete harmony and end up in complete disharmony without knowing why. That is mimetic desire.”25

Sacrifice for containment of violence?

At the height of this disharmony created by jealousy and envy, the community must channel the violence to restore their peaceful cohesion. It is the mimetic desire that, on the one hand, triggers hostilities within the group and, on the other, unites the mob and conspires against the victim of persecution. Girard’s exploration of the myths shows that the ‘logic’ of ressentiment, the looking for scapegoats for the deferred impulses of revenge is as old as humanity.

According to Girard’s thesis, most creation myths are based on real human sacrifices. For reasons of containment of violence and restoration of order, the community ritually sacrificed these scapegoats and then worshipped them as heroes or even as deities.


During the longest period of human history, the mechanism of individual sacrifice undoubtedly gave rise to many religions, which were so efficient because believers never became aware of this fruitful principle. They mistakenly believed that it was the gods who should be graciously tuned by these sacrifices and not their own community. It was the anger of this community that threatened its very existence.”26

In Greek, this purification from all violence within the community is called ‘Catharsis‘. This purification does not always have to be violent. On stage, the violence of the myth itself becomes the topic. Therefore, we can consider tragedy as a form of a collective rite. According to Girard, it testifies to a first dissociation from the violence contained in the myths.

Slaves and masters?

In the ‘Genealogy of Morality,‘ Nietzsche claims that the ‘slave morality‘ of Christianity interpreted ressentiment as ‘justice’ in order to feel morally superior to the masters. “The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to value: the ressentiment of those beings who are denied the actual reaction, the deed, who can only be held harmless by an imaginary revenge.‘”27

Since the early Christians (‘slaves‘) were persecuted by the powerful Romans (‘masters‘), their ressentiment ‘invented‘ the concept of ‘moral justice‘. According to this concept, all, ‘slaves‘ and ‘masters‘ were to be judged by God, the highest authority, according to the same moral values on the day of ‘Last Judgment‘.

Imaginary retaliation?

This imaginary revenge was also expressed in the revaluation of what was previously considered good and bad::

Part of what this revaluation attains is the transfiguration […] of ‘weakness’ into ‘something meritorious’. More concretely, ‘anxious lowliness’ is ‘lied’ into ‘humility’; ‘subjection’ into ‘obedience’; ‘inoffensiveness’ or ‘cowardice’ into ‘patience’; ‘misery’ into ‘a sign of being chosen by God’, etc. (GM I,14). It is in the light of this revaluation that the slaves can take their revenge [in effigy] on the masters by denouncing the masters and their way of life as evil and can justifiably hope, that they will be punished by God.”28

Backward turn of Ressentiment towards itself

In this revaluation of the ressentiment towards moral justice, the ascetic priest plays a leading role as ‘savior, shepherd, and advocate of the sick flock‘. Discharging the explosive of ressentiment in such a way that it does not blow up the ‘flock’ and the ‘shepherd’ is his ‘trick’. Because the violent, cathartic discharge of emotions is, according to Nietzsche, the greatest relief, a kind of numbing of the suffering from ressentiment.

The ‘trick‘ of the ascetic priest is to turn the subject’s search for guilty parties back onto itself. “‘I suffer: someone must be to blame’ – so every morbid sheep thinks. But the priest says: ‘Right my sheep! Somebody has to be blamed: but you yourself are that somebody, you yourself are to blame!29

By turning back the ressentiment, Christians created the ‘bad conscience‘. It should keep uncontrolled outbursts against innocent people in check. At the same time, however, this turning against oneself increases the inhibition that characterizes ressentiment many times over.

The Victim’s Advocate?

René Girard accused Friedrich Nietzsche of being the only philosopher who has recognized that myths took the position of the persecutors, but that he nevertheless did not take the side of the victims. Rather, he took the side of the persecutors, by considering Christianity to be the ‘advocate of the victims‘. However, if one recognizes the scapegoat mechanism, which Nietzsche, according to Girard, did not recognize, one should see that Christianity is not the advocate of the weak, but the advocate of the ‘truth about the scapegoat mechanism‘.

Despite all the justified criticism of Nietzsche’s polemics against the weak and the victims, one must also bear in mind that in Nietzsche’s work, ‘weak‘ and ‘strong‘, ‘slave‘ and ‘master‘ do not necessarily refer to the social status. Rather, they refer to the degree to which an individual is prone to ressentiment. That is, they indicate whether affirmative or negative, active or reactive forces are predominant in him/her.

The sick are the greatest danger to man: not the evil ones, not the ‘predators’.”30


Contrary to appearances, Nietzsche is not concerned with glorifying violence. Rather, he considers the ressentiment in its passive, vengeful smoldering to be much more dangerous than even aggressive self-affirmation.

For, that humans may be redeemed from revenge: That is for me the bridge to the highest hope and a rainbow after long storms. But the tarantulas want it differently. […] ‘We want to take revenge and insult all those who are not equal to us’ – that is the promise of the tarantula hearts.31

Isn’t it the purest mimetic desire that speaks from the hearts of the ‘tarantulas’ – the symbol of the thirst for revenge and ressentiment? Did Nietzsche really fail to recognize the scapegoat mechanism?


Didn’t Nietzsche, when he spoke of the weak, rather have the ‘victims’ of ressentiment in mind, i.e. actually the ressentiment-plagued potential persecutors who are always looking for the guilty but feel like impotent victims?

That the sick [ressentiment-laden] do not make the healthy sick […] that should be the highest point of view on earth.32

For Nietzsche, an individual is strong and ‘superhuman‘ when s/he has no affinity to ressentiment. Perhaps such an individual would not need to join a mob in mimetic contagion and channel his hatred in pursuit of a stranger?


Isn’t this strong individual him-/herself a stranger who bears all the signs of the victim of persecution, but does not feel like a victim? Doesn’t his/her strength lie precisely in the fact that s/he affirms his/her strangeness instead of denying it and projecting it onto others?

This human being of the future, who will redeem us from the previous ideal as well as from what had to grow out of it, from great disgust, from the will to nothing, from nihilism; this stroke of the noon and of the great decision, that frees the will again, who gives the earth its goal and man back his hope […] he must come one day.33

Perhaps for Nietzsche strength means, in the sense of a ‘pathos of distance‘, to oppose the tempting contagion of the equalizing, mimetic desire, to affirm one’s otherness, and thus to be immune to feelings of ressentiment?

The unreserved affirmation of all past events that have shaped the uniqueness of the individual is the only effective antidote to envy. Because only those who cannot say ‘yes’ to themselves but want to be like the others are envious.

The ‘offense’ of time

Redemption [from revenge] removes the reluctance from its ‘no’ and makes it free for a ‘yes’. What does this ‘yes’ mean? Exactly what the aversion of the spirit of revenge denies: time, passing. This ‘yes’ to time is the will that the ‘crime’ of passing should remain and not be reduced to a nullity.34

Martin Heidegger implicitly alludes here to the striking ambiguity of the word ‘passing‘ of time (‘vergehen‘). The German word ‘vergehen‘ denotes on the one hand the temporal transition of an event into the past mode. On the other hand, it means to ‘commit an unlawful act‘, ‘to violate a norm‘, or ‘to harm someone‘. In the context of the ‘Genealogy of Morals‘, the word ‘vergehen‘ points to the ‘aversion of the will against the passing‘ (of time). In other words, it signifies our desperation about the fact, that time can not be reversed.

Find the culprit

From an individual perspective, the ressentiment seems to have the potential to expose injustice. But the emotions that work in ressentiment are, according to Nietzsche, in an imbalance. This is why ressentiment usually leads to an unjust punishment, which – due to the delay and postponement of the affective reaction – often even hits the wrong people. The ressentiment-plagued person lacks the clear, impartial view that is indispensable for a fair judgment. Rather, vengeance tends to demonize the opponent.

We know that ressentiment searches for a non-self to vent itself upon. This propensity of ressentiment to look outwardly is accompanied, however, by the complementary inability to introspect and search for the causes of one’s suffering within ourselves. […] it [ressentiment] is an eye that squints outside and is as default blind to the inside.35

The more intense the desire for revenge, the more fortuitous the interpretation of a situation is perceived as a provocation. Ressentiment can arise even when, from an objective point of view, no wrong has been done at all. It is inherent in ressentiment that it is incapable of recognizing whether the person who is believed guilty really intended to hurt. Distinctions such as ‘intentional’, ‘negligent’, and ‘accidental’ emerged much later in human development than the primitive psychology of ressentiment.

Side note: guilt as a moral responsibility of the individual?

Depending on the culture, different offenses are considered as a felony. Since the collective plays a bigger role in most, non-European societies than in Western, highly individualized societies, not in every culture, offenses are morally viewed as ‘personal’ guilt. Not even the fact that punishment is bound to inflict suffering on the guilty party (in the form of imprisonment), must be taken for granted.

In the second essay on ‘Genealogy of Morals’, Nietzsche is possibly the first author to question the self-evident fact that punishment is an infliction of suffering: ‘Where did this ancient, deep-rooted idea, perhaps no longer eradicable, take its power from, the idea of ​​an equivalence of harm and pain?‘ he asks. And his answer is always surprising: ‘In the contractual relationship between creditor and debtor, which is as old as there are’ legal subjects’ at all’. […] [But] why does the punishment of insolvency bring about the infliction of suffering? Why is an equivalence established between the two at all?36

As Didier Fassin worked out in ‘The Will to Punish‘, our current legal system contains a not to be underestimated, unacknowledged part of the retaliatory mentality that is due to that ‘primitive psychology of ressentiment‘ of which Nietzsche speaks. In addition, it is precisely the individualization of crimes that obscures the responsibility of society by placing all guilt on the responsibility of single individuals, whose lives are permanently destroyed by imprisonment.

Fair judgments?

With its negative bias and its irrationally postponed search for guilty parties, ressentiment never has the potential to lead to a just judgment. According to Nietzsche, it rather ‘drives the blood to the eyes‘. With its thirst for revenge, it dominates and limits the perspective. Therefore, it lacks any proportionality in the reaction to perceived provocations.

For Nietzsche, however, ‘intellectual justice‘ means looking at situations from as many different perspectives as possible, not reacting immediately to impressions, and holding back with hasty judgments. Justice in a pre-, or post-moral sense does not result from weakness, ressentiment, or reactivity, but presupposes strength, activity, and the overcoming of feelings of ressentiment.


However, justice is not cold, or indifferent. It does not require that individual feelings, sensations, or emotions be blanked out. For an ‘objectivity‘ understood in this way would ‘castrate‘ the intellect.

Above all, Nietzsche rejects the Kantian idea that the objectivity of recognition can only be achieved through ‘disinterested assumption‘ (German: ‘interesselose Anschauung‘).

Rather, for Nietzsche, objectivity means the ability to master the pros and cons, “so that one knows how to make use of the diversity of perspectives and interpretations of affect for cognition. […] There is only one perspective view, only one perspective recognition. And the more emotions we let speak about a thing, the more eyes, the more different eyes we can use for the same thing, the more complete our ‘concept’ of this thing, our ‘objectivity’ will be.37

Nietzsche: balance of drives

Those who are consumed by envy or hate are usually dominated by a single affect. This monopolization of the forces at work must be compensated for by other perspectives and affects.

Since […] our perspectives are born by instincts or drives, these typically present us with their object under a certain valuation: as to be shunned or embraced, pursued or avoided, affirmed or criticized, etc. […] To be for or against something is to be under the sway of a governing perspective: every determinate taking-side expresses a limited horizon, every for and against is unjust.”38

Intellectual justice, therefore, presupposes an active attitude: the effort not to leave absolute domination to any affect. The righteous person often has to force him-/herself to push back or compensate for certain affects that ‘drive the blood into his/her eyes‘.

Patanjali: balance of drives

Premature judgments are made when the mind, as a function of the survival instinct, quickly assesses situations. This is why it reduces the foreign to the familiar and treats similar things as equal. For this reason, ‘Abhinivesha‘ (the survival instinct) is regarded by Patañjali as a ‘Klesha‘ (emotional obstacle). Among Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras one sutra refers directly to dealing with one-sided, feelings of ressentiment:

Sutra I,33: “maitrikaruna-mudito-pekshanam sukha duhkha puniya-apuniya vishayanam bhavana-tascitta-prasadanam.“

The mind becomes tranquil by cultivating attitudes of friendliness towards the happy, compassion towards the miserable, joy towards the virtuous, and indifference towards the evil.”39

Patañjali recommends always compensating a feeling associated with aversion with its counter-feeling. For example, envy towards the happy can be compensated by kindness; condescension towards the unhappy can be compensated by compassion; status envy towards the brave with joy over their power to overcome obstacles; and revenge or moral indignation towards adversaries with serenity. Thus mental calm is restored and thoughts do not circle forever around hurting events.

Resistance of the negotiating partner

According to Nietzsche, the ability to take on other perspectives has been acquired by humans very early in human history. Negotiating for the price of a commodity is the basis of the idea that ‘everything has its price‘. The resistance of the negotiating partner against our own wishes leads to the experience that the expectations of others do not always have to coincide with our own. If we want to get our wishes accepted in a community, we have to be responsive to the ideas of others.

The experience of someone else’s resistance to one’s offer in a buyer-seller situation promotes (though only to a degree) one’s capacity to assume the other’s point of view, the other’s perspective, it thus expands one’s own mind, giving rise to the ability to see things from different viewpoints than one’s own.40

If we expose ourselves to such negotiating situations, again and again, we gradually learn to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and to anticipate the wishes and ideas of others. In this way, a sense of proportion in the exchange and the appropriateness of punitive reactions develops.

Broadening the horizon

The greater the ability to broaden our perspective, the higher the intellect can develop and the fairer-minded we become. The justice-conscious attitude requires the merciless examination of limiting beliefs, reactive feelings, and prejudiced opinions.

By broadening our horizons and adopting ever new perspectives, we can overcome the automatic, simplistic schematizations of ‘common sense’. Only in this way, we can do justice to the uniqueness of the object under consideration.

“’Only love shall judge’. (The creative love that forgets itself above its works).”41

Over-abundance of power: estimation

The righteous in Nietzsche’s sense enjoys an abundance of energy, can dispose of this energy generously, and is, therefore, able to treat others with respect and appreciation.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi regarded appreciation – alongside respect, understanding, acceptance, and compassion – as one of the five pillars of nonviolence. It is the counterpole to the devaluation that characterizes ressentiment.

Appreciation has a very deep impact on us and can bring about a serious change in the life of each of us. […] You can always find something to complain about and criticize and denounce as wrong. But it brings much more joy when you make the decision to look for what you can value. […] We do violence to ourselves if we concentrate on what we do not have, what we lack, instead of appreciating what we have been given.”42

The mimetic brain

Jean-Michel Oughourlian, a pupil of René Girard, has further developed Girard’s mimetic perspective into a mimetic, ‘interdividual‘ psychology. The term ‘interdividual‘ is intended to emphasize the orientation of this psychology towards the current mimetic interrelations of the individual with his/her role models.

Oughourlian distinguishes between three ‘brains’, each of which must be addressed in its own way in the context of therapy. He distinguishes the rational, the emotional, and the mimetic brain.

Mirror neurons

This classification is a functional one, it does not correspond to separate physical entities in the human brain. The areas that interact for each of these functions are distributed throughout the brain and interact in a complex way. The most important elements for the ‘mimetic brain‘ are the ‘mirror neurons‘.

So-called mirror neurons […] are anatomically a part of both the rational and the emotional brains, but the relations that they make possible to establish with the brains of other human beings have such importance and such a psychological reality that this mimetic interdividuality […] deserves in my view to be labeled as the mimetic brain or third brain. […] This relational function – which is essentially imitative – is the driving force of the emotional and cognitive functions.”43

Interdividual psychology

Not only the ability to learn and language acquisition are based on this mimetic function of the brain. The ability to empathize and take another’s perspective is also due to the ‘mimetic brain‘.

Accordingly, mimetic psychology does not refer to individual symptoms in isolation. Nor does it deal with their development in the early childhood of the individual. Rather, it focuses attention on the mimetic relationships of the individual in the present. Often, it is not one or the other that is ‘sick’ in a relationship. Rather it is the relationship that the two have with each other.

Mimesis of desire

Desire, according to Jean-Michel Oughourlian, is always the desire of the other. It is adopted in the mimetic process described by Rene Girard. As soon as one member of the group notices something unusual, the eyes of the others wander in the same direction. In the same way, the desire of another person often first makes us aware of something or someone. It is this very hint that makes him/her appear desirable. Through mimetic contagion, a feeling of belonging to the group is created. At the same time, however, it also arouses jealousy and envy within the group.

Ambivalent mixture

Desire is therefore always an ambivalent complex mixture to a variable degree. It combines attraction, affection, admiration, and love on the one hand and rivalry, repulsion, and aggressiveness on the other. The latter can degenerate into hatred and violence.

Desire leads us to seek the company of others, their approval, friendship, support, and recognition. But it can also be accompanied by rivalry and hatred; Desire can arouse both love and violence. It can be our greatest ally, but it can also be our worst enemy. Desire drives us to wish for what will destroy us, to chase what is causing us pain while we remain unable to figure out why it is happening.44

From model to rival?

The model is the one from whom the individual takes over the desire and whose being or having it desires. This role model can become a rival or an obstacle in the course of an inter-individual relationship. In extreme cases, mimetic rivalry can even lead to involuntary, unconscious identification with the model or even to murder.

The desperate demand that one’s own desires take precedence over that of their rivals will lead to an increasing intensification of violence […]: ‘my’ violence, the expression of ‘my’ desire, will be good; my rival’s violence, the expression of ‘his’ desire, will be evil. Individuals and nations will all fight in the name of the good; they will all try to do the will of God (so they will think!) while their rival, […] represents evil.45

Violence is itself the opponent

M. K. Gandhi had an inkling of this deception. Instead of denouncing the rival’s violent desires, Gandhi viewed violence itself as the ‘enemy‘ to be fought against. In his eyes, the British colonizers were only the ‘vessel‘ of this evil.

During his famous fasting strikes during the massacres between Hindus and Muslims after the partition of India, Gandhi denounced the violence on both sides. He called on everyone to stop the bloodshed without taking sides.

Rejection of desire

The individual is usually not aware of his/her imitation. This ‘forgetting‘ is an active misunderstanding even in ‘healthy’ mimetic relationships. The subject does not usually admit to him-/herself that his/her desire is not ‘original’, but has been infected by another desire. But this misunderstanding usually remains peaceful and does not lead to hostile feelings. But if the model him/herself rejects the desire that s/he has caused in the subject firsthand, it can create an unbearable ambivalence in the subject. The model can gradually become a rival or even an obstacle (to one’s ‘own’ desire).

The subject is torn between two opposite feelings toward his model – the most submissive reverence and the most intense malice. This is the passion we call hatred. Only someone who prevents us from satisfying a desire that he himself has inspired in us is truly an object of hatred’.”46

Death drive

Driven by his therapy of war-traumatized soldiers of the First World War and the rise of Hitler in Germany, Sigmund Freud shaped the concept of the ‘death drive‘ as a complement to Eros (the pleasure-seeking drive). Even though those two drives ‘Eros‘ and ‘Thanatos‘ usually do not occur separately they have contrary aims. In reply to Albert Einstein’s letter from 1931, Freud wrote:

Eros seeks to combine or synthesize separate units within society, bringing individuals together into groups, but also bringing groups together in the service of larger social and political forms. Thanatos drives those same units apart from one another, as well as each unit apart from itself. So, in the very action that seeks to establish and build a social bond, a counter-tendency exists, that just as readily seeks to take it apart: I love you, I hate you; I can not live without you, I will die if I continue to live with you. […] There is a destructive force that […] attaches itself to love – one that moves human creatures toward destruction and self-destruction, including the destruction of that which they most love.”47

Oughourlian illustrates this ambivalence using the example of Friedrich Nietzsche’s relationship with Richard Wagner, which, as is well known, ranged from ardent admiration to the deepest dislike. Imitating desire is always also the desire to be (like) someone else. One does not (only) desire what the other has (wealth, talent, fame). In addition, the desire is often aimed directly at his or her ‘being’.

Continuum of imitation

The mimetic perspective situates mental illness in a continuum ranging from the healthiest form of imitation, in which the model remains a model, to the most pathological, violent form of ‘imitation’, in which the model becomes an obstacle (to be removed). Perhaps we will become less ‘obsessed’ with rivalries and worry about our own status when we admit that our ‘self’ is the ‘home’ of this ‘uncanny‘ otherness and strangeness of desire.

When we fall in love, we are astonished by ourselves and say to ourselves, ‘It’s impossible, I’ve become a different person.’ […] How can we understand such a rapidly moving sequence? Each of our desires, because it is a desire to be like the other, is, as we have seen, very mobile. It produces with each change of model a different psychological movement and thus a different self. […] We are indeed constantly being modified, kneaded, penetrated by otherness, led to detach ourselves from one model in order to adopt another, in whom we always believe we see a ‘surplus’ of being that we lack.48


Disgust is one of the primary emotions, but as ‘projective disgust‘ it can also become a social emotion. Disgust in its social form as projective disgust is an emotion that can maintain hierarchies in society for centuries. It divides the social world into preferred and stigmatized groups.

According to Martha Nussbaum, feelings of disgust are related on the one hand to the idea of contagious defilement. On the other hand, they are related to the denial of the fact that we are ‘mortal animals‘ that will ‘eventually decompose‘.

The phenomenon of disgust necessarily contains [a] plus of life. […]. Even the ‘abundance of life’ in general seeks to break through boundaries, to penetrate everything that surrounds it. It stands in sharp contrast to individual shaping and closure. […] It is not a matter of taking up, embracing, or experiencing the essence of the foreign being, but rather of melting away, of stopping – be it completely or partially […] – the special beings. […] According to the full intention, it is death and not the life that is announced to us in the phenomenon of the disgusting.49

Habitualized enemy-images

In disgust, we again encounter the de-differentiation that René Girard has shown as one of the ‘stereotypes of persecution‘. It is part of the construction of the enemy image to emphasize these characteristics. When a group is associated with disgust, its ‘vitality‘ is particularly emphasized. Thus, Jews, Muslims, and Africans were often said to have an exaggerated sensuality and an active or even ‘perverse’ sexual life.

Disgust directed at people who belong to minorities therefore usually indicates the effect of an ‘inherited’ enemy image. The attribution of characteristics that one rejects in oneself only causes feelings of disgust if these attributions have been ‘incorporated’. That is if they have been passed on from generation to generation and are not even questioned.

A key characteristic of degradation is disgust: people in positions of power ascribe to other groups of people, whether African-Americans, women, lower castes, Jews or gays, animalistic characteristics that usually arouse disgust […] then they use this alleged disgust as a pretext for refusing contact. […] the discriminated group is stigmatized in order to take account of the dominant group’s inner need to replace its own animality.50

Pure and impure

According to Nietzsche, it was the caste of priests that introduced the dichotomy of pure and impure. This distinction was to set them apart from the warrior caste. This is especially true of Brahmanism:

In their [the priests] attempt to assert themselves against their noble confederates – the warrior masters – the priests have tried to redraw the lines of hierarchy and replace the master-slave scheme with the pure-impure scheme. In this sense, only those who belonged to the priestly caste were pure, for they were the ones who possessed the material resources, the ceremonial know-how and authority to purify (GM I, 6).”51

Hierarchy of purity?

Casteless people, who are at the lowest level of the hierarchy in Brahmanism, feel the dichotomy of pure and impure most strongly. They were, according to Prabhati Mukherjee, excluded from the caste system because they did not want to be subjugated by the Aryans.52

On the other hand, they were subsequently stigmatized as ‘impure’ par excellence by the tasks assigned to them. Latrine and street cleaning were part of their duties. Furthermore, they were responsible for the transport and burning of corpses and the disposal of dead animals. Therefore, it is necessary to keep them at a distance from all ‘pure’.

Sticky ‘Impurity’

That’s why ‘untouchables‘ were not allowed to bathe in the same water basin as others. They were not allowed to use the drinking water that is available to all others. Members of the caste system avoided any contact, even an untouchable’s shadow was considered to be contaminating. Untouchability was officially and by the constitution abolished, but the stigma and disgust have survived until this day.

This is certainly one of the most extreme forms of exclusion, but it shows how disgust can act as a sense of distinction. The stigmatization remains ‘stuck’ to the casteless even when they enter the sphere of another religion. This shows their marginalization in Muslim Pakistan and Bangladesh. There, too, they continue to be used for ‘dirty work‘ and are shunned as ‘impure‘.

Reduction of disgust

This shows that a society that rejects rigid hierarchies should cultivate a more positive attitude towards its own physicality. Such an attitude can be found in Tantrism. The practice of Tantra tries to overcome disgust, fear of death, and the dichotomy of ‘pure’ and ‘impure’.

Aghoris practice this tantric attitude in its most extreme form. They live and meditate naked in places that most people consider frightening and disgusting, where corpses are burnt.

Aghora […] is the forcible transformation of darkness into light, of the opacity of the limited individual personality into the luminescence of Absolute. […]. An Aghori goes so deeply into darkness, into all things undreamable to ordinary mortals, that he comes out into the light.”53

Aghoris eat from skulls and meditate while sitting on corpses. They challenge the most powerful demons of the cremation sites to ‘negotiate’ with them.

Exaggeration of emotions

The practice of Tantra not only removes the dichotomy between pure and impure. It also allows for emotions without judging or even suppressing them.

Rather than seek to extirpate their emotions entirely as Yogic practitioners do, Tantrics magnify their emotions and transfer them entirely to a deity, a personified cosmic force. All the aspirant’s natural propensities can spend themselves in this devotee-deity relationship, avoiding suppression of any desire which might erupt later to disrupt the harmony. […]. Yoga and Vedanta aim directly at Mukti, which was appropriate in earlier ages when the mundane world was less demanding. Tantra is more practical for today’s world.”54

The sacrifice of the ego

Tantric rituals are also ‘sacrificial rituals’, but it is not a stranger who is sacrificed here, but the limited self. The goal is ‘Laya‘, the return of the seeker to undifferentiated existence. Individual and absolute consciousness (in Tantrism: ‘Shakti‘ and ‘Shiva‘) should become one.

Author: Eva Pudill


Estimated reading time: 43 minutes

Questions & Answers

When does a Ressentiment occur?

Max Scheler emphasizes that a ‘certain equality of the violator with the injured‘ is part of the development of ressentiment. For if (in a democratic society) the person to whom we compare, rises far above our own position or capacity, this can become a threat to our self-esteem and finally trigger ressentiment. Read more

How do you recognize a Ressentiment?

A ressentiment will only arise when the impulses for revenge accumulate into an addiction to revenge. This happens, when we repeatedly suppress and postpone these impulses until ‘the next time’. Read more

How is Ressentiment exploited politically?

Right-wing politicians of all countries exploit the mechanism of projective identification, inherent in ressentiment, by loudly expressing the resentful ‘needs‘ of their voters. This mechanism consists of projecting repressed parts of the self onto an outside, perceived as hostile. Whereas the resentful subjects appropriate desired parts of the self in an identification without distance to the leader-figure. Read more

Why is Nietzsche considering the Christian values as born from Ressentiment?

In the ‘Genealogy of Morality,‘ Nietzsche claims that the ‘slave morality‘ of Christianity interpreted ressentiment as ‘justice’ in order to feel morally superior to the masters. (…) Since the early Christians (‘slaves‘) were persecuted by the powerful Romans (‘masters‘), their ressentiment ‘invented‘ the concept of ‘moral justice‘. According to this concept, all, ‘slaves‘ and ‘masters‘ were to be judged by God, the highest authority, according to the same moral values on the day of ‘Last Judgment. Read more

How ‘just’ is Ressentiment?

Ressentiment never has the potential to lead to a fair judgment. According to Nietzsche, it rather ‘drives the blood into the eyes‘. In its irrational way, it is always searching for guilty parties. Its desire for revenge dominates the perspective and restricts it. Therefore, it lacks any proportion in its reaction to perceived provocations. Read more