This article offers a critique of a widespread political discourse that distinguishes ‘resentment’ from ‘ressentiment’, legitimating the former and dismissing the latter. This distinction not only incorporates some reactive sentiments at the cost of the depoliticisation of others, but also obscures the conditions of political action and judgement as such. Why is it necessary to constantly protect the socio-political order from the risk of moral corruption in these terms, and for whom? First, a historical distinction is made between three problems that play a key role in the evaluation of the reactive attitudes: their rationality, their authenticity, and their justness. It is then argued that the first two problems are ill-posed. These problems concern differences in degree, and are therefore always prone to the relativism of what, retrospectively, can be called ‘the resentment-ressentiment complex’. The true problem with retributive passions concerns a difference in kind, not between resentment and ressentiment, but between active affects and passive or reactive affects. This Nietzschean ‘demoralisation’ of the problem of reactive attitudes by means of a historico-systematic reorientation leads to the concluding claim that while moral sentiments and political actions are always entangled, only the latter constitute the ground of social justice.

resentment and ressentiment • liberalism • authenticity • affect • politics
dx.doi.org/10.1332/204378920X15828100918561, hdl.handle.net/1765/127793
Global Discourse: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Current Affairs and Applied Contemporary Thought (online)
Erasmus School of Philosophy

van Tuinen, S. (2020). The Resentment-Ressentiment Complex: A Critique of the Liberal Discourse. Global Discourse: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Current Affairs and Applied Contemporary Thought (online), 10(2). doi:10.1332/204378920X15828100918561