Discussion: Friday 12:00 (Eli Portella)
Friedrich Nietzsche’s Concept of Ressentiment: The Root of Revolution
In the novel, On the Genealogy of Morality, Friedrich Nietzsche aims to unveil the origin of morality—believing that, prior to him, the origin of morality has been forgotten. He argues that what we deem as morally ‘good’ has become nothing more than habitual. This bold statement greatly influences our ethics and politics, and the validity of the ethical structure it stands upon. How are we to say what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ if the origins of the words themselves have been forgotten? Nietzsche describes two types of moralities within the first essay: ‘noble morality’ and ‘slave morality’. The duality of these two moralities creates what he calls ressentiment, the French translation of the word resentment, from the French verb sentir, “to feel”. The self-affirming nature of ‘noble morality’ contrasts the negating nature of ‘slave morality’; he states, “…the noble method of valuation […] acts and grows spontaneously, seeking out its opposite only so that it can say ‘yes’ to itself…” (Nietzsche, 1887, p. 20). Unlike ‘noble morality’, ‘slave morality’ says ‘no’ to everything that is either ‘outside’, ‘other’, or ‘non-self’. The ressentiment, or reactive sentiment, among those who are oppressed becomes the initiating factor for the revolution or re-evaluation of morality. Nietzsche reiterates that ‘slave morality’ is a danger to the growth of humanity because the man of ressentiment creates an ‘evil enemy’ which hinders our growth as a whole.
Nietzsche first touches on the etymological background of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and relates it specifically to the idea of ressentiment. Universally, he states, what has been considered ‘good’ is what comes from ‘nobility’ or ‘aristocracy’—what is ‘good’, therefore, has become synonymous with noble, aristocratic, and privileged. In contrast, the concept of ‘bad’ is “a development that always runs parallel with [good]” synonymous to “common, plebeian, and low” (Nietzsche, 1887, p. 13). The best example of this, in Nietzsche opinion, is the German word schlecht, meaning “bad”, which is identical to the word schlicht meaning “plain” or “simple”. This, he states, is an essential insight on the conflicting states of nobility and commonality; the “words and roots which denote ‘good’ […] were men of higher rank […] which simply shows superiority of power” (Nietzsche, 1887, p. 14). The morality of the noble group was formally synonymous to power and strength, but this changed as priestly methods of valuation began to overtake aristocratic values of judgements. The clerical caste creates a morality of ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ which later becomes what we know as ‘evil’ and ‘good’. Nietzsche argues that the creation of this type of morality “shows how contradictory valuations could become dangerous” because everything that is against us becomes “essentially dangerous” (Nietzsche, 1887, p. 16).