Some decades ago, when I was still naïve enough to think I could win a competitive grant, I proposed a study of resentment, beginning with Achilles’ “rage” and running through Hamlet down to Nietzsche’s “discovery” of le ressentiment. When I received the comments of those who had turned down my application, I was struck by their tone of irritation. In effect, they were saying “we resent your interest in resentment,” which proved both the validity of my project and its impossibility of attracting either funding or readership. This is pretty much how the subject is viewed today.
The reader of the new New Republic or similar publications—and sometimes even conservative ones—is struck, on the one hand, by the extraordinary level of gender, racial, and miscellaneous resentment in almost every article, and on the other, by the exclusive insistence on the resentment of Trump’s alt-right supporters, and that, slightly less virulent, of Republicans in general. The “hate the haters” line is applied without the least admission of the symmetrical and, recalling the origin of the left-right dichotomy in the French Revolution, originary political resentment—on the Left. Refusal to assume its own resentment has always been a defining feature of the Left, the source of its moral strength in denouncing inequities, but also of its arrogance and its crimes, and never before has it attained this degree of power in a functioning democracy.
The nineteenth century maintained considerable social stability despite its frequent political turmoil, because the power base of society remained in traditional hands, meaning both that radical governments were of limited duration and that radical movements had a prima facie claim of speaking for the “oppressed.” The twentieth century was quite different. It’s no secret that Stalin and then Mao killed many more people than Hitler, that Pol Pot massacred a larger portion of his population than any of them, yet Mao still appears on Chinese currency, Fidel Castro and his henchman Che remain heroic figures to many (and our president does not fear association with their images), and even Stalin seems to be making a comeback under Putin, who sees the demise of the USSR as “the greatest tragedy” of the previous century. And we had a “socialist” running almost neck and neck for the presidential nomination with the former representative of the New Democrat faction of the Democratic Party.
There is no doubt that a theory of the “master race” is more offensive to our fundamental moral sensibilities than “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” But a century of socialist revolution leading to the gulag, the Cambodian killing fields, Cuban and Venezuelan economic destruction and political violence, and now the disquieting return of China and Russia to more authoritarian rule has not disturbed the fundamental good conscience of the Left. When people on the Right emerge whose level of resentful good conscience approaches that typical on the Left, they are covered with opprobrium. Rightly so, one might say, but one might think their contemners might recall Jesus’ words about the mote in one eye and the beam in the other.
But denunciation of either side solves no problems. The question is how one can restore a general suspicion of resentment. It’s too late to expect funding for my history-of-resentment project. I can nevertheless reiterate the claim that scandalized the grant committee: that the control of resentment (rather than simply “violence”) is the chief function of human culture. It was resentment that made Eve give Adam the apple, resentment that made Achilles conduct a sit-down strike against Agamemnon, resentment that motivated the Jews to leave Egypt, that got Jesus crucified…
And it is resentment in the service of religious conquest that motivates the horrific deeds of Islamic radicals most recently exemplified in Orlando—Democratic outrage at which has been exclusively directed at… Republicans. The “MSM” avoid any mention of left-wing, including Islamic, resentment as something too indecent to exhibit. If Trump supporters commit an act of violence, well, what can one expect; when violence occurs on the other side, we have to hate the haters, don’t we?
When René Girard died last November, I sadly had not had a serious conversation with him in several years. There is documentary evidence of his hostility to what I call the victimary element of contemporary culture (see, for example, Chronicle 491), but I would have been interested in his opinion of the current US election and what it tells us about the reciprocal yet asymmetrical tr(i)ump(h) of resentment in American politics.
I haven’t asked, but I would imagine that the “alt-right” would be happy to admit that it is resentful, yes, justifiably so. The Left, on the other hand, is interested only in Justice. In Chronicle 509 I tried to make the case for Trump as at least in principle attempting to return via “the art of the deal” from the current toxicity to the (always relative) symmetrical log-rolling of traditional politics. But those whom Adam Katz calls “Social Justice Warriors” (SJWs) are not about to make “deals.” They make demands, to which, lo and behold, university administrators for the most part cannot wait to demonstrate their progressive bona fides by acceding. The balance of resentments that is the basis for liberal democracy and its legal system is no longer operative under the current victimocratic administration.
What explains the exacerbation of political polarity to the point where the only reasonably effective opposition to victimocracy requires one to tolerate if not actively encourage the participation of the troglodytes of the “alt-right”? The alternatives to Trump failed because, with the exception of the truly non-political Ben Carson, they never faced up to the problem of the victimary—many, it is true, were scarcely given the chance. Someone like Scott Walker, who more perhaps than any other governor had faced down the left in his state and won significant victories, was one of the first dismissed by the electorate. Might he have fared differently had he forgotten about Trump and focused not on his past record but on how his example would allow him to defeat victimary politics as president?
The Orlando massacre tells us all we need to know about the victimocracy’s pathological denial of its resentment. The Left, from Obama on down, has aimed its hostility at Republicans and conservative Christians rather than at the Islamic radicalism that not only was invoked by the murderer just before his death but elsewhere implements the execution of homosexuals, in Iran by hanging from cranes. An illustration in the June 14 Los Angeles Times shows an artist with a symbolic display of mannequins and a sign reading “50 DEAD PEOPLE / #GUNCONTROL” that is focused, needless to say, less on supporting gun control than on indicting its opponents for the murders. James Taranto quotes a diatribe addressed to Christian conservatives: “‘You know what is gross—your thoughts and prayers and Islamophobia after you created this anti-queer climate,’ ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio tweeted on Sunday morning.”
Expressions of indignation at Islamism or the murderer himself inevitably come from the “right,” which is then taken to task for them. What better illustration of the Left’s denial of its own resentment to the point where it becomes indifferent to causality? Just as antisemites blame all evil on the Jews, the Left blames all evil on the prior objects of its resentment, whom it then accuses of “Islamophobia” for reminding them of its real source.
I find this repugnant, but that is not my point; clearly there is a whole segment of the population, nearing a majority, for whom my ideas are repugnant. Muslims head the “intersectional” list of the West’s victims because they are an alternative civilization in a way that gays and women aren’t. In the vehement rejection of “Islamophobia” we can read the outlines of the soumission that gave its name to Houellebecq’s latest novel. Which, if history continues on its current path, may well be a prudent bet on “the arc of history.”
The Islamists can no doubt be defeated; the Islamic State can be destroyed, even Iran can be brought to heel. But the self-denying resentment of the Left has the bit in its teeth and will not rest until either it or its adversaries have been utterly humiliated. Could we have anticipated a generation ago that all human activities would become divided between stigmatized and “green”? That ethnic and gender quotas would be established for cultural phenomena and that left-wing antisemitism would flourish on our campuses? If Pearl Harbor occurred today, the first thing the government would do is warn us against—indeed, condemn us for—”Nipponophobia.”
Like life as the interval between birth and death, peace is the period of deferral during which difference—firstness—is maintained before the forces of resentment return it to sameness. In this sense, Anaximander’s Spruch (the subject of an essay by Heidegger) is indeed the last word:
ἐξ ὧν δὲ ἡ γένεσίς ἐστι τοῖς οὖσι, καὶ τὴν φθορὰν εἰς ταῦτα γίνεσθαι κατὰ τὸ χρεών· διδόναι γὰρ αὐτὰ δίκην καὶ τίσιν ἀλλήλοις τῆς ἀδικίας κατὰ τὴν τοῦ χρόνου τάξιν.
Whence things have their origin, thence also their destruction happens according to necessity; for they give to each other justice and recompense for their injustice in conformity with the ordinance of Time.