Ressentiment of the Strong and Entitled: A Nietzschean Perspective on the Backlash Against Social Justice

Gio Theodore D Apostol

DOI: https://dx.doi.org/
Published Date: Sep 14, 2022 | Accepted Date: May 8, 2022 | Submitted Date: Apr 20, 2022

Abstract

Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality inaugurated an interpretive lens that criticizes modern moral frameworks and values by showing that such moralities originated in slavish fragility and in an inability to retaliate against their noble masters’ oppression. According to Nietzsche, the ressentiment-afflicted slaves exacted revenge not through a violent revolt but through a spiritual uprising, one which consisted in transvaluing noble values as "evil." In the slaves' espousal of their own creative "pathos of distance," they were capacitated to fashion their own moral evaluative framework through a negation of the previously regnant noble economy of values. This, for Nietzsche, is the "reversal of values" from which modern egalitarianism hails. Contemporary discourses often associate group resentment with leftist identity politics. At times, these discourses contain Nietzschean undertones that represent social justice as slave morality. Harold Bloom calls these groups the “Schools of Resentment,” which are comprised of putatively resentful groups such as “Feminists, Afrocentrists, Marxists, Foucault-inspired New Historicists, or Deconstructors.” The assumption that commentators like Bloom make is that these groups are resentful, and not their opposing counterparts. This essay aims to interrogate this assumption and proposes the alternative view that hegemonic groups that social justice movements seek to resist are also susceptible to ressentiment, in the hope of redirecting misplaced criticism against identity-based liberatory efforts. I argue that the “ressentiment of the strong” is expressed in the contemporary phenomenon of backlash against social justice. The essay makes use of Nietzsche’s theory of the transvaluation of values in the assessment of how resentful groups express ressentiment. I conclude that the ressentiment of the strong initiates a new value reversal: one in which contemporary values of human basic equality are deemed undesirable.

Keywords

Friedrich Nietzsche, ressentiment, backlash, social justice, egalitarianism

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