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Eric Gans THE CULTURE OF RESENTMENT I Resentment, or ressentiment, does not have what might be called a good press. Nietzsche's famous diatribe in The Genealogy of Morals associates it with Christianity, the triumph of Jewish moralizing over the aretxoi the Greeks. If this backhanded homage to the cultural productivity of resentment has never received the critical articulation it deserves, this is perhaps a measure of the distance between its author's radical insight and the sober constructions of the social sciences. But one cannot neglect the strategic importance of Max Scheler's opuscule Vom Umsturz der Werte in fixing in the public mind the psycho- and sociopathological figure of the "man of resentment." ' The point of Scheler's argument with Nietzsche, as we have tended to forget, was to show that Christianity owed nothing to resentment. As no reader of Scheler's book can fail to notice, however, the larger question ofcultural productivity cannot be laid to rest. By the final chapters, resentment is claimed to be the source of the entire institutional complex of modern society, including the market economy and democratic elections. The fact that Christianity is spared, although all-important to Scheler, is quite secondary to the overall thrust of his argument, which is ultimately merely a ponderous and timid caricature of Nietzsche's. In both cases, resentment is the evil cause of an evil modernity. That Nietzsche carries this modernity back beyond the Christian era to what he conceives as its sources in post-exilicJudaism — a period contemporaneous with the rise of classical high culture in Greece — whereas Scheler associates it with the latter-day rise of the bourgeoisie merely displays the respective range of eccentric genius and pedestrian Weltschmerz. Nor is either text exempt from the phenomenon it castigates. Both men pay their highest compliment to resentment in their transparent display of it toward itself and its products. Resentment is not merely in both cases the source of the modern, it is all too evidently the source of the anti-modern as well, although this latter proof of its productivity can evidently not be incorporated within the cultural models that these thinkers propose. 55 56Philosophy and Literature Nietzsche's genealogy of resentment is far more radical than Scheler's, inasmuch as it avoids reducing the "lateness" or secondarity of resentment to a merely chronological phenomenon. But I do not think it is radical enough. The condemnation of Christian morality as resentment, guaranteed by the counterexample of arete] is itself a moralistic one, albeit in ethical disguise. Scheler's defense ofJudaeo-Christian morality is nourished by the abstract moralism of Nietzsche's text, the expression of a second-level resentment toward the real — if "resentful" — order of things. For in terms of the "will to power," the true master is not the noble Greek but the resentful Jew. One need only visit Athens and Jerusalem today to judge the relative staying power of the two fountainheads of Western culture. Let me then attempt to propose a more radical formulation. Resentment is indeed the fundamental precondition of modern Western culture, via Christian morality and its sources in Judaism. But it is equally the precondition of Greek culture, and of high culture as such. In the view I shall attempt to defend, resentment is precisely the "late" variety of desire that high-cultural phenomena reveal and transcend. The euphoria of a universal hypothesis should not blind us to the necessity of justifying on a secondary level the difference between the Jewish and Greek elements of Western culture, and more particularly, of explaining Nietzsche's failure to see the beam of resentment in the eye of the Greeks while observing so mercilessly the speck in that of their rivals. For surely Nietzsche is far from isolated within the Western intellectual tradition in his predilection for the nobility of the classical ethos. What then is resentment? It is a considerable challenge to reply to this question , which Scheler's phenomenology avoids facing directly. Re-sentment is evidently a secondary phenomenon that appears to call for the definition ofsome more fundamental term. And in a full-fledged anthropology, this would indeed be necessary. Here we must be content to...


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