Real Life Cases of Ressentiment

This post follows some previous posts in the development of a high school curriculum on Mimetic Theory:

  1. Mimetic Theory in High School (click to read)
  2. Types of the Scapegoat Mechanism (click to read)
  3. Scapegoating in American Beauty (click to read)
  4. Philosophy in American Beauty (click to read)

This post will provide some real life cases of ressentiment that could be explored in different disciplines.

  • PSYCHOLOGY & MEDIA – real life cases of ressentiment and homophobia, similar to the story of Frank Fitts in American Beauty:

Ted Haggard's fallWell-known evangelical pastor Ted Haggard became the center of a scandal in 2006 when a certain Mike Jones, a homosexual prostitute, claimed that he had had a three-year sexual relationship with Haggard. Later on, Haggard admitted to sexual contact with Jones and other men. Haggard had always preached against homosexuality and to this day considers it sinful and problematic. He is still married to his wife.Ricky Martin GQ Australia

Pop singer Ricky Martin came out as a gay man back in 2010. However, the star has admitted he used to struggle with his sexuality. He even bullied gay men whilst growing up in Puerto Rico. ‘I look back now and realize I would bully people who I knew were gay,’ Martin told the September/October 2013 edition of GQ Australia. ‘I had internalized homophobia. To realize that was confronting to me. I wanted to get away from that.’

  • HISTORY – ressentiment and racism in Nazi Germany:

It can be argued that Adolf Hitler developed an attitude of ressentiment towards the Jewish people and that he nourished this attitude to a national German scale. One can say that Hitler distanced himself from the qualities he would hate about himself by projecting those qualities on ‘the Jews’. He considered them to be ‘totally different’ from him and other German or, more broadly, ‘Aryan’ people. By hating and scapegoating the Jews for having so-called loathsome qualities, Hitler established a sense of self-worth. It was his way to get revenge for not being confirmed as the man he desired to be. It was his way to get even with the ones he secretly envied but learned to despise. Here’s what Hitler writes in Mein Kampf on the so-called radical difference between his ‘objects of study’ (‘the Jews’) and ‘the Germans’:

“Yet I could no longer very well doubt that the objects of my study were not Germans of a special religion, but a people in themselves; for since I had begun to concern myself with this question and to take cognizance of the Jews, Vienna appeared to me in a different light than before. Wherever I went, I began to see Jews, and the more I saw, the more sharply they became distinguished in my eyes from the rest of humanity. Particularly the Inner City and the districts north of the Danube Canal swarmed with a people which even outwardly had lost all resemblance to Germans.”

For once, Hitler considered himself to be a talented artist and painter, whose work was not recognized by the main artistic forces of his time. It is known that he was not accepted at the prestigious Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. In his autobiographical work Mein Kampf, it becomes clear that he identifies Jewish art as an inferior but nevertheless dominant cultural expression, which supposedly prevents ‘real artists and real art’ to come to the fore. This becomes just one source of his resentment towards the Jews. Here’s what Hitler writes in Mein Kampf on the influence of Jews on artistic life:

“I now began to examine carefully the names of all the creators of unclean products in public artistic life. The result was less and less favorable for my previous attitude toward the Jews. Regardless how my sentiment might resist my reason was forced to draw its conclusions. The fact that nine tenths of all literary filth, artistic trash, and theatrical idiocy can be set to the account of a people, constituting hardly one hundredth of all the country’s inhabitants, could simply not be tanked away; it was the plain truth.”

Der Ewige JudeHitler allegedly was not always too confident of his own health and appearance. He wanted to be filmed or photographed from certain angles in order to ‘look good.’ Again in Mein Kampf, he projects his doubts and fears and his sense of inferiority onto ‘the Jewish people’ in order to create a sense of superiority:

“The cleanliness of this people, moral and otherwise, I must say, is a point in itself. By their very exterior you could tell that these were no lovers of water, and, to your distress, you often knew it with your eyes closed. Later I often grew sick to my stomach from the smell of these caftan-wearers. Added to this, there was their unclean dress and their generally unheroic appearance.”

The Plot The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (by Will Eisner)Apart from Hitler’s particular psychological biography, Germany and Europe in general were susceptible to anti-Judaism and anti-Jewish feelings. The 1929 stock market crash marked the beginning of a worldwide economic depression. The image of Jews as rich merchants and money-grubbers who could not be trusted is but one of many negative images concerning Jews with a long history in Europe. Rich and intellectually refined Jews were envied and resented, especially during the difficult economic times of the 1930s. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Jewish hoax claiming to describe a Jewish plan for world domination, completed the anti-Jewish European paranoia. Thus the Jews once again became Europe’s scapegoats. In Hitler’s universe, the sacrifice of the Jews was considered necessary to free the world from its crisis and to establish a new peace and order. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, first published in Russia in 1903, were used by the Nazis as part of their justification of the Holocaust. It would be interesting to explore the history of this document by reading The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a masterpiece by Will Eisner, the ‘father’ of graphic novels.

image from The Plot (by Will Eisner)

  • POLITICS, SOCIOLOGY & RELIGION: ressentiment and sexism (among others in fundamentalist religious groups)

Find more background information regarding sexism as a transcultural (religious as well as non-religious) phenomenon in this previous post: click here for “Temptresses”.

sexismHans van Scharen, Belgian journalist, comes across a clear example of what Nietzsche and Scheler would describe as ressentiment in Pakistan. Writing about his experiences in Peshawar [capital of the area formerly known as North-West Frontier Province], van Scharen reports (translation by E. Buys):

“You can see the influence of fundamentalist Islamic parties in the streets of Peshawar. Even innocent commercials for tea are smirched by grey paint to cover the female face of a depicted couple. By June 2003, the Sharia was accepted as the highest law and is often interpreted strictly, although not (yet) as ruthless as the Taliban would have it. The Muttahida MajliseAmal (United Council of Action) proposed a bill to prohibit the depiction of women in advertising. Sami ul-Haq, leader of an important Madrassa, claims that this is done ‘merely out of respect.’ ‘If you depict women naked, you kill their honor and the honor of their families. That is totally unacceptable. Women are precious, like rare flowers, and you should treat them accordingly.’ Naked? Even tea commercials are already offensive, apparently. Our guide sneers, ‘Well, it’s them fundamentalist bearded men demanding burqas who secretly watch videos of lascivious female dancers, and those men are highly fascinated by what they see. Ul-Haq’s brother teaches here, at the Islamic University, and like his brother he has the reputation of being a womanizer.’ […] – Taken from Knack magazine, November 29th, 2006, De comeback van de Taliban, p.99-100, by Hans van Scharen.