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Free Content The resentment-ressentiment complex: a critique of liberal discourse

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This article offers a critique of a widespread political discourse that distinguishes ‘resentment’ from ‘ressentiment’, legitimating the former and dismissing the latter. This distinction not only incorporates some reactive sentiments at the cost of the depoliticisation of others, but also obscures the conditions of political action and judgement as such. Why is it necessary to constantly protect the socio-political order from the risk of moral corruption in these terms, and for whom? First, a historical distinction is made between three problems that play a key role in the evaluation of the reactive attitudes: their rationality, their authenticity, and their justness. It is then argued that the first two problems are ill-posed. These problems concern differences in degree, and are therefore always prone to the relativism of what, retrospectively, can be called ‘the resentment-ressentiment complex’. The true problem with retributive passions concerns a difference in kind, not between resentment and ressentiment, but between active affects and passive or reactive affects. This Nietzschean ‘demoralisation’ of the problem of reactive attitudes by means of a historico-systematic reorientation leads to the concluding claim that while moral sentiments and political actions are always entangled, only the latter constitute the ground of social justice.
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Keywords: affect; authenticity; liberalism; politics; resentment and ressentiment

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands

Publication date: May 2020

This article was made available online on March 23, 2020 as a Fast Track article with title: "The resentment-ressentiment complex: a critique of liberal discourse".

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  • Global Discourse is an interdisciplinary, problem-oriented journal of applied contemporary thought operating at the intersection of politics, international relations, sociology and social policy. The Journal's scope is broad, encouraging interrogation of current affairs with regard to core questions of distributive justice, wellbeing, cultural diversity, autonomy, sovereignty, security and recognition. All issues are themed and aimed at addressing pressing issues as they emerge. Rejecting the notion that publication is the final stage in the research process, Global Discourse seeks to foster discussion and debate between often artificially isolated disciplines and paradigms, with responses to articles encouraged and conversations continued across issues.

    The Journal features a mix of full-length articles, each accompanied by one or more replies, policy papers commissioned by organizations and institutions and book review symposia, typically consisting of three reviews and a reply by the author(s). With an international advisory editorial board consisting of experienced, highly-cited academics, Global Discourse publishes themed issues on topics as they emerge. Authors are encouraged to explore the international dimensions and implications of their work.

    All research articles in this journal have undergone rigorous peer review, based on initial editor screening and double-blind peer review. All submissions must be in response to a specific call for papers.

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