Resentment, Classes and National Sentiments

Two sets of connections are developed in this chapter: the first between the experience of classes and fractions of classes and resentment, the second between class-situated resentment and sentiments about the nation. Sometimes these expressions of resentment may not, despite being socially embedded, become organised politically; but when particular conditions are met, especially within the field of political opportunities, these social resentments can become organised politically into populist politics and resentful nationalism. We preface this general argument with comments on the sociology of resentment as developed in a sociological literature. This will entail looking at classes and forms of class experience within which sentiments akin to resentment may be engendered. We shall also examine resentful sentiments uncovered in published qualitative research. Latterly we will present our own interview-based data in order to illustrate the themes of resentful statements and consider their relevance for a contemporary political sociology of resentment and nationalism.

The concept of ressentiment has its origins in Nietzsche’s philosophy (Reginster 1997) and was further developed by Max Scheler (1994, 2007), who gave it a more sociological meaning. Nietzsche applied the © The Author(s) 2017

R. Mann, S. Fenton, Nation, Class and Resentment, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-46674-7_2

term ressentiment to a ‘slave morality’ characterised by passivity and by a loss of power. People look for revenge—for their loss of power—but are unable to give expression to this wish for revenge; thus their emotions are driven ‘inwards’, and it is here that we find ressentiment. Nietzsche discusses ressentiment as a sense of loss of status or insult which provokes a wish for revenge and specifically revenge which cannot be satisfied. Thus, the ‘man of ressentiment desires to lead a certain kind of life, which he

deems valuable____Second he comes to recognise his complete inability to

fulfill this aspiration: he becomes inhibited by his “weakness” or “impotence”’ (Reginster 1997: 286—287). Thus a special element of the notion of ressentiment is the concept of a kind of blocked or restrained reaction to an insult, unfulfilled aspirations and feelings of envy. A fully expressed ‘reaction’ (to the insult, envy) is restrained by the sense that to search for revenge is futile and will lead to defeat. Melzer and Musolf (2002) cite the following definition of ressentiment:

A generalized feeling of resentment and often hostility harbored by one individual or group against another, especially chronically and with no means of direct expression. [American Heritage Dictionary 1982, cited in Melzer and Musolf (2002: 243)]

As Melzer and Musolf, in an incisive discussion, point out, the definition has some key elements. There is the reference to feelings held chronically, to feelings held by an individual or group and, finally, a reference to the lack of a means of direct expression. These authors then proceed to make the distinction between short-lived resentment and enduring resentment, and they make this into a technical distinction between resentment (shortlived) and ressentiment (enduring) (Melzer and Musolf 2002: 243). In the present work we will not persist with this technical distinction but will apply instead the sociology of resentment to the sentiments and structures of feeling which we shall discuss throughout. But this is with the understanding that we are importing into the sociology of resentment much of the meaning contained in the special term ressentiment. that is, connecting resentment to enduring, socially located sentiments which are influenced by relations of power, with elements of restrained or blocked emotion. We could have continued to use ressentiment, but resentment is a more familiar term; it is used by authors in the field developing arguments close to the meaning of ressentiment (Hoggett et al. 2013; Garner 2011) and, in a work like this one, is unlikely to be confused with the particularistic and short-term resentments described by Melzer and Musolf. In our use, resentment will refer to enduring collective sentiments, close to anger and envy, and associated with a sense of loss of entitlement, regard and position, and in comparison and relations with others. There will typically be a sense of restrained or blocked expression of these sentiments traced to relations of power.

 
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