“Ressentiment is a self-poisoning of the mind which has quite definite causes and consequences. It is a lasting mental attitude, caused by the systematic repression of certain emotions and affects which, as such, are normal components of human nature. Their repression leads to the constant tendency to indulge in certain kinds of value delusions and corresponding value judgments. The emotions and affects primarily concerned are revenge, hatred, malice, envy, the impulse to detract, and spite.”
Scheler’s main disagreement with Nietszsche is the source of this ressentiment – the latter places it squarely within Christian morality and values, while the former regards bourgeois morality, which gradually but effectively replaced true Christian morality from the thirteenth century onward, as the true source of ressentiment. Both thinkers understand the falsifying nature of resentment – that of perverting and inverting authentic values and morality.
Scheler’s main bone of contention is Nietzsche’s mistaken conflation of Christianity with bourgeois morality and values. The latter, Scheler argues is utterly steeped in resentment thinking, while the former, in its authentic and unadulterated form, is simply incapable descending into resentment. Scheler concurs with Nietzsche’s criticism of resentment-based slave morality as the source of descending values, but rejects the claim that Christianity provided the catalyst for this descent.
According to Scheler, the error in Nietzsche’s premise becomes readily apparent in the concept of love. This is an important issue for us today as well because no concept has been as thoroughly falsified and perverted as much as love has. Scheler emphasizes that true Christian love is entirely free of ressentiment, but acknowledges “that ressentiment can very easily use it for its own purposes by simulating an emotion which corresponds to this idea. This simulation is often so perfect that even the sharpest observer can no longer distinguish real love from ressentiment which poses as love.”
Scheler concludes this to be the major flaw in Nietzsche’s attitudes regarding Christian love. When Nietzsche disparages Christian love, he is not criticizing actual, authentic Christian love, but ressentiment-based love that masquerades as Christian love. In other words, Scheler agrees with Nietzsche’s overall diagnosis of the sickness in modern man and society, but points out Nietzsche’s mistaken identification of the pathogen behind the illness.
This distinction is of vital importance today. Our world suffers from total metaphysical confusion, and I submit that the bulk of this metaphysical confusion has its foundation in falsified love. People are confused about love. It has become challenging to define and difficult to recognize in its authentic form. The source of this confusion is Scheler’s notion that “even the sharpest observer can no longer distinguish real love from ressentiment which poses as love.” I think this represents the foundation for much of our confused thinking today. It also reveals the Establishment’s use of ressentiment to “for its own purposes by simulating an emotion which corresponds to this idea.”
Regardless of who we are, I firmly believe most people possess, at the bare minimum, a vague intimation of what true love comprises, and I believe the source of this vague intimation is the divine spark each of us carries within ourselves. At some level, most people believe their motivations are driven and directed by goodness rather than evil, that is, by love rather than hatred. Yet, very few are able to truly comprehend the authentic source of this intimation of love or develop this vague intimation in the proper direction. Without this comprehension and development, the divine spark of love innate in all individuals becomes diluted by their own resentment-induced attitudes toward themselves and the world.
In addition to this, our ressentiment-based authorities thoroughly understand the significance and power of authentic love and work adamantly toward falsifying, inverting, and supplanting genuine, resentment-free love with fake, resentment-filled “love.” This fake, resentment-filled love simulates authentic love in such a manner that, “even the sharpest observer can no longer distinguish real love from ressentiment which poses as love.” Thus, people are lulled into the belief they are doing good when in fact they are engaging in its exact opposite.
Our inability to distinguish real love from ressentiment love is at the core of many of our contemporary problems, both at the individual and the societal level. The trick very few of us recognize (and it took me a long time to even begin to become aware of this myself, so I am not pointing fingers at anyone else per se) is that contemporary concepts of love are not grounded in real love at all, but in its opposite – in hatred. According to Scheler, the two pillars of hatred masquerading as love are the hatred of God and the hatred of self.
Ressentiment love does not recognize the reality of a personal and loving God. If it recognizes God at all, it can only regard God in the negative, as either indifferent and uncaring, or cruel and authoritarian. Either way, resentment-fueled love feels nothing but hatred and revulsion for God. Nevertheless, most ressentiment-motivated love is based in atheism, that is, the denial of God. Since God is either indifferent, cruel, or non-existent, resentment-based love regards the act of worship or any expressed love for God as either foolishly misguided or intrinsically evil. In the former, it is filled with spite and detraction against anyone with the audacity to love a divine entity that creates a world full of meaningless suffering, while in the latter it maliciously condemns those who dare to invest their love into something imaginary at the expense of something more concrete like altruism and love for mankind. On the topic, Scheller states:
“In the first place this love of mankind is an expression of suppressed hatred, a revulsion against God. It is the expression of a suppressed hatred of God! It keeps coming back to the strange idea that ‘there isn't enough love in the world’ for one to expend any on other than human beings - a real distortion dictated by ressentiment!”
Thus, the moral imperative in resentment-based love is to channel one’s energies away from God and toward humanity – not individuals made in the likeness of the Divine, but humanity as a whole. Resentment-based love removes God as the focal point and source of love and replaces this with the love of Man. It urges us toward selflessness and charity and persuades us that our highest virtue is to love everyone regardless of who they are. This altruistic urge becomes the only meaningful imperative. The ultimate goal is to make the world a better place for humanity by eliminating all inequalities stemming from Christian or even classical morality, both of which are regarded both as oppressive and authoritarian in nature. Put simply, the highest possible virtue in resentment-based love is materialistically-inspired altruism.
Resentment-based love rejects virtues such as loving your neighbor as yourself or treating people as you would like to be treated and demands we love our neighbor more than ourselves and treat other people far better than we believe we ourselves deserve to be treated. This unselfish “love” is then valued as the highest virtue to which an individual can aspire.
This errant belief in altruistic unselfishness through the unconditional love of the “other” not only inverts the original Christian conception of loving others but also mask altruism’s true source – hatred. Our modern obsession with the disadvantaged and the marginalized has less to do with love for people who are categorized as such and more to do with the hatred of those who occupy positions on the opposite side of the spectrum, as Scheler makes clear in the following passage from Ressentiment:
“Thus the ‘altruistic’ urge is really a form of hatred, of self-hatred, posing as its opposite (love) in the false perspective of consciousness. In the same way, in ressentiment morality, love for the ‘small,’ the ‘poor,’ the ‘weak,’ and the ‘oppressed’ is really disguised hatred, repressed envy, an impulse to detract, etc., directed against the opposite phenomena: ‘wealth,’ ‘strength,’ ‘power,’ ‘largesse.’ When hatred does not dare to come out into the open, it can be easily expressed in the form of ostensible love—love for something which has features that are the opposite of those of the hated object. This can happen in such a way that the hatred remains secret.”
I believe a great deal of our contemporary confusion about love, even among Christians, is located primarily within these two overarching misconceptions. True and sincere Christian love has been completely inverted and falsified by resentment-inspired love which, at its core, actually finds its source in hatred. The inability to differentiate true love from false love leads people to error and is ultimately harmful for both the individual and society. Yet even those who recognize and understand the marked difference between resentment-love and true love are sometimes held hostage by the dictums of ressentiment.
Recognizing this metaphysical confusion surrounding love must surely be the first step toward metaphysical realignment. We must come to terms with the way love has been manipulated by the forces of resentment. As Scheler states, we must realize that “All the seemingly positive valuations and judgments of ressentiment are hidden devaluations and negations.” Resentment has convinced the world that the positive value inherent in Christian love is actually a negative value. According to Scheler, our task is to reject this false devaluation and negation, to challenge this poisoning of the mind, and re-establish the value and positivity contained within Christian love.