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Resentment is a loan word from French and means something like "secret resentment " or, as Theodor Lessing translates it, "feeling of setback". The Duden defines resentment as one “on prejudice , a feeling of inferiority , envy or the like. based emotional, often unconscious dislike ”.

The resentment is regularly feel permanent impotence in the face of suffered defeat or personal Back positedness basis. It can be found both in individual psychological terms and in social psychological and historical forms. In philosophy, resentment is the subject of moral criticism .

Concept history

Resentment is a noun from French ressentir , to feel (permanently) , to remember ; literally about feeling in the temporal sense. It was first documented in French literature in the 16th century and was originally used in a neutral sense, for example for the permanent, binding feeling of gratitude . "Overall", however, according to the Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , "R. [essentiment] rather describes sensations of negative content, because negative sensations are more permanent than positive ones". The use of the word in German is an expression of the lack of a native speaker equivalent and happens in the latter sense. Its use here is essentially linked to Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy, which is critical of morality and democracy .



The idea underlying the moral-philosophical term can already be found in Plato's Dialogue with Gorgias . There contributes Kallikles in debate with Socrates his idea of " real life " before:

“How could a person be happy who served someone? But that is precisely what is naturally beautiful and right, which I now tell you quite freely, that whoever wants to live properly, must let his desires become as great as possible and not restrict them; and these, however great they are, he must nevertheless be able to satisfy them through bravery and insight, and whatever his desires are aimed at satisfying them every time. But I think that most of them are not able to do this, which is why they blame such people out of shame, hiding their own inability, and say that freedom is something shameful in order, as I said before, those who are naturally better Cramping people; and because they are unable to obtain satisfaction even for their desires, they praise prudence and justice because of their own unmanliness. "

Callicles sees the effect of shameful impotence in all restrictive morals . Socrates welcomes the frankness of this commitment to the unrestricted pleasure and power principle and refutes the equation of good and pleasurable or pleasant .

The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle leads in the typology of inner ways of dealing with impulses of anger, the type of “bitter people” who, in contrast to “easily excitable natures”, suppress their spontaneous anger: “But to boil away the anger inside is a lengthy thing . Those who have this system are above all a burden to themselves and to those who are closest to them. "


The earliest source for the use of the word is believed to be the essay Cowardice is the Mother of Cruelty by Montaigne . Resentment here is the feeling that the superior in a fight gives the inferior by renouncing the killing and thus permanently anchoring his superiority in his consciousness. As a refined level of retaliation, Montaigne affirms the generation of resentment by letting go of the barbaric killing of the enemy, which is a sign of fear that has not been overcome and thus of cowardice and resentment on the part of the victor.


Friedrich Nietzsche wins his term of resentment in the dispute with Eugen Dühring , who introduces the term into the German-language philosophical debate and at the same time prescribes its radical, polemical use. Dühring had - in a kind of new edition of the Kallikleische Argumentation - explained all legal concepts , especially the fundamental ones of justice in general, which oppose the natural law of the stronger , from the resentment ( Der Werth des Lebens , 1865). In contrast to this is Nietzsche, who does not recognize any "higher" values ​​that are superior to the real power relations, but assumes an immanent justice between equals and those of equal strength.

Nietzsche describes the “psychology of resentment” as self-poisoning through inhibited vengeance : “Having a thought of revenge and carrying it out means getting a violent attack of fever, but it passes: Having a thought of revenge without the strength and courage to carry it out is called […] poisoning carry around in body and soul. "

In the Genealogy of Morals (1887) Nietzsche applied this thought to the “History of Morals” . The poisoning by resentment corrupts the general appreciation : “While the noble person lives in front of himself with trust and openness (gennaios 'noble' underscores the nuance 'sincere' and also probably 'naive'), the person of resentment is neither sincere , still naive, still honest and downright with oneself. His soul squinted; his spirit loves hiding places, secret paths and back doors, everything hidden seems to him to be his world, his security, his refreshment; he understands silence, not forgetting, waiting, the temporary shrinking, humbling himself. "

The resentment finds its value and world historical expression in the Jewish and Christian morality , which is contrasted as slave morality of reactive, negative character with the noble, affirmative, master morality of the Romans. Instead of the original, “elegant” estimates of “good” vs “bad” , there is now the moral of “good” and “bad” . By suppressing the original vengeance impulse (by delegating vengeance to God or delegating punishment to the state), an internalization of the human being is forced, which leads to the development of moral concepts (sin, guilt, conscience) in the modern sense. These, however, according to Nietzsche, deny their origin in resentment and claim absoluteness, which makes a “criticism of moral values” necessary as a question of the “value of values” . Modern European democracies in particular are subject to this criticism , the fundamental value of which Nietzsche as the “will to equality historically derives from the morality of resentment. It ends in the moral utopia of the superman as liberation from the “ spirit of vengeance ” in general.

Max Scheler

Max Scheler provided a phenomenological analysis of the resentment in the critical connection to Nietzsche in The Resentment in the Structure of Morals (1912). Scheler is particularly concerned with the rehabilitation of Christian ethics against Nietzsche's suspicion of universal resentment, who considers Christian morality to be an expression of the resentment of the weak.

Scheler considers resentment to be a typical modern phenomenon, a kind of psychological self-poisoning that occurs above all in the servants and the ruled in societies in which there is formal equality between people, but at the same time massive differences in the distribution of power, education, wealth and the social Status exist. He specifies the term as “a permanent psychological attitude that arises through systematically practiced suppression of discharges of certain emotions and affects which are normal in themselves and belong to the basic structure of human nature”, which leads to a specific deformation of the perception of values: Resentment is what is involved is about "the repeated living through and after-living of a certain [hostile] emotional response reaction against another", which affects the core of the personality without manifesting itself in their spontaneous expressions and actions.

In his phenomenology of resentment, Scheler differentiates between the level at which the sweet grapes hang too high for the unconscious fox and the level at which the fox no longer even wants to recognize the unreachable grapes as sweet, but rather disqualifies them as sour. Powerless to revenge on the perpetrator, the consciousness “dogged” in resentment takes revenge on the transcendent value through degradation ( “detraction” ) or devaluation of the same. What is expressed in the preliminary stages of the actual resentment as a masochistic "vengeance", which "incidents that can give rise to an internal act of revenge [...] downright [...] like an instinct", is characteristic of what Scheler called typical " Criticism of resentment ”( Genitivus subjektivus ): Their negativistic basic attitude does not aim to improve what has been criticized, but is satisfied in the“ high feeling of the fundamental opposition ”. Associated with resentment are moral revaluations that emphasize the value of self-developed and self-acquired, the subjectivity of values ​​and the dominance of usefulness.

According to Scheler, one background to the spread of resentment in the modern age is the dissolution of the traditional patterns of social recognition in modern competitive societies, which are based on social origins and fixed role models. Scheler sets himself apart not only from Nietzsche, but also from Georg Simmel when he criticizes his thesis that the “noble” in contrast to the “common” does not compare his value with others, and is therefore not prone to resentment. According to Scheler, “in the modern age, the naive self-esteem of refinement comes under increasing pressure - along with all other forms of traditional self-esteem”.

Pankaj Mishra emphasizes that Scheler's phenomenology of resentment describes very precisely the situation of those left behind by globalization , who expect in vain that the neoliberal promise that “talent, education and hard work will be rewarded by individual upward mobility” will finally be kept. This disappointment triggered a "global epidemic" of resentment.


Max Weber also regards the contribution of resentment in the sense of Nietzsche to religious values ​​of the so-called " parial religiosity " with restrictive criticism . The influence of resentment on the “ theodicy of suffering ” of the oppressed is, contrary to the assumed general responsibility, rather small, if not completely negligible.

Depth psychology

The psychoanalyst Léon Wurmser seeks to make the term resentment fruitful for depth psychology. In the dispute with Nietzsche, he sees resentment in his glorification of strength as an effective “fight against shame” .

The psychiatrist and psychotherapist Michael Linden recently described a post-traumatic bitterness disorder , which can be understood as an extreme expression of the dynamic of resentment.

Newer reception

In the current debate, the media theorist Norbert Bolz is taking up Nietzsche's criticism of resentment - in a counter-enlightening manner, reversing the religious signs .

In political science z. B. Roland Eckert on Nietzsche's enlightened approach to explaining political movements. The publicist Pankaj Mishra sees resentment as a world-wide mindset of great political significance that is currently on the rise.

See also


  • Brusotti, Marco (2011): “Resentment”. In: Niemeyer, Christian (Ed.): Nietzsche-Lexikon. Second, revised and expanded edition. Darmstadt: WBG, pp. 327–328.
  • Hödl, Hans Gerald (2007): “On the function of religion. Comments on Nietzsche's influence on Max Weber and on the anticipation of questions relating to the sociology of religion in the human-all-too-human ”. In: Nietzscheforschung, 14, pp. 147–158.
  • Hödl, Hans Gerald (2014): "The concept of resentment as a category of cultural studies analysis. Starting points with Nietzsche, Scheler and Freud." In: Steffen Dietzsch / Claudia Terne [eds.], Nietzsches Perspektiven. Thinking and writing in the modern age. Berlin-Boston: DeGruyter, 272–286.
  • Probst, Peter (1992): “Resentment”. In: Ritter, Joachim / Founder, Karlfried (Ed.): Historical Dictionary of Philosophy, Vol. 8. Basel: Schwabe, pp. 920–924.
  • Scheler, Max (1955): “The Resentment in Building Morals” (1st edition 1915). In: Gesammelte Werke, Vol. 3: On the overthrow of values. Treatises and essays, ed. v. Maria Scheler. Bern: Francke, pp. 33–147.
  • Skirl, Miguel (2000): “Resentment”. In: Ottmann, Henning (ed.): Nietzsche-Handbuch.Leben-Werk-Effect, Stuttgart / Weimar: JB Metzler, pp. 312-313.
  • Stegmaier, Werner (1994): Nietzsche's "Genealogy of Morals". Darmstadt: WBG.

Web links

Wiktionary: Resentment  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Theodor Lessing : Nietzsche. Ullstein, Berlin 1925 (digitized) , p. 44 ff. Reprint: Matthes & Seitz, Munich 1985. With an afterword by Rita Bischof, ISBN 3-88221-358-2 .
  2. ^ Article Resentment on
  3. ^ For example, in Molière , Le malade imaginaire , III. Act, 14th scene; Cf. on this and the following: J. Ritter, K. Founder (ed.): Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , Vol. 8, Col. 919 ff.
  4. Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , Sp. 921; The authors find the reason for this usage in Balzac .
  5. Gorgias , 491 ff.
  6. Nicomachean Ethics, IV, 1126a 16 - b2. Here in the translation by Franz Dirlmeier, Stuttgart ( Reclams Universal-Bibliothek vol. 8586 (5)) 1990, p. 108 f. Eugen Rolfes (originally 1911) translated instead of “bitter people” “the bitter ones”. Nicomachean Ethics, chap. 11: Meekness ( online at )
  7. Essais, II.27.
  8. See Michel de Montaigne: Essais . First modern complete translation v. Hans Stilett, Ffm. (BTB) 2000; Second Book, pp. 544-557.
  9. This use of the term asserts the value-creating potential of resentment, which values ​​can then be disavowed as pseudo-values due to their improper origin from vindictiveness and cowardice. A non-polemical use in this sense presupposes the hurt value of the development of resentment.
  10. See Human, All Too Human, Section Two. On the history of moral feelings , Aph. 60.
  11. Genealogy of Morals, First Treatise: "Good and Bad," "Good and Bad," 10.
  12. Cf. Thus said Zarathustra : Of the tarantulas ; From redemption ; sa What does "resentment" mean? ( Memento of the original from September 17, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. In: Nietzsche-online. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  13. Cf. on this and the following: Max Scheler: Das Ressentiment im Aufbau der Moralen , Ed. Manfred S. Frings, Ffm. (Klostermann) 2nd edition 2004.
  14. Reinhard Olschanski: Resentment: About the poisoning of the European spirit. Paderborn 2015, p. 19.
  15. Pankaj Mishra: Politics in the Age of Anger , in: Heinrich Geiselberger (Hrsg.): The great regression. Frankfurt 2017, pp. 175–196, here: pp. 185 f.
  16. Article Age of Wrath by Jan Ross in the ZEIT of December 27, 2019, p. 3