Departing from Nietzsche: The Breadth of Max Weber’s ‘Resentimment’

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Max Weber’s secularization narrative of modern Europe has ramifications for the idea of salvation that was, until the pre-modern period of big governance, a specifically religious concern. His sociological insight allows him to grapple with Friedrich Nietzsche’s questions about salvation and oppression within a critique of modernity. In this paper, I outline how Weber’s departure from Nietzsche’s concept of ‘resentimment’ creates a framework for looking at Weber’s thought overall. There is surprisingly little literature which compiles Weber’s use of ‘resentimment’, and as such it is my intention to let this selection of Weber’s uses of this concept stand together with Weber’s ultimate attention to salvation ideas. Realizing different ‘life spheres’ were in conflict, and that the political sphere had taken the authority once held by the religious, Weber reacts to the change in self-reflexivity that must also occur when society’s hegemony is redirected.

Outlining the Weberian progression forward and what that means for understanding the individual in society, Weber scholar David Owen suggests:

“Nietzsche and Weber’s accounts deploy a principle of evaluation constituted by reference to a conception of the individual… [their] attempts to indicate those movements of modern culture which allow for the possibility of this type of individual.” (80)

 

I choose the concept of ‘resentimment’ because of its value to the “conception of the individual” as a political actor; I theorize that ‘resentimment’ plays a key role in the non-selection of powerful leadership, by way of its ability and inability to make political change. Weber emphasizes a great duality to this concept, which I seek to delineate. It is at once the defining element between social groups, and also their bonding agent. It is both a defining element of an individual unfit for leadership, and an integrated part of party politics.

It is first important to outline Weber’s departure from Nietzsche about the concept of ‘resentimment’, because he chooses this concept as the juncture at which to paint a societal picture of Nietzsche’s asceticism. Authors Gerth and Mills (1946) emphasize “In contrast to Nietzsche, Weber developed a sociology of utilitarian discipline and rationality as the origins of modernity.” (110) By reading Weber reading Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’, the border of ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ privilege defines ‘resentimment’ among groups. Reading further, when Weber uses ‘resentimment’ without mentioning Nietzsche, Weber creates a spectrum of meaning for the word that extends from political parties to individual politics. He negotiates ‘resentimment’ within politics as a response to hierarchy, but dismisses Nietzsche’s notion that ‘resentimment’ can explain the entirety of these actions in the modern world.

Reading Weber Reading Nietzsche’s ‘Resentimment’

Only by marching through a dense and nearly untranslatable paragraph in Class, Status, Party (1922)[1] can one discover Weber’s most direct criticism of Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’. Written with the intention to analyze the development of status groups from ethnic segregations, Weber differentiates the sense of dignity experienced by ‘positively privileged’ status groups from the ‘negatively privileged’; the ‘pariah’ – the outsiders, who are not subquotients of a monster group – are those ‘negatively privileged’, who challenge the “deportment” (191) of the ‘positively privileged’ main group by having a different social ethic, what Nietzsche called “a slave revolt of morals”[2]. Weber explains ‘pariah’ through European Jewry, which he says is “the most impressive historical example,” (ibid.); this suddenly calls forth both the European Jew’s transitory participation in society and their oppressed position under the monster group. The ‘pariah’ is a typology much larger than the European Jew, encompassing the greater meaning of ‘outsider’. Unlike the Lacanian ‘Other’ that focuses on individual ethics, the term ‘pariah’ is a metaphor for whole social groups who Weber delimits by ethic. ‘Pariah’ would be understood today as more polemical than analytic. Weber fastens the term ‘pariah’ to the presumptuously broad category of European Jewry and in so doing carries on a trope of early-modern rational analysis- the Jewish diasporal experience[3]. Professor Jeffrey S. Librett’s latest publication, Orientalism and the Figure of the Jew (2014), reminds us that Weber theorizes the Jews as outcasts in a world conceived in ‘pariah’s’ etymological meaning, “in terms of an ancient Indian- or Aryan- caste system. This strange structure inscribes Judaism as an internal exterior within Aryan culture.” (331) Weber’s discursive appropriation of Judaism allows him to exemplify the presence of ‘resentimment’ in a groups whose dignity is independent from the monster group’s political societalization:

“The ‘chosen people’s’ dignity is nurtured by a belief either that in the beyond ‘the last will be the first,’ or that in this life a Messiah will appear to bring forth into the light of the world which has cast them out the hidden honor of the pariah people. This simple state of affairs, and not the ‘resentimment’ which is so strongly emphasized in Nietzsche’s much admired construction in Geneaology of Morals, is the source of the religiosity cultivated by pariah status groups.” (Class, 190)

 

Citing the “simple state of affairs” one might recognize as Hegel’s dialectic[4], Weber suggests that the creation of identity by ‘pariah’ groups is made possible by its difference to the main group, and vice versa. He continues, “Very frequently a status group is instrumental in the production of a thoroughbred anthropological type.” (190) Weber thickened the conversation about ‘resentimment’ by finding the tension between dignity and identity creation. His analysis of dignity as an element of differentiation between Christians and Jews rests on lifestyle purportments, and he compares monster groups with interior-exterior ‘pariah’ on the basis of economic predominance:

“Political membership or class situation has at all times been at least as frequently decisive. And today the class situation is by far the predominant factor, for of course the possibility of a style of life expected for members of a status group is usually conditioned economically.” (190)

 

By suggesting that class situation is decisive and life-style based, he signals us to think of the ‘positively privileged’ whose, “kingdom is ‘of this world’. They live for the present and by exploiting their great past”; Weber parallels pre-modern German political membership with the ‘positively privileged’ by using a commonality of frequent decisiveness, conditioned economically. In this construction, membership of both a political party and the ‘positively privileged’ group is both lifestyle and class status determined. This claim enfeebles Weber’s prior example of European Jewry, who represented over half of Hamburg’s wealth at the time, but also highlights the angle of difference from Nietzsche’s understanding of ‘resentimment’; Weber intersects the concept of ‘resentimment’ with economic mobility. Gerth and Mills say that Weber’s difference from Nietzsche concerning ‘resentimment’ is constitutive of Weber’s sociology of religion and, “within a broader canvas, this theme determined Weber’s attitude towards morality and modernity.” (4) By maintaining an ancient difference between Christian and Jewish communities and signaling that their lifestyles are now socio-economically class-determined, Weber problematizes the discourse of Nietzsche by antagonizing socio-historical certainties[5].

Class, Status, Party has the most direct criticism of Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’, but a descriptive insight into Weber’s account of Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’ can be found in “The Social Psychology of World Religions” (1915):

“As is known, this theory [‘resentimment’] regards the moral glorification of mercy and brotherliness as a ‘slave revolt in morals’ among those who are disadvantaged, either in their natural endowments or their opportunities as determined by life-fate. The ethic of ‘duty’ is thus considered a product of ‘represented’ sentiments for vengeance on the part of banausic men who ‘displace’ their sentiments because they are powerless, and condemned to work and money-making.” (270)
Reading Weber reading Nietzsche will guide our understanding of their ultimate differences, but first we need to unpack what he means by “mercy and brotherliness”, consider the phrases ’represented’ and ‘displaced’ sentiments”. Weber’s Vocation Lectures hint at ‘brotherliness’, which is a que for understanding the role of ‘resentimment’ within political structures[6], but here “mercy and brotherliness” alludes to Nietzsche’s use of Judeo-Christian tradition as an example of “repressed” vengeance on the part of the oppressed[7], a process which he describes later in (The Sociology of Religion, 1965:110) as “the moralistic quest serves as a device for compensating a conscious or unconscious desire for vengeance.” This ‘compensation’ is the ‘representation’ and ‘displacement’ phenomenon mentioned as a “on the part of the banaustic men”. What’s important to understand here is the way Weber marks a difference in the sentiments held by to parts of society. Weber thinks that for Nietzsche, the “banaustic” men (who are mundanely working and making money) have vengeful sentiments against those who don’t prescribe to the same ‘duty’. They ‘displace’ this sentiment through a glorification of their own morale[8], which is the ‘resentimment’.

Continuing to dissect the phenomena of “replacement” and “displacement” as reactions to ‘resentimment’, Weber goes on to emphasize an element of rationalization within the act of sentimental displacement:

“In treating suffering as a symptom of odiousness in the eyes of the gods as a sign of secret guilt, religion has psychologically met a very general need. The fortunate are seldom satisfied with the fact of being fortunate. Beyond this, he needs to know that he has a right to his good fortune.” (271)

 

Posturing Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’ as a need for legitimacy of perceived ‘fortune’ over others in society, Weber’s attention to human inequality is addressed as “suffering” which compounds into a social ethic that supports this need for legitimacy. This becomes a delayed reward: “…the sense of honor of disprivileged classes rests in some concealed promise for the future… What they cannot claim to be, they replace by the worth of that which they will one day become, to which they will be called in some future life here or hereafter… by their sense of what they signify and achieve in the world as seen from the point of view of providence” (ibid.) There is a righteous indignation at oppressors to compensate for disprivilege. Professor Jeffrey K. Olick develops the idea of theodicy’s compensations further in his book The Politics of Regret (2007):

“Though tempered by confidence in redemption of suffering; worthiness of this redemption is thus demonstrated, as Nietzsche made clear in book three of Geneaology of Morals, by asceticism, the international exacerbation of one’s own suffering and hence the ultimate preservation of Will.” (157)

 

Professor Olick’s contribution is important because it frames the theodicy of suffering in terms of asceticism. It is at the juncture of asceticism that Weber departs from Nietzsche in his understanding of ‘resentimment’. He divides religion and psychology at the juncture of guilt. By ‘deserving’ one’s fortune there is ‘ethical meaning’ assigned to it, making it valuable. The principled nature of ‘deserving’ is asceticism, which for Weber must be framed by the “increasingly rational” world in its progress towards ‘resentimment’:

“The need for an ethical interpretation of the “meaning” of the distribution of fortunes among men increased with the growing rationality of conceptions of the world… as magical notions were eliminated, the theodicy of suffering encountered increasing difficulties. Not ‘good’ but ‘bad’ men succeed-even when ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are measured by the yardstick of the master stratum and not by that of a ‘slave morality’.” (275)

 

Weber is still citing Nietzsche when he says that ‘resentimment’ is acquired from the ‘theodicy of suffering’, but here we see that Weber pivots at the point of “growing rationality”; the measurements of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ had become an issue of the ‘master stratum’ during the disenchantment of the world. Weber suggests that this politicization of society (away from religion) refigured the value judgements, though they remain in essence “legitimation of the religiously determined rationalism of the disadvantaged strata,” (276) in line with Nietzsche.  He is not disagreeing with Nietzsche’s assertion that the theodicy of suffering is “colored by resentimment” (277). Weber is trying to say that suffering is influenced by but not contrived from ‘resentimment’, creating a possibility of interpreting its “yardstick measurement”. The positive notion of asceticism is notable in Weber’s reading of Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’ by Weber’s idea of it as a “theodicy of disprivilege”[9] alongside measurements of salvation.

‘Resentimment’ and ‘Privilege’

Legitimation of vengeance through social ethic depended, for Weber, on their class status. Now that we have an idea about Weber’s reading of Nietzsche with sight to his positive ascetic idea, it is possible to outline Weber’s differentiation between theodicies of suffering between the ‘positively privileged’ and the ‘negatively privileged’. Weber’s positivist conception of ‘resentimment’ implies a change in social ethics that shape the dominant group’s praxis in relation to the ‘pariah’ group’s non-praxis. His differentiation between ‘positively privileged’ and ‘negatively privileged’ social ethic is noticeable immediately after his definition of Nietzschean ‘resentimment’ in “The Social Psychology of World Religions”. He notes ‘resentimment’s’ “bearing (mindern[10]) on social ethics” (270), and warns his reader about the fatal consequences of ‘resentimment’, as a sentiment that has resulted in ancient sacrificial feasts. Little did Weber know (but likely did he suspect) that an expulsion and sacrifice of the ‘pariah’ group would be committed by his not-so-ancient milieu shortly after his death! Weber continues,

“All that can be said is that resentment could be, and often and everywhere has been, significant as one factor among others in influencing the religiously determined rationalism of socially disadvantaged strata. It has gained significance… in accordance with the nature of the promises held out by different religions.” (276)

 

The “religiously determined rationalism” of the socially disadvantaged – the ‘negatively privileged’ – is influenced in part by ‘resentimment’. This rationalism is for Weber the change in dominance from the religious sphere of life to political sphere of life, which is still rooted in the concepts of salvation provided by that religion. His main example of this history is the popularization of different social ethics with the introduction of Calvinism and Protestantism, and on the ‘negatively privileged’ level, the difference in salvation between Christians and Jews[11]. Within the modern age of ‘master strata’ uniformity in the ‘iron cage’ of economic development, Authors Gerth and Mills remind us that “the utilitarianism aspect of economic ethics and actions was transformed into the positive notion of inner-worldly asceticism and it was this notion which became the basis of Weber’s whole sociology.” (111-12)

The entanglement between inner-worldly asceticism and ‘resenntiment’ is outlined most clearly in “Economy and Society” (1922, post-humous), when Weber suggested the intellectual salvation of Christianity as opposed to the outer-worldly salvation principles of the Jews. Authors Stauth and Turner (1988) agree, suggesting, “Weber separates this intellectual form of rational control – those maintained by Priests, Monks – from the discipline characteristic in Judaism.” (115) Beginning his discussion by reminding the reader of the necessity of meaning derived from salvation, Weber says,

“The meta-physical needs of the human mind as it is driven to reflect on ethical and religious questions, driven not by material need but by an inner compulsion to understand the world as a meaningful cosmos and to take up a position towards it.” (Economy and Society 499)
Stauth and Turner turn to Economy and Society to address Weber’s differentiation from Nietzsche’s concern with the material base of the everyday world, and that ‘resentimment’ was not exclusively explained the deprivation of material needs, but also the internal compulsion to understand the world[12]. Stauth and Turner say about ‘resentimment’, “In Econonmy and Society he connects it [‘resentimment’] to social revolutionary ethics and proletarian instincts of the subordinate working classes,” (115). Weber takes a rational disposition towards social ethic’s basis in salvation and describes the positive inner-worldly ascetic of ‘resentimment’ at its dislocating juncture with intellectualism of religious doctrine:

“The limited significance of the factor of resentimment and the dubiousness of applying the conceptual system of ‘repression’ almost universally, appear most clearly when Nietzsche mistakenly applies his scheme to the altogether inappropriate example of Buddhism. Constituting the most radical antithesis to every type of resentimment morality, Buddhism clearly arose as the salvation doctrine of an intellectual stratum, originally recruited almost entirely from the privileged castes, especially the warrior caste, which proudly and aristocratically rejected the illusions of life both here and hereafter.” (ibid.)

 

While thematising Buddhist ‘intellectualisation’ of salvation opposite ‘resentimment’, Weber also equivocates Buddhism with the ‘master strata’, and parallels intellectualism with inner-worldly salvation. He separates Buddhism’s type of rational control over salvation – as maintained by Priests and Monks, who found salvation through lifetime duties – from the ascetic characteristic (which he later says is present in Judaism), whose salvation is other-worldly. Weber suggests that intellectuals did not develop a social ethic because of repression, but rather because of the desire to rationalize the world in itself.  Judaism, which “preached immediate revenge” in the context of Judaism’s revengeful God during the first struggle against Romans and later against Gentile subordination (ibid., 112) is different than Christianity or Buddhism, which “developed a more subtle, higher a more indirect and culturally more productive form of revenge in the doctrine of spiritual love.”

Stauth and Turner say, “his idea for salvation in Christianity became associated with intellectualism, which he called ‘another source besides the social condition of the disprivileged’,” (113) reminding us again that ‘resentimment’ is only one factor of the social ethic produced by theodicy. Strauth and Turner continue, “Weber, therefore, implicitly protected Christianity and its drive for salvation against the argument in Nietzsche that the highest religious ethic is the outcome of resentment in morals,” (115) leaving the “burden on social ethic” (207) of ‘resentimment’ to the European Jews. This does not mean that Weber denies the existence of ‘resentimment’ within Christianity, as we will see in his analysis of its place in politics. But rather, this difference in salvation argument foregrounds his understanding of ‘resentimment’ as merely an option in the creation of social ethic, not the cause of all social ethic.

‘Resentimment’s’ Place in Politics

Weber’s citation of Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’ serves the purpose of describing ‘brotherliness’ and vengeance sentiments in not only society, but in politics. In “Suffrage and Democracy in Germany” (1917) Weber clearly delineates the existence of ‘resentimment’ even in the political literati, the littérateurs:

“The ignorance of the litterateurs who do not recognize the difference between the unearned fortune of the coupon-cutting investor and the productive capital of the entrepreneur, and who show as much ressentiment towards the latter as they do covetous benevolence towards the former, have heard something of the ‘finance capital’, both in regulations of a material kind (taxes) and in the selection of ministers, and they think of course that this is a consequence of the ‘parliamentarism’ they fear.” (Political Writings, 86)

 

Weber again brings up the idea of ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ within the salvational idea of success; The ‘finance capital’ inspires the ‘resentimment’ of the literati, the class exemplified by Weber as potential demagogues and charismatic political leaders such as the Socialist, Kurt Eisner (“Economy and Society”, 1978:242), which in turn implies Weber’s interest in the struggle between financiers and the political literati. The dominance of ‘parliamentarianism’ on the effect of finance capital’s influence in the market triggers the literati’s ‘resentimment’, because their truth-concept of the ‘good’ coupon-clipper winning over ‘bad’ risky investor is challenged, and they are instead dominated by an outside force – “the ‘parliamentarianism’ they fear”. What this tells us is: there are two levels of regulation, the material and the political, which are both controlled by policy. The polity making the policy is the parliament, whose ‘master’ status gives the literati ‘resentimment’ against success they can’t explain with their salvational scheme. What Weber doesn’t tell us is how this ‘resentimment’ plays out; what are the ascetic consequences? Or, does the ‘negatively privileged’ social ethic permit the literati to seek vengeance and a revolution?

He doesn’t give the answer directly, but points in the same direction when discussing balances within parliament. He seems to support the effect of ‘resentimment’s’ inner-worldly influence by saying: “On the other hand, the resentimment of party and co-operative offialdom is ideally suited as a counterbalance to any danger of the parties coming under plutocratic leadership,” (Political Writings, 113). Assigning ‘resentimment’ with the task of counterbalancing the danger of plutocracy, Weber also tells us that he believes in its primacy within political systems. In “Suffrage and Democracy in Germany”, Weber uses ‘resentimment’ as an essential concept for understanding political struggle within the literati and the parties, reflecting his discussion on Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’ as adaptable by way of salvation theory and therefore operating in modern identity politics.

It is not until Weber’s essay “Parliament and Government in Germany” (1917) that he reveals the way ‘resentimment’ works within the political struggle. Addressing ‘resentimment’ as both possibly feeble (135) and as a “will to powerlessness” (158), Weber tells us that ‘resentimment’ is not always an effective force of balance, leaving us to wonder how it is otherwise expressed; in to which social ethic does it go? In this essay, Weber describes ‘resentimment’ as a “congealed Spirit” (158); a concept introduced by Georg Simmel as the potentiality of use. Weber highlights the minority of German literati, and therefore also the gap between political actors and citizens. To this end, Weber suggested an “occupation based model” with law governing the formation of trade unions, like in America (150), but not dissolving them because of their oppositional Weltanschauung, like under Bismarck who “excluded all other political minds besides his own” (161) to the effect of a “night-watchman state” (165). Bismarck’s followers, mere officers (Untertan) and not politicians themselves, did not have the political prowess to challenge him, and those with such leadership capacity were demobilized under Article 9.

Resentimment’ extends for Weber beyond the Nietzschean conception of a reactive “slave morality”, though he does address it as the reactive force exerted by the Untertan. Situating the literati’s “raging against the idea of a patronage of office [as] an open responsibility of the parties” (194), he signifies the reactionism of ‘resentimment’ against that which is “un-German” (ibid.), that which is outside the Prussian hegemony. Weber’s concern with the literati, the leading statesmen of the Reich, is that “political honour” is only a pretext to stay in power, in office, and harms Germany’s foreign affairs through “politically quite useless” publications[13], which sever “any possibility of substantive understanding” with England and France on mutual interests (203). He suggests that publication of beliefs be left to politicians who can “weigh the potential significance of public statements,” for which “everything depends on” (207). In this construction, he has exposed the tool of the literati is not their publications, but the political honour they uphold as a “pretext to stay in power”. Weber would describe this social ethic of political honour as the path to salvation of the ‘negatively privileged’ literati.

Weber moves on to discuss ‘resentimment’ as dependent also upon the individual, not only their class status, by drawing a line of difference between powerful leaders and those who involve themselves with ‘resentimment’:

“a man with a strong instinct for power and all the qualities that go with it would have to be a fool to let himself be drawn into the pitiful business of resentimment amongst colleagues when there is a field of activity waiting to welcome his abilities and desires… Men of that type prefer to finance pan-German newspaper and to allow the littérateurs to churn out their nonsense in them. All the men of this nation with any talent for leadership have been diverted down this path, into the service of private capitalist interests as a consequence of negative selection, which is what our so-called ‘monarchic government’ boils down to, once one has stripped away all hypocritical verbiage.” (172)

 

Extending beyond slandering those “fools” who allow themselves to participate in the “pitiful” business of ‘resentimment’, Weber also suggests that no powerful leader belongs to the class of those with ‘resentimment’. Considering Weber’s importance to the collection and analysis of Jewish history, he is probably not singling out European Jewry’s ‘resentimment’ as disabling their powerful leadership. Rather, it must become apparent that Weber is pointing towards interpersonal resentimment’ “amongst colleagues”. The spectrum of ‘resentimment’ extends from individual all the way to religion, with political parties in between. Weber insists that men with leadership power are driven away from political office by “negative selection”, a phrase that annihilates the humanity of employment into efficiency ratios; the monarchic government doesn’t facilitate the recruitment of powerful leaders, those unfazed by ‘resentimment’, which is “directed against anyone who strives for and achieves power by any route other than the legitimation bestowed by examination diplomas.” (173) Clearly Weber perceives the monarchic government’s social ethic as regulated by standardized testing.

Continuing to dissect ‘resentimment’ within party politics, the verbiage of ‘resentimment’s’ “harmonization” with bureaucracy sheds further light on his opinion about its governmental involvement:

“The resentimment which men who are party officials by nature feel towards the genuine political leadership is a powerful element in the attitude of some parties… Of course, their resentimment harmonizes perfectly with the like-minded interests of the bureaucracy.” (191)

 

Allowing resentimment to be natural for powerless officials to feel against the “genuine” leadership, he also “harmonizes” ‘resentimment’ with party bureaucracy, again indicating that the social ethic falls in line with their process of legitimation – bureacracy. The party performs their internal duties as an ascetic praxis under the same ‘slave morality’ as political honor while oppressed by a ruling order. By equivocating the need for legitimation with bureaucracy, Weber is also giving an ontological evaluation of legitimate existence as a harmonious praxis, apparently assuming that all parties experience ‘resentimment’ if they are to be legitimated. The powerful leader would be able to survive this ‘negatively privileged’ environment as long as he doesn’t deal with ‘resentimment’ “amongst colleagues”.

Weber’s “Politics as a Vocation” (1917) discusses the operational background of ‘resentimment’ in politics, putting the “modern” class-warfare at issue, and eventually warning that ‘resentimment’ in politics is not an effective means of achieving salvation and agreeing with himself about powerful leadership staying away from it:

“Under the modern class-warfare, the inner rewards are the satisfaction of hatred and revenge, of resentimment and the need for a pseudo-ethical feeling of being in the right, the desire to slander one’s opponents and make heretics of them.” (364-5)

 

Weber positioned modern ‘resentimment’ as a desire to slander opponents, furthering his insistence of ‘resentimment’ as a driving force of the literati, those oppositional charismatic leaders like Kurt Eisner. He reminds the reader that the fervor of ‘resentimment’ has the potential of being useless rhetoric, or the future of oppressing others:

“the emotionalism of the revolution is then followed by a return to traditional, everyday existence, the hero of the faith disappears and so, above all, does the faith itself, or it becomes (even more effectively) a part of the conventional rhetoric used by political philistines.” (365)

 

Then, he continues to align the hopes of ‘resentimment’ with its task of salvation, but in a

 

negative way:

 

“The ‘salvation of the soul’ is endangered by each of these [hopes for the future of the Fatherland] whenever men strive to attain them by political activity, employing the means of violence and acting on the basis of an ethic of responsibility… People aren’t responsible for the success of their belief.” (366)

 

Weber’s picture of ‘resentimment’ in politics is on one hand effective, because of the balancing effect bureaucracy has against plutocracy, and on the other hand quite modern, because the “ethic of responsibility” is always involved. By this, I mean that the “ethic of conviction” is, for Weber, a-political, because the rationality of politics insists that there are inner-worldly convictions. The “ethic of responsibility”, appropriated from the Torah as a description of Judaism’s most distinctive idea, emplies a causal relationship between actions and the world we live in, the inner-world. Weber’s forewarning about “political” ‘resentimment’ in the context of violence brings us back to his warning about its “bearing on social ethics”, including a value-judgement that one’s soul couldn’t be saved if you act violently in hopes of salvation. His argument against violent political ‘resentimment’ rests on the lack of agency one person or one political group has, because revolt depends on more things than just them. His warning to this end both diminishes the reputation of those revolutionary literati and reprimands the “ethic of responsibility” in its potentially violent shortcomings. Weber’s political ‘resentimment’ exists within the modernity of ‘monarchic government’ embodied by bureaucracy, peer ‘resentimment’, and most dangerously, revolutionary tendencies. The powerful political leader does not act with ‘resentimment’, but his followers (Untertan) and supporting party structure do. This makes ‘resentimment’ a functional force within social order but not the only force.

 

Resentimment’ creates a framework for understanding Weber’s nuanced depiction of society and polity. In this essay, I have selected every descriptive use of ‘resentimment’ by Weber, allowing this concept to stand outside of the Nietzschean discourse. The ultimate difference is the negotiation of ‘resentimment’ within politics as a response to hierarchy, but without Nietzsche’s notion that ‘resentimment’ can explain the entirety of these actions in the modern world. This difference from Nietzsche doesn’t give ‘resentimment’ a back-seat to political action, though. Quite on the contrary, Weber continues to use the concept as a mechanism to determine sources of violence by the polity on society, the potential of leaders, the legitimation of a regime. It is integral to Weber’s understanding about evolving concepts of salvation within the increasingly ‘disenchanted’ world, and yet ‘resentimment’ also represents an enchantment by ideology. It is a concept that contributes to the sociology of politics and religion by virtue of its breadth and prominence.

[1] The title of this translation changed to “The distribution of power in the community: Classes, Stände, Parties” in 2010 by New Zepplin University Waters, Tony, and Dagmar Waters (2015)

[2] Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Geneology of Morals. 1887.

[3] Just two years before Weber published this essay, Martin Buber’s study “The Spirit of Judaism” followed up on the success of Édouard Dumont’s study La France juive (1886).

[4] “Although the earth forms a sphere, history performs no circle around it, but has on the contrary a determinate East. Here rises the outward physical sun, and in the West sinks down: here rises the sun of self-consciousness, which diffuses a nobler brilliance.” The light cast on the West by its origination in the East allows the West to be reflective and aware of its own identity. George Fredrick Hegel. Lectures on the History of Philosophy. 1805-6, trans. E S Haldane, 1892-6.

[5] Gerth and Mills. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Oxford University. 1946. (62)

[6] This is addressed by an analysis of “Politics as a Vocation” and will be addressed briefly.

[7] Morris, Brian. Anthropological Studies of Religion. Cambridge University. 1987.

[8]  The song “Minority” (Green Day, 2000) offers a compelling elucidation of this effect.

[9] Orlick, J. The Politics of Regret. 2007 (157)

[10] In German, the word ‘mindern’ means ‘to minimize’, the illusion of which is lost in a translation that emphasizes the characteristic of oppression.

[11] As discussed in Weber’s Sociology of Religion.

[12] Stauth and Turner. Nietzsche’s Dance. Basil Blackwell. 1988. (114)

[13] The German word for publication, Veröffentlichung, is much more compelling because it expresses an element of timing and exertion, closer in meaning to the word “release” [of thoughts unto the world]. Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time discusses this.

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