It's literally Nietzsche's concept of ressentimente.
Nietzsche's Psychology of Ressentiment: Revenge and Justice in On the Geneaology of Morals
Guy Elgat, Nietzsche's Psychology of Ressentiment: Revenge and Justice in On the Geneaology of Morals, Routledge, 2017, 180 pp., $140.00, ISBN 9781138724808.
Reviewed by Mark Migotti, University of Calgary
The analysis and diagnosis of ressentiment – its nature and its effects on the history of Western thought (and Eastern thought too, for that matter) – are at the heart of Nietzsche's contributions to philosophy. "The earth has been a madhouse", he says in the Genealogy of Morals [GM], and otherworldly philosophers, along with priests, theologians, and others, have played a large a part in making it so. Such claims demand rigorous scrutiny, so it's pleasing that in the book under review Nietzsche's account of ressentiment is carefully investigated and diligently analyzed.
As his subtitle indicates, Elgat's chief text is the Genealogy and his chief concern is the relationship of ressentiment to justice. Rich in detail, Elgat's discussions are nevertheless sharply focused on a core theme: that "Nietzsche's critique of morality is motivated by considerations of justice," his "main charge against ressentiment and morality [being] . . . their injustice" (p. 163). He expounds and defends this view in seven chapters, preceded by an introduction.
In Chapter 1, Elgat criticizes Eugen Dühring's and Robert Solomon's forced attempts to rehabilitate ressentiment by assigning to it an integral role in the genesis of a sense of justice, and in Chapter 2 he sketches a "minimalist" account of what ressentiment is. Chapter 3 takes up the injustice of ressentiment, and Chapter 4 turns to the first essay of GM in an effort to explain how "the same features that make ressentiment unreliable in matters of justice play a role in generating the self-deception required for the success of the slave revolt in morality" (9). Chapter 5 is explicitly cast as an interlude devoted to the relation of ressentiment to bad conscience, specifically to the idea that "it is the man of ressentiment who has the invention of bad conscience on his conscience" (p. 9). Chapters 6 and 7 complete the book's argument by, first, showing how slavish ressentiment manages to provoke a transformation of "justice on an elementary level" into a moralized notion "that bestows universal and equal extension to all the newly minted values of the slave revolt" (pp. 9-10); and then "reconstruct[ing]" on Nietzsche's behalf a "vindicatory genealogy of the capacity to be (non morally) just" (p. 10, emphasis added).
Elgat's focus on ressentiment and justice leads him to pay welcome attention to a number of underexplored passages in GM, and to address important difficulties faced by Nietzsche's views. But he sometimes misses nuances in Nietzsche's arguments, and often scants their context in the narrative of GM. For example, while (in my view) his minimalist interpretation of ressentiment is on the right track, his attempt at a rigorously neutral, "purely psychological" definition of ressentiment is open to criticism. Elgat's understanding of ressentiment is minimalist in the sense that it relies on a minimal number of presuppositions. Contrary to the suggestions, explicit or implicit, of many commentators, he denies that ressentiment is an affliction only of the weak or slavish, argues that it isn't necessarily motivated by a sense of injustice or a belief that one has been wronged, and maintains that it needn't fester or be repressed.
As Elgat interprets it, Nietzschean ressentiment is an "instinctive reaction" to suffering (of a certain sort). More compendiously, it is "an affectively charged desire for revenge that involves the belief that someone or other is responsible for the suffering that causes it . . . "