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Demanding social justice for historical injury codifies ressentiment and locks subordinated groups in their subordination



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Demanding social justice for historical injury codifies ressentiment and locks subordinated groups in their subordination.

Brown, Professor of Women’s Studies @ UC Santa Cruz, 1995 [Wendy, States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity pg. 66-70]
Liberalism contains from its inception a generalized incitement to what Nietzsche terms ressentiment, the moralizing revenge of the powerless,"the triumph of the weak as weak. "22 This incitement to ressentitnent inheres in two related constitutive paradoxes of liberalism: that between individual liberty and social egalitarianism, a paradox which produces failure turned to recrimination by the subordinated, and guilt turned to resentment by the "successful"; and that between the individualism that legitimates liberalism and the cultural homogeneity required by its commitment to political universality, a paradox which stimulates the articulation of politically significant differences on the one hand, and the suppression of them on the other, and which offers a form of articulation that presses against the limits of universalist discourse even while that which is being articulated seeks to be harbored withinincluded inthe terms of that universalism. Premising itself on the natural equality of human beings, liberalism makes a political promise of universal individual freedom in order to arrive at social equality, or achieve a civilized retrieval of the equality postulated in the state of nature. It is the tension between the promises of individualistic liberty and the requisites of equality that yields ressentiment in one of two directions, depending on the way in which the paradox is brokered. A strong commitment to freedom vitiates the fulfillment of the equality promise and breeds ressentiment as welfare state liberalism --- attenuations of the unmitigated license of the rich and powerful on behalf of the "disadvantaged." Conversely, a strong commitment to equality, requiring heavy state interventionism and economic redistribution, attenuates the commitment to freedom and breeds ressentiment expressed as neoconservative antistatism, racism, charges of reverse racism, and so forth. However, it is not only the tension between freedom and equality but the prior presumption of the self-reliant and self-made capacities of liberal subjects, conjoined with their unavowed dependence on and construction by a variety of social relations and forces, that makes all liberal subjects, and not only markedly disenfranchised ones, vulnerable to ressentiment: it is their situatedness within power, their production by power, and liberal discourse's denial of this situatedness and production that cast the liberal subject into failure, the failure to make itself in the context of a discourse in which its selfmaking is assumed, indeed, is its assumed nature. This failure, which Nietzsche calls suffering, must either find a reason within itself (which redoubles the failure) or a site of external blame upon which to avenge its hurt and redistribute its pain. Here is Nietzsche's account of this moment in the production of ressentiment: For every sufferer instinctively seeks a cause for his suffering, more exactly, an agent; still more specifically, a guilty agent who is susceptible to suffering in short, some living thing upon which he can, on some pretext or other, vent his affects, actually or in effigy . . . . This ... constitutes the actual physiological cause of ressentiment, vengefulness, and the like: a desire to deaden pain by means of affects, . . . to deaden, by means of a more violent emotion of any kind, a tormenting, secret pain that is becoming unendurable, and to drive it out of consciousness at least for the moment: for that one requires an affect, as savage an affect as possible, and, in order to excite that, any pretext at all. Ressentiment in this context is a triple achievement: it produces an affect (rage, righteousness) that overwhelms the hurt; it produces a culprit responsible for the hurt; and it produces a site of revenge to displace the hurt (a place to inflict hurt as the sufferer has been hurt). Together these operations both ameliorate (in Nietzsche's term, "anaesthetize") and externalize what is otherwise "unendurable." In a culture already streaked with the pathos of ressentiment for the reasons just discussed, there are several distinctive characteristics of late modern postindustrial societies that accelerate and expand the conditions of its production. My listing will necessarily be highly schematic: First, the phenomenon William Connolly names "increased global contingency", combines with the expanding pervasiveness and complexity of domination by capital and bureaucratic state and social networks to create an unparalleled individual powerlessness over the fate and direction of one's own life, intensifying the experiences of impotence, dependence, and gratitude inherent in liberal capitalist orders and constitutive of ressentiment.24 Second, the steady desacralization of all regions of life -- what Weber called disenchantment, what Nietzsche called the death of god would seem to add yet another reversal to Nietzsche's genealogy of ressenti;nent as perpetually available to "alternation of direction." In Nietzsche's account, the ascetic priest deployed notions of "guilt, sin, sinfulness, depravity, damnation" to "direct the ressentiment of the less severely afflicted sternly back upon themselves . . . and in this way exploit[ed] the bad instincts of all sufferers for the purpose of selfdiscipline, selfsurveillance, and selfovercoming. "25 However, the desacralizing tendencies of late modernity undermine the efficacy of this deployment and turn suffering's need for exculpation back toward a site of external agency.26 Third, the increased fragmentation, if not disintegration, of all forms of association not organized until recently by the commodities marketcommunities, churches, familiesand the ubiquitousness of the classificatory, individuating schemes of disciplinary society, combine to produce an utterly unrelieved individual, one without insulation from the inevitable failure entailed in liberalism's individualistic construction27 In short, the characteristics of late modern secular society, in which individuals are buffeted and controlled by global configurations of disciplinary and capitalist power of extraordinary proportions, and are at the same time nakedly individuated, stripped of reprieve from relentless exposure and accountability for themselves, together add up to an incitement to ressentiment that might have stunned even the finest philosopher of its occasions and logics Starkly accountable yet dramatically impotent, the late modern liberal subject quite literally seethes with ressentiment. Enter politicized identity, now conceivable in part as both product of and reaction to this condition, where "reaction" acquires the meaning Nietzsche ascribed to it: namely, an effect of domination that reiterates impotence, a substitute for action, for power, for selfaffirmation that reinscribes incapacity, powerlessness, and rejection. For Nietzsche, ressentiment itself is rooted in reaction -- the substitution of reasons, norms, and ethics for deeds -- and he suggests that not only moral systems but identities themselves take their bearings in this reaction. As Tracy Strong reads this element of Nietzsche's thought: Identity ... does not consist of an active component, but is reaction to something outside; action in itself; with its inevitable self-assertive qualities, must then become something evil, since it is identified with that against which one is reacting. The will to power of slave morality must constantly reassert that which gives definition to the slave: the pain he suffers by being in the world. Hence any attempt to escape that pain will merely result in the reaffirmation of painful structures. If the "cause" of ressentitnent is suffering, its "creative deed" is the reworking of this pain into a negative form of action, the "imaginary revenge" of what Nietzsche terms "natures denied the true reaction, that of deeds."29 This revenge is achieved through the imposition of suffering "on whatever does not feel wrath and displeasure as he does”30 (accomplished especially through the production of guilt), through the establishment of suffering as the measure of social virtue, and through casting strength and good fortune ("privilege," as we say today) as self-recriminating, as its own indictment in a culture of suffering: "it is disgraceful to be fortunate, there is too much misery.”31 But in its attempt to displace its suffering, identity structured by ressentiment at the same time becomes invested in its own subjection. This investment lies not only in its discovery of a site of blame for its hurt will, not only in its acquisition of recognition through its history of subjection (a recognition predicated on injury, now righteously revalued), but also in the satisfactions of revenge, which ceaselessly reenact even as they redistribute the injuries of marginalization and subordination in a liberal discursive order that alternately denies the very possibility of these things and blames those who experience them for their own condition. Identity politics structured by ressentiment reverse without subverting this blaming structure: they do not subject to critique the sovereign subject of accountability that liberal individualism presupposes, nor the economy of inclusion and exclusion that liberal universalism establishes. Thus, politicized identity that presents itself as a selfaffirmation now appears as the opposite, as predicated on and requiring its sustained rejection by a "hostile external world."32




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