Lessons From Nietzsche in the Era of Trump and Brexit

by Patrick Hassan

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It would be uncontroversial to observe that political and social divides have become increasingly polarized over the last ten years in much of Europe and the United States. Trump’s 2016 election campaign; the crusade for Brexit; the prominence of right-wing parties in Italy and Hungary: each were characterized by an inflated rhetoric of “us vs. them” and an air of desperation that appears unprecedented in the modern era. Instead of slowing down, this trend appears to be accelerating.

The political spectrum has become increasingly black and white, with people forced into one  binary category or the other based on which boxes they tick concerning what are considered (rightly or wrongly) to be the fundamental issues of the time (e.g. immigration, identity politics, abortion, etc). How might we identify the causal mechanism behind this polarizing trend? I suggest that we would do well to consider the thought of 19th century German philosopher and iconoclast Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzsche was born in 1844 in the small town of Röcken, Germany, the son of a Lutheran minister. He attained a professorship in classical philology at the University of Basel at the young age of 24, and was a close friend and devotee of Richard Wagner, in whose work Nietzsche saw the cultural vitality that was so desperately needed in Germany. In the mid-late 1870’s, Nietzsche became disillusioned with Wagner’s work and (what he saw as) its life-denying worldview, and their relationship soured. Not long afterward in 1879, Nietzsche was forced to permanently leave his academic post due to poor health that continued to plague him throughout his life.

Nietzsche is best known for his unwavering criticisms of contemporary cherished values and beliefs. He sought to attack and expose European morality, religion, as well as political and philosophical ideas, as infected with tendentious presuppositions which possibly prevent the highest human potential. His criticisms of such ideas often took the form of psychological diagnoses about our sub-conscious, and how false consciousness — i.e. being systematically mistaken about what is in fact the case or what is in one’s best interests — lies at the heart of contemporary thought and culture. Accordingly, he has been considered a “master of suspicion,” alongside Sigmund Freud (who is indebted to Nietzsche in many respects) and Karl Marx.

In 1887, Nietzsche wrote On the Genealogy of Morals (GM), which was an attempt to provide a genuine history of European morality. It had three broad goals: (a) what are the origins of our most cherished values and beliefs?; (b) what sustains them?; (c) are they conducive to human flourishing? This was not a new task: Mill and the Utilitarians sought the same end; Darwin too; Hume offered his own genealogies of morality and religious belief before that; and even earlier, Hobbes, who did so with respect to political institutions. An important influence on Nietzsche here was his once friend Paul Rée, whose The Origin of the Moral Sensations (1877) Nietzsche commended in its naturalistic methodology, despite rejecting its conclusions as lacking “the historical spirit [historische Geist].” (GM, I: §2) According to Nietzsche these previous attempts at a genuine history of morality were infected with moral prejudices (particularly concerning the capacity for and primacy of “altruism”), thus their projects needed to be hardened “by the hammer-blow of historical knowledge.” (HH, §37; cf. §2)

While Rée et. al’s genealogies were vindicatory in nature (i.e they sought to justify contemporary moral values, beliefs and practices), Nietzsche’s own project was informed by deep suspicion, and, after careful consideration of the mechanism by which it evolved, a desire to undermine key aspects of contemporary morality (at least in the eyes of certain types of people). To this end, one of Nietzsche’s tasks in GM was to bring attention to how values and ideology can be shaped by the phenomenon of ressentiment.

Ressentiment is a French word which Nietzsche uses to refer to the feeling of hatred and envy towards a perceived cause of harm (i.e. an appropriate object of blame), but which is suppressed insofar as one’s weakness or inferiority relative to that cause denies it a direct outlet in the form of reprisal. Nietzsche believed that this kind of bottled-up hatred, if left to fester for too long, “becomes creative” and “gives birth to values.” (GM, I: §10) What Nietzsche has in mind is that ressentiment can lead those who feel it to sub-consciously construct a system of values that aims to undermine and denounce the source of one’s perceived harm, while simultaneously justifying and vindicating one’s weaknesses. This mechanism of value-creation has the function of providing a defence mechanism to shield the agent from confronting their inferiority.

To take an oversimplified example, imagine a man, A, who greatly desires to achieve success and fame as a musician but nonetheless knows he does not have the required ability, and simply isn’t cut out for music. A watches other musicians rise to fame with envy. Instead of admitting his inadequacies in this domain, A instead comes to believe that being famous is a waste of time anyway and is only for “sellouts” who don’t care about real art. In this way, A preserves his ego by denigrating a value that he desires but cannot achieve — fame — and at the same time valorizes his own inability to achieve it as a kind of “authenticity” or “integrity.”

It is precisely this psychological mechanism of ressentiment which Nietzsche, in the first essay of his On the Genealogy of Morals, identifies in the rise of Judeo-Christian values. For Nietzsche, the social conditions and relations of power in Roman-occupied Judea were such that its inhabitants perceived themselves to be oppressed by their Roman rulers. Unsurprisingly, this downtrodden group began to develop a vengeful disdain towards their aristocratic oppressors. Being the feebler of the two classes, the oppressed were unable to discharge these feelings by openly striking back with force, creating the feeling of ressentiment among them. In this case, the values that came to be cherished in the oppressed class were a literal inversion of the values of their oppressors. The new evaluative framework that emerged as a result — the Judeo-Christian tradition — valorized those who were previously considered bad, vulgar, and wretched as manifesting everything actually good, while the “nobles” and their associated qualities — strength, pride, joy, wealth, power, and physical prowess — were designated as being evil. This had the effect of legitimizing the inadequacies of the downtrodden: their “impotence” becomes “goodness of heart”; their “anxious lowliness” becomes “humility”; their “inoffensiveness” becomes “patience”; their “inability for revenge” becomes “forgiveness”; their hatred of their enemy becomes a “hatred of injustice.” (GM, I: §14). By way of reinterpreting the existing social power relations, the weak “compensate themselves with an imaginary revenge.” (GM, I: §10) As a paradigmatic expression of this colossal shift in values, consider the words of Paul the Apostle:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (Corinthians, 12:9)

Whether or not one finds this a convincing account of the birth of Judaism and Christianity, Nietzsche’s account of the psychological potency of ressentiment may prove fruitful in offering the conceptual tools to diagnose a partial cause of our current socio-political climate and in particular, the increasing prominence of the far-Right.

Findings from the British Social Attitudes survey, collated by the National Centre for Social Research in 2017, showed a strong correlation between those who voted for Britain to leave the EU, and those who were most concerned about the issue of immigration numbers to the UK. But this concern does not occur in a vacuum — the issue of immigration is nothing new (even taking into consideration the “migrant crisis” resulting from civil and imperialist wars in the Middle East and North Africa). What has led to this issue sparking such division is that (a) “Leave” voters influenced by it felt that their concerns were ignored or not taken seriously, and (b) a sense of loss of English identity and/or sovereignty stoked hostility towards the EU. Again, this may be a genuine concern, but large portions of the country were left feeling ignored, breeding ressentiment that was bound to manifest in the way that it has: an ideological dividing line so sharp that it is unique in British history.

In the U.S., a similar set of circumstances is observable. Significant portions of the population increasingly feel as if their values are being left behind and replaced with new, “radical liberal” values without involving them in the discussion. A feeling of ressentiment and suspicion towards those identified as “liberal university elites” pervades entire communities, angry at the idea that others are trying to determine what they ought to think and value.

It was this ressentiment that the likes of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage were able to identify and capitalize on in order to gain their respective political victories. Their rhetoric and outbursts reassure those who feel as if they have been harmed that they have in fact been harmed, something that is emboldened when these sentiments are rationalized by political commentators, particularly those perceived as being intellectuals, like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson.

What Nietzsche attempted to show was how our values can be shaped by sub-conscious psychological forces unbeknownst to us. Before one can understand how these values emerge, one must engage in a careful history, tracking the relevant explananda which often are manifold. The vulnerability of human beings to experience ressentiment, I suggest, has much explanatory power concerning the rise of far-Right evaluative frameworks.

What this thesis would additionally serve to reveal is that there have been major failures on the Left in overlooking the real reasons for far-Right expansion (not to mention how ressentiment may also explain certain features of new Leftist ideologies). In failing to address the underlying ressentiment of these ideologies and what creates it, the Left has often magnified it. If the people that voted for Trump and Brexit did so partly because they felt alienated from social and political discourse, no-platforming, and talk shows such as the Colbert Report or The Daily Show — while certainly funny — have made things worse in terms of the distance between political and social factions. The latter’s use of ridicule has forged the perception of the Left not as those concerned with emphasizing common struggles in the interest of human emancipation, but as sarcastic and smug, looking down upon the common man as naive and misguided. This only serves to intensify undiagnosed feelings of ressentiment.

A second failing is that the Left must realize that the obsession with Trump is a red herring: voting him out will not end the problem of a politically and socially divided America, no more than voting out Brexiteers will heal a divided Britain. These figures are merely symptoms of a deeper problem, and not root causes. Pretending otherwise serves to mask part of what is really driving people apart, and it is to this that our efforts and counters must be directed.

Ressentiment is the defining feature of 21st century politics in Europe and North America. The attitudes and policies derived from it won’t change unless we first understand this complex and subtle psychological mechanism which gives rise to, and sustains, them. Nietzsche, as a master of revealing ugly truths by way of a subtle genealogy of morals, has never been more relevant.

Patrick Hassan is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the American University in Cairo.

https://www.patrickhassan.com/

https://www.aucegypt.edu/fac/patrickhassan

Notes

(1) Henderson, Ailsa, Charlie Jeffery, Dan Wincott, and Richard Wyn Jones. “How Brexit Was Made in England.” The British Journal of Politics and International Relations 19, no. 4 (November 2017): 631–646. doi:10.1177/1369148117730542.

34 Comments »

  1. I’m happy to see Nietzsche, who is, in my opinion, the most insightful 19th century thinker as well as a brilliant and witty writer, recruited by the left. Thanks, Professor Hassan.

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  2. “… not to mention how ressentiment may also explain certain features of new Leftist ideologies…”

    You don’t say!

    Much leftist ideology can be seen as a secular manifestation of those very aspects of Christian ethics which Nietzsche describes and implicitly disparages. Historically speaking, the left certainly draws on the Judeo-Christian tradition more than classical sources.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mark. I’m in agreement with you here, certainly — the left’s evaluative framework is by no means ‘off the hook’ on a Nietzschean analysis (I take this to be pretty standard given N’s explicit attacks on secular values associated with ‘democratisation’). My aim was rather to see whether ressentiment has any explanatory power in the contemporary rise of the (far) right in particular. This is consistent with his account of ressentiment giving birth to Judeo-Christian morality which (I agree) the left draws upon.

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  3. I wish I could agree with this, and I do think that the points about smugness and garden-variety resentment in general hold. But as you say, the man of ressentiment is motivated partly by his “weakness or inferiority relative to that cause” which “denies it a direct outlet in the form of reprisal”. There is no serious sense in which the average Conservative is socially, politically, or economically inferior to the average Progressive, such that the latter’s existence is a serious impediment to the former’s agency, or such that there is no room for reprisal from the Conservative. After all, Trump is that reprisal. My suspicion is that this post only makes sens if we conflate ordinary resentment–just being pissed off at someone else–with Nietzschean ressentiment, a distinct social-psychological phenomenon which gives birth to new values. Ordinary resentment isn’t creative in the same way, it just motivates lashing out at an enemy. Ressentiment motivates a different, more creative kind of response, which is (I would say) absolutely and completely missing from contemporary political discourse.

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    • Hi Nick — thanks for your comment! I agree with you that we need to be careful in distinguish ordinary resentment (i.e. ‘Goddamn those guys piss me off) with the more robust Nietzsche concept of ressentiment. As well as sharing the concern raised by Dan and ‘eighties hair’ below that the plausibility of your claim that “there is no serious sense in which the average Conservative is socially, politically, or economically inferior to the average Progressive” depends on how we define those categories, I also think the current (and accelerating) trend of polarisation in the socio-political sphere is *best explained* at least in part by ressentiment precisely insofar as it is distinctively *creative*.

      Let me offer one particular kind of case. I don’t find it too difficult to imagine (and have even observed) that differences in one’s level of education can prove to be a disadvantage in the social-political sphere insofar as access to the debate is essentially denied at the outset because one party, (A) cannot engage at a socially required level of sophistication (i.e. they lack conceptual tools, data, vernacular, etiquette) that another, (B), can. The thesis would then be that (A) feels ressentiment towards (B) but is unable to discharge this in a publicly satisfiable/justifiable manner. I think that it is then very easy to see how (A) could then create values in opposition to (B) — for instance: “(B) typically values tolerance and multiculturalism? Well then: to hell with both!” (i.e. America first, protect/fund I.C.E., etc). In cases like this, the what is *producing* the values in question and pushing them further in a particular direction is ressentiment, since the weakness (A) has relative to (B) is the ability to articulate concerns in a publicly acceptable manner. I would claim that the brand of nationalism we are witnessing now is something quite different to standard conservatism we have been used to, and that ressentiment has explanatory power with respect to this shift.

      Nietzsche already diagnoses this particular mechanism with respect to education (but more precisely, intelligence) in his analysis of Socrates–someone who simply cannot be defeated in dialectical engagements, and may even harness this skill himself out of ressentiment for traditional Greek values (similar story for the ‘priests’ of the genealogy, who, lacking the physical prowess of the knights, rely on their ‘cleverness’ [Klugheit] to revalue the social landscape).

      Now, to complete the thesis, this is where the point about clarifying what we mean by ‘average conservative’ and ‘average progressive’ become important. I also think the comment from ‘ejwinner’ is getting at the same point i’m hinting at here with different examples. I hope my (brief) response makes sense!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Patrick, I agree that your case makes sense and I think you’ve shown how a certain relation of inequality *might* obtain in some of these cases. However, the trick is to show how such evaluative ideas as “America First”, or “Let’s strengthen our borders” are even remotely creative. They are as regressive as any values could be, deriving as they do from the very 19th- and 20th- century nationalism that Nietzsche himself attacked. At this point, the analogy just seems to be strained way too far, since this is at best a contingent kind of social inequality that cuts both ways, and because the resulting values are in no way new. This mostly just looks like garden-variety resentment motivating garden-variety political activity, though perhaps at a level of intensity we aren’t used to seeing.

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        • I think that perhaps we have different concepts of what ‘creative’ is supposed to entail in this context. I certainly agree that the types of nationalism and values we are seeing these days are not brand new–as you say, Nietzsche himself attacked versions of them in his own time. Again, I would agree with you that their intensity is noticeably greater than in recent history. However, I don’t think one has to read “ressentiment becomes creative” as necessarily meaning “ressentiment produces unique sets of values”. While Nietzsche certainly thinks this *did* happen with respect to the Judeo-Christian evaluative scheme (and this is what makes it so interesting), it is consistent with his thesis that ressentiment is also creative insofar as it can significantly determine one’s values (unique or not). The essential feature of his claim about ‘slave morality’ is that it is *reactive*: the ‘slaves’ can only consider what is ‘good’ as a contrast to perceived oppressors’ conception of what is ‘bad’. I think this mechanism leaves more than enough room to consider ressentiment ‘creative’ (i.e. significantly determines one’s evaluative outlook) *even if* the values one is led to are reappearances or make use of earlier oppositions. Your point does make me think that I (and Nietzsche too, for that matter!) needed to make more of what it means for ressentiment to be ‘creative’, however. Thanks!

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  4. Excellent article.

    As I noted in a comment to a previous article, I fear we may be entering an era of conflicting grudges, rather than concrete political positions that can be reasonably negotiated. Whatever the internal logic of a grudge, commitment to it is irrational. Argument can only attempt to unravel the internal logic, but rhetoric appeals to the commitment. The commitment is resistant to argumentation, and is generative of reconstructions of internal logic as needed to maintain itself. Rhetoric appealing to the commitment can successfully suggest the strategies of such reconstruction.

    Because irrational, commitment to a grudge cannot be defeated in either combat (which after all risks re-enforcement and exacerbation) or election. The successful attainment of power by those committed to a grudge does not abate the grudge but allows its enactment.

    1n 2003, as civilian casualties accumulated in the conquest of Iraq, I remarked to a colleague who supported the war that many civilian casualties would of course be young children. “Good!” she snapped, “Then they won’t grow up yo be terrorists!” Maybe, we’ll never know. But we can easily guess that their surviving family members carry on grudges against the US for this grievance. (Almost certainly some of these joined ISIS.)

    I mention this because, as I read the pleadings (by both liberals and concerned conservatives) for the welfare of Hispanic children held in what really are effectively concentration camps, call them else what we will, I am both bemused and saddened that what those making such pleadings clearly do not understand: Trump’s ressentiment-fueled followers want these children to suffer! Causing pain and degradation is why those children are held captive. Concern over entry of undocumented aliens – ‘they take away our jobs!’- may be the internal logic; but arguments concerning legitimate asylum-seeking procedures, or demonstration that statistics indicate that undocumented aliens generally take employment citizens find demeaning and in any event are paid less, or unraveling the fact that such employees only have their jobs because the law refuses to pursue action against employers – such arguments find deaf ears. The grudge is that America simply doesn’t look the way it once did, and commitment to the grudge involves lashing out at the perceived offenders. Those raising the counter-arguments are simply more ‘enemies,’ to be mocked and reduced to silence or powerlessness.

    Schadenfreude is the the real pay-off for the grudge, not policy. So if we have entered an era of conflicting grudges, expect more suffering, and increasingly cynical celebration of the pain of others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I agree (especially concerning what the function of debates seem to be now: ‘destroying’ an opponent completely out of Schadenfreude), and the examples you use bring out the basic point clearly.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “There is no serious sense in which the average Conservative is socially, politically, or economically inferior to the average Progressive”

    This statement seems to depend a good deal on how one defines “average conservative” and “average progressive”.

    Liked by 4 people

      • People suffering from ressentiment do not consult statistics to see if they are socially, politically or economically inferior. And they base their perceptions on how they have declined from their days of glory, on how they see themselves as going downhill in life compared to how others (the object of their ressentiment) have advanced in life. They compare their perceived decline to the others’ perceived advance and that creates an incredibly rancor.

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      • I believe that Trump voters had higher average income than Hilary voters last election. That said, a high percentage of African-American and Latino voters are socially conservative but vote democrat anyway, and if it weren’t for that, then conservatives would be worse off on average.

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  6. Excellent essay. Regarding the status of the “average conservative” vs the “average liberal,” I think we’re missing a lot if we focus only on things like wealth and relative political power. People often behave as though their reputations–their social lives–were every bit as important (or even moreso!) than their physical lives. This is why we spend so much time playing energetically expensive and often risky signaling games (and not for nothing; in the Pleistocene past, a bad reputation really could have been a death sentence). Conservatives may be better off materially on average, but their cultural cachet over the past few decades has taken quite a beating. They are losing the national signaling game and this, rightly or wrongly, probably matters more to them. Why do you think they reserve such particularly intense ire for that great cipher and shaper of America’s evolving values, Hollywood (and for the “liberal media” more generally)?

    To fully understand the role of ressentiment in contemporary politics, however, I think we also need to look closely at the dynamics within the groups at issue. I suspect much status conflict between groups is ultimately driven by status competition among members of common in-groups. After all, identifying and attacking external threats to one’s group is a pretty tried and true way of shoring up status among one’s fellows (Trump’s popularity owes a great deal to this strategy). As Judge Holden pointedly put it in Cormac McCarthy’s terrifying opus, Blood Meridian: “What joins men together…is not the sharing of bread but the sharing of enemies.” But the unity here is in many ways a fraudulent one, one that yields quickly to a sort of unspoken contest over who can most harmfully and conspicuously antagonize members of the vilified out-group. At the extreme, this process results in acts of violent terrorism of the sort we’re increasingly seeing from the far right.

    The intensification and acting out of ressentiment also, I think, has a lot to do with opportunity. In the past we were largely stuck within the hierarchies into which we were born, and our most viable option for bettering our standing in the community was to compete directly within the hierarchy according to the values that structure it. If we’d wanted to try our luck in a new community, we’d have had to physically relocate–perhaps quite far if we were seeking a community with dramatically different values. Now, thanks to the Internet and social media, it’s trivially easy to find and place oneself in a group congenial to one’s particular complement of beliefs, skills, and knowledge. Those sorting themselves in such a fashion are likely to find themselves in the company of others with not just similar traits but similar grievances toward out-groups in which such traits are devalued. Here, ressentiment can freely fester and the grounds for the aforementioned within-group competition are quickly cultivated.

    All this augurs pretty darkly, I think, for the future of our politics. It’s a great thing in theory that more people can now effortlessly find communities in which they are more likely to be valued, but the greater within-group similarity resulting from the exercise of this privilege leads to more intense within-group competition and the shared ressentiment within the group incentivizes the externalization of this competition in a way increasingly dangerous to out-group members.

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  7. Excellent summary.Because of all the points highlighted in this article, Trump will be elected again.Good luck and good nite.
    —- Peace

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    • 10 bucks says he won’t. The majority of Americans are sick of this particular brand of resentment. Hopefully they will soon grow tired of all such resentments. We’ll see..

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  8. It is a considerable argument. Nietzsche was a great thinker. It is always a pleasure to read about Nietzsche. I thank professor.

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  9. Patrick Hasan,
    Having things explained to one is nice but strangely enough the ‘low information voter’ has more numbers to back up his rejection of the maunderings of hippophile Nietzsche. In relation to the U.K. I shall never forget my surprise when in a Sunday Times editorial (taken by A, B folk) I read that one of the great benefits of immigration was ‘wage correction’. An exceptional outbreak of honesty.

    We were told that Britain would plunge into immediate recession if Brexit. Didn’t.

    There is nothing like facts to fortify an argument. Grand Unified Theories linking BrexitTrumpErdoganOrban and the plucky apparatchiks of the E.U. standing alone against chaos are the fata morgana of the intelligentsia bewildered by the strange ways of the democratic process. As one of the chief reasons for Brexit was mass unchecked immigration I offer this source of information:

    https://www.migrationwatchuk.org/key-topics/public-services-infrastructure

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    • ombhurbhuva,

      There’s some truth in what you write, but Brexit is a bad example.

      First of all: how democratic was it? There was an advisory referendum with a 52/48 result pro Brexit for the UK as a whole, but with a majority against Brexit in Northern Ireland and Scotland, two of the constituent nations of the UK. Calling the vote of the UK parliament in favor of Brexit “democratic” in those circumstances is stretching things a bit, I feel.

      And then there’s the fact that a sizeable portion of the UK press (and some of the leading people in the conservative party) blame the EU for things for which it is not responsible. Mass unchecked immigration is an example. The site you link to does not adequately make the difference between immigration from the EU and overseas, non-EU immigration for which the EU has no responsiblity. That’s a matter for the individual member states.

      And when it does make that difference, it admits that the UK government is at fault:

      “Visitors from the EU are mostly covered for treatment by the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) system under which the NHS charges their home country for treatment under reciprocal arrangements. However, the NAO has also criticised the NHS for not being rigorous enough in checking the status of visiting patients from other European countries.”

      “The National Audit Office (NAO) has also criticised the NHS for inefficiency in collecting debts from non-EEA visitors.” (EEA = European Economics Area = the EU plus a few other countries)

      There are many statements on that site that need a nuanced interpretation. Take “It has been estimated that that over 90% of immigrants in the UK are in households that are not excluded from social housing on the basis of their immigration status.”

      Again: is that the fault of the EU? Freedom of movement is one of the principles of the EU, but individual member countries are allowed to require that people from other EU countries prove they have sufficient means and health insurance. Apparently the UK didn’t use that option, but that’s not the problem of the EU, is it?

      I don’t doubt the English low information voter had numbers to back up his rejection of the EU, but I do doubt he and she had correct or correctly interpreted numbers.

      I don’t want to start a discussion about Brexit. I wish the UK good luck. But ressentiment based on dubious information is even worse than ressentiment tout court.

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    • Ombhurbhuva: Thank you for your comments. The above essay is, of course, neutral on both the (dis)value of the EU, and on whether the UK is better off outside of it or not.

      What is relevant, however, is whether participants in a democratic process ever vote arationally (note, not necessarily *irrationally*). I contend that, in significant number, they do. Hence, while we might assume just for sake of argument that there were very good reasons to vote for Brexit (and let’s use those figures you present as grounding them), I doubt that these were the reasons–fully comprehended–that most people *actually* voted on the basis of. Rather, what I think cannot be ignored (and this is why I think Nietzsche’s observations are interesting here), is the extent to which rhetoric surrounding such immigration figures (and distorted versions of them), and deliberately vague notions of ‘sovereignty’ which were marketed as under threat in various respects, were a motivating factor, not only for the outcome of Brexit, but more importantly the character of the socio-political battleground surrounding it (this is the respect in which I claim there are similarities with the rise of Trump, etc). Hence, when you say that “one of the chief reasons for Brexit was mass unchecked immigration”, I agree (and even affirm this in the essay, citing a particular study). But this does not mean that all, or even most, voters were fully informed about the real status of immigration to the UK (e.g. numbers, economic impact, social impact, etc). My point, which I don’t think is inconsistent with what you have said above, was that how Brexit has unfolded (with immigration as its catalyst), and the nature of its most outspoken cheerleaders, are a mere symptom of a deeper social issue, not a cause of the current social divide.

      As for the recession, we shall have to see about that when Britain actually leaves (I think the current record-low of the Pound was bound to happen at this stage regardless of how things will turn out later).

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      • Patrick Hassan:
        Yes there was arationality on both sides but the side that won is having theirs examined more stringently as one would expect. Mingled with their ressentiment is a certain amount of nous. The average working class person could see that the ‘Polish Plumber’ was ruining the trade. If he had children at school he could see the effect non-English speaking children was having on education. He would also resent being called racist if he questioned any of this. Recall Gordon Brown’s hot mike comment ‘ that racist women’. We probably agree on all this.

        I’ve been reading Pareto’s Mind and Society recently and he holds that practically no position outside of empirical science is rationally held. All positions are the effects of quasi instinctual residues and their derivations which can be manipulated by clever rhetoric.

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  10. Couvent:
    Technically the vote was advisory as in the British system parliament is soverign, however the understanding by all was that the advice of the British people, which includes N.Ireland and Scotland, would be taken. Yes it was close and it is divisive. Such is the nature of sufferage.

    My reading of the stats given by migration watch seemed to me to make the distinction between E.U. and non-E.U. immigration. It is also the case that it is a distinction without a difference when you don’t have the power to check the legal E.U. migration and the will to limit the legal and illegal non-E.U. migration.

    However, the present level of immigration is neither sustainable nor well managed. Since 2001 migrants and their subsequent children have added one million to our population every three years. In 2018 net migration was over 250,000. If it continues at recent levels the latest official (ONS) statistics project that the UK population will increase by nearly 400,000 per year – the equivalent of a new city the size of Cardiff.

    (from migration watch)

    What has this to do with Trump, a one off political idiot savant. He’s uncanny – the latest ‘go home’ row, outrageous and brilliant, reality show politics, like Hemingway playing a 2 pound mackeral.

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    • Well lets wait until the UK is actually out of the EU to see if there is a recession or not. So far Brexit hasn’t in fact happened. Personally I am more concerned about medicine and other goods, however the fall in the pound hasn’t been without consequences.

      ‘Since 2001 migrants and their subsequent children have added one million to our population every three years’

      So do they admit that Britain has a problem with an aging population and that we need more young people or not? Surely if the UK is too full for migrant children, then its too full for indigenous children?

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  11. Bunsen:
    As you probably know the threat was that if Leave were successful there would be an immediate recession. Did I miss it? What’s coming up is in the realm of speculation.

    Having control over the flow of migration will enable any government to plan ahead.

    You write:”Surely if the UK is too full for migrant children, then its too full for indigenous children?”. Interesting logical question: Can you be fuller than full? Lewis Carroll might have something to say about that on the lines of much of a muchness.

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    • Ombhurbhuva,

      I think you make valid points. Immigration is seen as a problem by a sizeable portion of the population (and not only in the UK). In a democracy this can’t be ignored, and if politicians ignore it for too long, they are opening the door for resssentiment towards the “ruling elites”. People will define their values as opposites of the values of these elites – being “anti-foreigner” will become their proud badge of honor.

      However, as Patrick correctly points out, this ressentiment can easily be manipulated, and that’s what happened in the UK. The EU is blamed for many things for which is it not responsible (and for many things the UK government actually agreed with on the level of the EU).

      “Having control over the flow of migration will enable any government to plan ahead.”

      The UK has control over the flow over overseas (non-EU) immigration. Overseas immigration is a matter for the individual member states; the EU doesn’t have a say in it. And intra-EU immigration comes with certain safeguards to avoid the local social security systems are overburdened.

      The UK government choose not to apply these safeguards (or if it did, to a very limited extent).

      The UK government simply didn’t use the means it has to control overseas and intra-EU immigration. Just one example: in 2004 there were transitional provisions giving the 15 original member states of the EU (including the UK) for a certain period certain rights to limit the free movement of people from the new member states. The UK never used these rights and opened the doors from day one.

      The responsibility for the “immigration crisis” (if I may say so) rests to a large degree with the UK government.

      The interesting question therefore is: how come the EU became the scapegoat for this crisis, for which it has limited responsibility? How come the Tories – not exactly the party of the “common man” – succeeded in becoming the party representing the ressentiment of that common man?

      This is, I think, the point where a Nietzschean analysis fails. It’s not the feebler of two classes, not the oppressed who profit from the inversion of values – in the UK it’s the powerful.

      (But perhaps I’m mistaken – the Roman empire adopted christianity in the end. The powerful must have profited from it, I assume.)

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    • ‘As you probably know the threat was that if Leave were successful there would be an immediate recession’

      You can certainly cherry pick any hype you want to, however, the economists I was reading were pretty specific. Their concern was the medium term viability of the UK economy. Most said that it would lead to a slowdown and stagnation giving us a lost decade of economic growth. We will need to wait to see whether they were right.

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  12. Hi Patrick

    “Ressentiment is a French word which Nietzsche uses to refer to the feeling of hatred and envy towards a perceived cause of harm (i.e. an appropriate object of blame), but which is suppressed insofar as one’s weakness or inferiority relative to that cause denies it a direct outlet in the form of reprisal. Nietzsche believed that this kind of bottled-up hatred, if left to fester for too long, “becomes creative” and “gives birth to values.” ”

    More and more people seem to be feeling ressentiment, and a lot of this ressentiment is getting expressed in inflammatory fashion, feeding into further rises in feelings of ressentiment. And though you seem to be mainly concerned with the left as a cause of ressentiment in the right, the same observation can be made about the right, i.e. that the rights positions and stances are also fueling strong feelings of ressentiment in the left.

    “A second failing is that the Left must realize that the obsession with Trump is a red herring: voting him out will not end the problem of a politically and socially divided America, no more than voting out Brexiteers will heal a divided Britain. These figures are merely symptoms of a deeper problem, and not root causes.”

    I agree. But I think the overall rise in ressentiment and polarisation are both effects that stem largely from the oversimplification (or over-complexification) of debate, from the scapegoating and the belittling of groups, the labelings, left, right, liberal, conservative, etc; and together they all make it harder to see the roots of our problems, obscuring both more productive discussion and paths towards mutual resolutions.

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    • Mark:Is this ressentiment characterised as a brooding over hurts, being unable to express them, having them fester and turning eventually into a cancer or a retreat to one’s room in a high dudgeon of passive aggression, is this a feature of the Gillet Jaunes (amusingly ‘jilly jones’ in cc on youtube), the supporters of Tommy Robinson, Le Pen, Orban, Salvini etc.? I suggest that the seething brooding is more a mark of the explaining class who are upset that their advice has gone unheeded.

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  13. “I suggest that the seething brooding is more a mark of the explaining class who are upset that their advice has gone unheeded.”

    Explaining class ? if you mean those who have more power or wealth, I think I at least partly agree, some of them also have ressentiment towards those that have it for them. More of it ? Maybe in some ways ,but problem wise I’m not sure either side is closer to the chicken, than to the egg.

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