Tags: Barack Obama | Donald Trump | extremism | ressentiment | west

Voter Anger Leads to Alternative Candidates

Voter Anger Leads to Alternative Candidates
French far-right Front leader Marine Le Pen at rally for terror victims in Paris, 2015 (AP)

By Monday, 16 May 2016 05:08 PM Current | Bio | Archive

In philosophy and psychology “ressentiment” is a form of hostility. It is the French word for resentment and it generally is directed at the cause of frustration, that is an assignment of blame for one’s frustration.

A sense of weakness or inferiority and jealously in the face of the “cause” generates a rejecting or justifying value system, even a moral paradigm which attacks the perceived source of frustration. This value system can be used as a means of justifying one’s own weakness by identifying the source of envy as objectively inferior.

In many cases, the ego creates an enemy in order to insulate itself from culpability.

Ressentiment tends to tear down distinctions. It is the reassignment of pain transferred to an external scapegoat. According to Kierkegaad, ressentiment occurs in a “passionless age” in which the populace stifles creativity.

The more a person is active and strong-willed, the less time and place is left for contemplating all that is being done to him.

It would appear all across the landscape of western civilization that ressentiment is the impetus for political activity. Whether it is Nobert Hofer, of the Austrian Freedom party, Marine Le Pen in France or Donald Trump in the U.S., ressentiment is the overarching impetus for electoral success.

In each case, there is an enemy that is real and enemies that are exaggerated. The external scapegoat is critical in the analysis of these constituencies.

In every instance, working class individuals who pay their taxes and abide by the law are angry that they are paying for the indolent, illegal migrants, and corrupt politicians who avoid the law for their own benefit. They are opposed to the so-called establishment, a vague and undefinable reference.

They are in a real sense “the forgotten” for whom policy questions rarely arise. This constituency is invisible in the ranks of higher education and when it is mentioned — however rarely — it is regarded with contempt.

The parties that claim their loyalty are not organizations rooted in philosophical positions and economic policy; instead these party leaders allow for the ventilation of fury. To some extent the party leaders in question know how to press the right emotional buttons, the one’s that unleash pent up frustration.

This is an historic moment; the crisis in the West is one in which a significant portion of the population believes the parties (read: establishment) that have held the reins of authority have let them down. Barack Obama’s failures literally created Donald Trump’s success.

Now the angry march as a battalion of unaffiliated voters. They seek a home.

Needless to say, liberal analysts describe this as a conservative movement. But it is not conservative in either a philosophical or contemporary political sense.

It is unmitigated anger grafted onto political parties.

Lest this analysis sound as a complete repudiation, it should be noted there are legitimate causes for the anger. The key factor for the future is how that anger is channeled.

Ressentiment is not a policy. Since it is related more to psychology than political action, there are methods of sublimation, albeit party disruption is one already observable method.

In the past, such movements die in time because the energy cannot be sustained or the scapegoats appear elusive or the cause of frustration is actually vanquished. The problem in the present is incorporating ressentiment into a political process that does not valorize the sentiment being expressed and the method for its expression.

Extremism is in the Western air and to breathe it can be simultaneously intoxicating and debilitating. The elixir of ressentiment with exaggerated claims about societal errors could lead to a path of violence and revolution, even if party leaders vigorously deny the realization of these outcomes.

History is replete with examples of ressentiment integrated into the political stage. Rarely does it become a force for responsible change. This cycle may be different, but only the passage of time will tell.

Herbert London is the president of the London Center for Policy Research and author of the books "America's Secular Challenge" (Encounter Books) and "The Transformational Decade" (University Press of America). Read more reports from Herbert London — Click Here Now.


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Extremism is in the Western air. It can be intoxicating and debilitating. The elixir of exaggerated claims about societal errors could lead to a path of violence and revolution. Only time will tell.
extremism, ressentiment, west
Monday, 16 May 2016 05:08 PM
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