"The Happiness of 'Slight Superiority'": Kierkegaard and Nietzsche on Resentment

Daniel Conway

Abstract


My aim in this essay is to pair Kierkegaard with the German-born philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). I am particularly concerned to juxtapose their complementary investigations into the etiology and operation of resentment, which both thinkers identified as exerting a powerfully retardant force within the bourgeois societies of late modern European culture. Indeed, both were concerned to demonstrate the extent to which the corrosive power of resentment had transformed the religious injunction to “love thy neighbor” into a culturally sponsored program to “beggar thy neighbor.”
The result of this pairing, or so I hope to demonstrate, is a productive division of philosophical labor: From Nietzsche, on the one hand, Kierkegaard’s readers may gain a clear sense of how a community founded on ressentiment may accommodate “healthy” expressions of comparative advantage and relative superiority. Even when exaggerated and amplified, however, these expressions pose no threat to the conservative, contractionary structure of the ethical life of the community in question. In particular, as we shall see, Nietzsche’s account of ressentiment may explain that, and why, the seemingly daring meditation conducted by Johannes de silentio in Fear and Trembling yields such a muddled and unsatisfying conclusion.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5399/uo/konturen.7.0.3655

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