Nietzsche: Ressentiment

In his work, On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche describes the development of "good," "bad" and "evil," as they have evolved throughout history. During the initial stages of his development, it seems that certain periods in history were occupied by the overman, or rather, that certain groups behaved like the overman. Upon closer scrutiny, however, it becomes clear that none had the characteristics of the overman, and that, in fact, the idea of a group acting as an overman is inherently flawed. Nietzsche begins his first essay describing the attitude prevalent in prehistory: an attitude in which those who are good define goodness, rather than "those to whom 'goodness' was shown" (p. 25). The difference between the two potential originators revolves around the idea of the good as individuals: The noble, powerful, high-stationed and high-minded, who felt and established themselves and their actions as good, that is, of the first rank, in contradistinction to all the low, low-minded, common and plebeian. (p. 26) In this case of prehistory, those who perceive themselves to be noble and powerful establish their own nobility and power as the good. This is contrary to what Nietzsche argues the psychologists claim: that those who are the recipients of a useful deed, deem it good. Thus, Nietzsche proposes that all original concepts of the good have their origin in nobility and aristocracy. Those who existed contrary to the good became the bad, not yet evil, but simply bad—lacking the noble qualities. At this point Nietzsche begins to develop his description of the creation of the ressentiment, and eventually, of evil. He characterizes this evolution as the conflict between the knightly-aristocratic value judgments of prehistory and the priestly value judgments, and takes the Jews by way of example: ...the Jews, that priestly people, who in opposing their enemies and conquerors were ultimately satisfied with nothing less than a radical revaluation of their enemies values, that is to say, an act of the most spiritual revenge. (p. 34) Inherent in this statement is the idea of ressentiment; an idea which, through its resentment of the prehistoric good, creates a new good and, with it, a new evil. In this new development, those who were considered good, now become the evil, and those who were bad, are elevated to the good. Those who were previously bad realize that the goodness above them was hollow and merely predicated on nobility. Thus, according to Nietzsche, the bad create the criteria by which they are judged to be the good by virtue of their weakness and impotence—an equally hollow judgment. Those who once stood above them as noble are now considered evil because of their oppressive nature. In describing the creators of "good and evil," Nietzsche gives them a hint of the characteristics of the overman. Not only do they create a new ideal, but they do this in the face of the previous ideal, which they themselves destroyed. Any similarities between them and the overman, however, are soon forgotten when one considers that the group needed "external stimuli in order to act at all," and that "its action is fundamentally reaction" (p. 37). Most importantly, however, their creation is flawed in that it espouses weakness and a state of oppression as the good.