Glenn Greenwald and the Politics of Ressentiment


By Joe Campbell
December 18th, 2009

Reading Julian Sanchez’s quite intelligent piece on the politics of ressentiment and how they underpin Sarah Palin’s popularity among the Republican base, I realized why certain passages that I had highlighted but not had the space to go after in my most recent piece on Greenwald had bothered me so much.  Sanchez discuses the philosophical/psychological concept of ressentiment. Wikipedia defines it as:

[A] sense of resentment and hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration, an assignation of blame for one’s frustration. The sense of weakness or inferiority and perhaps jealousy in the face of the “cause” generates a rejecting/justifying value system, or morality, which attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration.

One of the symptoms of ressentiment is to justify and perhaps even determine one’s moral positions by way of rejecting one’s enemies moral positions. In other words: Sarah Palin is hated by liberals so she must be great. My opponents on a bunch of issues believe in the right to bear arms, so I don’t. &tc.

This is how Greenwald began his piece “just asking questions” à la that other Glenn about the opinions people had of Obama’s Nobel prize acceptance speech:

Why are the Bush-following conservatives who ran the country for the last eight years and whose foreign policy ideas are supposedly so discredited  — including some of the nation’s hardest-core neocons — finding so much to cheer in the so-called Obama Doctrine?

And from there Greenwald goes on, exploiting the politics of ressentiment in order to justify his increasing hysterics about Obama, as his rant rises in volume:

Obama puts a pretty, intellectual, liberal face on some ugly and decidedly illiberal polices.  Just as George Bush’s Christian-based moralizing let conservatives feel good about America regardless of what it does, Obama’s complex and elegiac rhetoric lets many liberals do the same.  To red state Republicans, war and its accompanying instruments (secrecy, executive power, indefinite detention) felt so good and right when justified by swaggering, unapologetic toughness and divinely-mandated purpose; to blue state Democrats, all of that feels just as good when justified by academic meditations on “just war” doctrine and when accompanied by poetic expressions of sorrow and reluctance.  When you combine the two rhetorical approaches, what you get is what you saw yesterday:  a bipartisan embrace of the same policies and ideologies among people with supposedly irreconcilable views of the world.

If you read the piece, it seems an extended exercise in exploiting the politics of ressentiment to avoid actual argumentation. And you’ll know this politics of ressentiment running throughout Greenwald’s work, though often more subtly than this glaring example.

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