The Ethics of Resentment: The Tactlessness of Jean Améry
In his essay “Resentments” the holocaust survivor Jean Améry presents a radical position about the fundamental moral role of “ressentiment” felt by the victim toward the perpetrator of the wrong. The article first examines the way Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment is turned on its head. Secondly, it uncovers the surprising similarity of Améry’s view to P. F. Strawson’s theory of reactive attitudes in moral theory. Finally, Améry’s awareness of the tactlessness of the expression of resentment is carefully analyzed in terms articulated by Hans-Georg Gadamer and others. The ultimate point made by Améry concerning the backward-looking attitude of resentment consists of the tragic tension between its being the only genuine moral attitude toward Nazi crimes and its futility associated with the obstruction it necessarily puts in the way of the forward-looking tendency of social morality.