Resentment's Virtue

Resentment's Virtue: Jean Amery and the Refusal to Forgive

Thomas Brudholm
Foreword by Jeffrie G. Murphy
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Resentment's Virtue
    Book Description:

    Most current talk of forgiveness and reconciliation in the aftermath of collective violence proceeds from an assumption that forgiveness is always superior to resentment and refusal to forgive. Victims who demonstrate a willingness to forgive are often celebrated as virtuous moral models, while those who refuse to forgive are frequently seen as suffering from a pathology. Resentment is viewed as a negative state, held by victims who are not "ready" or "capable" of forgiving and healing.

    Resentment's Virtueoffers a new, more nuanced view. Building on the writings of Holocaust survivor Jean Améry and the work of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Thomas Brudholm argues that the preservation of resentment can be the reflex of a moral protest that might be as permissible, humane or honorable as the willingness to forgive. Taking into account the experiences of victims, the findings of truth commissions, and studies of mass atrocities, Brudholm seeks to enrich the philosophical understanding of resentment.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-568-4
    Subjects: Philosophy, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Jeffrie G. Murphy

    We live in a time in which the virtue of forgiveness (conceived as transcending certain resentments) risks becoming distorted and cheapened by various movements that advocate it in a hasty and uncritical way. Selective and considered forgiveness may indeed reveal virtue in victims of wrongdoing, may legitimately free those victims from being consumed by unhealthy resentments, and may aid in restoring relations that are worth restoring. None of this, however, shows that forgiveness is always a virtue, that all resentments are unhealthy, and that all relationships are worth restoring. Some wrongs and some perpetrators of those wrongs may be unforgivable,...

  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. 1 Transitional Justice and the Ethics of Anger
    (pp. 1-18)

    Are the strongly vindictive desires expressed in the first quote above by the witness to a massacre of civilians in Sarajevo fundamentally undesirable or unjustified? Would it have been more commendable if he had rather expressed a desire to see justice done in order to prevent such atrocities from happening again? Or should one at least hope that he has since then been able to transform vindictiveness to a more compassionate attitude to the perpetrators of the heinous crime: hating their acts, but forgiving the agents? What is the moral significance of the experience and expression of anger in the...

  6. PART I: Revisiting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa

    • 2 Commissioning Anger
      (pp. 21-25)

      Scholars arguing the case for forgiveness or restorative justice have often expressed high praise for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of South Africa and the chairmanship of Desmond Tutu. Those arguing on Christian grounds are particularly praiseful, and the excerpt above from Paul Ricoeur’s 2004 book,Memory, History, Forgettingcan easily be supplemented with others stressing the nearly miraculous nature of the institution and its moral voice. For example, according to Mark R. Amstutz the TRC provides a unique context in which to explore “the quest for reconciliation through the miracle of forgiveness” (2006:182). Indeed, Amstutz declares his agreement...

    • 3 The Hearings
      (pp. 26-34)

      Truth and reconciliation commissions are often claimed to be more victim-friendly than criminal trials. Indeed, being cross-examined by Slobodan Milosovic or simply being exposed to the intrinsic harshness of the adversarial criminal justice process is not likely to be “healing” to participating victims. In criminal courts, victims’ testimony is constantly cut short, and they are asked to focus on the forensic details. Indeed, the main reason for their presence in court is not to tell their story and have it validated publicly, but rather to provide a piece of the evidence in relation to which the question of the guilt...

    • 4 The Therapy of Anger
      (pp. 35-41)

      Charles Villa-Vicencio, theologian and ordained Methodist minister, is former Director of Research for the TRC and the editor and author of several publications on the commission. His essay “Getting on With Life: A Move Towards Reconciliation” is generally marked by his insistence on realism and fairness. Against excessive expectations about the reconciliatory potential of the TRC, Charles Villa-Vicencio stresses that it was only given the task ofpromotingnational unity and reconciliation. To counter exaggerated hopes about the cathartic benefits of truth telling, he underscores thatsomevictims benefited from the experience. And as a corrective or supplement to a...

    • 5 Desmond Tutu on Anger
      (pp. 42-56)

      The life and works of Desmond Tutu are truly impressive: he is a famous apartheid opponent and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Archbishop Emeritus, the chairperson and most prominent spokesperson of the TRC, a “moral voice” of the world. In relation to his involvement with the TRC, Tutu has been traveling the world, giving talks about his experiences and lessons learned. A story that Tutu apparently loves to tell and retell is one about his encounters with the grievously wronged yet forgiving victims who appeared before the commission. During the hearings, in his books, and in speeches, Tutu has expressed repeatedly...

    • 6 Layers and Remainders
      (pp. 57-62)

      When we want to determine whether resentment is justified, we commonly try to find out what it is about and to assess whether a wrong or an injury that is worth becoming angry about has occurred. Trying to understand and judge the anger and resentment of victims and survivors in the aftermath of mass atrocities is a complex undertaking, in part because it seems that one has to keep in focus several “layers” or a history, rather than a single event, of compounded violations. In the case of the victims and survivors appearing before the HRV Committee of the TRC,...

  7. PART II: Jean Améry on Resentment and Reconciliation

    • 7 Contextualizing ʺRessentimentsʺ
      (pp. 65-81)

      Three decades before the TRC in South Africa initiated its proceedings, Jean Améry struggled to gainsay contemporary assumptions that victims opposing forgiveness and pleas to forget or “move on” had to be possessed by hatred, the lust for revenge, or a subjective and pathological inability to get on with life. Yet, differences between postapartheid South Africa and postwar Germany abound, and leaping from one context to the other can be a precarious exercise. World War II and the crimes of the Holocaust cannot be equated with the human rights violations of the apartheid regime.¹ Neither can the situation of a...

    • 8 Opening Moves
      (pp. 82-103)

      Thus, Améry opens the essay on hisressentimentsby placing himself in the position of the deviant and distrustful victim. The country he travels is “a delight to the world”; it “offers the world an example not only of economic prosperity but also of democratic stability and political moderation” (1999: 62). And then there is this lonely “I” who cannot join the popular perspective and whose memories of the Nazi past of the country and its inhabitants make him unable to travel the present without ruminating about its relationship to and possibly hidden affinity with the past. Different attitudes to...

    • 9 Facing the Irreversible
      (pp. 104-116)

      The German term “Zustand” (condition, state) can be used when conducting a medical assessment of a patient’s psychic and physical state. Améry uses this term in the following reflection on the nature of the existence determined byressentiment, and he does not deny its life-damaging, unnatural, and irrational implications:

      [I]t did not escape me thatressentimentis not only an unnatural but also a logically inconsistent condition [Zustand]. It nails every one of us onto the cross of his ruined past. Absurdly, it demands that the irreversible be turned around, that the event be undone.Ressentimentblocks the exit to...

    • 10 Restoring Coexistence
      (pp. 117-133)

      TheZustandpassage ends by noting theressentiment-ful victim’s inability to “join in the unisonous [sic] peace chorus all around him, which cheerfully proposes: not backward let us look but forward, to a better, common future!” (Améry 1999:69). The call to let bygones be bygones is just one of several forms of moving on that Améry refuses. Mentioning it brings Améry to comment on another proposal that both victims and torturers ought to “internalize” their suffering and guilt and “bear it in emotional asceticism” (69). Améry neither can nor wants to accept this call for a silent overcoming of the...

    • 11 Guilt and Responsibility
      (pp. 134-150)

      At an earlier point in the essay, Améry accepts the obligation to clarify hisressentiments“for those against whom they are directed” (1999:67). But against whomareAméry’sressentimentsdirected, and are the implicit expectations and notions of guilt and responsibility themselves morally justifiable? Reading through the essay, one is presented with an international collection of resented individuals and groups: a SS-man Wajs from Belgium, a South German businessman, the philosopher Gabriel Marcel, the publicist André Neher, SS-men, Kapos, German bystanders, “former fellows in battle,” and even “the world, which forgives and forgets.” In addition, he mentions several individuals for...

    • 12 Wishful Thinking?
      (pp. 151-159)

      Améry defends both the refusal to let time heal all wounds and the refusal to forgive or forget as being the right and privilege of the moral person. He characterizes his unwillingness to move on or to let go of hisressentimentsas a display of personal moral virtue, rather than as a failure to be condemned or treated. In fact, he ties the special kind ofressentimentharbored by the survivor of the Holocaust to different kinds of virtues and values: a protest against forgetfulness and shallow conciliatoriness, a struggle to regain dignity; an acute sense of the inexpiable...

    • 13 A Multifarious Reception
      (pp. 160-169)

      It is easy to agree that Améry’s “Ressentiments” is a controversial upside-down perspective on ressentiment, resentment, forgiveness, reconciliation, and the ways in which they relate to one another. In a letter written on November 24, 1965, Améry informs the South German radio station that was broadcasting the essays that a fourth essay entitled “Ressentiments” was on its way. It is, writes Améry, “starker Tobak (tough stuff)—hopefully not too tough for your listeners. It’s just that such an essay could either be written in all honesty, or it could not be written at all” (cited in Heidelberger-Leonard 2004:123, trans. Claudia...

  8. 14 Epilogue: Between Resentment and Ressentiment
    (pp. 170-176)

    After working extensively with the problems facing postwar countries and with victims in particular, Eric Stover, in a 1999 interview, expressed fatigue with reconciliation talk.² His comments came after the interviewer characterized Stover’s work with forensic investigations and postwar reconstruction as part of a process of reconciliation. I wrote this book because I felt a similar fatigue with the rhetoric of forgiveness, closure, and reconciliation, and I wanted to challenge a certain cluster of unquestioned assumptions and implied inferences. This book offers examples from various contexts, but the rhetoric and logic against which it objects are part of a global...

  9. Appendix I: Overview of Jean Améryʹs ʺRessentimentsʺ
    (pp. 177-178)
  10. Appendix II: Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity
    (pp. 179-184)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 185-208)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 209-222)
  13. Index
    (pp. 223-236)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-237)