By

Ben Lewis

October 23, 2019

Scruton on Resentment

You can generally tell how important a thinker is by how strenuously the left opposes him. By this standard Roger Scruton, recently the subject of a malicious, yet obvious, smear campaign, is one of the most important thinkers of our day. One example of Scruton's analytical prowess comes from a chapter titled "What is Left" in his book Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left. Commenting on liberals' tendencies to create and then capitalize on feelings of resentment, Scruton writes the following:

Resentment is not a good thing to feel, either for its subject or its object. But the business of society is to conduct our social life so that resentment does not occur: to live by mutual aid and fellowship, not so as to be all alike and inoffensively mediocre, but so as to gain others' cooperation in our small successes. Living in this way we create the channels through which resentment drains away of its own accord: channels like custom, gift, hospitality, shared worship, penitence, forgiveness and the common law, all of which are instantly stopped up when the totalitarians come to power. Resentment is to the body politic what pain is to the body: it is bad to feel it, but good to be capable of feeling it, since without the ability to feel it we will not survive. Hence we should not resent the fact that we resent, but accept it, as part of the human condition, something to be managed along with all our other joys and afflictions.

But, of course, this is not the leftist attitude toward resentment. Scruton continues,

However, resentment can be transformed into a governing emotion and a social cause, and thereby gain release from the constraints that normally contain it. This happens when resentment loses the specificity of its target, and becomes directed to a society as a whole. That, it seems to me, is what happens when left-wing movements take over. in such cases resentment ceases to be a response to another's unmerited success and becomes instead an existential posture: the posture of the one whom the world has betrayed. Such a person does not seek to negotiate within existing structures, but to gain total power, so as to abolish the structures themselves. He will set himself against all forms of mediation, compromise and debate, and against the legal and moral norms that give a voice to the dissenter and sovereignty to the ordinary person. He will set about destroying the enemy, whom he will conceive in collective terms. as the class, group, or race that hitherto controlled the world and which must now in turn be controlled. And all institutions that grant protection to that class or a voice in the political process will be targets for his destructive rage.

Thus, the victimhood mentality, so often alluded to today, is not simply problematic for creating groups of people with grievances against society. These grievances, according to Scruton, manifest in a desire to bring existing social structures crashing to the ground, without thought or concern for what rests on them - in other words, for society itself.This brings to mind Thomas Sowell's observation that "wrongs abound in times and places around the world - inflicted on, and perpetrated by, people of virtually every race, creed and color. But what can any society today hope to gain by having newborn babies in that society enter the word as heirs to prepackaged grievances against other babies born into that same society on the same day?"The answer to Sowell's query is, obviously, "Nothing." But if Scruton is correct - and given the prevailing attitudes on the left, there's no reason to believe he's not - grievance mongers are not interested in what makes for a healthy society. They are, in fact, bent on the destruction of society, and much too confident in their ability to rebuild it.

About the author

Ben is a writer living in Ohio with his family. His reading interests are focused primarily on history and traditionalist conservatism and their relation to libertarianism. He is a contributing editor for Austro Libertarian.

more from the blog