Nietzsche’s resentment and Spinoza’s ‘tristitia’ – two related concepts?

Abstract voor een paper voor de Friedrich Nietzsche Society Conference, September 2011, London.

Nietzsche, Paul Rée en Lou Andreas-Salomé

Is Nietzsche’s concept of resentment possibly philosophically related to Spinoza’s idea of ‘tristitia’, ‘sadness’, as a diminution of active forces? In an often-quoted remark to Overbeck in 1881, Nietzsche refers to Spinoza as a valuable precursor of his philosophy, mentioning five points they have in common: Spinoza equally denies the freedom of the will, teleology, the moral world order, the unegoistic, and evil. Nietzsche recognizes they also have their differences, but attributes them to variations in time, culture and science. At that moment, he does not refer to the concept of resentment, also because he only develops it much later in On the Genealogy of Morals (1887).

In this paper, I will focus on the question of resentment.  How come a desire for life is reversed into its opposite? This question is at the heart of Nietzsche’s idea of resentment, and exists also for Spinoza, though indirectly. For instance, while noting the rise of religious intervention in state affairs (especially by Calvinists), Spinoza asks: why do people fight for their slavery as if they are fighting for their freedom?  (Theologico-Political Treatise, Introduction). Especially the belief-systems of the Judeo-Christian tradition allow for this inversion: seemingly seeking the ‘good’, people end up with the opposite. For Spinoza, it is basically a matter of relations of force. In the Ethics, Spinoza develops a theory of the imaginary relation people have with the outside world.  In this sense, the link between Spinoza’s idea of ‘slavery versus freedom’ can be understood within the context of the crucial aspects of his theory Nietzsche thought they shared: the importance of the finalist illusion, the inexistence of the free will and the definition of man as ‘desire’ (Ethics, III, 9). Furthermore, Spinoza gave a negative appreciation of the affects ‘pity’, ‘regret’ and ‘shame’. All three are a form of ‘tristitia’ (Ethics, III, definitions, 18, 27, 31). Both the ideas of becoming a slave, and succumbing to certain affects are central to Nietzsche’s resentment.

In my paper, I begin with an outline of Nietzsche’s take on resentment as a matter of relations of force.

Secondly, I briefly discuss Spinoza’s ‘reversal of forces’ in the Ethics, especially with regard to pity, shame and regret.

Thirdly, I conclude with the most important associations and also possible differences between the two approaches concerning ‘resentment’.

The interest of this question goes beyond the given definitions: ‘laetitia’ and ‘tristitia’ are at the heart of Spinoza’s critical philosophy, and are part of his contribution to the criticism of religion and of the (radical) Enlightenment. In questioning and seeking the possible alignment between Nietzsche and Spinoza concerning ‘resentment’, I also intend to consider Nietzsche’s contribution within the Enlightenment tradition.

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