Ressentiment and the Mechanisms of Defense:
A Plane of Immanence

from Beth Lord, "Deleuze and Kant," in the Cambridge Companion to Deleuze (Cambridge University Press, 2012)

 . . . the supreme act of philosophy is not to think the plane of immanence, but to show, in an image, that is is there.  p. 99

 These three pages of images, videos and texts illustrate the deep historical continuity of ressentiment as an ontologically irreducible force.
re. "Michael Walzer, in his study of early Puritanism, refers to the Puritan terror.  He describes the contemporary scene exactly as it is."

Why do I say exactly?

from Levi R. Bryant, Difference and Givenness: Deleuze's Transcendental Empiricism and the Ontology of Immanence (Northwestern University Press, 2008)

A style or essence is what we might refer to as an identity of difference, or an identity produced through difference.  It is not a type or a kind, but rather a rule of production, a genetic factor.  It is an identity that maintains itself through topological variations.  It is for this reason that we speak of morphological essences or diagrams of becoming.  p. 68

Although Deleuze himself never makes reference to the notion of topological essences, the theme can be seen to run throughout his work. . . . Insofar as a topological identity is produced between the variations a structure can undergo, Deleuze is also able to maintain the being of concrete universals which are no longer opposed to particulars.  p. 70-71

The rule of production, the genetic factor, is given by the figure at the right. Thinking, as a form of activity, brings to bear a world of texts on the problem of making sense out of the mass of empirical materials--in this case, the performances in the theater of ressentiment know as the Republican Party.  When I say that the Walzer text, although derived from his study of Puritanism in the sixteenth century, describes the contemporary scene exactly as it is, I am refering to identity produced through difference.  And not only Walzer's text, but everything related to the term psychoanalytic--an indefinite ever expanding set of texts, not a theory or a doctrine.  It is in this context of identity produced through difference that Nietzsche's concept of eternal recurence makes sense.

The point is not to select a particular theoretical perspective as true (e.g., Klein, Winnicott, etc.), but rather to deply it as a productive way of encountering, in this case, the rhetorical performances within the theater of ressentiment that of the far right.

go to RMD2
ressentiment and the mechanisms of defense

      the mechanisms of defense in the                   
the other as constructed by
              construction of the other                          the mechanisms of defense
Whatever we mean by racism, these Tea Party images (below, right) are what we are talking about.  The first two images barely conceal the racist thrust of the TP, and are virtually indistinguishable from the third image ("Impeach the Muslim Marxist"), the fourth image ("Obamacare"), and the fifth ("niggar").

I have raised the question of species being (home page) and have introduced the idea of the four fundamental ontologies.  But I use the term ontology in an anti-ontological way*, refering to specific modalities of being that are to be understood, despite the appearance of stability, as the effect of the working of certain generative matrices.  For example, racism and all its cognates, when understood as floating signifiers, can be understood in terms of Nietzsche's concept of ressentiment and Freud's concept of the mechanisms of defense, which I claim are related.**  

Ressentiment and the Mechanisms of Defense constitute one of the four fundamental ontologies.  The Republican Party's rhetorical output is built on little else.  A major portion of everyday discourse is similarly constituted.  What is called ontological is the appearance of a persistent stability in semiotic activity.  

*    Miguel de Beistegui, Truth and genesis: philosophy as differential ontology (Indiana University Press, 2004)

**   I will take this one step further.  Nietzsche's concept of eternal recurrence is given concrete meaning by the concept of mechanisms of defense.  
Guns and Niggers

Sometimes the basic fantasy of guns escapes the web of code language and lets it all hang out.  Lindsay graham's reference to Maurauding gangs raping korean women during the LA riots is one such moment.  Assault weapons matter in the fanmtsy life of the performative/fantasy culture of the fascist right, where the fantasy is of the mass shooting of maurauding gangs of n*gg*rs.

Lindsey Graham at the The Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Gun  

MSNBC rept  Lindsey Graham, his AR-15, and the Rodney King riots  

The exchange between Juan Williams and Newt Gingrich--and the crowd's response--at Fox’s Republican presidential debate in South Carolina on January 16, 2012 puts on display the raw emotions at the core of the mass appeal of the right:

    Gingrich Slams Juan Williams in Racial Exchange,, 1-17-12

At a Gingrich rally the next day a women thanks Newt Gingrich for "putting Mr. Juan Williams in his place."

  Republican Woman Thanks Newt For Putting Juan Williams In His "Place,"    Uploaded by hennehn on Jan 18, 2012
These videos enable close, repetitive observation of performances, something never before possible.  This constitutes a quantum leap in empirical practice made possible by the Internet.  

The  culture of ressentiment is a fundamental characteristic of modern society

Ressentiment is civilization's evil twin.  It accompanies the rise of the state, and persists with greater force and effect into the twenty first century than anyone--except Nietzsche--thought possible. Ressentiment is the deep structure of the real, a fundamental element in the making of the West.  It permeates the political expressions of the right, whether the graphical images of demonstators, the rhetorical gestures of candidates, or the performances seen in these videos.

Ressentiment emerged as an adaptive response to the discipline imposed by power in the first civilizations (Schmookler).  According to Nietzsche, ressentiment is more than simply a form of adaptation of an otherwise intact organism to power.  Ressentiment is the chief characteristic of “natures that, denied the true reaction, that of deeds, compensate themselves with an imaginary revenge.”  (Bernstein, Bitter Carnival: Ressentiment and the Abject Hero (Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 102)  It is a fundamental reconfiguring of the organism, an alteration of Being, a transformation of Becoming.  It is something new, contrary to the existence of hunter-gatherers.  It is a particular type of Being that is the characteristic element of the age of civilization and the state.

This adaptive response is empirically and clinically developed in psychoanalysis's concept of the mechanisms of defense.  The video to the right is an example of primordial rage seeking a mode of verbal expression in the theater of ressentiment that politics provides.  One of the effects of racism is  the taboo on raising the obvious question of cognitive performativity. (also view Redneck lady disses Obama)  

McCain Tries to Tame Flames He Earlier Fanned

Campaign 2008: McCain-Palin Rallies: videos

These videos provide the raw materials, the empirical stuff, of transcendental empiricism's cognitive dialectic.  Wallowing is a vital aspect of transcendental empiricism (see philosophy and history).  Whether my practice of transcendental empiricism is faithful to Deleuze's writing on that theme is irrelevant.  What matters is the work that it provoked, not exegetical fidelity.

Racist McCain Supporters in Pottsville, Pennsylvania

The Sidewalk to Nowhere, McCain Supporters in Bethlehem, PA,  

Sarah Palin Rally Causes Confrontation with Obama Supporters  Sarah Palin Supporters confront Obama Supporters after a Palin rally on October 21st, 2008. One supporter of Palin suggests that Obama could be the antichrist. Then some guy picks up horse feces, calls it Obama, and throws it at Barrett.

Hatred, Ignorance and Racism on Display Outside a Palin Rally in Ohio   Oct. 19, 2008 (read article as well)


The issue here is not ideological, but performative.  It is not a question of whether a particular individual is a racist, not a question of  whether the statements made indicate the presence of racist motives and ideas.*  What is the psychological content and purpose of these performances (e.g., of Gingrich and his audience)?  The answer is that
there is a deep structure of rage that is endemic to our more broadly conceived historical situation (Nietzsche)--inchoate rage expressed in the theater of ressentiment that politics provides.  This is the heart of darkness at the center of civilization--and the core psychodynamic logic that generates the rhetorical performances at the heart of the right of today as well as at the heart of the fascism of the 1920s to the 1940s.

Simon Clarke, Social Theory, Psychoanalysis and Racism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), is essential reading.

Stuart Hall,  Race: the floating signifier (video), and transcript

The Sado-sexual eigenvector of the right on display

Rush Limbaugh - "It Makes Her A Slut, A Prostitute"  Feb 29, 2012

Rush Limbaugh advocating people should post online sex videos

As Nietzsche has said:

"Moral judgments are therefore never to be taken literally: so understood, they are always merely absurd.  Semiotically, however, they remain invaluable: they reveal, at least for those who can interpret them, the most valuable realities of cultures and psychologies that did not know how to "understand" themselves. Morality is only a language of signs, a group of symptoms: one must know how to interpret them correctly to be able to profit from them." p. 55 Twilight of the Idols

These comments by Limbaugh are a window into the soul of the right, into their deepest fears and desires.  Taken together with The Political Morality of Ressentiment, we get a good map of the right as inner world and public performance.  This is the theater of ressentiment (see excerpt from Rozik, The roots of theatre)

Jamieson  . . .


proto-lynchings: videos

These videos show incipient and actual mob violence.  In each case forces of restraint external to the proto-mob limited or prevented actual violence.  The question naturally arises as to the representative nature of these actions.  The usual excuse is that these are isolated incidents.  Such excuses have a cognitive dimension: a mode of thought that cannot see either the social or the contextual dimension of behavior, a limitation so severe as to reflect the event consciousness of homo erectus (see Donald in Developmental Divergence (Cognitive Development in History).

This question of context is a key issue raised by  John E. Jones III, United States District Judge, in the KITZMILLER, et al. v. DOVER AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al.: MEMORANDUM OPINION, December 20, 2005, and should be carefully read at some time.  I provide excerpts from this case in The Political Morality of Ressentiment, wherein Judge Jones comments on the "lies", "ignorance", and "mendacity" of the defendants.

A second issue arising from these videos involves a covering theorem.  Given that this is one form of action found in a certain subset of right-wing actions, what fraction of such subets is covered by these cases when they are transformed  into categories?

Above videos demonstrate why Collective Violence: Comparison Between Youths and Chimpanzees is indespensible.

Video: Black Man Verbally Attacked during Mosque Protests

Tea Partiers Mock And Scorn Apparent Parkinson's Victimhandout

Woman stomped by Rand Paul Supporters

Radio Host Kevin James Walks into a Smackdown
(an eigenmoment)

What is revealed in this performance is the cognitive vacuum, and the limited repertoire of rhetorical maneuvers, of the right. Kevin James could only deploy the rhetorical elements of demonization--in this case, the charge of appeasement (implicitly, of unspeakable evil)--without actually knowing what the word meant.  

Had Matthews not done his job so well, James might have gotten away with appearing to be a normal, college educated citizen. Instead, he revealed someone whose sole competence is in the deployment of demonic accusations.  James was able only to deploy myth-like archetypes (appeaser, appeasement), without actually knowing what the term meant, or what it was that Neville Chaimberlain actually did.  (You should click on the link to the right).

For the right wing pundit, facts are only the window dressing for demonic reference charged with sadistic intent and directed at the ontological enemy (secular humanism, Barak Obama). 

The smear reflex is his sole rhetorical tool.

Kevin James is the case study of demonization as cognitive performance.  His rhetorical moves presuppose only a listener defined by his need to act out his rage, and saddled with a mind incapable, in the political context (and perhaps in all contexts) of functioning above the preoperational level of development (Piaget).

Demonization Run Amuck
core rhetorical maneuver revealed
the anatomy of the smear

Radio Host Kevin James Walks into a Smackdown

The links to the right were originally intended to provide examples of specific cognitive performances decodable through the deployment of the texts referred to in Developmental Divergence (Cognitive Development in History).    It is now obvious to me that both cognitive and psychoanalytic approaches must be applied to The Muck.  My effort to keep them seperated for purposes of analysis has led to much grief.  Even though this page--Ressentiment and the Mechanisms of Defense--is psychoanalytic in its primary orientation, that separation can no longer be maintained.  These my preliminary findings:

1.  the paranoid schizoid position is entangled with cognitive performativities i ≤ 1

2. the depressive position is entangled with and enables cognitive performativities i ≥ 1

3. both positions can perform at level 1 (although on the Right much factical (fact-like) rhetoric is psuedo-concrete--i.e., Sen Kyle's denunciation of Planned Parenthood as devoting 90% of its work to abortions, a demonic assertion clothed in concrete-operational language).  The table below is discussed in Developmental Divergence.  I reproduce it here because of its relevance, and the ease with which things like this can be done with current technolog.

  cognitive-linguistic cardinal אi
a framework for evaluating American Exceptionalism in the context of: Merlin Donald, A Mind So Rare, Table 7.1, p. 260 (Appologies to Georg Cantor)

i = -2      primate semiosis
i = -1     Gestural (homo erectus)
i =  0      Oral Mythic/pre-operational
i =  1      Concrete operational
i =  2      Formal operational
i =  3      Foucault (Kant  Hegel Nietzsche)
i =  4      Internet and the Extended Mind

The Left-Right 'debate' (Ground Zero Mosque Rallies) at a ground zero anti-Islam demonstration is another such example that cries out for a cognitive as well as a psychoanalytic investigation.  The tepid rationality of the one (L) was met with the emotional outburst of the other (R) that took a particular form: given the ontological priority of rage over ideation, the leap of illogic is understandable: a target must be found, the rage against it justified.  Redemptive violence (Paxton) is the order of the day.

Keep Your Goddamn Government Hands Off My Medicare! Huffington Post, June 27, 2010

Anti-Obama Billboard: President? or Jihad?
November 23, 2009 MSNBC The ED Show (Video and transcript)

SCHULTZ:  . . . what does jihad mean to you, Mr. Wolf?wolf

WOLF: I think to me it means it's an extreme element of a struggle to overcome somebody. It can be interpreted probably some different ways. but to me it's-it's certainly not one of us. It's something other than what an American is, that I've been taught.

SCHULTZ: Jihad is religious war, is it not? The definition is religious war. You must have put that word up there for something. Do you think Barack Obama wants a religious war?

WOLF: I think it's definitely anti-Christian. Yes, I do.

Rachel Maddow Interviews Uninformed Protesters

Ground Zero Mosque Rallies Sept. 11 CNN (at 1 minute in) 

L.  We believe in the same document.  You just said you believe in the Constitution.

R.  I do believe in the Constitution

L.  But you just said you don't.

<this is where the psychic rupture>

R.  People were jumping out of the buildings; people were disintegrating, all over the city

L.  By terrorists.  you can't blame Muslims for the work of the terrorists.

R.  I'm not blaming Muslims.  But if they had the respect that they claim they have . . .

L.  Why should they have to appologize for the actions of radicals?

R.  I would rather see no church than a mosque right where people are going to to . . .
Pornography as Cognitive Style: GOP Ads ➝

This ad--Graves attacks San Francisco Values-- made the national news (MSNBC).  It exemplifies the pornographic thrust of the GOP's public appeals, and in fact is similar to the anti-Harold Ford ad (Give me a call, Harold) that ran at the end of the 2006 Congressional elections.

Innuendo and Pornography are the principle rhetorical maneuvers of the GOP. This ad is only one such example, but it could also be taken as paradigmatic of an entire class of GOP ads.  Such ads are deeply rooted in the culture of ressentiment. They appeal to the dark energy of repressed biology, that great reservoir of manipulable rage that right wing politics relies upon as its major electoral resource.

Harold Ford Jr not for Tennessee

Rep. Graves (R-MO) Attacks Opponent's "San Francisco Values" in New TV Ad

Although the newspaper accounts to the right are texts rather than performances, the writers give us a sense of the emotional as well as the semiotic character of of these performances.  These accounts are textual excursions into the muck of politics. Hecklers Taunt 200 in a March Against Racism  
By MARK A. UHLIG, New York Times, September 21, 1987

Racism Comes Home: The Howard Beach Case  (Queens Tribune, [re Dec. 20, 1986 ]

Racist Incidents Give Some Obama Campaigners Pause, By Kevin Merida
Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, May 13, 2008

In Ex-Steel City, Voters Deny Race Plays a Role By Paul Vitellon
New York Times, April 4, 2008 (The rhetorical maneuvers of Pa. blue
collar whites)

Right Wingers Wreak Havoc on Philadelphia Town Meeting, by Denise Dennis, Posted: August 3, 2009 10:09 AM  Huffington Post

Accusations Fly Between Parties Over Threats and Vandalism

Published: March 25, 2010 NYT
End Part One.  Go to

Part Two: Eleventh to the Nineteenth Century