Ressentiment — the French translation of the English word resentment — is a concept in philosophy and psychology, particularly developed by the existentialist philosophers. It refers to a sense of hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration, that is, an assignment of blame for one’s frustration. The sense of weakness or inferiority and perhaps jealousy in the face of the “cause” generates a rejecting/justifying value system, or morality, which attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration. This value system is then used as a means of justifying one’s own weaknesses by identifying the source of envy as objectively inferior, serving as a defense mechanism that prevents the resentful individual from addressing and overcoming their insecurities and flaws. The ego creates an enemy in order to insulate itself from culpability.
Soren Kierkegaard first introduced the term in the 1800’s, and Nietzsche expanded upon it in Beyond Good and Evil in connection with the master-slave question and its resultant birth of morality.
On the account given in Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, the Judeo-Christian moral order arose as an expression of the ressentiment of the weak against the power exercised over them by the strong. A tool used to thwart that power, it had over time become internalized in the form of conscience, creating a “sick” animal whose will is at war with its own vital instincts. Thus Nietzsche arrived at Kierkegaard’s idea that “the crowd is untruth”: the so-called autonomous, self-legislating individual is nothing but a herd animal that has trained itself to docility and unfreedom by conforming to the “universal” standards of morality. The normative is nothing but the normal.
Jean-Paul Sartre used the term bad faith to describe a highly similar phenomenon of blaming one’s own failure on external factors and therefore denying responsibility for oneself.