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On the appeal of punching down

TEC DE MONTERREY, MEXICO—In her fantastic new book In The Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Anti-Democratic Politics in the West, philosopher Wendy Brown discusses Nietzsche’s well-known arguments about resentment and the slave morality. Nietzsche famously opined that for centuries Western civilization had been dominated by a Christian outlook which stresses that weakness, humility and poverty are virtues to be cherished. He saw this as a sick reflection of the weak’s resentment for the strong and healthy; the inferiors castigating their betters simply for being superior. Brown notes that contemporary politics shows that Nietzsche’s ideas may have broader application that we first thought. With the rise of post-modern conservative and right wing populist movements targeting immigrants, refugees, and other “losers,” as U.S. President Donald Trump puts it, we see the resentment of the powerful towards the up and comers. Brown argues that many populists feel a deep sense of entitlement to their rank and power in society, and deeply resent those groups and activists who call for a more equal and democratic arrangement. This makes them attracted to leaders like Trump who promise to “Make America Great Again” by putting the unworthy back in their place. In other words, it feels good to punch down. Especially when the people at the bottom are trying to make their way to the top to share in the sunlight.

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