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Resentment and Rage as Two Reactions to Violence

Theory & ResearchRabies is a virus produced in mammals, transmitted by salivary contact, but in Spanish the word rabia (rage) is often used to connote anger, irritation, hatred, ill will, and desire for revenge. This rage often leads to negative practices such as the annihilation of others. However, it is also true that on other occasions it can generate positive practices such as the fight for dignity and life. 

In the last weeks of November 2023, I followed the Argentine presidential elections with great interest. Above all, this was because this process allowed me to think about the confluence between objective conditions and the freedom of social subjects. In addition, I analysed the strategies of the Argentine political candidate, Javier Milei, whose role was to exacerbate the existing desperation of citizens and propose himself as the transformer of that emotional state. At the same time, I thought that this confluence had also occurred in the presidential elections in Mexico in 2018. It is true that Javier Milei and López Obrador are two distinct personalities, from completely different contexts and ideologies. Nevertheless, both sought recognition from their respective populations at a time of desperation and economic crisis, even though the latter has been more acute in Argentina than in Mexico. The main strategy of both candidates was to channel the desperation, indignation, anger, and suffering of citizens into sado-masochistic impulses, towards the annihilation of a group: the corrupt political class, from which they distanced themselves, even if this concept was too abstract and vague. The important thing was to emphasize that each one was starring in a different project of transformation.

In the case of Mexico, what was the cause of such social anger? Was it just the economic crisis? Why did anger become increasingly intense, to the point of speaking of a state of rage and resentment? Where were these emotions of the population being channelled? Only towards the disintegration of the Other? Where did the strength and fight for dignity come from, that could be seen in various organizations in Mexico that have been resisting the imposition of large projects that endorse dispossession and exploitation? Was its origin not also anger and resentment? Hence, my interest in this text is: 1) to see rage and resentment as two consequences of the capitalist contradictions; 2) to see them also as two permanent states of modern subjectivities; and 3) to propose — unlike Friedrich Nietzsche’s and Jean Améry’s reflections on resentment — that both will be read dialectically. Above all, I shall take as examples two events in Mexico: the confrontation between football fans at the Corregidora Stadium in 2022 and the disappearance of 43 male trainee teachers in Iguala, Guerrero in 2014.

Resentment and Rage as Effects of Capitalism

The capitalist dynamics force the relationships between individuals, in the sense that companies and individuals have to compete with each other in order to survive in the market. Capitalists try to defend their monopoly by creating laws that guarantee their assets and protect their profits. They develop different strategies to dispossess people from their territories. They depreciate the investment of raw materials although this reduces the quality of the product. They perfect the technology, even if it leads to environmental pollution. They invest in scientific discoveries to exploit the labour force with greater precision and discipline, even though doing so makes the mass of human labour superfluous. Well, the increase in the reserve of workers will mean that salaries must be kept low, requiring less capacity in work activity. For example, in Mexico, since 2011 the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) and the Spanish companies Elecnor and Enagás have begun the construction of a thermoelectric plant as part of the Morelos gas pipeline project, which includes an aqueduct and a gas pipeline, and which crosses three states: Tlaxcala, Puebla, and Morelos. The ecological effects are increasing along this path. These include loss of drinking water, drought, and pollution, in exchange for the enrichment of three corporations. This has caused anger in the population — above all, to those affected who were not consulted about the construction[1]. In some cases, this anger has transformed into resentment.

In his book On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic, Friedrich Nietzsche (2007 - 1887) mentioned that resentment is a reactive state of slave morality, whose development presupposes memory, the feeling of justice, and the punishment of those who have committed unfair acts. The German philosopher defined and gave a moral interpretation of resentment, which was anchored in the herd mentality and discredited its reactive character. Regarding this, I am not interested in his moral interpretation, but only in his analysis of resentment, understanding it as a state that requires memory and a sense of justice. In the previous example, when the Mexican population did not see that their complaints were being received by the executive branch, but rather that they were suffering the effects of pollution and drought while a small sector became rich and enjoyed themselves at their expense, the resentment and desire for justice grew.

Resentment is even exacerbated by the culture industry, whose teaching is based on the Manicheanism of rewarding the good, synthesized in success, and of punishing the bad: that is, failure (Horkheimer and Adorno 2002 [1944]). Individuals learn mistakenly from an early age that their achievements and failures depend only on their individual will. So, if they do not achieve recognition, success, or social acceptance, it will be due to their supposed inability to face obstacles. In this sense, the culture industry erases the importance of the social and historical aspect in the formation of subjects and increases the feeling of individual responsibility and guilt (Schuld), debt (also Schuld), or as a burden that is not so easily disbursed. It is no coincidence that Walter Benjamin thought of capitalism as a cult that generates guilt and not atonement (Benjamin 1996). One way to try to discharge it will be through pain: to suffer in order to enjoy. This masochistic way of facing responsibility becomes an outlet to release the burden. However, you can also take a sadistic attitude (Fromm 1969) to liberate it: i.e. to make others suffer to gain enjoyment; to crush or annihilate the Other until you feel satisfaction.

The constant desire to crush the Other, or to behave with cruelty or sadism towards them can be sublimated in artistic expression or in sports consumption (Marcuse 1986). But it is also possible that this unrest could trigger violence, as was evident on 5 March 2022 in Querétaro, Mexico, when at the end of the MX League football match between Querétaro F.C. and Atlas F.C., fans of the former savagely beat the opposition supporters in the stands of the Corregidora Stadium, leaving more than 20 seriously injured (Mancera 2022).

Anger and Resentment as Permanent States of Modern Subjectivity and the Need to Read Them Dialectically

Rabies is a virus produced in mammals, transmitted by salivary contact, but in Spanish the word rabia (rage) is often used to connote anger, irritation, hatred, ill will, and desire for revenge. This rage often leads to negative practices such as the annihilation of others. However, it is also true that on other occasions it can generate positive practices such as the fight for dignity and life. An example of this has been the fight of neozapatism against capitalism[2]

But what factors are at play, to mean that one of its consequences is the oppression of that which is different, while in other cases it comes to seek more collective relationships? The answer involves considering several elements. But I will only mention two important ones: the individual experience in the family and the social context. With regard to the former, in his essay “Authority and the Family”, Max Horkheimer pointed to the importance of the family in the development of individuals. This fulfills the function of integrating them into capitalist society, but also of providing them with affection, fears, and repression — in such a way that the family is the link that fosters autonomous, critical, individualistic, damaged subjectivities. Subsequently, individuals and their social conditions will update this character (Horkheimer 1972). Those people who have grown up in a welcoming environment will be able to generate more resistance to capitalist contradictions, while those who have grown up in a hostile environment, characterized by humiliation and coldness, will be more likely to feel insecure, resentful, and develop what Erich Fromm referred to as a Radfahrernatur (“cyclist mentality” or authoritarian personality): acquiescing to those above and being hostile to those below. This is characterized by the desire to feel pleasure in the discomfort of others, or to feel good after destroying what is different.

Regarding the social context, I refer to the positioning of the body in society, that is, to what extent individuals are experiencing capitalist contradictions: whether it is directly or indirectly. Directly, it means that individuals immediately suffer the consequences of exploitation: dispossession by extractive industries or mining companies, water pollution, climate change, land use charges, poverty, forced disappearance, or the need to migrate. In these cases, the anger generated will necessarily be aimed at putting the brakes on capitalist adaptation. These are subjectivities that do not intend to adapt because doing so would imply accepting sadness, misfortune, and injustice. I think, above all, of the rage present in the mothers and fathers whose children have been registered as missing. The most representative case in Mexico was the disappearance of the 43 normalistas in 2014[3] which has remained unpunished and has caused the parents anger and despair. The same thing that drives them to continue fighting. From here, it makes more sense to think of the scream as a starting point: “In the beginning is the scream.… Faced with the mutilation of human lives by capitalism, a scream of sadness, a scream of horror, a scream of anger, a scream of refusal: NO” (Holloway 2005, 1). This counter-violence allows us to see that there is no determinism or social mechanism. Furthermore, it reveals the possibility that subjects can take the reins of history, no matter how brief these irruptions may be. Here, anger is an intense emotion accompanied by discomfort, aggressiveness, and rebellion; it responds to the need for maladjustment.

Friedrich Nietzsche, in his aforementioned Genealogy…, had clearly observed how resentment was generated more clearly in the reaction of slaves to the offense and humiliation received. Resentment is a refusal to adapt, rather to continue affirming your condition. And, although Nietzsche interprets this as a reactive element, it seems to me that it is a favourable element for resistance. Resentment is a denial that becomes creative. This idea is similar to Walter Benjamin’s reflection when he asks: where does poverty of experience take the barbarian? It leads you to start from the beginning, to start again, to get by with so little, to build from very little (Benjamin 1999 [1933]). In this sense, resentment can omit the pathological and unhealthy reaction; at the same time, it acquires a moral value and historical validity. For Jean Améry, the resentful person is not the weak man who takes revenge for his own miseries, but rather a victim of the oppressive social system that feeds his negative experiences. Resentment is the only way to not forget or forgive the traumatic experience:

Absurdly, it demands that the irreversible be turned around, that the event be undone. Resentment blocks the exit to the genuine human dimension, the future. I know that the time-sense of the person trapped in resentment is twisted around, dis-ordered, if you wish, for it desires two impossible things: regression into the past and nullification of what happened. (Améry 1980, 68)

On the other hand, if the experience is indirect, anger will surely remain latent in the subjects, ready to be expelled at any moment against someone or something. If this coincides with an agitator or party channelling anger at minority groups, then it is easier for individuals to give in to it. Currently, some politicians have increased the importance of following a life of sacrifice, of subordinating qualitative needs and aspirations to quantitative values ​​of the market and capitalist accumulation, as one of the precepts of the austerity policy of the current Mexican government. In addition, they encourage the focusing of blame onto scapegoats or minority groups, who are held responsible for the damage. From this, racist, anti-Semitic forms can develop. In these events, others are held responsible for individual frustrations, according to race, ethnicity, class, or gender. For example, in Mexico, Indigenous people have been held responsible for the supposed backwardness, poverty, or lack of modernity, in expressions such as “don’t be an Indian”.

Now, anger and resentment can lead the subject to react to this unjust and damaged life, to put the brakes on history and opt for another, more autonomous way of existence, and in doing so incite the fight for dignity and autonomy. But, at the same time, these two emotions, generated by the logic of the violence of the valorization of value, can also strengthen authoritarian behaviours insofar as angry individuals project their frustrations, hatred, and disagreements not onto that which has caused them discomfort, but instead onto someone who seems “weak” and “vulnerable”, turning them into a scapegoat. Therefore, it is worth asking the question: how necessary are these emotions to serve as an engine of social praxis against capitalist dynamics, and to integrate a project of social emancipation?

Open Reflections

It seems important to me to then keep in mind the reflections of Jean Améry and Leo Löwenthal. For the former, who was tortured in the concentration camps and who directly experienced capitalist contradictions, his resentment is morally necessary (Améry 1980). He cannot be asked to forget the injustices and torture or to remain silent and reconcile with reality by adapting. Forgiving and forgetting, as mandated by social pressure, would be immoral. Therefore, for Améry, reactive resentment is important.

However, it is also important not to forget Leo Löwenthal’s warning that resentment can be directed by some agitator and transformed into sadistic or masochistic behaviour. The agitator, unlike the revolutionary or the social movements, wants to ignite existing discontent, looks for people who are suffering from injustices and whose patience is reaching its limit, exacerbates boredom and discontent, excites envy, and channels said displeasure into some scapegoat figure. On the other hand, the social movement, seeking a solution to the problem, focuses much of its energy on combatting the cause (Löwenthal and Guterman 1949).

It then seems that, if exploitation is not directly suffered, it is likely that individuals, having latent rage, will channel their anger into scapegoats, will easily give in to new promises of hope from progressive parties, and increase their resentment and rage with an increasingly aggressive and devastating trend, resulting in more openly-oppressive forms. So it is not two rages, but one. Anger as an emotion of discomfort, accompanied by aggression and rebellion, arises from frustrations, resentment, guilt, and the contradictory hostilities of capitalist modernity. What I maintain is that social anger can lead either to authoritarianism or a fight for life.



Améry, Jean (1980), At the Mind's Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor of Auschwitz and Its Realities, translated by Sidney and Stella P. Rosenfeld, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Benjamin, Walter (1996), “Capitalism as Religion”, Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings: Vol. 1, translated by Rodney Livingstone, Belknap Harvard Press, pp. 288–91.

——— (1999 [1933]), “Experience and Poverty”, Selected Writings: Vol. 2 (1927-1934), translated by Rodney Livingstone, Cambridge University Press, pp. 731–36.

EZLN (2023), “Eighteenth Part: The Rage”, Enlace Zapatista, 18 December, available at https://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2023/12/22/eighteenth-part-the-rage/. Last accessed on 25 March 2024.

Fromm, Erich (1969), Escape from Freedom, New York: Henry Holt and Company.

García Meza, Enrique (2018), “AYOTZINAPA: El paso de la tortuga”, available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6UL74vh5UA&ab_channel=marcoalvarez. Last accessed on 25 March 2024.

Holloway, John (2005), Change the World Without Taking Power, London: Pluto Press. 

Horkheimer, Max (1972), “Authority and the Family”, Critical Theory: Selected Essays, translated by Matthew J. O’Connell, New York: Continuum, pp. 47–128.

 Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno (2002 [1944]), Dialectic of Enlightenment, edited by Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, translated by Edmund Jephcott, Stanford University Press. 

Löwenthal, Leo, and Norbert Guterman (1949), Prophets of Deceit: A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator, New York: Harper & Brothers. 

Mancera, Diego (2022), “Violencia extrema en el fútbol mexicano: decenas de heridos en una batalla campal entre hinchas de Querétaro y Atlas”, El País, 6 March, available at https://elpais.com/mexico/2022-03-06/la-violencia-desborda-al-futbol-mexicano-y-obliga-a-suspender-el-partido-entre-queretaro-y-atlas.html. Last accessed on 25 March 2024.

Marcuse, Herbert (1966), Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud, Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Muñoz Ramírez, Gloria (2019), “Un megaproyecto en tierras de Zapata. Proyecto Integral Morelos”, YouTube, 29 August, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtMWw5jyTu. Last accessed on 25 March 2024.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (2007 [1887]), On the Genealogy of Morality, edited by Keith Ansell-Pearson, translated by Carol Diethe.


  1. 1

     See the multimedia report “A Megaproject in Tierras de Zapata” (Muñoz Ramirez 2019). 

  2. 2

    In 2008, the first World Festival of Dignified Rage was organized by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). Its objective was to bring together different struggles, rages, and organizational processes so that they could speak together. Those days allowed for the conceiving of a just and dignified rage. Recently, in one of the EZLN’s statements, very important questions appear about the role of rage in the process of resistance to capitalism. For example: “At what point does [rage] become worthy? When do you begin to distance [it] from resentment and revenge? Is the rage getting closer to justice? … What channels is it transmitted through? How is it done collectively? Is it creative? … Is rage the bridge between pain and rebellion?” For more on this see EZLN 2023. 

  3. 3

     Normalistas are trainee teachers from so-called “normal” schools, i.e. teacher-training colleges. Generally, these schools are located in rural environments and have a socialist and assembly-oriented tendency. Its study plan integrates the production axis (agricultural work), the political axis (study of reality, public affairs, how to fight for the transformation of the country), and the pedagogical axis (sociology, psychology). The Isidro Burgos Rural Normal School, located in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, was the best known internationally, due to an incident on 26 September 2014 when a group of military and municipal police attacked the buses in which the normalistas were travelling because they were heading for Mexico City to participate in the march on 2 October to commemorate the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre. The police intercepted the five trucks in Iguala, Guerrero, leaving three normalistas dead, one in a vegetative state, and 43 missing. Unfortunately, the Government of Mexico decided to cover up the incident and protect the guilty. So far, the case remains unpunished. See the documentary Ayotzinapa: The Turtle’s Passage (García Meza 2018). 

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