Resenting resentment

Mr and Mrs Resentment have been keeping a fairly low profile lately but it looks as though they are about to make a comeback in Scotland, so standby for a similar reappearance here in Australia. 

The SNP (Scottish Nationalist Party) is whipping up a froth about Scottish independence with a proposed referendum to separate Scotland from the United Kingdom. 

The Scots have had their very own parliament since Tony Blair engineered  devolution in 1997. A Scottish Parliament was created in 1999, and Blair claimed at the time that this would not lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. So the separation-move isn’t about representation. 

As more treasure moves north into Scotland in the form of benefits than goes south to England as taxes, the main driver for change isn’t financial. It comes, it seems, mainly from resentment. 

In a recent article on "Resentment and Scottish History", Neil Hargraves from Newbattle Abbey College says, “ Indeed for many the Scottish past was a storehouse of memorialised conflict, and had the power to perpetuate a sense of grievance and tribal hatred that seemed to threaten to undo the entire project of the Scottish Enlightenment.” That sense of grievance (and resentment) is still alive and well in present day Scotland. 

Today, in Australia, the most visible example of resentment emerges from within many Aboriginal Australians in the form of perpetual hatred and tribal grievance against non-Aboriginal Australians. This resentment seems to have become a major uniting force, spurned on by knowing academics and racial activists. 

It is doubtful if any amount of money, any amount of representation nor any amount of good will, on the part of non-Aboriginal Australians, will ever be enough to counter this resentment. 

American philosopher, Professor Robert C. Solomon, looking closely at “resentment”, “contempt” and “anger” says that resentment is usually directed at higher-status individuals; anger at equal-status individuals while contempt tends to focus on lower-status individuals. 

Another prime example of resentment in Australia emerged during the republic debate when the main argument for the dissolution of the country’s existing constitutional monarchy centred around the notional position of the Queen. 

It seemed extraordinary to many observers of the nation’s political system that the issue to hand was not corrupt state governments; vote–stacking in party branches; Queensland and the NT without an Upper House: eight state and territory parliaments with constitutions that are little more than “rules to conduct a meeting” – but a resentful argument about a symbolic head of state. 

And that argument centred on either resentment of a hereditary title or that the head of state “was not an Australian”. The fact that we paid nothing towards the upkeep of our “Head of State” might suggest that many pro-republicans were simply “resentful cheapskates”. Surely not? 

Resentment overshadowed debate about whether a proposed president should be elected or appointed. How the president would be removed from power? Who had executive power, the Prime Minister or the President? Who the armed forces would be loyal to? To whom one swore allegiance? 

In fact the entire edifice of the Commonwealth of Australia was in danger of unravelling into a legal quagmire. All this because of no financial or material gain… but to satisfy a resentful minority. 

The 1999 Referendum will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its defeat on the 6th of November this year – a defeat by a majority of citizens in a majority of States. 

The nation seems to have suffered little from its rejection of resentment.

Leave a Reply