]]]]]]]]]]]]      RESENTMENT AGAINST ACHIEVEMENT       [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[ 
                           Book Review                       (8/15/88)

    "Resentment against Achievement" by Robert Sheaffer, (Prometheus 
Books, 700 E. Amherst St., Buffalo, NY 14215, 1988, hdbd., 199pp, 
$19.95) is one of the most remarkable books I have read in a long 
     I may be biased in the sense that the question "What makes his-
tory tick?" has always fascinated me, but by the same token I do not 
think much of the books by Alvin Toffler ("Future Shock," "Ecospasm," 
etc.) which contain only a semi-whiff of a good idea like "overchoice" 
plus oodles of parotted and shallow conventional wisdom (a "fast 
breeder," Toffler thinks, is a reactor that breeds fast). Neither do I 
think much of the explanations by professional historians like Arnold 
Toynbee, whose long-winded meditations please fashionable ideology, 
but do not explain the observed facts.
     The man who first gave a simple zeroeth-order approximation to 
the mechanism was, in my opinion, none other than Karl Marx, and it is 
typical of fashionable wisdom that this economic and political charla-
tan, who preached (in effect) that mud pies are more valuable than 
Betty Crocker pies because it takes more labor to make them, is today 
touted for all his quackery, and his one reasonable contribution to 
rational thought is ignored.
    Marx said that history is shaped by the class struggle of slaves 
against slave owners, serfs against Lords of the Manor, workers 
against capitalists; that the new classes are born in the womb of the 
old society, which is destroyed by a revolution of the new ruling 
    Does that fit the facts? No, not all of them, but it fits a sur-
prising number of historical tendencies and explains such puzzles as 
why people fought to the death for a century (the 15th, in Europe) 
over the "problem" whether Communion should include both wine and 
wafer or wafer only. (This was 100 years BEFORE the Reformation.)
    Now Robert Shaeffer has come with a powerful refinement of this 
idea: the real struggle is not between oppressed and ruling classes, 
but between achievers and (often parasitic) resenters. In our own 
time, the achievers are the innovators and producers; the resenters 
are the redistributors and welfare bums.
    Does THAT fit the facts? No, not all of them, but a lot more than 
Marx's scheme, which it, in a way, includes as a subset. (The serf, 
who was given only the wafer, RESENTED the priest -- the representa-
tive of the authorities -- drinking the wine, the symbol of Christ's 
blood, ON BEHALF of the serfs but not letting them participate 
     As is natural (and as Marx did), Sheaffer picks the examples that 
best fit his thesis, but it leaves some holes, like the people who are 
BOTH resenters and achievers. The Naders, Jacksons and most of the 
professoriat are, of course, resenters; yet they achieved their posi-
tions among strong competition. If you say they achieved only 
destructive things, you lose the objective simplicity of the thesis, 
because a lot of people think their achievements are very creative. 
This point should be made more precise by finding WHAT exactly it is 
that they resent, and WHY they resent it. (I have tried to do that in 
"What attracts intellectuals to socialism," $2 from Golem Press, Box 
1342, Boulder, CO 80306).
     Another point that brought in a lot of letters (and a question to 
Fort Freedom's Mail Tower) is my statement that Sheaffer has misread 
Christianity. I will answer that in a moment, but I am already running 
short of space, so let me first stress VERY STRONGLY that my criti-
cisms should not overshadow the fact that this is a very important 
book that people should read even if they are sure to find ideas that 
they disagree with. I believe its essence is correct, and it is a well 
written, thought-stimulating analysis of the things that are going on 
around us, towering high above such shallow talk as Schoeck's "Envy," 
and one that I highly recommend to Freemen.
    Now for Christianity. Sheaffer classes it, like Communism, as an 
"ideology of resentment." If he means "Liberation Theology," he is 
right, because its fundamentals are not very distinguishable from 
Marxism. But Liberation Theology is, I think, no more representative 
of Christianity than a San Francisco Gay Parade is representative of 
the American republic, even if it included a number of government 
     But if you look at what Christ taught, I think Sheaffer has mis-
read the message. It actually goes out of its way to condemn and pro-
hibit resentment, in fact, it makes it one of its fundamental ten 
commandments: "Thou shalt not desire thy neighbor's wife, neither 
shalt thou covet thy neighbor's house, his field, or ... any thing 
that is thy neighbor's." 
      Far from being an ideology of resentment, Christianity is, in my 
reading, the ideology of humility, self-sacrifice, and the acceptance 
of suffering: "Blessed are the meek..., Blessed are the poor in spi-
rit..." "When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in 
the highest room; lest a more honorable man than thou be bidden of 
him; ... But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room" 
[Luke, 14:8], "Love thy enemy..." "If thy eye offend thee, cast it 
     And beyond that, I claim, far from fanning resentment, Christia-
nity was used to squelch it. Here is one of history's minor puzzles: 
In the early centuries A.D., what converted the most horrible tyrants 
of the time to Christianity? (The Christian Roman emperors threw their 
opponents to the lions with the same gusto as their predecessors had 
thrown them Christians.) What converted the length and breadth of 
Europe to Christianity with breathtaking speed (as things moved in 
those days) in the competition of the numerous religions and cults of 
the time?
     Superior organization, says Paul Johnson, an historian whom I 
very much respect, but not for this false reason given in his "History 
of Christianity." They were not as well organized as an army (espe-
cially the Roman army), so why did the emperors convert the army to 
Christianity instead of using their army to suppress the Christians?
     Because the length and breadth of Europe, the tyrants realized 
the value of a religion that taught "If your enemy strikes you on the 
right cheek, offer him the left." Because they realized (or subcon-
sciously felt) that suppression is better accomplished by spreading 
humility than by force. The humble ones, for their part, were offered 
life after death (which the Jews and other predecessors were not) and 
even eternal salvation IN PREFERENCE to those who had not suffered 
enough, and that must have made their suffering more endurable. 
     I realize that many of you will be offended no less by my reading 
of Christianity than Sheaffer's. But surely by now you know that I do 
not go by popularity; I go by the observed facts.
     Let me repeat that the issue of Christianity is merely one that
AtE readers appeared interested in after my remark, and that is why I
have dwelled on it at some length; it is not a fundamental point of
this remarkable book that every thinking person should read.

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