ABSTRACT

In a famous passage of The Genealogy of Morals (1887), Nietzsche proposes a speculative history of ‘resentment’. 1 Positing a historical and etymological connection between debts (‘Schulden’) and guilt (‘Schuld’), he argues that the concept of guilt grew out of an awareness that the relationship between a given generation and its forebears is structurally equivalent to that between debtor and creditor:

Within the original tribal association – we are talking about pre-history – the living generation always acknowledged a legal obligation towards the earlier generation, and in particular towards the earliest, which founded the tribe. … There is a prevailing conviction that the tribe exists only because of the sacrifices and deeds of the forefathers, – and that these have to be paid back with sacrifices and deeds: people recognize an indebtedness [Schuld], which continually increases because these ancestors continue to exist as mighty spirits, giving the tribe new advantages and lending it some of their power. 2