| Thinking hard, or|
|Major trains of thought|
|The good, the bad|
and the brain fart
|Come to think of it|
Nihilism is the philosophical belief that life and the universe have no meaning. In general, nihilists are considered to be wanton hedonists, since their life has no meaning although it is also commonly ('in general') associated with depression and it's hard to see how the two could possibly key in.
Classical Russian nihilism concerned itself primarily with trying to destroy pretty much everything (because nihilism here meant "annihilating" everything old, so it make way for the new way). Things would start over ex nihilo-from nothing... supposedly. In reality it was a philosophical and socio-cultural movement against the extremely backward Czarist Empire which legitimized itself entirely using a theology at an age of world-historical political shifts occasioned by secularism, indeed at precisely a 'secular age' as we call it. And in the 18th century it was more obvious than it'd ever been that 'God is dead'. For the Russian nihilists, the term meant exactly wholesale destruction of an antiquated, oppressive and superstitious world which is why their references were the French Revolution and French early socialism, British utilitarianism and German materialism.
For some reason, despite the number of atheistic philosophies that still find purpose and joy in life, many religious people consider nihilism the logical extension of atheism. This is despite the fact that the most eloquent expression of nihilism is actually found in a holy book:
- "Ve are nihilists. Ve care nuttink for your pain!"
On the other hand secular atheists, particularly intellectuals and philosophers, have nevertheless also spoken of nihilism, in the sense of 'urge of indiscriminate destruction' as a precursor to Nazism and totalitarianism probably because they are evocative of images of unethical practices and wholesale atrocities. But these were carried out in the name of social, political and racial purposes, i.e. in the name of moral values like race or class. At any rate no historically attested totalitarian is known as having been a nihilist or as having expressed vocally and publicly a position that 'life has no meaning' which is also understandable because it wouldn't have helped them survive socially. You'd think totalitarianism is about the survival of the fittest wouldn't you?
Søren Kierkegaard was one of the first modern philosophers to discuss nihilism. He posited a philosophy of nihilism known as leveling, -- a process of suppressing and removing individuality to such a point where an individual lacks the traits that make him unique. Without being an individual, life and one's very existence becomes void of any meaning. This philosophy is not the fully developed nihilism that was to come because Kierkegaard believed leveling created a life without meaning or value, but that life itself has inherent meaning and value, Modern nihilism, beginning with Nietzsche, would claim life has no inherent meaning period. If however nihilism is defined as the doctrine of negation in reference to religion of morals Marquis de Sade, Julien Offray de La Mettrie or Max Stirner deserve the label just as much (if indeed not more) than Nietzsche.
But perhaps the most popularly identified as a nihilist and the first philosopher popularly thought of when nihilism is mentioned, is Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche generally describes nihilism as "a condition of tension, as a disproportion between what we want to value (or need) and how the world appears to operate." Nietzsche, however, is mainly associated with the philosophical statement "God is dead", which holds that the Christian God is no longer a viable source of any moral principles, therefore leading to a rejection of an objective and universal moral law, with a lack of moral basis ultimately turning into nihilism. However he also states that with God out of the way, human creative abilities could fully blossom and without turning an eye toward a spiritual realm, humanity could begin to acknowledge the value of the world. Nietzsche was thus not a nihilist himself (at least in his later years) but rather dedicated to combating nihilism, which he feared was overtaking the West. He is usually identified as an existentialist. In fact, both he and Kierkegaard are sometimes labeled the "father of existentialism" though obviously they had very different positions, especially on Christianity.
However, other modern-era figures that could be called 'nihilists' too like Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume or Albert Camus have different positions as well. As a philosophy nihilism cannot be neatly delineated by a neat set of positions in turn neatly placed inside a certain array of thinkers much unlike other more 'dense', so to speak, schools. It has rather been a rare and loose doctrine which is perhaps related to what we could comically and ironically call its 'senselessness' or 'meaninglessness' or because of its flirtations with philosophical irrationalism or just plain irrationality. On the other hand this could be ascribed to its supra-historical dimension or reflect the social domination throughout history (and the present) of value-based systems of thought, religious or otherwise. Unsurprisingly this fact makes sense, doesn't it? In any case, let's just say there's a reason we have a fun article about nihilism.
On an unrelated note, nihilism is not just the most ludicrous or comical but the most metal and 'grim' and 'brutal' of philosophies, being propounded by both Toki Wartooth and Skwisgaar Skwigelf. ANUS (American Nihilist Underground Society) is also one of the first heavy metal databases (founded back in 1987), who like to use big, complex words to daze the reader into believing they are accomplished intellectuals, as well as finding ways to draw correlations between nihilism and any metal band whatsoever. Sense? Ha! Not for me!