no remedy ever prescribed

Posted by on May 29, 2009 in Globatron

“Nihilist” was originally a term of abuse.  Dictionaries from the early 19th century, when the word first came into use, define a nihilist as “one who is politically impartial” and “good-for-nothing,” while Louis-Sebastien Mercier’s dictionary of neologisms, published in 1801, states: “Nihilist or nothingist (riennist): one who doesn’t believe in anything.”

“Nihilist” became a catchall term for young, disillusioned intellectuals whose thoughts and actions were generally regarded as worthless.  Their impact on the world around them was, in effect, nothing.

Over time, as nihilist sentiment began to develop and expand, people came to accept nihilism as a real and unavoidable phenomenon.  The contempt with which it was once treated gradually gave way to an earnest recognition as people began to realize they were not dealing with nothing, but far more troubling concept of nothingness.  No longer attempting to ignore or combat it, people sought to conquer and transcend nihilism.  The movement became not against but beyond nihilism, and the impetus began with Nietzsche.

Commonly misidentified as a nihilist himself, Nietzsche was the first to treat the subject as a serious philosophical matter.  He recognized the fires of nihilism burning across swaths of Europe as the result of collapsing traditional morals and values.  God – long regarded the source of absolutes – was dead, concluded Nietzsche.  Dead in the sense that traditional religion no longer held sway over modern culture.  In the absence of absolute values, a vacuum had been created and, for a time, it would seem that nothing existed … nothing was real.

For Nietzsche, though, this nothingness was temporary – a momentary void out of which history has meant to give birth to something entirely new.  He saw the collapse of absolute values as the opportunity to reexamine our fundamental truths, to retool our systems to better fit our world.

Around the same time, Russians were embracing the term “nihilist” differently than their European counterparts.  The word began to shed its pejorative overtones in the 1860s, following the publication of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. Bazarov, the novel’s hero, was long seen as the prototype of “the nihilist.” Turgenev’s definition, voiced through his protagonist, has become a classic: “A nihilist is someone who bows to no authority, who accepts no principle at face value, no matter in how much respect that principle maybe be held.”  The Definition is offered proudly “Nihilist” is not a term of abuse for Bazarov, but one of honor: “Few,” he says, are chosen for the “bitter, hard life.”  When an opponent ask him, “You deny everything?” He replies emphatically, “Everything.” “And that is called nihilism?” “And that is called nihilism.”

Adapted from Nihilism and Culture by Johan Goudsblom

Until now nihilism has been a theory, an abstraction … the dark muse of poetry, philosophy and art.  But now we are confronted with a nihilistic moment that neither Turgenev nor Nietzsche could have prophesied: a global meltdown wrought by wars – on terror, on planet, on self.  We are confronted with the moment when this experiment of ours on Planet Earth meets its spectacular and terrifying end, when civilization reaches its summit and begins to tumble into permanent decline.  This new breed of nihilism – call it eco-nihilism, psycho-nihilism, apocalypto-nihilism – falls far beyond the bounds of the deeply personal loss of meaning Nietzsche warned off.  This new kind of nihilism degrades our very cosmic fiber, consuming not only our psyche, but the planet itself.  And for this new, collective brand of nihilism, no philosophy has ever been written, no remedy ever prescribed.

Adapted from Adbusters, Nihilism and Revolution, July/August 2009



  1. Akbar Lightning
    May 29, 2009

    Bravo! clarification, expression, stripped down symbolism, all my favs rolled up together. i see it, i feel it, i get it, i receive.


  2. Globatron
    May 29, 2009

    Glad you enjoyed it Akbar. This months Adbusters is titled Nihilism and Revolution and it seems to directly parallel much of our work currently on Globatron. It’s quite mystifying that their entire edition is in direct relation to much of our content. It does indeed make me feel we are not alone on this journey and that we are onto something much bigger than Globatron. As if we are tapped into the collective unconscious or the zeitgeist if you will.

    The youtube video is titled “Walking through the Nehru Nagar slums of Mumbai”.

    I thought it was such a contrast to the cold wide-open wasteland of a nearly abandoned strip mall in the Westside of Jacksonville, Florida. Just a typical strip mall. I began a project for that strip mall but nothing ever came of it. Now I realize it was all for this post.

    Here’s a link to the project:

    Strange how things work out that way.

  3. Logocentric
    May 30, 2009

    I enjoyed this abstract on nihilism, Globatron. It captures, I think, the development of the idea in the way important ideas should be viewed, but far too often are not: as part of a process, instead of self-understood concepts believed to mean one thing for all people and times. Your presentation of the Russian concept of nihilism made me think of the idea in a productive way–that is, it made me think that there is something fundamentally modern about the conflict surrounding the use of the term and that there may be more to the East-West divide that supposedly consumed global politics in the twentieth century than initially meets the eye.


  4. globatron
    May 31, 2009

    Thanks Logo-C. It was adapted from the July/August Adbusters so I did more of a re-sampling than anything. Glad you got something out of it though as I felt it paralleled our discussions so much so I had to share it. I highly recommend picking up a copy of Adbusters as the entire edition is similar in content and quite profound.


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