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total rejection of established laws and institutions.
anarchy, terrorism, or other revolutionary activity.
total and absolute destructiveness, especially toward the world at large and including oneself:
the power-mad nihilism that marked Hitler’s last years.

an extreme form of skepticism: the denial of all real existence or the possibility of an objective basis for truth.
nothingness or nonexistence.

(sometimes initial capital letter) the principles of a Russian revolutionary group, active in the latter half of the 19th century, holding that existing social and political institutions must be destroyed in order to clear the way for a new state of society and employing extreme measures, including terrorism and assassination.
annihilation of the self, or the individual consciousness, especially as an aspect of mystical experience.
Contemporary Examples

I think with that generation, so many of their hopes have been so dashed that nihilism is really a natural response.
The Gospel According to Nick Denton—What Next For The Gawker Founder? Lloyd Grove December 13, 2014

Or better, and to speak like Nietzsche, art with a hammer that practices, and then reverses and reevaluates, nihilism.
Treasures From the Pinault Collection Bernard-Henri Lévy June 11, 2009

It’s arguably the best film of the ‘90s—a postmodern pop culture smorgasbord awash in nihilism and dripping with retro cool.
The Secrets of ‘Pulp Fiction’: 20 Things You Didn’t Know About the Movie on Its 20th Anniversary Marlow Stern October 18, 2014

To understand better the nihilism of Thiessen’s thinking, I must now quote his column at greater length.
Doomsday Conservatives: Too Many Hormones, Too Little Plan David Frum December 11, 2012

Journey to the End of the Night does not offer readers much more than nihilism as a response to a detestable world.
The Search for Serious Literary Fiction for Republicans James McGirk November 4, 2012

Historical Examples

The very faults which nihilism seeks to remedy are kept alive by its existence.
Princess Zara Ross Beeckman

A period of reaction has set in: Despotism and nihilism meet face to face.
Rabbi and Priest Milton Goldsmith

But his liberalism is not in the least akin to nihilism or Anarchism.
The Life & Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky Modeste Tchaikovsky

nihilism was not to be rooted out by the removal of any particular set of men.
Rabbi and Priest Milton Goldsmith

You prate of stultifying yourself by taking the oath of nihilism, and repudiating your word to Alexander.
Princess Zara Ross Beeckman

a complete denial of all established authority and institutions
(philosophy) an extreme form of scepticism that systematically rejects all values, belief in existence, the possibility of communication, etc
a revolutionary doctrine of destruction for its own sake
the practice or promulgation of terrorism
(in tsarist Russia) any of several revolutionary doctrines that upheld terrorism

1817, “the doctrine of negation” (in reference to religion or morals), from German Nihilismus, from Latin nihil “nothing at all” (see nil), coined by German philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819). In philosophy, an extreme form of skepticism (1836). The political sense was first used by German journalist Joseph von Görres (1776-1848). Turgenev used the Russian form of the word (nigilizm) in “Fathers and Children” (1862) and claimed to have invented it. With a capital N-, it refers to the Russian revolutionary anarchism of the period 1860-1917, supposedly so called because “nothing” that then existed found favor in their eyes.

nihilism ni·hil·ism (nī’ə-lĭz’əm, nē’-)

The belief that destruction of existing political or social institutions is necessary for future improvement.

A delusion, experienced in some mental disorders, that the world or one’s mind, body, or self does not exist.

nihilism [(neye-uh-liz-uhm, nee-uh-liz-uhm)]

An approach to philosophy that holds that human life is meaningless and that all religions, laws, moral codes, and political systems are thoroughly empty and false. The term is from the Latin nihil, meaning “nothing.”


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