Nihilism isn’t necessarily “post” anarchism, but it seems like the best place to house it on this site as Mikhail Bakunin and Kropotkin espoused the philosophy of science, reason, and the rejection of tradition and romanticism. Below are some thoughts on Nihilism.
- Ethical map PDF
- Foundations of Libertarian Ethics
- moral foundations.org
- On the Media radio segment on nihilism: Staring Into the Abyss
- Radio Lab radio segment on nihilism: In the Dust of This Planet
- Nihilism before Nietzsche
- Nihilism: A Lie In Service To The Existing
- Nihilism, Anarchy, and the 21st century
- Britannica | IEP
- Morality in the Real World Podcast
- The Error in Error Theory
Libertarians seem willing to reject both liberal concerns for social justice  and conservative concerns for respecting existing social structure  when those concerns conflict with their superordinate interest in maintaining individual liberty.Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Dispositions of Self-Identified Libertarians
As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s hard to say what an anarchist society “will” look like, as that seems as impossible as determining the trajectory and outcome of the current ‘order’ and disorder unfolding from governments, and to use Heisenberg, with anarchism the closer we get to measuring the momentum of anarchist actions for change the farther we get from measuring the position of any one anarchist, and vice versa.
At a certain moment a culture discovers that its most esteemed values are for nothing. Nihilism is that moment where you have the rug pulled out from under you and nothing takes its place…Pop nihilism is using the fact that I don’t believe in anything as a smokescreen for completely selfish actions.Staring into the Abyss
Nihilism is certainly hard to measure, void that it is supposed to be. These words comes to mind for nihilism: pointless, meaningless, overthrow, annihilate, know nothing. This isn’t to say something can’t become of destruction as the prerequisite of construction is deconstruction. It’s not that I think moral skepticism and moral anti-realism are “wrong” in premise as there is a certain cursory appeal because they “seem” right, justified, or real because the natural world has no sense of right, wrong, or justice, it just is, and does as it pleases or needs. While moral statements are not truth-apt in the same way mathematics or scientific theories or laws are, that doesn’t mean throwing normative ethics out is in truth a good thing. While morality might be without universal or even relative truth, the sometimes complex set of rules and recommendations of morality can give give psychological, social, or economical solutions.
as long as you live the useless life that God has given you in this world. Enjoy every useless day of it, because that is all you will get for all your trouble. Work hard at whatever you do, because there will be no action, no thought, no knowledge, no wisdom in the world of the dead — and that is where you are going.Ecclesiastes 9:7-10
Although the nihilist perspective on moral truth might be correct, it does not mean humans can justify amorality, an anything-goes hedonism, or a right to follow the footsteps of some other species doing what it does to survive. The nihilist position that “nothing is morally wrong” might be right, but that doesn’t mean we can’t choose to act positively or refuse to act negatively, and that there should not be consequences for some actions. Yes the borders are blurry, but the world is indeed an oblate spheroid, and even if it was flat it would have shape. Does believing morals are flat mean there is no substance? Nihilism may be right tn theory, but certainly is not practical in its practice. We can choose something other than than territorial brawls, infanticide, rape, terrorism, and carnism etc. moral error theory be damned. Modern nihilism could get back to it’s naturalist/ism roots and destroy its current self to a degree.
Everything one looks at is false. If I shout ideal ideal ideal knowledge knowledge knowledge boom boom boom boom boom boom boom, I have given a pretty faithful version of progress law morality and all the other fine qualities that various highly intelligent men have discussed in so many books. Only to conclude that after all, everyone dances to his own personal boom boom. And that the writer’s entitled to his boom boom.Tristan Tzara
To explain or show something to be true, or knowledge, we can turn to proof, but what is the proof based on? We end up with an infinite regress of proof, on proof, on proof….”turtles all the way down,” which bring us to three choices for proof (the Agrippan or Münchhausen trilemma):
- “First, proof could go on forever, with A justified by B justified by C justified by …, ad infinitum. [infinite regress, and Infinitistism]
- Second, it it could cycle back on itself at some point, with A justified by B justified by C justified by…justified by B, for example. [circularity, and Coherentists]
- Third and finally, the regress might stop at some point, with A justified by B justified by C justified by…justified by N, which is not justified by any further belief.” [axioms (self evident), and Foundationalism]
Nihilism is a religion of sorts as it is based on an absolute, if not an axiom, of annihilation, but as such it is blind-belief where the answer is not up for debate because it is built on absolutes and il/logic alone. Ironically absolutes and logic can’t be trusted according to nihilism because it doesn’t believe in them as nothing can be known with certainty (except perhaps that nihilism is true). It is fitting that the nihilistic premise destroys itself as that is the outcome of Fundamentalism, because fundamentalism is Nonsense.
For those that believe that there are no non-arbitrary axioms, three disastrous implications follow: the statement is self-referentially incoherent, knowledge cannot exist, and any proposition P and its negation ~P becomes true.
…Basing knowledge on arbitrary assumptions [axioms] cannot work, because someone else can infer the exact opposite knowledge claim from other arbitrary assumptions. Circular arguments are pathetically weak as they merely assume that their position is true, without any argument or evidence, and then uses it to prove itself… Finally, infinite regress cannot justify knowledge either, because you can never tell if a regress is truly infinite or will end up being based on arbitrary assumptions or circularity. Finally, you never ever get down to the foundation, so you can never tell if it is reasonable.
…Thus, in the absence of non-arbitrary axioms, knowledge is not possible. This means that people who believe that all axioms are arbitrary have to give up science, math and logic. Most people are not willing to surrender these areas, and so they must reject their position that there are no non-arbitrary axioms.
The rejection of non-arbitrary axioms cannot be sustained. It is self-refuting. It eliminates the possibility of knowledge and it makes everything both true and false at the same time. Appealing to coherentism does not work because consistency is not sufficient for knowledge and there can be no model selection between two equally internally coherent, but mutually contradicting, systems
All deductive arguments are circular and/or question-begging because the argument is in the premise and results in a conclusion that begs the question of how the claim is not circular. How do we get away from using an argument that assumes the premise is proved from the outset or based on an apparent axiom? Nihilism is an easy way out of this by claiming we know nothing, but fails in the same breath as that idea-ology is some thing.
As alluring as some aspects of nihilism might be, it seems counter to humanism in some (not all) regards:
What does nihilism have to offer beyond a mere avocation of destruction? The nihilist position does not allow for the comforts of this world. Not only is God dead to a nihilist, but also everything that has taken God’s place; idealism, consciousness, reason, progress, the masses, culture, etc. Without the comforts of this metaphysical ‘place’ a strategic nihilist is free to drift unfettered by the consequences of her actions. “A nihilist is a person who does not bow down to any authority, who does not accept any principle on faith, however much that principle may be revered” Philosophically much has resulted from the nihilist ideas on value, aesthetics and practice. Most notably in Adorno’s conception of Negative Dialectics, a principle which refuses any kind of affirmation or positivity, a principle of thorough-going negativity. The nihilist tradition includes Adorno, Nietzsche, Bakunin, much of classic Russian literature, Dada, punk rock, Heidegger, existentialist, post-structuralist and post-modern thinkers, and much of anarchism.
What does this really mean on the modern stage? Strategic nihilism allows for the possibility that there is no future. The possibility of radical social transformation then becomes unhinged from the utopian aspirations of its proponents. …If the destruction of the current order must be achieved, for our own potential to be realized, for its own sake, for the children, it may be better to do it with open eyes than purposely blinded ones. A strategic nihilist understands that an ethical revolution does not create an ethical society…
…Anarchists have generally accepted property destruction in their humanist vision of a ethical social change. Things matter less than people. Nihilism informs us that this dichotomy ties us to the world we must supercede, before we are capable of actually having social relationships with people and not things. Strategic nihilism provides us a solution to existentialism and liberalism. It argues for an active pose in this world and for the inviability of reformist solutions. When confronted with the horror of your existence, race towards the bleak consequences, not away. Deal with the moralism explicit in your stated irrelevance by identity politics, communism, and postmodernism with a sword in hand. Moralists should be spared no patience.
What if you are struggling in ‘the movement’? Nihilism can provide you a suite of tools. The first is deep skepticism. Every action, every meeting, is filled with politicians-in-waiting who are easy to discern, with their plastic smiles and fluency with ‘the process’. A strategic nihilism allows its practitioner to see these types for what they are; and the ability to do with them what is necessary by your analysis, and not theirs.
Finally, a strategic nihilist position allows for a range of motion heretofore not available. The ethical limitations of ‘doing the right thing’ have transformed movements for social change. From pacifists and ethicists who sanctimoniously wait for the club to fall or the strength of their convictions to shatter capitalism, to adherents of the Vietnam-era form of social protest, it is clear that the terrain allowed by morality is bleak and filled with quagmire. Armed struggle groups, who led non-existent masses toward their better world have shown similar failure. If these are not the models that frame your conception of change, you are free to make moves on a chessboard that no one else is playing on. You begin to write the rules that those in power are not prepared for. You can take angles, you can pace yourself, you can start dreaming big again, instead of just dreaming as large as the next demo, action, or war.Aragorn!
Does that sound like moralism, or amoralism? Isn’t destruction and harm in protest of destruction and harm a type of moralism in itself and therefore hypocrisy? Of course an easy out is to say nothing is knowable, and that (somehow knowable) fact is not even wrong.
Nihilism, as we’ve seen, is in every incarnation a philosophy of anti-intellectualism. From the preemptive dismissal of any inquiry further into our models or values, to quixotic requests that we hold no structure in our minds, to fetishized depression. Nihilism can operate specific to some locale or flavor of thought, but what’s common across all these permutations is a penchant for over-simplification — a search for excuses to fend off intellectual vigilance and the pains that sometimes accompany. Nihilism is a staunch faith in there being no reason to think further. The various arguments for why are not support so much as window draping.
And of all ideologies ‘nihilism’ is one of the most widespread. It has seen incredible success and widespread mention. And no wonder, it’s a stripped down and more directly exposed version of what was at the heart of so many other religions and ideologies. Thinking further, thinking systemically, rigorously, deeply — thinking radically — is a waste of time.
One need not look long for what ends such a tendency serves. The negation of radical inquiry has always been reaction.
…Nihilism is death. The erosion of agency and choice. A rot that replaces the living, searching, feeling of the mind with disconnect and fossilization. It severs one’s lines of engagement, helps support walls to fend off the outside world. In this sense it perhaps perfectly achieves the perverse notion of negative freedom, or freedom-from. It provides a perfect sort of pickling where-one-stands. Preserving some distorted semblance of life, albeit still and trapped, at least until the bottle finally breaks and one’s suspended corpse is released to rot. This may constitute some sort of ‘defense’, but only that.
Nihilism is incapable of real destruction just as it refuses to engage in creation. In the end it serves only to preserve what exists. Its retreat from structure to indifference blurs the world into a formless single grey, blinding us entirely from possibility. To change things, to act, to have choice, is inherently to reflect, to press against the world, take in its texture and structure, and to build upon that. To be free — in a positive sense of freedom-to — is first and foremost to be able to explore and trace the network of what is possible. Freedom requires engaging with possibility, nihilism denies it. In nihilism’s ideological rejection of radical inquiry — its blind faith that further thought will ultimately reveal nothing but endless formless grey — it ultimately seeks to suppress all living motion in our minds and thus in the world.
It is thus without polemic but with solemnity that we must conclude: Nihilism is, in the final accounting, fascism. Both its necessary seed and its most purified expression.William Gillis
That said, the roots of nihilism weren’t necessarily promoting “nothing is morally wrong” as much as anti-authoritarianism. I suppose that is irrelevant in today‘s context as quoted above. Nonetheless, Kropotkin of all people was a proponent, but I’m doubting he would be fine with the conclusions and misanthropy of today’s nihilism cheerleaders.
Tolstóy, one of the greatest artists of the century, has now so powerfully formulated, the nihilist expressed in the sweeping assertion, “A pair of boots is more important than all your Madonnas and all your refined talk about Shakespeare.” … The nihilist girl, compelled by her parents to be a doll in a Doll’s House, and to marry for property’s sake, preferred to abandon her house and her silk dresses. She put on a black woolen dress of the plainest description, cut off her hair, and went to a high school, in order to win there her personal independence. … Nihilism, with its affirmation of the rights of the individual and its negation of all hypocrisy, was but a first step toward a higher type of men and women, who are equally free, but live for a great cause.Kropotkin Memoirs of a Revolutionist
The story that Peter Kropotkin tells of Russian nihilism diverges strongly from this account and whereas Gillespie suggests that the character of the Russian revolutionary movement was irrelevant to Nietzsche’s theorisation of nihilism, Kropotkin suspected that there was a relationship between the two. His fear, which he shared with Errico Malatesta, was that the attention that Nietzsche’s work attracted in anarchist circles fuelled a form of sensualism that found expression in individual acts of terror. Because it was read back into the history of revolutionary activism, the popular, Nietzschean conception of nihilism supported an understanding of a popular movement that was highly misleading. Kropotkin’s efforts to correct this idea, which he began in the late 1890s, precisely at the point that Nietzsche’s ideas were gaining currency in parts of the anarchist movement, were driven not just by his desire to challenge the aristocratic individualism he believed Nietzsche espoused, but also to rescue the reputation of a movement which he found inspiring. Kropotkin’s autobiography and his lectures on Russian literature ( Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature) 13 provide the main platforms for his discussion of nihilism, together with an unpublished manuscript on the Russian women’s movement. His argument is that nihilism was first a literary phenomenon which sparked a political movement, led by women. Nihilism, according to Kropotkin, was a vehicle for Russian feminism and its peculiarly Russian flavour set it apart from equivalent movements in Western Europe. Kropotkin’s treatment of nihilism is interesting not just because it recovers an understanding that has been buried in histories of Russian populism and largely lost to political thought, but also because it counters a vulgar representation of women revolutionaries which dominated popular literatures of the 1880s and seeped into a good number of scholarly ones to boot. Kropotkin was not a philosopher and Nietzsche, it is well known, took a dim view of the anarchists; he ignored Georg Brandes’s recommendation that he engage with Kropotkin’s work.14
It would be ambitious to suggest that Kropotkin’s account of nihilism adds much to Nietzschean studies. Kropotkin’s concerns are open to Nietzsche’s warnings not to mistake the symptoms of nihilism for its causes. 15 His view, however, was that the symptoms had been misdiagnosed and that ‘social distress and moral decay’ were inadequate descriptors of nihilism; and the different light he shines on the nihilist movement challenges stereotypical accounts of women’s activism and, as Nietzsche has it, women’s passive, slavish mentality. 16
…For nihilists ‘the world’s redemption is synonymous with the world’s destruction, and hence the extinction of social evils is sought in the annihilation of society.’ 72
Critics found part of the explanation for the destructiveness of nihilism in atheism and the rejection of moral codes. Nihilists violently attacked both ‘the laws and institutions of the country’ and the ‘ethical conceptions, aesthetic aspirations, and religious convictions’ which underpinned them.73 They traced the other part to the extreme egoism of nihilist doctrines. Nihilism was about breaking up ‘the actual social organisation into mere individualism, with entire independence of each separate person. They maintain that no one should be bound by laws or even moral obligations of any kind, but that everybody should be allowed to do exactly as he pleases’. 74
Nihilism before Nietzsche
“Let us put our trust in the eternal spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unsearchable and eternally creative source of all life–the passion for destruction is also a creative passion!” (Reaction in Germany, 1842) ” We must overthrow the material and moral conditions of our present-day life. . . . We must first purify our atmosphere and completely transform the milieu in which we live; for it corrupts our instinct and our will, and constricts our heart and our intelligence.”Mikhail Bakunin