The Problem of Nihilism: A Sociological Approach

The critique of nihilism, defined as nothingness, caused by the complete lack of authentic values and true ends, has almost completely disappeared from the Western intellectual discourse. In this article the author tries to find the reason for this.Examining the concept of nihilism, one discovers th...

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Bibliographic Details
Published in:Sociological analysis
Main Author: Borg, Meerten B. Ter (Author)
Format: Electronic Article
Language:English
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Published: 1988
In: Sociological analysis
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Summary:The critique of nihilism, defined as nothingness, caused by the complete lack of authentic values and true ends, has almost completely disappeared from the Western intellectual discourse. In this article the author tries to find the reason for this.Examining the concept of nihilism, one discovers that there is no common property that causes persons or society as a whole to be called nihilistic. Therefore, nihilism is studied, not as an existing thing, but as a label. Since the concept of nihilism was first used in the context of the process of modernization in the time of the French revolution, some major figures from the French sociological tradition who have an articulate opinion on it—for or against—are selected for a case study: pre-revolutionary writers, Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau; and post-revolutionary writers, Maistre, Tocqueville, Comte, and Durkheim.They all are found to label as “nihilistic” people who are, in one way or another, their adversaries on the issue of modernization. They feel threatened by the labelled, in Wittgenstein's terminology, in their form of life. Therefore, the use of the concept of nihilism is a case of what Berger and Luckmann call “nihilation,” the conceptual elimination of a competing form of life.Typical of the label of nihilism is an understanding of the world in metaphysical, not in theological terms, as was the case in earlier times of great upheaval, when heresy and witchcraft were the appropriate labels. There is a continuity between these labels, now extensively studied, and the use of “nihilism.”
ISSN:2325-7873
Contains:Enthalten in: Sociological analysis
Persistent identifiers:DOI: 10.2307/3711099