What is nihilism and why is our time essentially nihilistic?

Nihilism is possibly the philosophical stance by 'default' of our time

Western nihilism - which today extends across the planet as the defining character of our time - can be dated, as a term that enters philosophical consciousness, since the beginning of the nineteenth century, in the controversies led by the German theologian Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi against the "philosophers", from Spinoza to Kant and Fichte, among others. Jacobi saw in Spinoza's pantheism the germ of nihilism, because with his only "substance" (which was everything) he annihilated the individual and subsumed him in the pure deterministic mechanism of nature. Spinoza's system, for Jacobi (and for many others later), was essentially atheistic. Likewise, the Enlightenment and German idealism should be considered, when carefully studied, as nihilists, since they supplanted the subject, the real self - which existed in relation to a you - by abstractions. For Jacobi, the "nothingness" of nihilism is equated with atheism - or the notion that the world does not have a transcendent support and ultimate meaning - and with the annihilation of the individual in the idealization of the subject.

Martin Heidegger, who certainly did not ignore the earliest use of the Jacobi term, says in his interpretation of Nietzsche's nihilism that the word was put into vogue by the Russian novelist Turgeniev, who used it to mean that only what we perceive with the senses that real and, therefore, all traditional and transcendent values ​​are illusory. This, says Heidegger, is also designated by the term positivism.

Nihilism, literally the generalization of nothingness or the doctrine of nothingness, can be understood in different ways, as we begin to see, but it is the double meaning given by Nietzsche, who calls himself the first "European nihilist, " which It has been more influential and the one that interests us the most here.

In the controversial text published posthumously, The Will to Power, Nietzsche assumes the role of the prophet of nihilism: "What I tell is the story of the next two centuries. I describe what is to come, what can no longer be different: the advent of nihilism. " Heidegger succinctly defines Nietzsche's nihilism as "the movement whose essential interpretation Nietzsche concentrates on the smooth statement: 'the death of God'". Specifically, the death of the god of Christianity, the support and guarantor of the entire moral building, and the twilight of metaphysics preached in something transcendent, in something that is above all beings and values ​​and that gives them meaning and purpose .

The conferences Heidegger dedicated to Nietzsche

Nietzsche understands that this "nihilism" will bring enormous "catastrophes", as men live a general state of degeneration, this due to centuries of submission to the herd's morality, which is accentuated with the democratic and egalitarian values ​​of modernity. In other words, this nihilism, which according to their perspective is the great crack of freedom in history, would not be understood and assumed by men, who really only seek comfort and security - the "last men" who have "invented happiness" and they remain contemplating the "shadow of the god", as in the mythical cave. The other image that Nietzsche uses is that of a man contemplating the light of a star in the sky and taking it as real, although it has already been extinguished a long time ago. It is in this way, the philosopher would say, that modern man continues to believe in God.

Nietzsche identifies a first type of nihilism, which he despises, in Christianity and in the clinging to Christianity or to religions or doctrines that postulate absolutes. For Nietzsche, religions are nihilistic in that they reduce the individual to nothing, to the mere mass that does not think and does not determine itself. In turn, Nietzsche understands that the "death of God" will bring a nihilistic era, first in Europe and then in the world, then, observe, the coming centuries will be those of the unification of man beyond nations (equality, democracy, and what we call today globalization and other abominations). Nihilism is for the philosopher the "logical consequence of our great values, " which are not "truths, " but only relative values ​​that we have morally postulated. Man, he reiterates, requires new values, and logically he must experience the nihilism of the loss of old values, which is also a transitory loss of meaning, of a reason. This is what we see today as the modern existential condition: the search for meaning and purpose, something that has never been less clear and accurate.

In the essay mentioned, Heidegger makes a penetrating reading - although not without generating some controversy - of Nietzsche's nihilism, which he identifies as a metaphysics, the last metaphysics. "This revaluation thinks the Self for the first time as value. With it, metaphysics begins to become thought about values." For Heidegger, Nietzsche takes a metaphysical step with his notion of "will to power, " which "he interprets as the essence of power." Therefore, the Being itself is nothing more than "will to power." Nietzsche does not admit that there is anything beyond the will to power, since his philosophy is immanent. The will to power alone "determines all beings, power recognizes no value outside of itself, " says Heidegger. And since there is nothing outside the will to power and its constant increase, "then being as a whole, too, like this becoming shaped by power, must always turn again and again as the same." Thus Nietzsche's metaphysics silences his fundamental idea of ​​the eternal return (which, it must be said, many philosophers interpret only as an ethical, almost metaphorical, and not metaphysical or cosmological proposal).

Now, in addition to this positive nihilism, using Nietzsche's own interpretation, we can say that modernity is nihilistic, not in the emancipatory and self-determined sense desired by Nietzsche, but, and precisely because of his philosophy of the will to power, nihilist in a sense more similar to Jacobi's or the one he read in Christianity. Modernity is largely nihilistic precisely because it has assumed that the world is nothing more than a will to power - or its democratic interpretation, typical of the so-called "free society": free will, the right to choose or social and political empowerment. The company of creating new values ​​has failed to overcome the bleak abyss of the absence of essence and absolutes and the idea of ​​the will to power and self-creation of the individual have become, as Alan Bloom suggests, in one of the main forces that they move modern society, but now as an economic force, as the catalyst for consumerism and the relativization of values. Since there is nothing transcendent that determines the human being and nothing else that gives it more meaning than himself, perhaps man has the possibility of overcoming himself, of becoming a kind of hero, an übermensch, but the most Probably - and certainly most frequently - is that it simply vanishes in the struggle of individual powers, in vain selfishness and everyday hedonism. Nietzsche was perhaps right that the human being is essentially selfish, but he overestimated the self-love of the human being, because after all all the great things he has done has been in the search for a transcendent value, with the idea of ​​a truth absolute in the spotlight, for something or someone else. On the contrary, creating oneself is not something that inspires too much, it would be necessary for the being to rise to the necessary heights and with the constancy that is required to create a new table of authentic and heroic values ​​as Nietzsche wished. It is not even enough to create works of art worthy of the glories of religious or mystical art. Thus the reality of nihilism is mediation, meanness, a pale, reluctant and more or less pleasant escape on the horizon of history.

It is true that Nietzsche did not seek the creation of a race of supermen but of a new caste formed, at least initially, by a handful of supermen erected on the decay of society. But Nietzsche himself noted that the qualities of the environment - food, air and other environmental, physical and psychological conditions - were essential for the cultivation and overcoming of man. Thus, the current conditions, in which all the forces of the "free" man are concentrated in eliminating pain and making life more comfortable, secure and egalitarian, are by no means conducive to the growth of the great spirit that Nietzsche dreamed . Perhaps it only emerges from the ruins and ashes, from a total destruction of a social paradigm; or maybe his superman is nothing more than a chimera; or even more, perhaps Nietzsche himself was a victim in his philosophy of criticism that he made to other philosophers, in whom he saw not systems but symptoms expressed as absolute ideas. "How much shyness and personal vulnerability betrays this sickly inmate mask, " he wrote about Spinoza's philosophy. But as Bertrand Russell has noted, Nietzsche himself, with his hatred of the weak, women and personal relationships in general, or also, in conceiving power and not love as the universal and the really divine of existence, he can betray a deception, a similar pathologization, because perhaps his philosophy for warrior-artists-aristocrats has as a secret motive fear and the essential dissatisfaction (trauma we could say today) of his personal relationships. Perhaps this was also what allowed him to devote himself to a work in all its fatality and conceive of existence as a work of art, but perhaps it was also this - in his absence - that did not allow him to reach equilibrium and with it conceive a philosophy that had greater possibilities to illuminate the existence of the human being, and perhaps to arrange the marriage of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, that fertile streak that died after his first book.

No one can doubt Nietzsche's enormous critical intelligence and it seems extremely difficult for a philosopher of his magnitude to emerge at this time, evidently decadent in philosophical terrain. But it is also evident that destructive energy is not enough to achieve freedom and authentic wisdom; Creative eros is necessary, and an eros that cannot only be identified as pure power, as the desire for conquest and abduction ... perhaps not only the hard heart of the warrior and the leader, but also the soft and calm heart of the monk as well as that of the compassionate lover are necessary in a philosopher.

Also in Pajama Surf: Freedom, the myth of modernity: are we really freer than in the Middle Ages or in Antiquity?