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+7 votes
Just curious. I've heard some anarchists scoff at nihilism, even one's that aren't into the lefty stuff like unions and "justice".

edited by dot to fix tag
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2 Answers

+10 votes
Best answer
i think nihilists are mostly criticized by anarchists for a) not intentionally building towards something that is recognizably positive, whether that is an affinity group or greater understanding of anarchy on a social level or whatever (this can mean being too violent and/or "unfocused" in their violence) and b) not doing anything at all to create change (this especially gets leveled at the people who like the book Nihilist Communism).

an anarchist-nihilist would probably counter that no one knows what will actually create change, that no one's focused or contained violence has made a difference so far, that it might in fact be too late for any meaningful change given how fucked the world is right now (environmentally, for example), so that ending it is the only thing to focus on (as opposed to trying to envision what might replace it), and since no one can know what might end it, inaction might be as useful as action, and unfettered rage is probably better than another meeting.
by (53.1k points)

"an anarchist-nihilist would probably counter that no one knows what will actually create change, that no one's focused or contained violence has made a difference so far,"

In addition to this, we also see that many actions, by being recuperated actually aid the state/the thing one is trying to destroy, such as A!'s critiques of insurrectionary violence, or how the text "how non-violence protects the state" could also easily be titled "how violence (or property destruction) supports the state" since these sorts of actions have ultimately lead to reforms that aid the state in recuperating dissent (making people complacent). So it's not just that inaction is better the a useless action (such as a meeting), but acting may just strengthen the thing one seeks to act against.

+1 vote
I want to deal with the view of Friedrich Nietzsche on "nihilism". From wikipedia "This is exactly why Nietzsche states that nihilism as "absolute valuelessness" or "nothing has meaning"[26] is dangerous, or even "the danger of dangers":[27] it is through valuation that people survive and endure the danger, pain and hardships they face in life. The complete destruction of all meaning and all values would lead to an existence of apathy and stillness, where positive actions, affirmative actions, would be replaced by a state of reaction and destruction. This is the prophecy of "der letzte Mensch", the last man,[28] the most despicable man, devoid of values, incapable of self-realization through creation of his own good and evil, devoid of any "will to power" (

As such nihilism means for Nietzsche the rejection of creativity and of self-affirmation. This is how Emma Goldman thought of the mission of anarchism through nietzschetian (and Stirner´s) lens: "Friedrich Nietzsche and Max Stirner have hurled blow upon blow against the portals of Christianity, because they saw in it a pernicious slave morality, the denial of life, the destroyer of all the elements that make for strength and character. True, Nietzsche has opposed the slave-morality idea inherent in Christianity in behalf of a master morality for the privileged few. But I venture to suggest that his master idea had nothing to do with the vulgarity of station, caste, or wealth. Rather did it mean the masterful in human possibilities, the masterful in man that would help him to overcome old traditions and worn-out values, so that he may learn to become the creator of new and beautiful things."

Emma Goldman.
"The Failure of Christianity"


"The most disheartening tendency common among readers is to tear out one sentence from a work, as a criterion of the writer’s ideas or personality. Friedrich Nietzsche, for instance, is decried as a hater of the weak because he believed in the Uebermensch. It does not occur to the shallow interpreters of that giant mind that this vision of the Uebermensch also called for a state of society which will not give birth to a race of weaklings and slaves."

Emma Goldman
"Anarchism and Other Essays"

So nihilism for Nietzsche was the sense of not being able to have a creative self-affirming live and a life of conformity, passivity and mediocrity. It is clear that for Goldman that anarchism is a position that goes againts this nihilism of the masses (the coming of "The Last Man") and as such it will oppose this nihilism and strives for a freed humanity through the liberation of the minds and bodies of individuals. From this position one could argue that right wingers and conservatives strive to affirm this nihilism and so "Both Nietzsche and Stirner saw in Christianity the leveler of the human race, the breaker of man’s will to dare and to do. They saw in every movement built on Christian morality and ethics attempts not at the emancipation from slavery, but for the perpetuation thereof. Hence they opposed these movements with might and main."
Emma Goldman
The Failure of Christianity

It is this reason why one could argue that Stirner and Nietzsche were humanists at heart even if we consider some affirmations by them on the subject. A self-described "nihilist" such as the individualist anarchist Renzo Novatore wanted also to affirm himself even if one lives surrounded by a social environment of conformity and passivity and wheter or not one thinks things can change:

"Our nihilism is not christian nihilism.

We do not deny life.

No! We are the great iconoclasts of the lie.

And all that is declared “sacred” is a lie.

We are the enemies of the “sacred”.

And to you a law is “sacred”; a society “sacred”; a moral “sacred”; an idea “sacred”!

But we — the masters and lovers of pitiless strength and strong willed beauty, of the ravishing idea — we, the iconoclasts of all that is consecrated — we laugh satanically, with a fine broad and mocking laughter."

Renzo Novatore
"Toward the Creative Nothing"

it seems to me the use of the word "nihilism" points out to a particular "disbelief" in something. As such Novatore says "We want this tragic social dusk to give our “I” some calm and thrilling tinder of universal light. Because we are the nihilists of social phantoms." But a critical sceptic approach to things is part of freethought and of a humanist goal towards independent critical individuals.
by (3.3k points)
thoughtful answer.

(but fuck humanism.)
any particular good reason. otherwise i could think you prefer automatons who watch tv all day and do everything politicians and corporations want them to do.
your assumption of a non-humanist is quite funny. if you define humanism as "anything good", which you seem to be doing, then obviously i cannot argue with it.

regardless... - see 5,6,7,11 of ALC's points...
i guess every one here is a human. i am a human. Unless you call for the extermination of humanity or a continous ideology of self hate for humans, it might be better to foster the best in humanity and fight the worst of it. Just as there is a fascist environmentalism ( ), humanist ideas and positions could have been used to justify some bad things.

reason 5 sounds like a humanist has to believe in some kind of religious myth of progress. Progress can refer to overall improvement in humanity´s condition just as in can mean a small good change on a specific issue. For example it is clear in the US there has been some progress in the situation of african americans as far as breaking racist barriers and apartheid laws. the opposite of progress will be regression and so that also happens and humanists will also think that is possible and as such progress could not be seen as something that will happen no matter what.

I don´t see science as good on itself and science is mediated by corporate interests just like almost anything today. From the human posibility of empathy (which is not as clear in non-human animals) one can arrive at a position of concern for exploitation of species and environments.

So "humanism" created technocrats, scientists, bureaucrats, etc. Maybe in part although you might have to be more specific and instead of saying something so broad such as "humanists" you might have to blame monarchies, the rising bourgoise, etc. As far as science i don´t think scientists and science are "bad" per se. From the individualism of humanism one can decide to affirm one´s subjectivity and resist and reject bureaucratism. A humanist will defend the instrinsic value in individuals and so obviously from such a position one can oppose the instrumentalization of humans. Also some humanism tends more to aesthetics and art rather than with science.

On point 7 i think you can accuse many things of that and not just humanism. It will depend if a particular humanist is racist in order that that person will try to accomodate racism in humanism. Otherwise humanism will emphasize the human species as being one and so racism will be considered absurd. In fact scientific racism ( tried to prove that non-white people were not humans or were a "sub-especies" of humans. The major french humanist philosopher Michel de Montaigne opposed the colonization of the Americas and in an essay called "Of Canniblas" he strongly came up againts caricaturizations of american people as "savages". As such "I find that there is nothing barbarous and savage in this nation, by anything that I can gather, excepting, that every one gives the title of barbarism to everything that is not in use in his own country. As, indeed, we have no other level of truth and reason, than the example and idea of the opinions and customs of the place wherein we live: there is always the perfect religion, there the perfect government, there the most exact and accomplished usage of all things. They are savages at the same rate that we say fruit are wild, which nature produces of herself and by her own ordinary progress; whereas in truth, we ought rather to call those wild, whose natures we have changed by our artifice, and diverted from the common order...But there never was any opinion so irregular, as to excuse treachery, disloyalty, tyranny, and cruelty, which are our familiar vices. We may then call these people barbarous, in respect to the rules of reason: but not in respect to ourselves, who in all sorts of barbarity exceed them." In fact "The discovery of so many new lands in the Renaissance had less impact on most Europeans than one might suppose. They were largely absorbed in recovering (and competing with) their own classical past and engaging in violent theological and political disputes among themselves. Yet some Europeans were profoundly shaken by the new discoveries into realizing that much of the world thought and lived very differently from what was then known as "Christendom." No writer was more strongly moved to view his own society from a new perspective in the light of reports brought back of the habits of the natives of the "New World" than Michel de Montaigne. He began a long tradition of using non-European peoples as a basis for engaging in a critique of his own culture, undoubtedly in the process romanticizing what Jean-Jacques Rousseau would later call "the noble savage." It is a theme which still appeals to many Westerners."

As far as the citation by Stirner i will say that any concept can be instrumentalized, not just that of humanity and humanism. Even the concept of "individual" is instrumentalized today by right wing laisses faire capitalists in order that people become acritical consumerists saying that there they are being free because they choose what to buy, and also believers that private property is the main base of freedom without any distinction between corporate and capitalist property and things one uses (personal property) such as a toothbrush or a book.

Anyway it seems to me some people here might need to check two articles before talking seriously about humanism:

i find the following interesting "Postmodern critics who are self-described anti-humanists, such as Jean-François Lyotard and Michel Foucault, have asserted that humanism posits an overarching and excessively abstract notion of humanity or universal human nature, which can then be used as a pretext for imperialism and domination of those deemed somehow less than human. Philosopher Kate Soper[61] notes that by faulting humanism for falling short of its own benevolent ideals, anti-humanism thus frequently "secretes a humanist rhetoric".[62]" In his book, Humanism (1997), Tony Davies calls these critics "humanist anti-humanists" "
seems like this should go on the humanist thread.