ni·​hil·​ism | \ ˈnī-(h)ə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce nihilism (audio) , ˈnē- How to pronounce nihilism (audio) \

Definition of nihilism

1a : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless Nihilism is a condition in which all ultimate values lose their value.— Ronald H. Nash
b : a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths
2a : a doctrine or belief that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility
b capitalized : the program of a 19th century Russian party advocating revolutionary reform and using terrorism and assassination

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Other Words from nihilism

nihilist \ ˈnī-​(h)ə-​list How to pronounce nihilism (audio) , ˈnē-​ \ noun or adjective
nihilistic \ ˌnī-​(h)ə-​ˈli-​stik How to pronounce nihilism (audio) , ˌnē-​ \ adjective

Examples of nihilism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web All of this right-wing nihilism simply feeds the growing sense of desperation among the increasing numbers of people whose lives and circumstances have become precarious under deepening neoliberal inequality. Adolph Reed Jr., The New Republic, "How Austerity Destroyed the Public Good," 27 Apr. 2021 But plausibly, opposition to the idea of the Cold War—or to American claims of virtue in the confrontation—may have ultimately helped inspire a kind of aesthetic nihilism or, at the very least, the playful emptiness of postmodernism. Edward Rothstein, WSJ, "‘The Free World’ Review: Cold War Culture," 23 Apr. 2021 Another idea of climate nihilism that may be more well-intentioned, but also serves to dispirit is the notion of the inevitable climate apocalypse. David Carlin, Forbes, "Fighting Back Against The 3 “D”s Of Climate Inaction," 21 Apr. 2021 Buckley wrote his exposé of Yale’s slouch toward fat, sclerotic, nihilism du jour in 1951. Brian T. Allen, National Review, "Pruning PC Poison from the Ivies," 11 Apr. 2021 At the genre’s darkest, cowboys are driven to violence, alienation, isolation, and even a kind of nihilism. Jordan Kisner, The Atlantic, "The Women Reinventing the Western," 19 Apr. 2021 The album was full of violent nihilism, hair-raising tales of betrayal and revenge, and his emulations of dogs barking and whining; the beats were rugged and skeletal. Andrew R. Chow, Time, "How DMX's It's Dark and Hell Is Hot Changed the Course of Hip-Hop Forever," 9 Apr. 2021 Same goes for the mood of post-political nihilism held by some young people. Nathan Taylor Pemberton, The New Yorker, "The Young Political Spaces of the Internet," 17 Mar. 2021 Every line of Back curls like that: jaunty and ornate, nihilism served with a smile. Darren Franich,, "Don't miss Back, the dark comedy of the year: Review," 19 Mar. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'nihilism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of nihilism

1812, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for nihilism

German Nihilismus, from Latin nihil nothing — more at nil

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Time Traveler for nihilism

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The first known use of nihilism was in 1812

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Last Updated

5 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Nihilism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for nihilism



English Language Learners Definition of nihilism

: the belief that traditional morals, ideas, beliefs, etc., have no worth or value
: the belief that a society's political and social institutions are so bad that they should be destroyed


ni·​hi·​lism | \ ˈnī-(h)ə-ˌliz-əm How to pronounce nihilism (audio) , ˈnē- How to pronounce nihilism (audio) \

Medical Definition of nihilism

2 : skepticism as to the value of a drug or method of treatment

Other Words from nihilism

nihilistic \ ˌnī-​(h)ə-​ˈlis-​tik, ˌnē-​ How to pronounce nihilism (audio) \ adjective

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