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

Examples of nihilism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s nihilism is the spiritual heir to Abbie Hoffman’s jolly anarchy in the 1960s. New York Times, "Does an Intellectual History of the Trump Era Exist? It Does Now," 6 Oct. 2020 Through Carla, Crouch’s heroine, Crouch sounded off on Thomas Jefferson, liberal hypocrisy, conservative hypocrisy, pandering hip-hop, American cultural nihilism, New Orleans jazz and Chicago blues, among other topics. Howard Reich,, "Column: Remembering Stanley Crouch, a courageous voice who confronted truth," 28 Sep. 2020 Such self-destructive indulgence of totalitarian nihilism is evidence of just how deep our current crisis has become. Daniel J. Mahoney, National Review, "The Spirit of Religion and the Spirit of Liberty," 23 Sep. 2020 The rise-of-the-antihero genre is an old trope, going back to special editions of comic books that would explain Lex Luthor’s bloodlust or the childhood neglect at the heart of the Joker’s nihilism. Rachel Syme, The New Yorker, "“Ratched,” Reviewed: A Confused, Caricaturish Origin Story for the “Cuckoo’s Nest” Villainess," 19 Sep. 2020 Charlatans Peele and Abrams think such nihilism is insightful. Armond White, National Review, "Lovecraft Country Is Systemic Racism Entertainment™," 26 Aug. 2020 Many Americans, in assessing their own behavior, are asking how the government is using the time that sheltering at home has bought; without a better answer from someone, there is a risk that a sort of public-health nihilism will take hold. Amy Davidson Sorkin, The New Yorker, "As Trump’s Hostility to Masks Fuels a Public-Health Nihilism, Fauci Issues a New Plea," 1 July 2020 But that doesn’t mean that nihilism is suddenly an option. Whitney Phillips, Wired, "How to Avoid Spreading Misinformation About the Protests," 4 June 2020 For all his commitment to nonviolence, however, King understood the way frustration can turn into rage and rage can curdle into nihilism, when injustice is too brutal to comprehend and justice is perpetually deferred. Gilbert Garcia,, "Garcia: For San Antonio, Saturday unrest leads to Sunday healing," 31 May 2020

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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Statistics for nihilism

Last Updated

19 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Nihilism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for nihilism


How to pronounce nihilism (audio) How to pronounce nihilism (audio)

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 nihilistic (audio) \ adjective

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More from Merriam-Webster on nihilism

Nglish: Translation of nihilism for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of nihilism for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about nihilism

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