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Nihilism, Russian

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-E072-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 18, 2024, from

Article Summary

The term ’Nihilist’, although it was first used in Russian as early as 1829, only acquired its present significance in Turgenev’s novel Ottsy i deti (Fathers and Sons) (1862), where it is applied to the central character, Bazarov. Thereafter Nihilism quickly became the subject of polemical debate in the journal press and in works of literature. The Nihilists were the generation of young, radical, non-gentry intellectuals who espoused a thoroughgoing materialism, positivism and scientism. The major theorists of Russian Nihilism were Nikolai Chernyshevskii and Dmitrii Pisarev, although their authority and influence extended well beyond the realm of theory. Nihilism was a broad social and cultural movement as well as a doctrine.

Russian Nihilism negated not the normative significance of the world or the general meaning of human existence, but rather a particular social, political and aesthetic order. Despite their name, the Russian Nihilists did hold beliefs – most notably in themselves and in the power of their doctrine to effect social change. It is, however, the vagueness of their positive programmes that distinguishes the Nihilists from the revolutionary socialists who followed them. Russian Nihilism is perhaps best regarded as the intellectual pool of the period 1855–66 out of which later radical movements emerged; it held the potential for both Jacobinism and anarchism.

Citing this article:
Lovell, Stephen. Nihilism, Russian, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-E072-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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