[nahy-uh-liz-uh m, nee-]


total rejection of established laws and institutions.
anarchy, terrorism, or other revolutionary activity.
total and absolute destructiveness, especially toward the world at large and including oneself: the power-mad nihilism that marked Hitler's last years.
  1. an extreme form of skepticism: the denial of all real existence or the possibility of an objective basis for truth.
  2. nothingness or nonexistence.
(sometimes initial capital letter) the principles of a Russian revolutionary group, active in the latter half of the 19th century, holding that existing social and political institutions must be destroyed in order to clear the way for a new state of society and employing extreme measures, including terrorism and assassination.
annihilation of the self, or the individual consciousness, especially as an aspect of mystical experience.

Origin of nihilism

1810–20; < Latin nihil nothing (variant of nihilum; see nil) + -ism
Related formsni·hil·ist, noun, adjectiveni·hil·is·tic, adjectivean·ti·ni·hil·ism, nounan·ti·ni·hil·ist, noun, adjectivenon·ni·hil·ism, nounnon·ni·hil·ist, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for nihilism

Contemporary Examples of nihilism

Historical Examples of nihilism

  • And once we are driven right on to nihilism we may find a way through.

  • Nihilism was not to be rooted out by the removal of any particular set of men.

    Rabbi and Priest

    Milton Goldsmith

  • A period of reaction has set in: Despotism and Nihilism meet face to face.

    Rabbi and Priest

    Milton Goldsmith

  • All (p. 249) these years Alexander had battled with nihilism and revolution.

    The Story of Russia

    R. Van Bergen, M.A.

  • Nihilism is well named, for it means nothing and it ends in nothing.

    Princess Zara

    Ross Beeckman

British Dictionary definitions for nihilism



a complete denial of all established authority and institutions
philosophy an extreme form of scepticism that systematically rejects all values, belief in existence, the possibility of communication, etc
a revolutionary doctrine of destruction for its own sake
the practice or promulgation of terrorism
Derived Formsnihilist, noun, adjectivenihilistic, adjective

Word Origin for nihilism

C19: from Latin nihil nothing + -ism, on the model of German Nihilismus



(in tsarist Russia) any of several revolutionary doctrines that upheld terrorism
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for nihilism

1817, "the doctrine of negation" (in reference to religion or morals), from German Nihilismus, from Latin nihil "nothing at all" (see nil), coined by German philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819). In philosophy, an extreme form of skepticism (1836). The political sense was first used by German journalist Joseph von Görres (1776-1848). Turgenev used the Russian form of the word (nigilizm) in "Fathers and Children" (1862) and claimed to have invented it. With a capital N-, it refers to the Russian revolutionary anarchism of the period 1860-1917, supposedly so called because "nothing" that then existed found favor in their eyes.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

nihilism in Medicine


[nīə-lĭz′əm, nē-]


The belief that destruction of existing political or social institutions is necessary for future improvement.
A delusion, experienced in some mental disorders, that the world or one's mind, body, or self does not exist.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

nihilism in Culture


[(neye-uh-liz-uhm, nee-uh-liz-uhm)]

An approach to philosophy that holds that human life is meaningless and that all religions, laws, moral codes, and political systems are thoroughly empty and false. The term is from the Latin nihil, meaning “nothing.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.