[ nahy-uh-liz-uhm, nee- ]
/ ˈnaɪ əˌlɪz əm, ˈni- /


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.



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“I do believe that the buck stops here, that I cannot rely upon public opinion polls to tell me what is right. I do believe that right makes might and that if I am wrong, 10 angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”

Origin of nihilism

1810–20; <Latin nihil nothing (variant of nihilum;see nil) + -ism

OTHER WORDS FROM nihilism Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

Example sentences from the Web for nihilism

British Dictionary definitions for nihilism (1 of 2)

/ (ˈnaɪɪˌlɪzəm) /


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 forms of nihilism

nihilist, noun, adjectivenihilistic, adjective

Word Origin for nihilism

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

British Dictionary definitions for nihilism (2 of 2)

/ (ˈnaɪɪˌlɪzəm) /


(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

Medical definitions for nihilism

[ 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.

Cultural definitions for nihilism

[ (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.