Tuesday 23 March 2021



Here at last we find an almost "pure" Nihilism, a rage against creation and against civilization that will not be appeased until it has reduced them to absolute nothingness. The Nihilism of Destruction, if no other form of Nihilism, is unique to the modern age. There has been destruction on a wide scale before, and there have been men who have gloried in destruction; but never until our own time have there been a doctrine and a plan of destruction, never before has the mind of man so contorted itself as to find an apology for this most obvious work of Satan, and to set up a program for its accomplishment.

Even among more restrained Nihilists, to be sure, there have been strong intimations of the gospel of destruction. The Realist Bazarov could state that "there is not a single institution of our society that should not be destroyed." [17] "Who wishes to be creative," said Nietzsche, "Must first destroy and smash accepted values." The Manifesto of the Futurists--who were perhaps as near to pure Nihilism as to Vitalism--glorified war and "the destroying arm of the anarchist." The destruction of the Old Order and the abolition of absolute truth were the admitted aims of most Realists and Vitalists.

In the pure Nihilists, however, what to others was prologue becomes an end in itself. Nietzsche proclaimed the basic principle of all Nihilism, and the special apology of the Nihilism of Destruction, in the phrase, "There is no truth, all is permitted"; [18] but the extreme consequences of this axiom had already been realized before him. Max Stirner (whom we shall encounter again in the next chapter)[19] declared war upon every standard and every principle, proclaiming his ego against the world and laughing triumphantly over the "tomb of humanity"--all, as yet, in theory. Sergei Nechayev translated this theory into practice so perfectly that to this day he seems a creation of myth, if not a demon from the depths of Hell itself, leading a life of unprincipled ruthlessness and amorality, under the pretext of total expediency in the name of the Revolution. He was the inspiration for the character of Pyotr Verkhovensky in The Possessed of Dostoyevsky, a novel so brilliant in its characterization of the extreme Nihilist mentality (the book in fact is full of representatives of this mentality) as to be absolutely incredible to anyone who has not, like Dostoyevsky, himself known the fascination and temptation of Nihilism.

Michael Bakunin, who fell under the spell of Nechayev for a while, only to discover that the consistent practice of Nihilism was a quite different thing from its theoretical exposition, wrote under this spell a "Revolutionary Catechism" that provided a chilling apology for Nechayevism. while proclaiming, "our task is terrible, total, inexorable, and universal destruction." The sentiment is too typical of Bakunin to be explained away by his momentary fascination. He ended his Reaction in Germany, written before Nechayev was born, with the famous appeal, "Let us put our trust in the eternal spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unsearchable and eternally creative source of all life. The passion for destruction is also a creative passion!" Here Vitalism mingles with the will to destroy: but it is destruction that triumphs in the end. Asked what he would do if the new order of his dreams should come into existence, he frankly replied, "Then I should at once begin to pull down again everything I had made."[20]

It was in the spirit of Nechayev and the "Revolutionary Catechism" that Nihilist assassins (they were called at the time "anarchist," but we have adopted the more positive meaning of that word in this book), with their "propaganda of the deed," terrorized the ruling classes--and not only the ruling classes--in Europe and especially in Russia throughout the last quarter of the 19th century. It was in the same spirit that Lenin (who greatly admired Nechayev) assumed ruthless power and began Europe's first successful experiment in totally unprincipled politics. The passion for violence, divorced from the Revolution which rationalized it, helped lead Europe into the first of its Nihilist wars in 1914, and at the same time, in another realm, announced in Dadaist art, "let everything be swept away," "no more of anything, nothing, nothing, nothing. "It remained, however, for Hitler to reveal with absolute explicitness the nature and ends of a pure "Revolution of Nihilism," a revolution committed to the equally Nihilist alternatives of Weltmacht oder Niedergang: world-conquest or total ruin; a Revolution whose Leader could exult (even before he had come to power), even as Stirner would have exulted, that "we may be destroyed, but if we are, we shall drag a world with us--a world in flames." [21]

Such phenomena, of course, are extreme, and they must be viewed in proper perspective. Only a few have been capable of such pure Nihilism, and it could easily be argued that they do not belong to the main stream of modern history, but to a side current; and less extreme Nihilists condemn them. Their example has been, nonetheless, a most instructive one, and it would be a mistake to dismiss this example as mere exaggeration or parody. We shall see that destruction is an indispensable item in the program of Nihilism, and further that it is the most unequivocal expression of the worship of Nothingness that lies at the center of the Nihilist "theology." The Nihilism of Destruction is not an exaggeration, it is rather a fulfillment of the deepest aim of all Nihilism. In it Nihilism has assumed its most terrible, but its truest form; in it the face of Nothingness discards its masks and stands revealed in all its nakedness.

Father John of Kronstadt, that holy man of God, has likened the soul of man to an eye, diseased through sin and thus incapable of seeing the spiritual sun.[22] The same likeness may serve to trace the progress of the disease of Nihilism, which is no more than an elaborate mask of sin.

The spiritual eye in fallen human nature is not sound, as every Orthodox Christian knows; we see in this life only dimly and require faith and the Grace of God to effect a healing that will enable us, in the future life, to see clearly once more. The first stage of Nihilism, which is Liberalism, is born of the errors of taking our diseased eye for a sound one, of mistaking its impaired vision for a view of the true world, and thus of discharging the physician of the soul, the Church, whose ministrations are not needed by a "healthy" man. In the second stage, Realism, the disease, no longer attended by the necessary physician, begins to grow; vision is narrowed; distant objects, already obscure enough in the "natural" state of impaired vision, become invisible; only the nearest objects are seen distinctly, and the patient becomes convinced no others exist. In the third stage, Vitalism, infection leads to inflammation; even the nearest objects become dim and distorted and there are hallucinations. In the fourth stage, the Nihilism of Destruction, blindness ensues and the disease spreads to the rest of the body, effecting agony, convulsions, and death.

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