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Nolen Gertz on Passive Nihilism

Aeon has an essay by Nolen Gertz that lays out varieties and evolution of nihilism. He says, following Nietzche, that it can be active or passive. An active nihilism is a vigorous effort to attack values to build ones of your own — this is a more traditional view of the essential interpretation of Nietzche.

Gertz defines a variant, which is (almost certainly) the more common variant than active nihiism:

…we can become passive nihilists and continue to believe in traditional values, despite having doubts about the true value of those values…The passive nihilist however does not want to risk self-destruction, and so clings to the safety of traditional beliefs. Nietzsche argues that such self-protection is in reality an even more dangerous form of self-destruction. To believe just for the sake of believing in something can lead to a superficial existence, to the complacent acceptance of believing anything believed by others, because believing in something (even if it turns out to be nothing worth believing in) will be seen by the passive nihilist as preferable to taking the risk of not believing in anything, to taking the risk of staring into the abyss – a metaphor for nihilism that appears frequently in Nietzsche’s work.

He has a recent, fuller-length work on the subject which I have to put on the reading list but it might be pretty low in the philosophy cohort.

Still, this definition echoed with me as having a strong explanatory force for the state of current politics.

Published inPoliticsWisdom

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