Modern Nihilizm

Fr. Nietzsche as German thinker who lived in the second half of the Nineteenth Century. The essence of the concept of "nihilism". Peculiarities of the philosophy of Socrates. Familiarity with Nietzsche. Analysis of drama "Conscience as Fatality".

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Modern Nihilizm

thinker nihilism philosophy

Gabriela Pohoata

In philosophy, the relationship between a thinker and divinity is essential for defining his own identity and, implicitly, his general view of world. Nae Ionescu supports that there is no philosophic system completely finished that, sooner or later, will not arrive at a certain critical point to God, regardless if this God is matter, the Universe of the Pantheists, the supreme Idea of Good by Plato, etc.. All of them reach a certain dead-end, ultimate spring of life and reality [1, p. 116].

But, on the other hand, as E. Cioran writes, it is not easy to talk of God when you are not a believer, nor an atheist; and it is, without a shadow of doubt, our own tragedy, including here theologians as well, that we can be neither [2, p. 76].

The way in which this issue was approached until now determined specialized criticism to associate our two protagonist thinkers as landmarks of contemporary Nihilism: Fr. Nietzsche - German thinker who lived in the second half of the Nineteenth Century (1844-1900) and Emil Cioran - Romanian thinker (1911-1995), viewed as the greatest western Nihilist since Nietzsche [3, p. 57].

1. The aim of our paper is to analyze and clearly distinguish the two conceptions, using as a starting point their common views. Temperamentally similar, the two thinkers rank first of all as impeccable stylists, approaching philosophy not systematically, but fragmentarily. In this sense, Cioran follows honestly Nietzsche: for him philosophy is possible only as fragments, in the shape of an explosion. It is no longer possible to start conceiving one chapter after another, like a treatise. In this light, Nietzsche is appreciated as being highly liberating. He was, for Cioran, the one who sabotaged the academic philosophical style and threatened the idea of system. He was liberating, because after him there remains still a lot to be said. Now, confesses the Romanian philosopher, we all write only fragments, also when we write apparently coordinated books. That is also true for our type of civilization... In Nietzsche, in Dostoievski, all possible types of humanity and all types of experiences are present... The system has a totalitarian character, while the fragmentary thinking remains free [4, p. 201].

From this perspective, philosophy means for Cioran personal living, own experience; we could say even a dialogue with God. Regardless if he speaks about history, time or music, the one towards whom he directs his anger, epiphany or blasphemy at times, or brittle skepticism some other times, is God. Can one talk honestly about anything else than God and oneself? - asks Cioran. Here is the true question of his books, the one that must be searched between the lines. In general, what interested Cioran most is confession-philosophy. Therefore, the analogy with Augustine is inevitable [5].

But, beyond all resemblance with the way of thinking of one philosopher or another, the greatest influence ever exerted on Cioran was that of German philosophers belonging to the so called «life philosophy», such as Dilthey and Nietzsche. What brought Nietzsche even closer to Cioran was the fact that he was actually a «case», in the clinical sense of term. Cioran maintained that he is interested in everyone heading towards catastrophe and that he cannot admire anybody more than someone who was on the brink of disaster. That is the reason why he loved Nietzsche so much [4, p. 203].

Even if there are close connections between the two philosophers, the Nihilism of their ways of thinking is different. Nihilism proclaims «the nothingness», denies any transcendent value and does not pay any attention to wrecking and death.

2. Nihilism becomes a so called philosophical problematic per se starting with Fr. Nietzsche, who sees in the devaluation of values the logical result of more than two centuries of decadent western history. The concept of Nihilism sums up the diagnosis set by Nietzsche for the Western culture, i. e. the radical rejection of value, sense and desirability [6, p. 55].

Supreme values are devalued, the edifice of lies of the Christian way of thinking, lacking vigour, and the post Socrates philosophy are falling down.

The Christian Greek tradition bears within since forever this seed of Nihilism, whose fruit Nietzsche only observes. He even considers himself as going beyond of his contemporaries through this vision: The weak ones will reach despair due to this fact, the tough ones (the super-humans) will come to see the entire foretold ending of an order, towards a revaluation of values. Nietzsche's therapy is grounded on the proclamation of this phenomenon, which groups itself around the concept of the will to power. Nietzsche's philosophy reaches its pinnacle through its double vision of the beyond-man and the eternal return.

The concept of Nihilism was theorized by the German philosopher with much originality. Let us think, writes Nietzsche, about this idea in its most frightening form: the existence, as it is, with no direction, nor aim, but coming back, inevitably, without an end to Nothingness: «the eternal return». This means, for him, the most extreme form of Nihilism, the everlasting Nihilism or «the absurd» [7, p. 85].

Nietzsche hesitates between the postulation of a trans-historic truth - as is his assertion regarding the principle of the will to power - and some epistemological sorts of Nihilism, which doubt not only the possibility of truth, but even the need and the desire of truth. But what is most important, probably, is that Nietzsche introduces the idea that the truth belongs to human practice, as a movement within a game where the rules are rather contingent than necessary. The evaluation of the claims for truth should be based on their effects and not on their capacity to represent a reality conceived as being separated from the human influence and independent of it.

The doctrine which made Nietzsche most famous probably is the rejection of what he calls «slave morality», meaning a traditional morality, which is rooted in the Christian spirituality and belongs to a weak crowd, whose interests were served by such values as pity, meekness and friendship.

The «Ubermensch», i. e. the beyond-man, is the strong, creative individual which rises above slave morality, aiming at shaping new values and forging a new meaning of life out of the paradox and world confusion.

What Nietzsche metaphorically intends to narrate us is the history of the next two centuries. He wishes to describe things to come, things that, in his thought, cannot occur differently: the ascension of Nihilism [7, p. 86]. For him, Christianity has reached its end. Nihilism becomes more and more powerful. It is the void that comes to being when Christian values are in dissolution. «Since Copernicus, the man heads, with great velocity, from centre toward nothing» [7, p. 88].

He has lost his focal point, he killed God. In The Gay Science Nietzsche describes the «fool», the one that brings to the others the news of God's death.

If Nietzsche said that «God is dead», the man being now on his own account, for Emil Cioran nothing is more important than what is created in solitude, face to face with God, regardless if one is a believer or not [8, p. 99]. For him, in a certain sense, the last step of Nihilism means a sort of absorption into God.

It can be maintained that the Nihilism of the Romanian thinker gets transformed into mysticism. Nevertheless, the author says that he is not a Nihilist, although denial always tempted him [4, p. 193]. The feeling of nothingness tempted him since childhood, following an illumination that Cioran fails to define. Thus his atheism, proclaimed in his youth, conceals a great inquietude. His young age was marked by a reaction against the Church, as well as against God. He lacked faith, because he considered himself organically inapt to believe. From here stems his affirmation that he suffers from cureless doubt.

Driven by both the temptation of the Absolute and the persistent feeling of the void, Cioran could hope nevertheless that there are moments in which no matter how far away we are from faith, we don't picture a better interlocutor for us than God.

The Romanian thinker reaches a sort of ecstasy grace to some illuminating moments which led him to the knowledge of the supreme happiness Mystics were talking about. In this sense, he confesses that beyond this happiness, for which we are only exceptionally and only for a brief while called to witness, nothing possesses a true existence; we live in the realm of shadows. Anyway, if from heaven or from hell, one does not come back the same.

Mysticism is his major preoccupation, breathing through all his work: Tears and Saints, On the Drawback of Beig Born, On God. Mysticism is for Cioran an exceptional experience. Somehow, he identifies himself with the blissfulness. It is an extreme experience which he seems to have lived more than once (four times, he confesses), maybe for converting to faith. But these experiences do not bring him to faith. He maintained that one can live such experiences with or without faith [9, p. 103].

We can say that Emil Cioran was a Mystic until a certain moment. Mystic void leads to Nothingness, but a type of Nothingness which, in the same time, means the All or the Being. Nothingness in Mysticism, says ., is what starts after God, or, even better, after the divine - therefore we may speak here of a true osmosis between Nihilism and Mysticism.

In Lacrimi §i sfinti («Tears and Saints»), Cioran, thinking of Nietzsche, writes that the author of The Gay Science, looking for the heaviest burden has found himself, and later in Convorbiri cu Cioran («Conversations with Cioran») we hear him concluding that ultimately he does not know more than two essential problems: how to bear life and how to bear oneself. There are no bigger difficulties, says the Romanian thinker [10, p. 47]. The starting point of Cioran's attitude should be traced back to a philosophy of fatalism. Anyway, his main thesis is the impuissance of the human being. Man is only the object of history, not its subject.

What really matters for the two thinkers is not so much the conscience of transcendence, but the possibility of acceding to it through suffering; and perhaps this is the point where Nihilism occurs as problem for both. Under the reign of Nihilism, philosophy targets dark feelings: a «discontentment», a fear, the inquietude of living an obscure feeling of guilt. Valorising negative feelings and sad passions represent somehow the mystification by which Nihilism builds its power.

We consider that suffering is the common feature of Nietzsche's and Cioran's Nihilism. This form of spirituality is also the most accepted by a humanity which is haunted by its more or less imminent ruin.

But that what makes these two authors so great is mostly a pure metaphysical suffering generated by their incapacity to believe in the divine. The conscience of contradiction between knowing and feeling reaches at them dramatic dimensions. Nevertheless, there is some consolation in Emil Cioran's statement, that a man who does not believe in the drama of his conscience is a naive or in his confessing that if he would write another book, its title would be «Conscience as Fatality» [3, p. 52]. Thus the conscience of suffering brings the two thinkers closer. This could be also the solution for surpassing Nihilism, by means of the Nietzschean imperative, which proclaims that we must prove ourselves that we are destined to independence and to commanding [11, p. 105].


1.Ionescu, N. Lecture on Philosophy of Religion. - Cluj, 1993.

2.Cioran, E. On the Drawback of Being Born. - Bucharest, 1998.

3.Liiceanu, G. Apocalypse after Cioran. - Bucharest,1995.

4.Conversation with Cioran. - Bucharest, 1993.

5.Augustin. Confessions. - Bucharest, 1998.

6.Nietzsche, Fr. Will Power. - Bucharest, 1999.

7.Nietzsche, Fr. Gay Science. - Bucharest, 2006.

8.Cioran, E. On God. - Bucharest, 1997.

9.Cioran, E. On the Whelm of Despair. - Bucharest, 1998.

10.Cioran, E. Tears and Saints. - Bucharest, 1996.

11.Nietzsche, Fr. Beyond Good and Evil. - Bucharest, 2006.

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