"We live in a society". Anarchist Nihilism: A brief introduction

Submitted by Stolenfromreddit in Anarchism

Many anarchists, particularly within the Individualist (illegalist, egoist, post-left, insurrectionist, etc) tendencies tend to have a nihilist bent. We are not fooled by delusions of a communist or anarchist revolution, and if one were to even happen we have no faith that it would be a revolution in which we all got along afterwards and built some kind of homogeneous utopian Anarchy-land. However, unlike many revolutionary anarchists, we don't see this as a reason to stop fighting for our desires. Somebody could prove to us today that there would never be a revolution, and we would still fight. Many of us don't even desire a revolution, even if it were somehow possible, as we recognize this would just be replacing one world order for another.

Aside from the (non) revolutionary aspect, we are also moral nihilists and don't fall prey to the moral and dogmatic crusades of the left (including left anarchists).

Basically, anarcho-nihilism is the tendency to inject a healthy dose of nihilism (typically positive nihilism, generally) into your anarchy. And in my opinion you can't actually have productive or effective or sustained anarchy without this.

Renzo Novatore was an anarchist who talked a lot about his nihilism. Nihilist aspects can also be found in Stirner's writings. There is of course Nietzsche, who was not an anarchist but whom many anarchists find inspiration in.

Little Black Cart publish a handful of books dealing with nihilism from an anarchist perspective. Check out Boom!, Attentat, and blessed is the flame, which is a particularly fascinating book which looks at concentration camp rebellion through an anarcho-nihilist lens. Also check out the recent writings of the CCF.

The definition of nihilism can vary greatly, and some nihilists often don't resemble other nihilists at all. Take this quote from Novatore's "I Am Also A Nihilist":

I am an individualist because I am an anarchist; and I am an anarchist because I am a nihilist. But I also understand nihilism in my own way...

I don’t care whether it is Nordic or Oriental, nor whether or not is has a historical, political, practical tradition, or a theoretical, philosophical, spiritual, intellectual one. I call myself a nihilist because I know that nihilism means negation.

Negation of every society, of every cult, of every rule and of every religion. But I don’t yearn for Nirvana, any more than I long for Schopenhauer’s desperate and powerless pessimism, which is a worse thing than the violent renunciation of life itself. Mine is an enthusiastic and dionysian pessimism, like a flame that sets my vital exuberance ablaze, that mocks at any theoretical, scientific or moral prison.

And if I call myself an individualist anarchist, an iconoclast and a nihilist, it is precisely because I believe that in these adjectives there is the highest and most complete expression of my willful and reckless individuality that, like an overflowing river, wants to expand, impetuously sweeping away dikes and hedges, until it crashes into a granite boulder, shattering and breaking up in its turn. I do not renounce life. I exalt and sing it.

He conflates nihilism with negation, which are entirely different things. Traditional nihilism rejects the concepts of truth and universality. Negation is a logical connective that merely states that something/a proposition is not ("¬p" in formal logic). Negations are not incompatible with truths, in fact, they're objectively necessary to them. Nihilism is a subjective rejection of truths. It makes little sense when read from a classical nihilist understanding, beyond utter idiosyncracy, to use nihilism and negation interchangeably like Novatore does.

Nihilism in the sense Nietzche intended it is about taking control of your own destiny because no other authority could rival that of man's. This is what he meant by "God is dead and we have killed him". It means that in the absence of God, we must take responsibility for the world, because there is no higher being that can control us or tell us what to do and how to do it.

I think that nihilism or nihilist-anarchism acts as a foil to a lot of conventional anarchism. A decent amount of anarchist theory is derived from first principles (Human life is valuable, freedom is good, etc.) From those principles the rest of the theory is derived (If human life or life is valuable we should seek to protect it as much as possible and/or at all costs, capitalism exploits and devalues human life/life in general therefore we should reject capitalism etc.)

Nihilism rejects that. It denies most if not all first principles on the basis that they are really just arbitrary lines that don't have any backing. You can't philosophically prove that any life has intrinsic value or meaning. We can ascribe it value but that's still just an artificial attribution.

And it's not just that you can't prove that it has intrinsic value, it's also that declaring a sacred "right to life" is dangerous in itself:


Nihilism is the default of the universe.

What ultimately creates and justifies meaning and value in a human life are the myths and stories we are convinced by. You can see this in religion or sport most obviously. Just look at any sport you didn't grow up with and you'll be looking at the spectacle from the outside in because you just aren't convinced by it.

Because of this deeply-embedded conditioning, most people default to the only thing they believe to be anchored to something real; tradition. The myths that have conditioned us out of story telling and mythos-building are not convincing to a nihilist, who, for better or worse, sees through them.

A lot of anarchist nihilists no longer believe in the political program of socialism at all. Through constant re-evaluation of our values and desires, we no longer strive for democracy, equality, rights or social revolution. We simply wish to live uninhibited. Free of rulers, artificial constraints, morality and order. Without the burden of programs and social contracts and rules to govern us and our interactions with others.


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anarchoreposter wrote

The moral nihilism toted by Nietzsche dictates that as there is no source of morality (God is dead, never was, whatever). Morality simply doesn't exist, its continuation as if it affects us any more than we choose to let it, is a waste of time, it's keeping us back from attaining a higher state of being in which we are free to pursue our passions.

If we see that there is no justification for morality itself, that morality doesn't exist, than why should any of the structures that use its existence to oppress us continue? Name one form of bigotry that isn't rooted in some kind of morality, I can't think of a single one to be honest. Any expression of a gender and any expression of a sexual orientation as a norm are themselves expressions of morality, insofar as I understand them, they are a culture's collective virtues, cemented in time, an Is becoming a Must.

Stirner's critique of morality can be read in an an explicitly anarchist mindset whereas from Nietzsche one needs to do an interpretive dance and summon the gods of anti-fascist critical theory. I've spent the last 20 minutes trying to summarize Stirner's critiques into a simple clean paragraph, I'm sure somebody else can do a better job. Even better, The Ego and Its Own. Perhaps in short, morality!=real, me=real, me=only, me=unique, you + me + mutual interest = beautiful.

Not all anarchists are nihilist and not all nihilists are anarchists but the leap from one to the other is pretty straight-forward for me.

I really don't understand why there are so many atheists and yet so few people have made the leap to a genuine rejection of morality in all of its forms. The New Atheist crowd is blending more and more with pretty horrifying reactionaries, capitalist libertarians at best, with a lot of anti-feminist horseshit along the way. But don't they know? God is dead, and with it, his morality!

There's a tendency of adolescent nihilism in which one might find themselves for the first time genuinely acknowledging the pointlessness of everything. We'll all die, there's probably no after-life, nothing comes after this but maybe the mark I make. Personally I found this pretty hard to react to, I wasn't really sure what to do.

Stirner's Egoism sees life as a meaningless but entertaining existence. Your moral behaviour isn't rewarded in any kind of afterlife but you can certainly enjoy your existence as it stands. I never felt like Nietzsche went far enough to state the now of things, maybe he felt no need to state it explicit or maybe I just skipped that chapter.


celebratedrecluse wrote

But don't they know? God is dead, and with it, his morality!

Well, I think they do know that. That's why these type of New Atheists tend to be so willing to castigate feminists, for example-- they see feminism as the reassertion of a new kind of universalizing morality which has more of a place in religion than in rational society. The same goes for anticapitalist ideas, or anything associated with "the Left". Their view, not mine, obviously.

Unfortunately, this is what happens when you deconstruct the moral framework of society, but have no conception or discourse of how to reconstruct a non-moral, ethical framework. You get reactionaries, atomized individuals, and ultimately the death-spiral of late capitalism and its vacuum of sociality. Nihilism can inform our path out of this hell society, but if nihilism is not accompanied by an understanding of the difference between ethics and morality, and an understanding of the material basis of cultural, then we're just going to see a bunch of entitled fuckers engaging in intellectual masturbation. Movements to transform social conditions have to be...well, social. Not moral, but ethical.


celebratedrecluse wrote (edited )

"You can't philosophically prove that any life has intrinsic value or meaning. We can ascribe it value but that's still just an artificial attribution."

The point of anarchism is to ground these first principles in concepts like mutual benefit and solidarity, not ascribe the principles to "natural" origination. This means necessarily that we are conscious of the fact that we are choosing to ground ourselves in first principles which we consciously construct, and thus consent to. The "artificiality" of which you speak is actually the foundation of anarchist ethics, and is a primary distinguishing trait between anti-authoritarian ethics and authoritarian morality.

In critiquing dominant social morality, your nihilist position seems to be overlooking what many left anarchists are trying to do. The point for many of them is not to create a universal system of morality, harkening back to monotheism and the state's monopolies, but instead to actively construct a working system of ethics which is flexible to the constraints of circumstance and individual/collective desires. It is an attempt to ground ethics in what is actually useful in a particular situation to the people involved (i.e., an "intersubjective" reality), rather than in absolutes or universals or the "natural". Its "artificiality" is its strongest trait, and emphasizing that is important in order to deconstruct the false claims to "naturalism" which authoritarian morality must make in order to sign itself as a coherent system. The nihilist argument you advance is very useful for deconstructing authoritarian morality, but it strikes me as disingenuous or unaware when it comes to the arguments of left anarchists and their fellow travelers.

"And it's not just that you can't prove that it has intrinsic value, it's also that declaring a sacred "right to life" is dangerous in itself"

In anarchism, even with the assertion of first principles, we are not creating a regime of rights. The creation of such regimes is a liberal notion, which should be discarded along with material and cultural construction of the state. "Anarchists" who talk about universal truths or universal rights are potentially dangerous, as they threaten to reestablish the state or other coercive mechanisms, and they may just be liberals deep at heart. Unfortunately, this attitude is definitely common in anarchist activity and community, and should be called out.

However, this does not mean that left anarchists and their ideas can be generalized to this lowest common denominator; that's a fallacy, and it refuses to engage with some of the most important aspects of left anarchist concepts and praxis. Insofar as it refuses an intellectually honest engagement, nihilist critiques reinforce the power of existing institutions like markets, the state, and even religious structures-- since these institutions have material power, unlike most anarchist efforts, nihilism's rhetorical deconstruction of "morality" will be mostly deferred onto anarchist efforts, including the anti-moralist left anarchist ethics which are distinct and offer a path to creating different social relations. In order to transform social relations, individuals must work in concert, and that means coming up with an intersubjectively valid set of ethic tools to resolve issues that will arise between these individuals, regardless of whether they identify as "left" or not.

tl;dr Nihilism is very important, and every anarchist should have it in their toolbox...but if it's intellectually lazy it just reinforces capitalism and the state, and sabotages movements, blah blah blah...

tl;dr of the tl;dr -- nuance, ya feel???