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The Movement of Nihilism: Heidegger's Thinking After Nietzsche

Project: Non-funded ProjectResearch


The title of tthis project refers to a remark Martin Heidegger made in his reading of Nietzsche’s understanding of contemporary politics as a ‘movement of nihilism’ and of nihilism as ‘a normal state of affairs’. Heidegger conceived nihilism, as the unfolding of the whole history of the West, and extended this, with globalisation, to the understanding of world history. Heidegger understands nihilism to describe all the major ideologies of the 20th Century: Fascism/National Socialism, Communism/Marxism, Liberalism/’world democracy’. Heidegger reads Nietzsche’s breathtaking vision of this movement as the common ground of all the radical attempts to reconfigure the Polis in the last century. This leaves us – at the dawn of the 21st Century when these ideologies seem to have been brought to an end by six decades of peace and when a final frontier of political vision seems to have been reached (i.e. ‘world democracy’) – with the question ‘where do we stand, and who are we, in the movement of nihilism?’.

To give an appropriate thematic structure to this questioning, the project brings together three lines of inquiry:

a. Can the present situation be read in the way in which Martin Heidegger (and others) identified the ‘age of technology’ as an age of nihilism?
b. What is the connection Heidegger made between all these forms as metaphysical expressions of theism (including a-theism) and the ‘event of the death of God’ in the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche?
c. If we accept Heidegger’s insight that history brings under a single heading (‘movement of nihilism’) all the globally dominant political forms of the twentieth and twenty-first century, what are the consequences for contemporary thought?

This project entails interdisciplinary work initiated under the aegis of the Institute of Advanced Studies at Lancaster University in dialogue with partners from other institutions nationally and internationally over several months of meetings. Given the questions above, we sought an articulation of the ways in which such an inquiry struggles to understand and challenge the limits of specific disciplines through initiating dialogue between them. This is quite apart from merely mobilising a plausible research network; interdisciplinarity is compulsory for this volume because it is in the nature of the questions.

The ‘movement of nihilism’, calls into question disciplinary philosophical, historical, political, social, and theological discourses. There is no longer any ‘local’ or ‘regional’ archive of the movement of world history, nor of the movement of Nietzsche’s thought.


Project completed.