Nihilism in Fathers and Sons

A pleasant discovery in reading Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons is that it is one of the earliest commentaries on  nihilism. The ever-reliable Wikipedia entry on nihilism cites Fathers and Sons as the work to first popularize the term. It went on to mean something broader thanks to our favorite philosopher of the revolutionary and despot, Nietzsche.

In Fathers and Sons nihilism is code for revolution. The character of Bazarov, who represents the “nihilist” point of view says he rejects everything, adding “at the present time negation is the most useful force of all.” Now, to my generation nihilism is best represented by the following:

What Bazarov is referring to is a little more specific than “We believe in nothing.” What he means is, specific to Russia, he rejects the current model of the Russian culture. Serfs, the royal family… The literary, philosophical, and societal framework that made Bazarov’s Russia was so corrupt and ingrained that he believed the only thing to do was to reject (aka destroy) the entire system and start anew. What Bazarov wants is 1917 and the Communist revolution.

Nihilism is always going to be a confusing philosophy to most of us because, reductio ad absurdum, where do you stop? Do you reject clothing? Language? Your senses and physical body?

I wonder how nihilism and its inherently contradictory nature will play out with Bazarov as the book continues…


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