From: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 1: Nietzsche as Myth and Mythmaker

Transcript: …again, this word “Nihilism” I’ll… I’ll say a bit more about. In a context where the threat was Nihilism. A culture where there was no fabric from which to construct meaning. Now, Nihilism, in a certain way won’t be used by me to describe a philosophical position. Because to the extent it does, it’s supposed to be some silly position like this: “Nihilists are people who believe in nothing”. Well, if that’s what Nihilists were, there wouldn’t be any, and that’s not what we are diagnosing.

We are diagnosing a Nihilistic culture, where no enduring beliefs can provide meaning for the overwhelming majority of members of that culture. That’s the problem that Nietzsche identifies coming along with modern life. And also, not coming along as a mystification, but coming along as part of the insight of modern life. Comes along with Darwin… in other words, being demystified about our origins. It comes along with a new view of the cosmos. Being demystified about the importance of the Earth. You know, where it is, how big it is, and in the centre of what. Being demystified concerning a whole series of things, about which earlier there were powerful, important, meaning giving myths.

Part of the work of the enlightenment was this destructive work of destroying myth. That was the work carried out by the bourgeois class and its ideologues. You know, it’s not bad… you remember, they said you won’t have a decent world to live in until the last priest is hung on the guts of the last king and stuff. Those are the mottos of the great revolutions. This is Washington DC, right? These are the great bourgeois revolutions. We love them, and they may be in fact a world of historic destiny.

Nietzsche’s worry was that this kind of demystification… without creating new festivals, new games, new myths… would lead to a situation in which human beings willed only not to will any longer. Who wanted, sort of, only not to want any longer. And Nietzsche saw this emerging culture as one that would be inimical to human life… about which… as I said, he doesn’t have a lot of consoling things to say.