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The Dawn of Political Nihilism

Volume I of The Nihilist Order

David Ohana teaches European history at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. He was a visiting fellow at the Centre for European Studies at Harvard University and the first academic director of the Forum for Mediterranean Cultures at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. His books include: A Humanist in the Sun: Camus and the Mediterranean Inspiration (2000), The Promethean Passion (2000), and The Anger of the Intellectuals (2003).

In the turbulent period between 1870 and 1930, the contours on modernity were taking shape, especially the connections between technology, politics and aesthetics. The trilogy The Nihilist Order traces the genealogy of the nihilist-totalitarian syndrome.

Until now, nihilism and totalitarianism were considered opposites: one an orderless state of affairs, the other a strict regimented order. On closer scrutiny, however, a surprising affinity can be found between these two concepts that dominated the history of the first half of the twentieth century. Starting with Nietzsche’s philosophy, this book traces the development of an intellectual school characterized by the paradoxical dual purpose of a wish to destroy, coupled with a strong desire to create imposing structures. This explosive combination of nihilist leanings together with a craving for totalitarianism was an ideal of philosophers, cultural critics, political theorists, engineers, architects and aesthetes long before it materialized in flesh and blood, not only in technology, but also in fascism, Nazism, bolshevism and radical European political movements.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Georges Sorel, the Italian Futurists, led by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, and Ernst Jünger were all well-known intellectual and cultural figures. Here they are seen and understood in a different light, as creators of a modern political mythology that became a source of inspiration for belligerent ideological camps. Among the ideas propagated by this school, and later adopted by totalitarian regimes, were historical nihilism, a revolt against the rationalistic and universalistic pretensions of the Enlightenment, an affirmation of the dynamism of modern life, and the replacement of the traditional Judeo-Christian values of good and evil by other dualities such as authenticity and decadence. Concurrently there took place affirmation of the technological era, the creation of a ‘new man’ and a violent order, and the birth of a new political style in place of traditional world-views. When channeled into the political sphere, these aesthetic nihilist ideas paved the way for the rise of totalitarianism.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-566-3
Paperback Price: £22.50 / $34.95
Release Date: October 2012
Page Extent / Format: 272 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Foreword by Yehoshua Arieli
Preface and Acknowledgments

Introduction The Nihilist-Totalitarian Syndrome

Chapter One The Nietzschian Revolution
Chapter Two Myth ex nihilo
Chapter Three The Nihilist Utopia
Chapter Four The City of Machine


A provocative and illuminating thesis on Totalitarianism.
Isaiah Berlin

Ohana has convincingly shown that a complex cultural, ideological and psychological syndrome, linking nihilism to totalitarianism, represented a significant factor in the ‘gathering storm’ which marked the early twentieth century.
Saul Friedländer, author of The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939–1945

A major contribution to the understanding of the 'condition humain'.
Yehoshua Arieli, author of Individualism and Nationalism in American Ideology

A turning point in the research of European modernity.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Ohana presents the first volume of the trilogy, The Nihilist Order, which explores the development of the nihilist-totalitarian syndrome. Typically thought of as opposites, the author portrays these concepts that played such an important role in the 20th century as very much related – put simply, as two sides of a coin. The combustible combination of nihilism and totalitarianism was an ideal of philosophers, cultural critics, professionals, and aesthetes and aggressive, belligerent ideological camps well before it appeared as Nazism, bolshevism, and radical European political movements.
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