NIETZSCHE'S WORD: "GOD IS DEAD"
for and through metaphysics, there remains hidden what actuaJiy happens in and as metaphysics itself.
If God — as the supersensory ground and as the goal of everything that is real — is dead, if the supersensory world of ideas is bereft of its binding and above all its inspiring and constructive power, then there is nothing left which man can rely on and by which he can orient himself. That is why in the passage we quoted, the question is asked, "Aren't we astray in an endless nothing?" The statement "God is dead" contains the realization that this nothing is spreading. Nothing means here: absence of a supersensory, binding world. Nihilism, "the eeriest of all guests,"1 is standing at the door.
The attempt to comment on Nietzsche's word "God is dead" is synonymous with the task of explaining what Nietzsche understands by nihilism and therefore of describing how Nietzsche stands in relation to nihilism. However, since this name is so often used only as a tabloid slogan and not infrequently even as a damning invective, it is necessary to know what it means. Not everyone who adverts to the Christian faith or to some metaphysical conviction thereby stands outside nihilism. Conversely, to ponder about nothing and its essence does not necessarily make one a nihilist.
That name is popularly used in a tone insinuating that the word "nihilist" is itself sufficient — without thinking any further with it — to prove that reflecting on the nothing leads to a descent into the nothing and implies that a dictatorship of the nothing is to be established.
In general the question is whether the name "nihilism," thought rigorously in the sense of Nietzsche's philosophy, has only a nihilistic (i.e., negative) meaning that pursues its course into void nothing. Since the title of nihilism has been used vaguely and arbitrarily, it is necessary, before a more exact discussion of what Nietzsche himself says about nihilism, to win the proper perspective from which we may ask the very first questions about nihilism.
Nihilism is a historical movement, not just any view or doctrine held by just anyone. Nihilism moves history in the way of a scarcely recognized fundamental process in the destiny of the Western peoples. Hence nihilism is not just one historical phenomenon among others, not just one spiritual-intellectual current that occurs within Western history after others have occurred, after Christianity, after humanism, and after the Enlightenment.
Nihilism, thought in its essence, is on the contrary the fundamental movement of the history of the West. Its roots are so deep that its development can entail only world catastrophes. Nihilism is the world-historical movement of the peoples of the earth who have been drawn into modernity's