The sense of helplessness and powerlessness forces some not only toward nihilism, but toward the belief that "free will" is itself an illusion for the ordinary person and a reality only for those exercising political, economic and social influence. The more radical nihilists believe that being a nihilist is itself not a choice, but rather something that the institutional structures impose upon the masses in order to reduce them into docile instead of active sociopolitical role.
Originally introduced during the French Revolution by German philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, the concept of nihilism deals with the individual's state of mind as the dominant societal institutions shape it through experience. In this respect, nihilism, by rejecting or at least redefining socialization, morality, faith, ideology, has been of interest to those in social sciences and humanities and it became part of political groups from the 19th century to the present. Just in case the reader misinterprets the concept of nihilism and associates it with relativism, or even worse, "just do your thing", or "decorate your home the way you feel", far from it. This is about exercise of human will and rejection of institutional forces that shape the human being into a commodity, affording it value accordingly.
Why does the early 21st century feel like the new "Age of Anxiety", in a sense a repeat of the interwar era right after the First World War and amid the Great Depression when people were losing faith in bourgeois institutions and the rationalism of the Enlightenment on which society was built? Why does the following quotation from the Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front, (1929) have such a strong message to deliver to the youth of our time?
"I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another. I see that the keenest brains of the world invent weapons and words to make it yet more refined and enduring. And all men of my age, here and over there, throughout the whole world see these things; all my generation is experiencing these things with me. What would our fathers do if we suddenly stood up and came before them and proffered our account?"
Is Western Civilization experiencing a new Age of Anxiety because globalization under neoliberal policies has devastated middle class society and its institutions? Is nihilism the only thing that makes sense until society finds its way back to a more harmonious, socially just and creative path?