Turgenief's definition of Nihilism, as presented in the Novel, Fathers and Sons

[excerpted from Readings in Modern European History, James Harvey Robinson and Charles Beard, eds., vol. 2 (Boston:Ginn and Company, 1908), pp. 353-354]

 

"Well, and what sort of person is Mr. Bazaroff himself? he asked, with pauses between the words.

"What sort of person is Bazaroff ? " Arkady laughed. "Would you like to have me tell you, my dear uncle, what sort of person he is?"

"Pray do, my dear nephew."

"He is a Nihilist."

"What? " asked Nikolai Petrovitch ; and Pavel Petrovitch elevated his knife, with a bit of butter sticking to the blade, in the air, and remained motionless.

"He is a Nihilist," repeated Arkady.

"A Nihilist," said Nikolai Petrovitch.

"That comes from the Latin nihil, 'nothing,' so far as I can judge; consequently that word designates a man who who recognizes nothing."

"Say, 'who respects nothing,' " put in Pavel Petrovitch, and devoted himself once more to his butter.

"Who treats everything from a critical point of view," remarked Arkady.

"And isn't that exactly the same thing? " inquired Pavel Petrovitch.

"No, it is not exactly the same thing. A Nihilist is a man who does not bow before any authority whatever, who does not accept a single principle on faith, with whatever respect that principle may be environed."

"And dost thou think that is a good thing? " interrupted Pavel Petrovitch.

"That depends on who it is, dear uncle. It is all right for one man and very bad for another."

"You don't say so. Well, I see that that is not in our line. We people of the old school assume that without principles it is impossible to take a step or breathe. . . . We shall content ourselves, therefore, with admiring these gentlemen -- what do you call them? "

" Nihilists," replied Arkady, with distinctness.