Much like how rationalism diminished the credibility of religious authority during the Enlightenment, the Romantic period brought a deluge of irrationalism and eroded confidence in reason. While it’s questionable whether Romanticism was motivated by a genuine search for the truth or by the tedium and conservatism of rational inquiry, reason as the exclusive guideline was gradually dethroned, as was the presumption that the world was an coherent and structured system.
During this time, Arthur Schopenhauer disseminated a pessimistic mood with his thoroughly negative theorizing – theories that would have a profound effect on philosophical analysis for the next two centuries. His masterwork The World as Will and Representation, strips human beings of every comforting illusion as it sets forth his utterly nihilistic premise: the Will – an irrevocable involuntary force – is the substance of our world and the evil truth which underlies reality.
Because the Will’s predatory desires are impossible to quench, human existence is doomed to be a hopeless toil so abhorrent that suicide seems the only recourse.
By disdaining the intellect and embracing the mystical and transcendental as fountainhead of knowledge, the Romantics hoped to find remedies for mankind’s anxieties.
Unfortunately they found nothing suitable to replace what they rejected. The movement was marked by a mood of brooding disenchantment, a melancholic nostalgia for the primitive, and a fascination with self-destruction. Not surprisingly it was during the period that the first systematic visions of the end of the world appeared.