Our current use of “existential” is about as far removed from artsy-philosophical realms as you can imagine: It’s originally the province of defense analysts and foreign-policy think tanks, national-security types and people who write editorials about the Middle East peace process. In 1982, Chancellor Helmut Kohl described Soviet-American talks as having existential importance to West Germany. Through the 1990s, this was how pundits talked about Israel, a nation facing fairly unusual existential threats and conundrums. Debates about Israel seem to be the precise place where “existential anxiety” stopped referring to philosophical angst and started referring to the fear your nation could be destroyed.
Nitsuh Abebe, “Apocalypse Now”, The New York Times Magazine (8 October 2017), 12.