JOHANN KASPAR SCHMIDT (October 25, 1806 – June 26, 1856), better
known as MAX STIRNER, was a German philosopher. He is often seen as
one of the forerunners of nihilism , existentialism , psychoanalytic
theory , postmodernism , and individualist anarchism . Stirner's
main work is
The Ego and Its Own , also known as The Ego and His Own
(Der Einzige und sein Eigentum in German, which translates literally
Individual and His Property ). This work was first published
in 1845 in
* 1 Biography
* 2 Philosophy
* 2.1 Egoism
* 2.3 Hegel\'s possible influence
* 3 Works
* 3.1 The False Principle of our Education * 3.2 Art and Religion * 3.3 The Ego and Its Own * 3.4 Stirner\'s Critics * 3.5 The Philosophical Reactionaries: \'The Modern Sophists\' by Kuno Fischer * 3.6 History of Reaction
* 4 Critical reception * 5 Comments by contemporaries
* 6 Influence
* 7 See also * 8 Notes * 9 References * 10 Further reading
* 11 External links
* 11.1 General * 11.2 Relationship with other philosophers * 11.3 Texts
Max Stirner's birthplace in
Stirner was born in
Stirner was the only child of Albert Christian Heinrich Schmidt
(1769–1807) and Sophia Elenora Reinlein (1778–1839). His father
died of tuberculosis on April 19, 1807 at the age of 37. In 1809 his
mother remarried to Heinrich Ballerstedt, a pharmacist , and settled
in West Prussian Kulm (now
When Stirner turned 20, he attended the
University of Berlin , where
he studied philology , philosophy, and theology. He attended the
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel , who was to become a source
of inspiration for his thinking. He attended Hegel's lectures on the
history of philosophy, the philosophy of religion and the subjective
spirit. Stirner then moved to the
University of Erlangen
Stirner returned to Berlin and obtained a teaching certificate, but was unable to obtain a full-time teaching post from the Prussian government.
While in Berlin in 1841, Stirner participated in discussions with a
group of young philosophers called "
Die Freien " ("The Free"), and
whom historians have subsequently categorized as the
Frequently the debates would take place at Hippel's, a wine bar in Friedrichstraße , attended by, among others, Marx and Engels, who were both adherents of Feuerbach at the time. Stirner met with Engels many times, and Engels even recalled that they were "great friends", but it is still unclear whether Marx and Stirner ever met. It does not appear that Stirner contributed much to the discussions, but he was a faithful member of the club and an attentive listener.
The most-often reproduced portrait of Stirner is a cartoon by Engels, drawn 40 years later from memory at biographer Mackay's request. It is highly likely that this and the group sketch of Die Freien at Hippel's are the only firsthand images of Stirner.
Stirner worked as a teacher in a school for young girls owned by
Madame Gropius when he wrote his major work,
The Ego and Its Own ,
which in part is a polemic against Feuerbach and Bauer, but also
against communists such as
Wilhelm Weitling and the anarchist
Stirner married twice. His first wife was a household servant, with whom he fell in love at an early age. She died from complications with pregnancy in 1838, soon after their marriage. In 1843 he married Marie Dähnhardt , an intellectual associated with Die Freien. They divorced in 1846. The Ego and Its Own was dedicated "to my sweetheart Marie Dähnhardt". Marie later converted to Catholicism and died in 1902 in London.
Stirner planned and financed (with Marie's inheritance) an attempt by
After The Ego and Its Own, Stirner wrote Stirner's Critics and
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Topics and concepts
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The philosophy of Stirner is credited as a major influence in the development of nihilism , existentialism , post-modernism , and individualist anarchism , postanarchism , and post-left anarchy . Stirner's main philosophical work was The Ego and Its Own , also known as The Ego and His Own (Der Einzige und sein Eigentum in German, which translates literally as The Unique One and His Property).
Stirner argues that you and I are each something impossible to fully comprehend. All mere concepts of the self will always be inadequate to fully describe the nature of our experience. Stirner has been broadly understood as a proponent of both psychological egoism and ethical egoism , although the latter position can be disputed, as there is no claim in Stirner's writing, in which one 'ought to' pursue one's own interest, and further claiming any 'ought' could be seen as a new 'fixed idea'. However, he may be understood as a rational egoist in the sense that he considered it irrational not to act in one's self-interest. How this self-interest is defined, however, is necessarily subjective, allowing both selfish and altruistic normative claims to be included.
Individual self-realization rests on each individual's desire to fulfill their egoism . The difference between an unwilling and a willing egoist, is that the former will be 'possessed' by an empty idea and believe that they are fulfilling a higher cause, but usually being unaware that they are only fulfilling their own desires to be happy or secure, and the latter, in contrast, will be a person that is able to freely choose its actions, fully aware that they are only fulfilling individual desires.
Sacred things exist only for the egoist who does not acknowledge himself, the involuntary egoist ... in short, for the egoist who would like not to be an egoist, and abases himself (combats his egoism), but at the same time abases himself only for the sake of "being exalted", and therefore of gratifying his egoism. Because he would like to cease to be an egoist, he looks about in heaven and earth for higher beings to serve and sacrifice himself to; but, however much he shakes and disciplines himself, in the end he does all for his own sake... this account I call him the involuntary egoist. ...As you are each instant, you are your own creature in this very 'creature' you do not wish to lose yourself, the creator. You are yourself a higher being than you are, and surpass yourself ... just this, as an involuntary egoist, you fail to recognize; and therefore the 'higher essence' is to you – an alien essence. ... Alienness is a criterion of the "sacred". — Ibidem, Cambridge edition, pp. 37–38
The contrast is also expressed in terms of the difference between the voluntary egoist being the possessor of his concepts as opposed to being possessed. Only when one realizes that all sacred truths such as law, right , morality , religion etc., are nothing other than artificial concepts, and not to be obeyed, can one act freely. For Stirner, to be free is to be both one's own "creature" (in the sense of 'creation') and one's own "creator" (dislocating the traditional role assigned to the gods). To Stirner power is the method of egoism. It is the only justified method of gaining property .
Stirner proposes that most commonly accepted social institutions – including the notion of State , property as a right , natural rights in general, and the very notion of society – were mere illusions, "spooks" or ghosts in the mind.
He advocated egoism and a form of amoralism , in which individuals would unite in 'unions of egoists' only when it was in their self-interest to do so. For him, property simply comes about through might: "Whoever knows how to take, to defend, the thing, to him belongs property." And, "What I have in my power, that is my own. So long as I assert myself as holder, I am the proprietor of the thing." He says, "I do not step shyly back from your property, but look upon it always as my property, in which I respect nothing. Pray do the like with what you call my property!" Stirner considers the world and everything in it, including other persons, available to one's taking or use without moral constraint – that rights do not exist in regard to objects and people at all. He sees no rationality in taking the interests of others into account unless doing so furthers one's self-interest, which he believes is the only legitimate reason for acting. He denies society as being an actual entity, calling society a "spook" and that "the individuals are its reality" (The Ego and Its Own).
Union Of Egoists
Main article: Union of egoists
Stirner's idea of the "Union of Egoists ", was first expounded in The Ego and Its Own . The Union is understood as a non-systematic association, which Stirner proposed in contradistinction to the state . The Union is understood as a relation between egoists which is continually renewed by all parties' support through an act of will. The Union requires that all parties participate out of a conscious egoism . If one party silently finds themselves to be suffering, but puts up and keeps the appearance, the union has degenerated into something else. This union is not seen as an authority above a person's own will.
Stirner criticizes conventional notions of revolution , arguing that social movements aimed at overturning the state are tacitly statist because they are implicitly aimed at the establishment of a new state thereafter.
HEGEL\'S POSSIBLE INFLUENCE
Scholars such as Karl Löwith and Lawrence Stepelevich have argued that Hegel was a major influence on The Ego and Its Own . Stepelevich argues, that while The Ego and its Own evidently has an "un-Hegelian structure and tone to the work as a whole", as well as being fundamentally hostile to Hegel's conclusions about the self and the world, this does not mean that Hegel had no effect on Stirner.
The main juncture leading from Hegel to Stirner is found at the termination of a phenomenological passage to absolute knowledge. Stirner's work is most clearly understood when it is taken to be the answer to the question, 'what role will consciousness play after it has traversed the series of shapes known as 'untrue' knowledge and has attained to absolute knowledge? — Lawrence Stepelevich, "Max Stirner as Hegelian", Journal of the History of Ideas, v.15, pp. 597–614 (1985).
To go beyond and against Hegel in true dialectical fashion is in some way continuing Hegel's project, and Stepelevich argues that this effort of Stirner's is, in fact a completion of Hegel's project. Stepelevich concludes his argument referring to Jean Hyppolite , who in summing up the intention of Hegel's Phenomenology, stated: "The history of the world is finished; all that is needed is for the specific individual to rediscover it in himself."
Stirner as an Einziger took himself directly to be that 'specific
individual' and then went on as a Hegelian to propose the practical
consequence which would ultimately follow upon that theoretical
rediscovery, the free play of self-consciousness among the objects of
its own determination: "The idols exist through me; I need only
refrain from creating them anew, then they exist no longer: 'higher
powers' exist only through my exalting them and abasing myself.... My
intercourse with the world consists in my enjoying it, and so
consuming it for my self-enjoyment" (Ego, 319) — Lawrence
Scholars such as
Douglas Moggach and Widukind De Ridder have argued
that Stirner was obviously a student of Hegel, like his contemporaries
Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer, but this does not necessarily make
him an 'Hegelian'. Contrary to the Young Hegelians, Stirner scorned
all attempts at an immanent critique of
Hegel and the Enlightenment,
Stirner refused to conceptualize the human self, and rendered it
devoid of any reference to rationality or universal standards. The
self was moreover considered a field of action, a ‘never-being I’.
The ‘I’ had no essence to realize and life itself was a process of
self-dissolution. Far from accepting, like the humanist Hegelians, a
construal of subjectivity endowed with a universal and ethical
mission, Stirner’s notion of ‘the Unique’ ( Der Einzige )
distances itself from any conceptualization whatsoever: ‘There is no
development of the concept of the Unique. No philosophical system can
be built out of it, as it can out of Being, or Thinking, or the I.
Rather, with it, all development of the concept ceases. The person who
views it as a principle thinks that he can treat it philosophically or
theoretically and necessarily wastes his breath arguing against it’.
Douglas Moggach engl. trans.
The Ego and Its Own , literally The
Unique and Its Property), which appeared in
If I concern myself for myself, the unique one, then my concern rests on its transitory, mortal creator, who consumes himself, and I may say: All things are nothing to me. — Max Stirner, The Ego and Its Own , p. 324.
The book proclaims that all religions and ideologies rest on empty concepts. The same holds true for society's institutions that claim authority over the individual, be it the state, legislation, the church, or the systems of education such as Universities.
Stirner's argument explores and extends the limits of criticism, aiming his critique especially at those of his contemporaries, particularly Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer, and at popular ideologies, including religion, liberalism , and humanism (which he regarded as analogous to religion with the abstract Man or humanity as the supreme being), nationalism , statism , capitalism , socialism , and communism .
In the time of spirits thoughts grew till they overtopped my head, whose offspring they yet were; they hovered about me and convulsed me like fever-phantasies – an awful power. The thoughts had become corporeal on their own account, were ghosts, e. g. God, Emperor, Pope, Fatherland, etc. If I destroy their corporeity, then I take them back into mine, and say: "I alone am corporeal." And now I take the world as what it is to me, as mine, as my property; I refer all to myself. — Max Stirner, The Ego and Its Own , p. 17.
Recensenten Stirners (Stirner's Critics) was published in September
1845 in Wigands Vierteljahrsschrift. It is a response, in which
Stirner refers to himself in the third-person, to three critical
The Ego and its Own by
Moses Hess in Die letzten
Philosophen (The Last Philosophers), by a certain "Szeliga" (alias of
an adherent of
THE PHILOSOPHICAL REACTIONARIES: \'THE MODERN SOPHISTS\' BY KUNO FISCHER
Die Philosophischen Reactionäre (The Philosophical Reactionaries)
was published in 1847 in Die Epigonen, a journal edited by Otto Wigand
from Leipzig. At the time, Wigand had already published Der Einzige
und sein Eigentum, and was about to finish the publication of
Stirner’s translations of
Mackay based his attribution of this text to Stirner on Kuno
Fischer’s subsequent reply to it, in which the latter, ‘with such
determination’, identified G. Edward as Max Stirner. The article was
entitled ‘Ein Apologet der Sophistik und “ein Philosophischer
Reactionäre” ’ and was published alongside ‘Die Philosophischen
Reactionäre’. Moreover, it seems rather odd that Otto Wigand would
have published ‘Edward’s’ piece back- to-back with an article
that falsely attributed it to one of his personal associates at the
time. And, indeed, as Mackay went on to argue, Stirner never refuted
this attribution. This remains, however, a slim basis on which to
firmly identify Stirner as the author. This circumstantial evidence
has led some scholars to cast doubts over Stirner’s authorship,
based on both the style and content of ‘Die Philosophischen
Reactionäre’. One should, however, bear in mind that it was written
almost three years after Der Einzige und sein Eigentum, at a time when
Young Hegelianism had withered away. —
The majority of the text deals with Kuno Fischer’s definition of Sophism. With much wit, the self-contradictory nature of Fischer’s criticism of Sophism is exposed. Fischer had made a sharp distinction between Sophism and philosophy, while at the same time considering Sophism as the "mirror image of philosophy". The Sophists breathe "philosophical air" and were "dialectically inspired to a formal volubility". Stirner's answer is striking:
Have you philosophers really no clue that you have been beaten with your own weapons? Only one clue. What can your common sense reply when I dissolve dialectically what you have merely posited dialectically? You have showed me with what kind of ‘volubility’ one can turn everything to nothing and nothing to everything, black into white and white into black. What do you have against me, when I return to you your pure art? — Max Stirner, "The Philosophical Reactionaries: 'The Modern Sophists' by Kuno Fischer", Newman, Saul (ed.), Max Stirner (Critical Explorations in Contemporary Political Thought), Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 99 (2011).
Looking back on 'Der Einzige und sein Eigentum', Stirner claims:
Stirner himself has described his book as, in part, a clumsy
expression of what he wanted to say. It is the arduous work of the
best years of his life, and yet he calls it, in part, ‘clumsy’.
That is how hard he struggled with a language that was ruined by
philosophers, abused by state- , religious- and other believers, and
enabled a boundless confusion of ideas. — Max Stirner, "The
Philosophical Reactionaries: 'The Modern Sophists' by Kuno Fischer",
Newman, Saul (ed.),
HISTORY OF REACTION
Geschichte der Reaktion (History of Reaction) was published in two
volumes in 1851 by Allgemeine Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt and immediately
banned in Austria. It was written in the context of the recent 1848
revolutions in German states and is mainly a collection of the works
of others selected and translated by Stirner. The introduction and
some additional passages were Stirner's work.
Stirner's work did not go unnoticed among his contemporaries. Stirner's attacks on ideology – in particular Feuerbach's humanism – forced Feuerbach into print. Moses Hess (at that time close to Marx) and Szeliga (pseudonym of Franz Zychlin von Zychlinski , an adherent of Bruno Bauer) also replied to Stirner. Stirner answered the criticism in a German periodical, in the article Stirner's Critics (org. Recensenten Stirners, September 1845), which clarifies several points of interest to readers of the book – especially in relation to Feuerbach.
While Marx's Sankt Max (large part of Die Deutsche Ideologie/The
German Ideology ), not published until 1932, so assured The Ego and
Its Own a place of curious interest among
COMMENTS BY CONTEMPORARIES
Twenty years after the appearance of Stirner's book, the author Friedrich Albert Lange wrote the following:
Stirner went so far in his notorious work, 'Der Einzige und Sein
Eigenthum' (1845), as to reject all moral ideas. Everything that in
any way, whether it be external force, belief, or mere idea, places
itself above the individual and his caprice, Stirner rejects as a
hateful limitation of himself. What a pity that to this book – the
extremest that we know anywhere – a second positive part was not
added. It would have been easier than in the case of Schelling 's
philosophy; for out of the unlimited Ego I can again beget every kind
Some people believe that, in a sense, a "second positive part" was
soon to be added, though not by Stirner, but by
While Der Einzige was a critical success and attracted much reaction
from famous philosophers after publication, it was out of print and
the notoriety that it had provoked had faded many years before
Stirner's death. Stirner had a destructive impact on left-Hegelianism
, but his philosophy was a significant influence on Marx and his
magnum opus became a founding text of individualist anarchism .
Many thinkers have read and been affected by
The Ego and Its Own in
their youth including
Rudolf Steiner ,
Since its appearance in 1844, The Ego and Its Own has seen periodic revivals of popular, political and academic interest, based around widely divergent translations and interpretations – some psychological, others political in their emphasis. Today, many ideas associated with post-left anarchy 's criticism of ideology and uncompromising individualism are clearly related to Stirner's. He has also been regarded as pioneering individualist feminism , since his objection to any absolute concept also clearly counts gender roles as "spooks". His ideas were also adopted by post-anarchism , with Saul Newman largely in agreement with many of Stirner's criticisms of classical anarchism , including his rejection of revolution and essentialism .
MARX AND ENGELS
Engels commented on Stirner in poetry at the time of Die Freien :
Look at Stirner, look at him, the peaceful enemy of all constraint. For the moment, he is still drinking beer, Soon he will be drinking blood as though it were water. When others cry savagely "down with the kings" Stirner immediately supplements "down with the laws also." Stirner full of dignity proclaims; You bend your willpower and you dare to call yourselves free. You become accustomed to slavery Down with dogmatism , down with law.
He once even recalled at how they were "great friends (Duzbrüder)".
In November 1844, Engels wrote a letter to Marx. He reported first on
a visit to
Moses Hess in
But what is true in his principle, we, too, must accept. And what is true is that before we can be active in any cause we must make it our own, egoistic cause-and that in this sense, quite aside from any material expectations, we are communists in virtue of our egoism, that out of egoism we want to be human beings and not merely individuals."
Later, Marx and Engels wrote a major criticism of Stirner's work. The number of pages Marx and Engels devote to attacking Stirner in (the unexpurgated text of) The German Ideology , in which they derided him as "Sankt Max" (Saint Max), exceeds the total of Stirner's written works. As Isaiah Berlin has described it, Stirner "is pursued through five hundred pages of heavy-handed mockery and insult". The book was written in 1845–1846, but not published until 1932. Marx's lengthy, ferocious polemic against Stirner has since been considered an important turning point in Marx's intellectual development from idealism to materialism . It has been argued that historical materialism was Marx's method of reconciling communism with a Stirnerite rejection of morality.
STIRNER AND POST-STRUCTURALISM
See also: Post-anarchism
The influential French poststructuralist thinker Jacques Derrida in his book Specters of Marx dealt with Stirner and his relationship with Marx while also analysing Stirner's concept of "specters" or "spooks". Gilles Deleuze , another key thinker associated with post-structuralism mentions Stirner briefly in his book The Logic of Sense . Saul Newman calls Stirner a proto-poststructuralist who on the one hand had essentially anticipated modern post-structuralists such as Foucault , Lacan , Deleuze , and Derrida , but on the other had already transcended them, thus providing what they were unable to: a ground for a non-essentialist critique of present liberal capitalist society. This is particularly evident in Stirner's identification of the self with a "creative nothing", a thing that cannot be bound by ideology (like leftist or marxists ideology of French postructuralists), inaccessible to representation in language.
POSSIBLE INFLUENCE ON NIETZSCHE
Main article: Relationship between
The ideas of
And yet as soon as Nietzsche's work began to reach a wider audience, the question of whether he owed a debt of influence to Stirner was raised. As early as 1891 (while Nietzsche was still alive, though incapacitated by mental illness), Eduard von Hartmann went so far as to suggest that he had plagiarized Stirner. By the turn of the century, the belief that Nietzsche had been influenced by Stirner was so widespread that it became something of a commonplace, at least in Germany, prompting one observer to note in 1907 "Stirner's influence in modern Germany has assumed astonishing proportions, and moves in general parallel with that of Nietzsche. The two thinkers are regarded as exponents of essentially the same philosophy."
Nevertheless, from the beginning of what was characterized as "great debate" regarding Stirner's possible positive influence on Nietzsche, serious problems with the idea were noted. By the middle of the twentieth century, if Stirner was mentioned at all in works on Nietzsche, the idea of influence was often dismissed outright or abandoned as unanswerable.
But the idea that Nietzsche was influenced in some way by Stirner continues to attract a significant minority, perhaps because it seems necessary to explain the oft-noted (though arguably superficial) similarities in their writings. In any case, the most significant problems with the theory of possible Stirner influence on Nietzsche are not limited to the difficulty in establishing whether the one man knew of or read the other. They also consist in establishing precisely how and why Stirner in particular might have been a meaningful influence on a man as widely read as Nietzsche.
The individualist-anarchist orientation of Rudolf Steiner 's early philosophy – before he turned to theosophy around 1900 – has strong parallels to, and was admittedly influenced by Stirner's conception of the ego, for which Steiner claimed to have provided a philosophical foundation.
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Stirner's philosophy was important in the development of modern
anarchist thought, particularly individualist anarchism and egoist
anarchism . Although Stirner is usually associated with individualist
anarchism , he was influential to many social anarchists such as
American individualist anarchism he found adherence in Benjamin
Tucker and his magazine
In the United Kingdom
Later in the USA emerged the tendency of post-left anarchy which was
influenced profundly by Stirner in aspects such as the critique of
Jason McQuinn says that "when I (and other anti-ideological
anarchists) criticize ideology, it is always from a specifically
critical, anarchist perspective rooted in both the skeptical,
individualist-anarchist philosophy of Max Stirner. Also
Bob Black and
Feral Faun/Wolfi Landstreicher strongly adhere to Stirnerist egoism.
In the hybrid of post-structuralism and
FREE LOVE, HOMOSEXUALS, AND FEMINISTS
The German stirnerist
Adolf Brand produced the homosexual periodical
Der Eigene in 1896. This was the first ongoing homosexual publication
in the world, and ran until 1931. The name was taken from the
writings of Stirner, who had greatly influenced the young Brand, and
refers to Stirner's concept of "self-ownership " of the individual.
Another early homosexual activist influenced by Stirner was John Henry
Mackay . Feminists influenced by Stirner include
Dora Marsden who
edited the journals
The Freewoman and
The New Freewoman and Anarchist
* ^ The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, volume 8, The Macmillan Company
and The Free Press, New York 1967.
* ^ Bernd A. Laska,
Otto Gross zwischen
* Max Stirner's 'Der Einzige und sein Eigentum' im Spiegel der
zeitgenössischen deutschen Kritik. Eine Textauswahl (1844–1856).
Hg. Kurt W. Fleming. Leipzig: Verlag Max-Stirner-Archiv 2001
* Arena, Leonardo V., Note ai margini del nulla, ebook, 2013.
* Arvon, Henri, Aux Sources de l'existentialisme, Paris: P.U.F. 1954
* Essbach, Wolfgang, Gegenzüge. Der Materialismus des Selbst. Eine
Studie über die Kontroverse zwischen
* Works written by or about
* "Max Stirner". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . , an extensive