Translated from the German by
In his autobiographical Abrechnung (1932) Mackay wrote: “In 1927 I was able to replace the impossible foreword to Stirner’s Der Einzige in Reclam’s Universal-Bibliothek by my own. I place particular value on that concise summary.” Alas, others did not place such value on it. Reclam’s 1972 edition, the first complete edition after World War II, has no foreword, but has a 39-page afterword by the Marxist Ahlrich Meyer that does not even mention Mackay! But when the Verlag der Mackay-Gesellschaft reprinted Stirner’s book in 1986, Mackay’s introduction was of course included.
All translation is difficult and translating Stirner poses its own problems. Mackay wrote in his biography of Stirner: “He has an extraordinary love of tracking down the meaning of the word and often exposes its ambiguity through the highly witty way that he uses it, a way that not seldom makes a translation of his sentences into another language appear as an impossibility.” Steven T. Byington’s English translation of Stirner’s book is brilliant. I have used his translation for the one complete sentence that Mackay quotes in his introduction, and in Mackay’s discussion of Stirner’s ideas I have also tried to keep Byington’s translation in mind, since it is the translation that English readers will know. It should be noted that the title by which that translation is known, The Ego and His Own, was not Byington’s, but was given it by the publisher Benjamin Tucker.
At the beginning of the 1840s, in a wine bar in northern Friedrichstrasse in Berlin – it was opposite the present Zentralhotel and its proprietor was named Hippel – there gathered every evening a circle of men who called themselves “The Free”, or at least they were so-called by the public. It was named “The Free” because its members belonged to the extreme left in the intellectual and political movement of those days.
Whatever may have been fabricated about it, the circle never formed itself into an organization. It was and remained an informal society, to which everyone had entrance who was more or less dissatisfied with the prevailing conditions, was striving for its improvement, its reorganization, or even its overthrow – and, above all, did not shrink from any, however sharp word of criticism of it. Visitors came and went, came again, and stayed away. But the core of the remarkable society was almost unchanged for probably a decade, through 1848 and beyond, until it fell apart in the grim period of ever increasing reaction, to disintegrate finally under its pressure, which had become unbearable.
The principle representatives of this core were personalities, often and loudly named, whose courageous and relentless criticism of their times again and again drew the attention of the wide public to them. Above all there was their recognized head, Bruno Bauer, the Bible critic – who had lost his position as privatdocent – and restlessly active publicist. He was the opponent and “exposer” of Hegel, and the publisher-editor of the Allgemeine Literaturzeitung, the camp of the entire young movement of “criticism” of the “masses”, under which catchword all endeavors inimical to the “intellect” were gradually combined. Beside him, but entirely under his influence, stood his brother Edgar, though he was taken away from the circle by his sentence to several years in prison because of an all too sharp publication against church and state. A close friend of the two brothers, Ludwig Buhl, the translator of Louis Blanc and Casanova, even surpassed in viciousness the criticism of the Bauers. When from the row of names completely forgotten today are added those of the gymnasium teacher Koppen, the literary figure Friedrich Saß, and the newspaper writer Dr. Eduard Meyen – perhaps also the frequently mentioned Dr. Adolf Rutenberg and Arthur Müller, the editor of Die ewige Lampe – then the inner circle of The Free appears more or less complete. To its wider circle belonged, as was said, almost everyone who was carried away in that time, whose days were pregnant with hope, and who let themselves be swept along. Those names are far too many to be able to number
even a few further ones here. Yet, let at least three of these visitors be recalled who honored the society with a fleeting visit, since their names resound to us: Georg Herwegh, Arnold Rüge, and Hoffmann von Fallersleben.
The tone of the circle was free, loud, and – in spite of the occasional presence of ladies – often cynical. Each expressed what he thought. The questions of the day, such as the socialist movement, which was still in its infancy, censorship, the student and religious movement, the Jewish question, and the question of women’s rights – all gave inexhaustible matter for long conversations and heated debates, and always they found themselves in sharpest contrast to the ruling authorities. Here too the year 1848 threw its shadow ahead.
They smoked much, but drank only moderately. Hippel, the proprietor, served them on credit. When he sometimes did not, then it could happen that they went down Under den Linden to beg. When they were more by themselves, the evenings also often concluded with long pipes and a harmless game of cards.
A circle, always stimulating and of undoubted significance for the history of the preMarch period [leading up to the revolution of March 1848], it was attractive and yet also repulsive, according to the type and behavior of its visitors; and it is unforgettable through one man, who probably belonged to it from its very beginning, but certainly up to its end.
This one man was a slender, always carefully dressed man of middle height. His short, blond sideburns left his chin free; behind steel glasses calm and friendly blue eyes looked out on people and things; and a smile inclined to light irony tended to play around his fine mouth.
His conduct and his way of life were as simple and unobtrusive as his outward appearance. Almost without needs, also without that for a more intimate friendship, he kept himself with inner refinement in the background of the loud society and therefore remained mostly unnoticed on more strongly visited gatherings.
Because of his strikingly high forehead everyone called him Max Stirner [Stirn = forehead], and it was said that he was working on a thick book in which he planned to set down his “I”.
In reality his name was Johann Caspar Schmidt, and he was born on 25 October 1806 in Bayreuth, the son of the “wind instrument maker” Albert Christian Heinrich Schmidt and his wife Sophia Eleonora, née Reinlein. He lost his father early; after the remarriage of his mother to the pharmacist Ballerstedt he went to Kulm in West Prussia and from there returned again to Bayreuth, where he grew up in the home of his godfather Sticht and attended the famous gymnasium of his hometown – “an industrious and good schoolboy”. After finishing school he attended the universities of Erlangen, Königsberg, and Berlin – with a break of another one-year stay in Kulm. He then passed the teacher’s examination, which gave him a conditional facultas docendi [entitlement to teach], but did not help him to get a permanent position in a state school, so that now, after a short trial period in a Realschule [secondary school], he was from the beginning to the middle of the 1840s a teacher in a private educational institution for young ladies.
Already married once and soon widowed, he married a second time Marie Dähnhardt, a wealthy young woman from Mecklenburg, who had come to Berlin “to enjoy life to the full” and who frequented The Free. Also frequently occupied with literary works, his principal collaboration was with the newly founded radical Rheinische Zeitung, for which, among other things, he wrote fundamental works on Das unwahre Prinzip unserer Erziehung [The false principle of our education] and Kunst und Religion [Art and religion], while secretly his life’s work grew and grew.
It appeared at the end of 1844 in the publishing house of Otto Wigand in Leipzig and carried the title Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum [The unique one and his property].
It caused a sensation, was forbidden in Saxony, and received detailed reviews, which its author himself sometimes answered just as thoroughly.
It doubtless originated from opposition to the views he encountered in his time and in the daily debates among The Free; whole sections are occupied with their refutation. In this sense it has also been called “the last branch of Hegelian philosophy”.
Very unjustly. For just as it goes far beyond the most radical views of his contemporaries, so too it creates at the same time the foundation for an entirely new weltanschauung, opposed to all those preceding it: that of conscious egoism (as the sole motivating force and guiding principle of all human actions).
Nothing more and nothing less is postulated with it than the sovereignty of the individual in the face of all attempts at his weakening and suppression: the spook and the loose screws in the human brain along with all external powers that want to subjugate this individual under the guise of “law”.
After the brief examination of a human life – the realistic child, the idealistic youth, and the man become egoist – and an intellectual historical look back at the ancients working toward conquering the world, and a similar one of the moderns – their obsession and their hierarchy (their rule of the intellect) – he settles with his own time, with The Free, and exposes their political liberalism as the state, which is based on the slavery of labor and is lost with labor’s freedom; their social liberalism as the society with a new slavery (the “lumpen society of communism”); their humane liberalism with its concept of man. He does the last by showing that one cannot be less than a man (whereas they believed one cannot be more).
To the first, negative section, the criticism of man, he counters in the more positive second section his “I” and clears up first the falsely understood concept of freedom, which cannot be given, but must be taken. Then he describes the “unique one”: his power with regard to the state and society, this power that laughs at law as a loose screw in the head; his intercourse with the world, which consists in his “using” it; and his self-enjoyment, which leads to uniqueness, to which the I as I develops.
The “unique one”, however, no longer recognizes any law over himself, neither a divine nor a human. He sets his concern on himself alone and sets his uniqueness in opposition to every power.
Thus, in a language full of clarity and superiority, full of mockery and disdain, Max Stirner castigates the deeds of men, divests ideas of their sacredness, and shows them as “fixed ideas” in the great madhouse of the world: mankind and fatherland; God and State; virtue and morality; freedom and truth; right and duty. From now on one individual stands opposite another, without rights and without duties, and what alone still binds them to one another is the voluntarily concluded contract (“I will not deceive a confidence that I have voluntarily called forth”).
That such a work could not in its consequences be understood by his contemporaries may not be surprising. They were baffled and did not know what to do with it. Some took it to be a satire, others saw in it only a monstrous product of the devil, until its pages too were carried away by the storms of the coming years.
These storms did not completely split up the core of The Free, though they left only a few secondary members. Hippel had moved from Friedrichstrasse to Dorotheenstrasse and during the revolution his bar was a sort of headquarters for all kinds of leftist parties. After the reaction it became more and more quiet there and only the old friends still held together for a while. With them was Max Stirner.
He had given up his position in the school for young ladies before the publication of his book, and soon afterwards his relationship with Marie Dähnhardt was also dissolved by mutual agreement, after the fortune of the young wife was used up and various literary and other pursuits, among them a milk business, had gone wrong. She went at first to Australia, came to know need and misery, and then went to London. There she died at an advanced age in 1902, completely in the arms of the “only true church”, embittered and no longer entirely lucid mentally.
Her husband continued to exist in his usual modest lifestyle – a good cigar was his only luxury. It was going badly for him too. He moved from one address to another and at times ran into extreme need, so that he twice came to know debtor’s prison. But then, protected from the worst through an agreement on the sale of his stepfather’s house in Kulm, he found two cheerful rooms and good care with a Madame Weiss in Philippstrasse.
Death came to him quickly and unexpectedly. On 25 June 1856, at age 50, Max Stirner died of a nervous fever brought on by a carbuncle in his neck (and probably also as a result of wrong medical treatment).
Only a few old friends followed his coffin as he was buried on 28 June in the Sophienkirchhof. The heir of his meager belongings was his aged mother, who had suffered from an “idée fixe” for many years, certainly since 1835, and had been admitted to the Berlin Charité [the hospital associated with the university].
His book – and he with it – were already forgotten by then. The rebirth of both began only when, having read it and recognized its true significance, I began in 1889 my arduous researches into the forgotten life, researches that were rich in unexpected incidents and yet so infinitely interesting. I set down the results in my biography eight years later, having no hope of further discoveries. I must refer to it anyone who wishes to know more about the “unique one” than I am able to crowd into this brief introduction.
Today the name Max Stirner is no longer unknown to any educated person. The houses where he was born and where he died, as well as his grave, all bear signs commemorating him, and his book, translated into all languages of the civilized world, stands there, “after a long night of thinking and believing”, at the beginning of a new and hopefully better time, illuminated by the glory of immortality.
John Henry Mackay
Der Einzige und sein Eigentum by Benjamin R. Tucker in 1907. It is probably as succinct and concise a summarization of the significance of the book as has ever been uttered. But Walker has not been the only one to speak of Stirner in this manner. Two years later James Huneker, in his famous evaluation, referred to the book as “the most revolutionary ever written.” “He has left behind him a veritable breviary of destruction, a striking and dangerous book,” Huneker declared; “it is dangerous in every sense of the wordÐto socialism, to politicians, to hypocrisy.” There is little doubt that The Ego and His Own is one of the most formidable assaults on authoritarianism ever launched. It may even belong in the first position as such. It is at once a historical document, a pamphlet of the intellectual disturbance of the mid-nineteenth century, and a timeless classic. Its persistent reappearance in one language or another in the last hundred years testifies to the latter.
However, the attention to Stirner has not been smooth and steady, but, rather, irregular and spasmodic. Its appearance in English for the first time was a product of one of these surges of interest; largely ignited by the great impact of Friedrich Nietzsche, especially between 1885 and 1910. As a consequence Stirner was attached to the tail of Nietzsche’s comet as a “precursor” though he had been a comet in his own right before Nietzsche had even been old enough to learn to walk.
It is not of prime significance that Max Stirner’s life be stressed here, though a few items of substance may be mentioned. He was born Johann Kaspar Schmidt in Bayreuth, Germany on October 25, 1806. The name he adopted as a pseudonym was originally a nickname from student days, a reference to his broad, high forehead. His career prior to the writing of his first, and major, book was obscure, though it included education in three universities, and half a dozen years’ experience in teaching. His first wife died in childbirth in 1838, and he remarried in 1843, which also appears to be the date when he began to draw together his thoughts and material into the book which was to shock and outrage a goodly portion of intellectual Germany the year after, and subsequently the whole Western world.
From internal evidence it appears that he completed Der Einzige sometime in February or March, 1844. A rather expert job of book production followed, for, although the book bore the date 1845, it was actually in the hands of readers in November, 1844. The Leipzig house of Otto Wigand issued it in an octavo volume of about 500 pages.
Stirner’s book came out at a stormy time in Western and Central European affairs. France, Italy and the whole German world were in furious distress caused by the pressure of Liberalism upon the monarchical structure of politics in these lands, clamouring for a voice in the making of public policy and the running of affairs. And in the background and the underground boiled the propaganda of socialism, supervised by a score or more expert tenders of mainly French and German origin. The philosophical proponents of the powerful national secular State had also made their appearance, and the polished thought of Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, in particular the latter, had made a deep impression on the thinkers of the whole political spectrum of the time.
In a way, Stirner was both a product and a victim of these factors. His book came out of them, and it was buried in the avalanche of the revolutions of March 1848 and thereafter. But in the interval between its publication and the uprising of the ’48ers, a lively intellectual conflict spread. Few books have aroused such hostility and general disparagement as Stirner’s, though it was not the author’s intent to avoid a battle, by any means. His spirited polemics against the principal figures among the so-called left Hegelians, the Junghegelianer, particularly Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer, invited reprisal, let alone his equally rousing tilt with the socialists, especially Wilhelm Weitling and Moses Hess. Stirner represented a “third force” in these agitated times, neither a defender of the theological or monarchical State, nor a protagonist of the secular models advanced by the Liberals and socialists. His views were as shocking and repellent to the latter as to the former. And Stirner went into almost total eclipse in the following forty years, while the modern secular State took shape, with its distinctive homogenization of the new nationalism and socialism, and the surviving but mutated strains of the earlier divine right and ecclesiastical authority, plus the ingredients consisting of the enfranchised and compulsorily armed masses which the French Revolution contributed.
Stirner’s principal intellectual and social company had been the Berliners of Hegelian inspiration and tendencies whom he had encountered at Hippel’s restaurant, who were known as “Die Freien,” in some circles. These “bold spirits” included Ludwig Buhl, C.F. Koppen, Arthur Miller, and the brothers Bruno, Edgar and Egbert Bauer. And there were others. It was assumed Stirner was one of them, and the largest part of the critics in the subsequent half-century generally lumped him in the Hegelian Left. But Stirner’s book is the Anti-Hegel, as Victor Basch elaborated nearly sixty years ago. And in an important sense a thorough reading and understanding of Hegel is necessary to understand Stirner. The assault on the master was not an explicit one, however. Hegel is mentioned sparingly, though significantly, in a direct sense. It is through his younger exponents that Stirner propels his critique of their State and its related personifications and generalized ideas.
It was in the company of these persons that such previews of Stirner as exist made their appearance. He published a few articles in the Hallische Jahrbücher and the Deutsche Jahrbücher, ephemeral journals edited by Arnold Ruge in the years just previous. They were largely ignored at the time, and not made generally available for over half a century. It is in these that the germs of his anti-Hegelian revolt are first discerned.7
The history of Der Einzige und sein Eigentum is worthy of a glance. After its first appearance, it sank out of sight for nearly four decades. The original publishing house of Wigand brought out a second edition in 1882, and a third in 1901.8 These latter two were separated chronologically by the 1892 Universal-Bibliotek edition of Philipp Reclam, Jr., also of Leipzig, in the famous “Miniatur-Ausgaben” series, which found Stirner in the company of world-famous literature. The publication of a full-scale biography of Stirner by John Henry Mackay in 1893 preceded two translations in French which were published one after the other in Paris in 1900 under the title L’Unique et sa PropriŽtŽ. These set the stage for the English translation and publication.
The first American to dwell at length on Stirner was James L. Walker, a Texas newspaperman and later physician, and an associate of Tucker. Walker brought Stirner’s “Egoism” into the pages of Tucker’s world-famous anarchist weekly, Liberty, with increasing frequency during the 1890’s, and himself prepared a strongly Stirner-influenced book, The Philosophy of Egoism,9 published posthumously, Walker having died in Mexico in 1904. His introduction to the Tucker edition of Stirner was written in 1902 or 1903, evidence that Tucker planned to release the book in that time, though some unknown circumstance delayed its issuance. In a publishing career which went back to 1875, Tucker insisted that making Stirner available in English was his most important contribution in the entire time.10
After Tucker’s property was burned out in the fire of January, 1908 his work ended,11 but apparently the plates of this book were salvaged, because editions in the identical format with that of 1907 came out in London and New York in 1913-15 under different auspices, and a third by still another publisher was produced in New York in 1918.12 The history of Stirner’s book in languages other than those examined above is obscure; there were Italian and Russian translations, and possibly in a Scandinavian language, as Stirner was very familiar to Henrik Ibsen and the Danish critic Georg Brandes,13 the latter having written at some length on Stirnerism.
Huneker declared that the translation, by the erudite philologist Steven T. Byington, was “admirable,” which is indeed a fact. He was aided in his work by Walker and by Emma Heller Schumm and George Schumm, all expert in German, so in one sense it was a cooperative project. Byington did the greater part of the work, however. His preface to the original edition is preserved here in order to illuminate some of the difficulties encountered in Stirner’s frequently diffuse style, and his etymological references are preserved throughout the book in the original footnotes. His choice of the English title, The Ego and His Own, is specially felicitous.
Friedrich Nietzsche was a few months old when Stirner’s book was published, but no other thinker has been compared more to Stirner than Nietzsche, and perhaps with less evidence for it. A critical controversy raged among philosophers and academic people over this issue, in particular between 1890 and the first World War, and a literature of large enough scope exists on this subject alone to warrant a substantial book. Albert Levy, in his careful study Stirner et Nietzsche,14 points out that Stirner is not mentioned in either the works or the correspondence of Nietzsche at any time, and with the exception of a single instance, Nietzsche appears not to have been aware of him at all. In the case of every writer who has tried to establish such relationship, the method has consisted of dependence on inference and the coincidental similarities which can be established by superficial content analysis. This is the approach of a considerable number of over-simplifiers, of whom Paul Carus is one of the best examples.15
Stirner was an uncommonly keen student of classical antiquity, the French Revolution, and the Bible, in particular. The latter is his most quoted source by a wide margin. In one sense this appears incomprehensible, considering Stirner’s position on religion. Of this, more will be said shortly. An attempt has been made to annotate as many of Stirner’s literary references and allusions as seems practicable, in view of their number and his careless documentation. The latter in particular suggests the contemporary polemic part of his book; the sources are thrown about carelessly like so much spare lumber, and the overall impression conveyed is that his readers are fully aware of their nature or have read them.16
The Ego and His Own is a piece of fierce writing, in an “icy, relentless, epigrammatic style,” as Huneker describes it. Nothing distracts Stirner from his pursuit of the exposition of freedom; he is for freedom for everyone, not just himself. And he is consistent in not shrinking from the consequences of this pursuit. It may very well be that the largest number of midtwentieth century individualists does not have the stamina to stick with Stirner to the bitter logical end. The various libertarians are free to decamp at that point of the journey beyond where they no longer care to proceed. But it is their responsibility to know whence individualism stems and where its logic goes. No one has surpassed Stirner in dealing with these two aspects of the problem. There are uncanny portions of this work; one might cite in particular his discussion of the semantics of “freedom” and compare them with the similar dissertations by George Orwell in Nineteen Eight-four and Eugen Zamyatin in We, those most exquisitely anti-Stirner worlds. Stirner in a sense was a pioneer in the area of general semantics.
Stirner wanted all to be free; he was not arguing just for himself or for a special segment of mankind. But he stressed over and over the part the one desirous of freedom had to play; freedom was not something someone else gave you. All freedom is essentially self-liberation, says Stirner. His concern is with the individual rebel, not the revolution. It is as such that he respected Jesus, a rebel who concerned himself not a whit with the politics and the State of his time. But for organized Christianity, and for all other organized religions, Stirner had particularly harsh words. Personal insurrection rather than general revolution was his message; he recognized the futility of meeting the authorities at street barricades with broom handles at a time when the Romantics were still enamoured with this concept. The age of automatic arms and instantaneous communication was just around the corner. The general revolution brought either “Socialism or a tyrant,” in his view; the revolutionist merely exchanged masters, often for the worse.
There are only five chapters in Stirner, three very short ones, separated by two very long ones, and it is in the latter that he has packed the very largest part of his message. Though he assaults religion, philosophy, morals, every source of inspiration for authority, as for his principal target Victor Basch remarks, “L’ƒtat, voilˆ le grand ennemi, voilˆ l’eternel tyran du Moi.”17 All authority materials end up as arms and nutriment for the State, and Hegel and his chief disciples were the agents of his time who appeared to be doing the most thorough job of preparing the world for the new secular Leviathan. Stirner was scornful of the German national unity fervour of the 1840’s. He was almost completely untouched by one of the most uproarious political fermentations in the history of Central Europe. In his view, unity would just be the superimposing of a far more grim and ferocious monster for the existing thirty-eight separate weaker ones of the existing states. He saw no net gain in replacing the ecclesiastic or monarchical State with the new secular product in the making; in fact, he was sure that the latter had immeasurably superior means and capabilities for oppressiveness.
But if Stirner was appalled by the Hegelians, he was equally appalled by the communists. The Ego and His Own was a pitiless attack on communism well before the Communist Manifesto was published, and it is at the same time one of the most original and unanswerable critiques of coercive collectivism. A social associate of Friedrich Engels, published in one of the journals edited by Karl Marx, Stirner’s socialist antagonists were Weitling and Hess and the French propounders of the same ideology, all more prominent at that moment. Stirner saw clearly through the communist appeals of the 1840’s (the seed-bed of the Manifesto), in particular the talk of the necessity of eliminating the State. He reiterated that communism would produce instead a State far more onerous than the royal, ecclesiastic or bourgeois models communists fulminated against so tirelessly.
Yet Stirner does not talk of future societies, or blueprints for them, himself. For the most part he avoids all soothsaying; the structure of the free “union” is beyond his ken, and he felt it was a futile field for prediction in the first place. As he says in one place of the slave, and the speculations as to his likely behaviour once his servitude is ended, one cannot know what he will do until he actually gets free.
The century coinciding roughly with the end of the Second World War may be described ideologically as the Age of Marx, during which Marxism was presumed to be victorious over Stirner and all other antagonists. The fact that Marx devoted such an immense part of his ponderous Die Deutsche Ideologie to an attack on Stirner was conceded to be the principal prima facie evidence of the former’s triumph. A generation ago Sidney Hook in two widely-acclaimed books calmly reaffirmed that Marx demolished Der Einzige und sein Eigentum, it being nothing but a “social defense mechanism of a petty bourgeois soul.”18 Marxists long tended to display this cavalier attitude toward Stirner, generally without reading a line of his work. In fact, Marxist literary and intellectual influence for a time all but brought about Stirner’s consignment to the “Memory Hole” of 1984 fame.
But there is plentiful evidence that he, Proudhon, Bakunin and the others against whom Marx tilted never lost their validity during this period. The last two decades in particular have seen the repeated reappearance of their works in various forms. As Herbert Read declared in his masterful essay19 commemorating the centennial of Stirner’s book, “After a sleep of a hundred years the giants whom Marx thought he had slain show signs of coming to life again,” and indeed they have returned. “Marx’s criticism” of Stirner, Read advanced in a famous second-thought, “would need drastic revision to be convincing today.” As for critics of Stirnerite egoism such as Berdyaev, Read was of the view that Stirner could have handled him capably with a single sentence. Concerning Stirner’s examination of love and his consistent plea in behalf of the “integration of personality,” Read concludes with several impressive observations. He finds many “modern” views in such areas as held by Erich Fromm, Jung, Martin Buber and even the existentialists in very close rapport with, if not dependent on, Max Stirner.
The fashionable day for ad hominem attacks on Stirner seems past. The Ego and His Own has demonstrated survival value; it deserves to be read in the same spirit and in the same way one reads The Prince.
JAMES J. MARTIN
September 8, 1962
(Rebel Press edition, 1982)
“A man can only liberate himself by himself and for himself.
There is no other way – all else is madness or collaboration.”
— Paul Herr, Journey Not To End
Max Stirner, whose real name was Johann Kaspar Schmidt, was born in 1806 and died in 1856. He studied the classics, philosophy and modern languages at several universities. Before the 1848 Revolution he was a frequent visitor to the meetings of “The Free”, a circle of radical intellectuals who met at a Weinstube in Friedrichstraße, Berlin. He wrote several essays on such subjects as education, art and religion, and the novels of Eugène Sue, compiled and edited a History of Reaction, translated works by Adam Smith and J-B. Say, and contributed to various journals and newspapers. Among other jobs, he taught literature and history at a girls’ school for five years. His real claim to our attention, however, is his magnum opus, The Ego and Its Own, Stirner throws down his challenge to thousands of years of religious, philosophical and political depreciation of the individual: “Away…with every concern that is not altogether my concern! You think that at least the ‘good cause’ must be my concern? What’s good, what’s bad? Why, I myself am my concern, and I am neither good nor bad. Neither has meaning for me. The divine is God’s concern; the human, man’s. My concern is neither the divine nor the human, not the true, good, just, free, etc., but is-unique, as I am unique. Nothing is more to me than myself!”
From this uncompromisingly egocentric stand-point, Stirner proceeds to criticize mercilessly all those doctrines and beliefs that demand subordination of the interests of the individual to those of State, God, Humanity, Society, or some other fiction. He investigates what these terms mean; what, if anything, they are based on; and clears away the mental rubbish that surrounds them. He exposes the bondage of the individual to fixed ideas. He declares his hostility to every creed that would crush or deny individuality. His call to self-liberation is no mealy-mouthed carping about this or that restriction placed upon us by one or another authority. It is not designed to set up a new authority in place of the old . His message is to those who wish to affirm their self-sovereignty to the fullest extent of their power – here and now. To those who want to remain members of a herd, who feel an imperative need to merge themselves into some present or future collectivity, his philosophy will have no appeal.
Stirner’s affirmation of amoralistic egoism and his celebration of the unique individual, has of course, provoked cries of pain and horror from moralists of all kinds: right and left, religious and secular. They have classified him as a bloodthirsty terrorist, even though he regarded terrorists as being among the possessed. They have described his book, to quote a recent critic, as “the reductio ad absurdum of the alienated subjectivity of modern society…one of the numerous blind alleys into which bourgeois individualism necessarily leads.” They have denounced him as the nihilist par excellence, as an absolute irrationalist incapable of making any “meaningful” assertions, and held him up as an awful example to those who would live “beyond good and evil”. Confronted with Stirner’s contemptuous dismissal of their cherished principles, moralists invariably and loudly prophesy the terrible doom facing “humanity” should anyone take notice of what he says.
In doing so they turn a resolutely blind eye to the pernicious effects of morality, its staggering ineffectiveness in preventing the things it is supposed to prevent, and its provision of all manner of rationalizations for slaughter and torture of a magnitude beyond the scope of any “malevolent”, conscious egoists’s desire of capacity. The moral many thousands of infidels and heretics who fell before the fury of the faithful. Our contemporary political saviours are not restrained, by the moralities they profess, from eliminating those who step out of line and threaten the success of their schemes for redeeming the world. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of an individual motivated purely by self-interest who could effectively compete with moralists in the market for atrocities. As Benjamin DeCasseres once pointed out, those who claim to “love humanity” are usually sentimental butchers.
This is not the place to deal at length with all the incredible banalities, silly trivialities and downright misrepresentations resorted to by Stirner’s critics. Mention must be made, however, of the reaction of his contemporaries, Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels, since Marxists have persistently abused Stirner and distorted his philosophy from their time until now.
Engels’ first response to The Ego and Its Own was not unsympathetic. He wrote in a letter to Marx: “this work is important, far more important than Hess believes…the first point we find true is that, before doing whatever we will on behalf of some idea, we have first to make our cause personal, egoistic… Stirner is right to reject the ‘Man’ of Feuerbach…(since) Feuerbach’s Man is derived from God… among all of the ‘The Free’ Stirner obviously has the most talent, personality, and dynamism.’ Marx’s reply has not been preserved, but it must have contained something of a severe reprimand because, in his next letter to Marx, Engels withdraws his praise of Stirner and submissively agrees that he now finds in The Ego and Its Own “what you find”.
What Marx found had clearly enraged him, aware that in Max Stirner he had an important opponent of the communist creed he and Engels were in the process of elaborating. In The German Ideology, written mostly in 1846, Marx and Engels therefore launched a monomaniacal attack upon Stirner’s philosophy, covering over 300 pages. It is an attack described by Eugene Fleischman as “notoriously misleading. It is not just that ridicule of a man’s person is not equivalent to refutation of his ideas, but the reader is also aware that the authors are not reacting at all to the problems raised by their adversary.”
Throughout their “reply”, which is undoubtedly one of the most indigestible pieces of polemical vituperation ever composed, Marx and his faithful echo shower Stirner with so many ad hominem criticisms that they serve to reveal rather than conceal the fears that his ideas had aroused, Stirner is “the emptiest, shallowest brain among the philosophers”; he has a “philosophical mental vacuity”; he is “the weakest and most ignorant” of “the whole philosophical fraternity”; “our holy father”; “a parochial Berlin schoolmaster” whose “whole activity is limited to trying a few, hackneyed, casuistical tricks on the world handed down to him by philosophical tradition” – these are only a few of the frenetic descriptions applied to Stirner by the founding fathers of Marxism. It is clear that there could be no absolution in their eyes for someone who could presciently write:
“Communism, by the abolition of all personal property, only presses me back still more into dependence upon another, viz, on the generality or collectivity and loudly as it always attacks the ‘State’, what it intends is itself again a State, a status, a condition hindering my free movement, a sovereign power over me. Communism rightly revolts against the pressure that I experience from individual proprietors; but still more horrible is the might it puts into the hands of the collectivity.”
The thoughtful reader may well wonder why, if Stirner was such an intellectual imbecile as Marx and Engels tried to make him out to be, they considered it necessary to subject him to such inordinately lengthy and vitriolic abuse. The reason is that, despite their bluster, they correctly saw his individualism as the most dangerous enemy their new religion of social salvation could have. It is crucial to their sociocentric doctrine that individuals must be regarded as cellular parts of a social whole, the nature of which is determined by the stage of development reached by mysterious “productive forces”. Despite their occasional lip-service to individuality, Marx and Engels in reality regard “society” as a kind of god from which all blessings flow; the source of our being and the root of our lives. In other words, they believe that the We is more important than the I.
It is against this deification of “social man” that Stirner protests. This is what he means when he states:
“That society is no ego at all, which could give, bestow or grant, but an instrument or means, from which we may derive benefit; that we have no social duties, but solely interests for the pursuance of which society must serve us; that we owe society no sacrifice, but, if we sacrifice anything, sacrifice it to ourselves — of this the Socialists do not think, because they… are imprisoned in religious principle, and zealously aspire after — a sacred society, such as the State was hitherto. Society, from which we have everything, is a new master, a new spook, a new ‘supreme being’, which ‘takes us into its service and allegiance.’”
Marx and Engels, in true theological fashion, attribute causal efficacy to abstractions which they seek to disguise as “empirical” forces. Their “Historical Dialectic”, to which we are expected to submit, is simply the “Will of God” re-stated in pseudo-secular terms. Their concern is not with the specific, living individual who exists in present time, but with the “New Man” of some remote, utopia which they promise will be achieved by the true believer in some indefinite future. Stirner, on the contrary, speaks to those of today who want to live their own, unique lives without ideological crutches and to whom millennial dreams are the narcotics of the deluded.
The Ego and Its Own is not the easiest of books to read. At the same time, it is not impossible for those undaunted by its seemingly odd construction. In his preface to the original 1907 edition of this translation, Benjamin R. Tucker quotes-a passage from Victor Basch’s pioneering study of Stirner, part of which can usefully be repeated here: “At first one seems to be confronted with a series of essays strung together with a throng of aphorisms… But, if you read this book several times; if, having penetrated the intimacy of each of its parts, you then traverse it as a whole-gradually the fragments weld themselves together, and Stirner’s thought is revealed in all its unity, in all its force, and in all its depths.” Tucker also pointed out the need to be on guard against Stirner’s habit of stating some views opposite to his so well that an unwary reader may take them to be Stirner’s own.
James Huneker described this book as the most revolutionary ever written. James J. Martin, in his introduction to the 1963 Libertarian Book Club edition, remarked that “it is at once a historical document, a pamphlet of the intellectual disturbances of the mid-nineteenth century, and a timeless classic”. Its continual re-publication testifies to its staying power and to its value for generation after generation of readers. What use you make of it now is up to you.
(2001 Italian edition)
translated by Wolfi Landstreicher
I am not in solidarity with the men’s misery, but with the vigor with which they refuse to put up with it.
In books, each person finds what he or she seeks. No text demonstrates this better than Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum (translated into English as The Ego and Its Own, but more accurately, The Unique One and Its Property). Since its appearance, hundreds of essays dedicated to this “notorious” book, as Friedrich Lange called it, have told of a Stirner who was the father of individualism, Nietzsche’s herald, the precursor of existentialist themes, the forerunner of fascist and nazi regimes, a petite-bourgeois in anarchist guise, a hegelian sui generis, Sade’s blood brother, the skeptic with the wicked smile, a modern sophist, a hiker despite himself in the great march of historical materialism, and so on with the partisan and academic vivisections. Stirner is an author who lends himself well to graduate theses and paid dissertations, if for no other reason than that he wrote very little (and there is very little worth saving in the substantial bibliography about him). A few insipid lines in philosophy textbooks and various operations of the thought police warning his readers–for the most part, through these methods, along with expurgated and poor translations, the attempt has been made to disarm Stirner’s raging theory.
Der Einzige was a book as iron curtain during the time when two forms of capitalism were contending on the world scene; and it continues to attract publishing houses with the most varied owners at a time when the latest brand of ideology is called “the death of ideology”. Yesterday, one could find in these pages, which came out of the smoke of a pub on Friedrichstrasse in Berlin in 1844, a scoffing and pointed critique of the “socialist” new man, this being to edify through the everyday methods of forced labor and police terror and the weekend methods of internationalist parades and the rhetoric of the cooks for the powerful. Today, one finds in these same pages–ruminated over among the tankards of a circle of the Free, in the shadow of Hippel, the innkeeper–a lucid ferocity against democracy and humanism, attacked even in their most extreme versions. And still.
Stirner’s radical atheism–which, along with God, also demolishes the State, and which unmasks every form of alienation as sacred–has, nonetheless, been used by conservatives in their refusal of progressivist ideals (“the conclusion of Enlightenment philosophy is the defense of crime, look at Stirner) and by marxists in their hunt for “petite-bourgeois disguised as revolutionaries” with the cry of “cherchez l’anarchiste!” At one time there were even those who, feeling as if they were already public ministers in the court of History, tried to show, dates in hand, that every publication of Der Einzige corresponded with plans for counter-revolution in Europe. Today, there are those who put the “rights of the individual” in the service of the market to justify exploitation once again. What these employees of opposed rackets didn’t and don’t want to see is that the authentic places in which to look for the expression of Stirnerian thought are the barricades of the revolutionary festival, or the walls of whichever May; in short, there where the ethic and practice of sacrifice have ended along with all rights over individuals; there where the conditions are created for the most radical manifestation of egoism: “the sweet forgetfulness of oneself”, in other words, the overabundance of life that wants a world to which to give the gift of one’s excesses.
We truly hold to ourselves when we refuse any external and imposed cause and when we stop calculating ourselves: is there any more subversive discourse in a world dominated by authority and the market? Today, the “individual” is a lump produced by the disciplinary–political, economic and psychological–practices of society, a subject of the state and capital. Defending this “individual” means defending this world.
Not so for the unique one of whom Stirner speaks. Uniqueness can only be affirmed on the ruins of the state and of every society that subordinates singular individuals to the extorted and overturned product of their relationships. What are money, merchandise and hierarchy if not sacred powers that continue to be revered because they prevent us from seeing who created them? Economy is a vast liturgy that puts faithful carriers of merchandise, not unique individuals, in relationship. In this sense, today Stirner’s critique would not go unnoticed, but would rather be clarified (with regard to money and value, and with regard to the social foundations of individual autonomy). All that is not our property is our enemy–so Stirner said. All that we don’t live directly–thoughts, actions and relationships–gets transformed into ideology, sacrifice, exploitation. The authenticity of life is revolt, insurrection, a ceaseless rising up of singular individuals against the heaven of their creations that have become autonomous and hostile. If revolt gives us ownership of ourselves, we are self-owners above all when we can appropriate others as unique ones, not as objects. But in this society, where individuals are held together in their isolation, all that is left to us is to “do wrong or to suffer it”, to exploit or be exploited. So mutuality, which tolerates neither privileges nor rights, presupposes “a vast operation of urgent demolition” (Georges Darien). And still.
In a world dominated by misery and brutalization, Stirner mockingly tells us that we are already perfect. He doesn’t rally us for any mission. He doesn’t want to make us become men (the human man, this moralistic tautology about which party programs, financial prospects and penal codes regurgitate). He tells us to enjoy ourselves, here and now. In other words–each person finds what he is looking for in books–, being industrial managers, merchants, professors, journalists or “individualist anarchists” with hot feet and money in the bank? This too, if we aren’t capable of wanting anything else and as long as this society will allow us to do it. Each one is worthy of his own egoism.
But can one truly defend her “perfection” in the office, the factory or the school? Doesn’t this perfection need to destroy all that denies it? to give itself its own time and its own space? In a society based on the production of merchandise and of ourselves as merchandise, how do we go about not producing? Producing (prisons or cars, rights or false critiques, resignation or alternative markets), isn’t it perhaps a mission that makes us all religious? Here it is then that the critique of religion should open the poetry of “I am already perfect” as life. Not producing (our slavery) means attacking everything that forces us to do so. Keeping a look out for who forces us and how, keeping a look out for where to find accomplices. Then, inevitably, the question comes up, are our accomplices the individuals, or rather a few individuals?
Despite all the accommodating readings, Stirner’s discourse is a class discourse. Insofar as he speaks to us of the French revolution or the workers of his time, he is referring to enraged workers, to proletarians, when he brings his union of egoists down into the reality of social conflict. Not to disciplined laborers respectful of property, but to all the misfits, the “intellectual vagabonds”, the riff-raff for whom bourgeois morality led Marx and the metaphysicians of revolutionary science to feel contempt. For centuries, exploiters have spread their ideology of sacrifice and rancorous moaning. Stirner’s appeal is to force. No right can give the exploited what they don’t have the might to seize. Misery is not abolished either through proclamations or through laws. “The poor are to blame for there being rich men” [Stirner,pg. 279]. For those with no use for the rhetoric of humanitarians, who would like the exploited to remain so in order to be able to defend them as such, this is the point of departure. Exploitation will exist until the exploited oppose the right of the exploiter with a might: the egoism of the exploited. Several years later, Bakunin will say that to the power of the state and the capitalists it is necessary to oppose neither a set of rules nor decrees, but rather, the revolutionary deed. One can decree that God doesn’t exist and that no one has the right to govern another; but the need for God, which is a social need, is not legally abolished. Nor is the right of governors, if they will take it, as long as the governed have not created, in practice, relationships that are free of command. Stirner saw clearly that the ideology and morality of the ruling class formed a material force against the egoism of the ruled, a material force that has had in parties and labor unions–as unions of renouncers–its irreplaceable allies. Reformism is merely the slave’s form of egoism, since the interests that it defends are those imposed by capital, just as the expectation of the Great Day is merely the secular form of the hope for paradise. What some expected from–positive or natural–rights, some others demand of History, perhaps in the form of a clever and untiring mole. But political and legal battles are always the affairs of the few who represent others, just as the unavoidable destinies of history, the final crisis of capitalism, the transition to communism, etc., always need scientific interpreters. Rights and determinist ideologies, two myths against the lucidity of intelligence and the passions, two myths against individual autonomy.
Capital took any global vision the exploited had of their activity away from them–wage specialization, this totalitarianism of the fragment, is the real origin of passivity–, while reformists managed powerlessness in the name of the party, a transcendent “all” behind which the interests of the few were hidden. And in the name of class, how many myths? No class autonomy without individual autonomy, this is Stirner’s lesson. If the life of each one of us is the concrete experience of social war, i.e., of the conflict between freedom and oppression, then a revolution that is not the generalized occasion of individual revolt against the ruling conditions of existence will always be a reform of the existent. Resolute or submissive, generous or calculating, in our pleasures and dissatisfactions we experience the conflict between revolution and counterrevolution. In creative impulses and in relationships that live on by themselves, in the certainty of felt intuitions as in the thoughts in which habit talks to itself, the authenticity of a subversive project is measured. If someone is freed, he will never be a free man, but rather a freed man, i.e., a redeemed slave. This is why anyone who speaks of freeing others is a future master. This is why the best thing that we can do for others is to free ourselves, in the meantime creating the conditions in which we can mutually enjoy the liberation of others: the conditions of rupture. This society is the order, the scheme, of mutual renunciation. The “union of egoists”–this conscious association of autonomous individuals, this connection that doesn’t exist beyond the duration of the will of its participants–can only be union in revolt.
Domination is fed by all our smothered passions, all the citadels of illusion built on the sense of guilt and the social sham of personality (persona, in Latin, means mask). Ideology always colonizes the space of ideas and desires that we aren’t able to live. Every appeal to passivity, every practice that integrates the morality of compulsion, is a service rendered to power. If real force is self-possession, any force subordinated to–and authority is always such–is merely the back side of alienation. On that back side, one will always find the need to compete, whereas the–precise, carnal–feeling of uniqueness has no need for competition because it accepts no measure outside itself. It is equality in flattening that creates false rivalry. Therefore, the suppression of social classes does not tend toward this type of equality, but rather to the emerging of the only conflict that is authentic, because it is no longer mediated: the play of uniqueness. In this sense, Stirner’s discourse is a class discourse that avoids proletarian messianism. The exploited are not the carriers of any mission, just as the work that they are forced to do is not the source of any virtue. Put simply, they are against society to the extent to which they realize their own interest, that of negating themselves as exploited, in other words, of creating relations free of hierarchy. Their interest (their being-among) is the solidarity that doesn’t give a damn at all for the laws established by the masters. Their consciousness (their knowing-with) is revolt. Obedience and religious waiting, on the contrary, are the mechanisms of capital, its merchandise par excellence.
Stirner’s intellectual courage is remarkable. With respect to the history of philosophy, this cockpit of courage has hosted very few. To appreciate this, it would be enough to read Stirner in constant reference to Socrates, an exercise, at the very least, instructive. With the exception of Nietzsche, who contracted more than a debt with the solitary of Bayreuth, Stirner is the only one to attack the Athenian as a fanatic of morality and a defender of law against the individual. All the others approve of the Socratic decision not to escape from prison, out of respect for the state, thus showing that the whole of philosophy is on the side of the hemlock.
But even revolutionaries, who wanted to make of their lives, as an uncontrollable of the Iron Column put it, “a beautiful work”, have very rarely achieved such audacity of thought. One needs to look for the best of their theory in their acts. Stirner, however, attacks all of the ideas of his time and treats those who pass for the most radical as “pious atheists”. The only mention of Marx–regarding On the Jewish Question from 1844–, for example, is as harsh as it is pertinent: the marxian “generic essence of man” still betrays, in the manner of Feuerbach, its theological nature. (This doesn’t take away from the fact that, thanks to Stirner himself, The German Ideology will contain significant criticisms of Der Einzige particularly relating to money and the division of labor). Stirner attacks the morality of sacrifice (as inner priest and, at the same time, as the social mechanism for the suppression of class conflict), the state (in any form, including the “transitional” one–that never transits–toward communism), democracy (even direct), in no uncertain terms. But even more remarkable is what Stirner said about theory itself. One might expect the reverse side of the mediocrity of his life (teacher at a school for young women of good family, failed small business man(1), etc.) to be the attribution of a higher role to theory, and thus to those who possess it. Marx’s own revolutionary theory (with regards to the direction of the workers’ movement, for example) contains the “scientific” justification of the years that its author spent studying in the library of the British Museum. But its not like this for Stirner. He mocks the reign of separated thought as tyranny of the spirit, and of “scholars” as priests and police. One might say that the conviction shared by all the young Hegelians–and thus also by Stirner–was that philosophy, having now reached its completion, had merely to be realized. “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it,” would be the last of Marx’s theses on Feuerbach, as is well-known. Der Einzige in most parts reflects this persuasion of finding oneself at the dawning of a new era, on whose portals, Stirner imagines himself inscribing a new motto–”make value of yourself”–capable of definitively undermining the Delphic-Socratic motto (“Know thyself”). In 1873, Bakunin would write: “During the last nine years more than enough ideas for the salvation of the world have been developed in the International (if the world can be saved by ideas) and I defy anyone to come up with a new one. This is the time not for ideas but for action, for deeds.” But in Stirner there is something else. His uncovering of the policing power of reason doesn’t favor emotionality and imagination, in accordance with the romantic model, nor merely praxis (perhaps , like Engels, aking the workers to become dialecticians). What emerges here is instead an “insurrectional bodily existence”. What Stirner sarcastically mocks is logical thought as such. “A jerk does me the service of the most anxious thinking, a stretching of the limbs shakes off the torment of thought, a leap upward hurls from my breast the nightmare of the religious world, a jubilant Hoopla throws off year-long burdens. But the monstrous significance of unthinking jubilation could not be recognized in the long night of thinking and believing.” “Only when the idea remains–idea, […] is Christianity still extant.”(2) Passages like this can be tracked down by the dozens in Der Einzige. What is important, in my opinion, is to see how the critique of Christian thought and language is completely one with social critique. Thought, in fact, is made sacred when it gets away from the activity that gave it birth; in this sense, the tyranny of thought is the reflection of a society based on the division of labor., whose ideology is nothing but separated and accumulated thought. Just as reason, which should illuminate the passions, ends up burning them down (according to Leopardi’s remarkable intuition), in the same way cooperation, which should multiply individual might, becomes a dominating force when put in the service of any extorted activity. Technology, which hos now reached a sacred uncontrollability, increased this forced cooperation by embodying specialized, and therefore coercive, knowledge, showing itself to be the most faithful handmaiden of power. If the thought-already-thought turns against desires in the same way that dead labor turns against the living, accumulation is, in both cases, the domination of the past over the present. Critique cannot separate the two aspects, so much the more since social struggle continually confirms the link between ideology and ossified activity. A fixed idea is born from a thought in the same way that a party is formed from a union–Stirner declares form on side. The leaders of parties (or any hierarchical organization) are the holders and guardians of fixed ideas, i.e., of ideology, precisely because they govern over the passivity of those who submit to them. The experts, in whose power Bakunin saw the origin of every bureaucracy, are the divinities of our time. “The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class” (The Communist Manifesto).
But there is more. The totality of the body that affirms its uniqueness is increasingly the inevitable course of the social war, as the entry of capital into the human organism through biotechnology reveals in a totalitarian way. Now that individuals are disappearing as such, modeled in the image of the economic and administrative Machine, Stirner’s fury no longer grants historical distance. Individual autonomy is united to the capacity of the species itself, both threatened by the identical project of domestication and death. Critical intelligence and the integrity of the body will be reborn together, or not at all.
In Der Einzige, there is also reflection on language. Stirner writes for nearly four hundred pages about something–uniqueness–that cannot be said. With a witticism that is not at all paradoxical, he will later state that he wasn’t speaking, but merely showing. Language–like the thought that nourishes it–exists due to concepts, which cannot express, in their universality, the existence of singular individuals, the latter being unique in all its moment, irreducibly particular, and so unspeakable. So Stirner speaks of an elsewhere that is wordless, because the content of a theory is the life of the one who expresses it.
But he doesn’t deny the importance of ideas, just as he doesn’t overlook the development that allowed human beings to achieve the capacity not to be total slaves to their passions. On the contrary, in responding to his critics, he will go so far as to say that he is not against communism nor the self-sacrificial spirit, if these are one’s own cause, in other words, egoistic. I would add that even myths, with their allusive force and their poetic tension, are not always tools of domination (i.e., representations that unite the interests of the exploited and those of the exploiters by disguising them). They can also be collective stories of individual desires. What makes the difference is the practical and psychological significance. What logical reality has there ever been behind Bakunin’s Slavs or Coeurderoy’s Cossacks? Or behind the “heavenly carnality” of the partisans of the Free Spirit? And yet, they were real with that unique reality that is truly revolutionary, i.e., authentically experience. They were real in spite of rational and historical objectivity and in spite of those who pass themselves off as their guarantors. Real as the haze that assumed the semblance of a General Ludd during the assaults against machines by early English workers. Real, in short, because they were complicit with revolt and freedom.
Der Einzige has also certainly been a myth, which has had more stories told about it than it has had readers, influencing attitudes more than intelligence. And yet, many comrades who have read it or “listened” amidst the noise and fashions of an epoch, did not find in it a stupid exaltation of violence, nor a defense for inaction and isolation, nor even the pitfalls of the Hegelian dialectic from which Stirner never completely freed himself. These comrades have found a vigor there that has made kings and heads of state throughout the world tremble, by arming rebel hands; that has clashed face-to-face with fascism, with stalinism and with all republics. And this myth, this story, continues to speak to me.
The enemy is not the ideals that illuminate possibilities never realized and cause one to prefer every risk to the daily prison of a social life sentence. The enemy is false consciousness that disguises motives and takes guilty pleasure. Power is nothing but the socialization of this false consciousness, the source of all uniformity. Quite rightly, Hitler could affirm this terrible banality: “Why should we socialize the banks and factories? Let’s socialize the people.” And what is socialized up to now if not slavery and suffering? Suffering-with is the only condition that society, between dictatorship and democracy, has reproduced and continually reproduces. Against this continuity of death, delighting-with still remains the only subversive project, which a unique conspiracy has saved from the smoke of Hippel’s tavern.
As to Stirner, he never renounced his mocking laughter, not even in prison, where he ended up twice for debt. The timid Schmidt didn’t have any self-pity for socializing in the community of misery.
May separation be pushed to the extreme until it is overturned in union.
Massimo Passamani, Paris, November 1998
(1) A reference to Stirner’s attempt with some other “Young Hegelians” to start a cooperative milk-shop.
(2) I am not sure why Passamani chooses to leave out this phrase: “as man or mankind is indeed a bodiless idea” since it would have further strengthened the point he is making, but I add it here for that reason.
A Preliminary Note
(L’UNIQUE ET SA PROPRIƒTƒ ET AUTRES ƒCRITS)
Johann Kaspar Schmidt (1806-1856), known by his pen-name Max Stirner (so-called by his friends because of his large forehead – which in German is “Stirn”), is a man of a single work: “The Ego and His Own.” Among the numerous articles that his biographer John Henry Mackay (cf. “Max Stirner, Sein Leben und sein Werk,” 2nd edition, Berlin 1910) believes can be attributed to him, it is difficult to recognize with certainty the mark of Stirner. One can admit, however, that he was in 1842 a correspondent for the “Rheinische Zeitung,” founded that same year by the young Marx, and for the “Leipziger Allgemeine Zeitung.” The first work signed by “Stirner” was a glowing report of Bruno Bauer’s book “The Trumpet of the Last Judgment Against Hegel, Atheism and the Anti-Christ. An Ultimatum,” which appeared in January, 1842 in the “Telegraph fŸr Deutschland.” Around the same time he published a pamphlet entitled “Call from a Member of the Berlin Community.” This pamphlet was suppressed on February 3, 1842 due to attacks from the Berlin clergy.
But it was in an article published in April 1842 in the “Rheinische Zeitung” entitled “The False Principles of Our Education” that one finds for the first time the true voice of Stirner. This question of education must have had for the author (who, by his studies, was destined for a career of teaching) a great importance, since the subject of one of his dissertations written in 1833 for his “Examen pro facultate docendi” already centered on the topic of education. In June 1842 in the same paper, and still under the pseudonym of “Stirner,” appeared “Art and Religion” and, a month later, a review of “Kšnigsberger Skizzen” by K. Rosenkranz. In 1844, in the first and only issue of “Berliner Monatsschrift,” two articles appeared under his by-lines: one by “Stirner” and the other by “Max Schmidt” (apparently a combination of name and pen-name). The former article was entitled “Provisional Remarks on the Subject of the State Founded on Love” while the latter piece concerned a long discussion of Eugne Sue’s book “Mysteries of Paris.”
In November 1844 appeared (with the published date 1845) “The Ego and His Own.” The book, which was not suppressed by the censors (“too absurd to be dangerous,” according to the Interior Minister), had a very lively, though brief, success. By autumn 1845, in Wigand’s “Vierteljahrsschrift,” Max Stirner could reply to his three most important critics: Szeliga, Ludwig Feuerbach and Moses Hess. In 1847, in “Epigonen,” appeared a reply to the criticism by a young university student, Kuno Fischer – but both the signature (G. Edward) and the style cast doubt on the authenticity of the article.
From here on, nothing more was published with Stirner’s vigorous writing style. From 1845 to 1847 he undertook the translations of economic works (Jean-Baptiste Say and Adam Smith); finally, in 1852, he published a “History of the Reaction,” which was nothing more than a compilation of borrowed texts, from Auguste Comte to Edmund Burke. Mackay was able to establish that in 1848 Stirner was a correspondent of the newspaper “Journal des oesterreichischen Lloyd.” However, none of the articles reflect either the tone or the ideas of “Der Einzige.”
Considering the dubious authenticity of most of the sources claimed by Mackay to be the works of Stirner in his “Max Stirner’s Kleinere Schriften,” (2nd edition, Berlin, 1914) we thought it fit to print only those texts which are undoubtedly from the pen of Stirner and which contribute to the understanding of his fundamental ideas. We have, therefore, left aside all the reviews and chronicles which attest more to his journalistic talent than to the originality of his thought.
PIERRE GALLISSAIRE & ANDRÉ SAUGE, 1972
Working on this translation has been a pleasurable challenge for me. Stirner uses straightforward, even fairly simple language, filled with passion and sarcasm, to express ideas that are difficult, though more in the fact that very few people would want to accept their implications than in their complexity. In wrestling with this work, I have had to make decisions about how best to get Stirner’s thinking across in English. The purpose of this preface is to explain some of those decisions.
One of the central terms in Stirner’s thinking is “der Einzige.” I have chosen to translate this as “the unique.” Some have argued in favor of leaving this noun in German, and I understand their point, but in this text Stirner frequently connects the noun Einzige with the adjective einzige, and this connection would be lost if I left the noun in German. In addition, I think that leaving Einzige in German would give the text a more academic feeling, as if Stirner were inventing a specialized language, which he is not. For Stirner, Einzige is simply a name to use for something that is beyond definition, something that is unspeakable, so I decided not to translate it as “the unique one.” Such a translation would imply that “unique” says something definitive about some one, rather than merely being a name pointing toward something unsayable. I think that, in “the unique,” the fact that it is meant to be a mere name for something beyond language is made clearer. Because Stirner compares his use of “der Einzige” to the way one uses proper names, such as “Ludwig,” knowing perfectly well that the word Ludwig tells you nothing about the person so designated, and yet indicates clearly whoyou are talking about if those to whom you speak know Ludwig, I considered capitalizing “unique” as a proper name is capitalized, but have chosen not to do so for fear that some would instead read it as presenting the unique as an ideal, a higher reality, rather than simply as you and I in the here and now. In light of all this, I choose to translate the title of Stirner’s book as The Unique and Its Own, a more correct translation than the current English title (The Ego and Its Own).
I decided to keep leave all references to page numbers of citations from Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum as they were — reflecting the page numbers in the original edition of the book. I also translated these citations directly, rather than going to Byington’s translation either in its original form or in the version edited by David Leopold (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought). I did this because I wanted to maintain a consistency in language between what Stirner has written here and his citations from his earlier book and to guarantee that Stirner’s references to various philosophical, political and theological ideas of his time were not lost. I also hope that someone will find the time to do an improved English translation of Stirner’s major work in the near future.
Though Stirner does not invent a specialized language, his writings spring out of the context of the debates of the young Hegelians and other German philosophical and social radicals of the times. Thus, Stirner uses certain terms in Hegelian (or anti-Hegelian) ways. I have chosen to translate these terms as consistently as a good, readable translation would allow. I want to mention a few of these. In English translations of Hegelian works, “Begriff” is generally either translated as “notion” or “concept.” I have chosen the latter translation, because it allows some of Stirner’s word play to appear more clearly in English. I have translated “Entfremden” as “alienation” although “estrangement” is an equally acceptable translation. I felt that my choice has more meaning to those likely to read this translation, within the context of present-day radical theoretical endeavors. In Hegelian usage, “Wesen” is translated as “essence.” In addition, in its frequent usage with “Mensch,” which itself can be translated as “human being” or merely “human,” it is clearly a reference to the species “essence” which Stirner’s critics claim to be inherent in the human being. Stirner turns this idea on its head in an interesting way by arguing that the real essence of each individual is, in fact, his or her concrete, actual, inconceivable, unspeakable, unique being in the immediate moment, the very opposite of the way Hegel and the other young Hegelians conceived it. Although the word “Meinung” only appears four times in this text, it is significant in Hegelian thought. The word is often translated as “opinion,” though it can also be translated as “view,” “judgment,” or “estimation.” Hegel “often stresses the etymological link with mein (‘mine’),” and Stirner is likely to have found it amusing. For Hegel, Meinung was merely of use for distinguishing particulars and was thus of no significance to universal Reason or universal Thought. For Stirner, these universals were spooks, and particulars (and more specifically myself in particular) were what mattered. So Meinung is how you and I actually experience out world, or to put it more simply, each of us experiences it from our own point of view. To emphasize this, I have chosen to translate Meinung as “view” in this text.
There are a few other choices I made in translation that I think need some comment. “Mensch” can be translated either as “person” or “human being.” In this text, Stirner uses it in the context of his critique of humanism, and so I decided it made the most sense to translate it as “human being.” In a couple of passages in this text, Stirner contrasts “Mensch” to “Unmensch.” In Byington’s translation of Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum, he chose to simply translate the latter word as “unman.” But in German, the word refers to a “monster,” and knowing Stirner’s enjoyment of playing with words and ideas in ways that are likely to get the goat of his opponents, I think that he most likely meant just that. To further emphasize Stirner’s intent of contrasting this with the abstract, conceptual human being, I chose to translate the term as “inhuman monster.” This leads to such delightful statements as: “You are an inhuman monster, and this is why you are completely human, a real and actual human being, a complete human being.”
The German word “Prädikat” could be translated as “predicate” or “attribute” (among other possibilities). In this text, Stirner uses it specifically in reference to god or to humanity as the new god. Thus, he is using it in an anti-theological sense rather than a grammatical sense. I have thus chosen to use the theological term “attribute” rather than the grammatical term “predicate” to translate it.
The word “Vorstellung” only appears twice in this work, and in both instances it is in reference to the ways that Stirner’s opponents chose to depict egoism. Though “Vorstellung” is often translated into English as “representation,” it has a far more active connotation than this English word. It is more an active depiction or conceptualization that one is inventing. Certainly this what Stirner is saying about his opponents. Thus, I have translated the word as “depiction” here.
There is a passage in which Stirner criticizes “Bedenken.” One can translate this word as “qualms,” “scruples,” “misgiving,” or “doubts.” In this text, it is obvious that he is talking about moral scruples. In the context, Stirner uses a couple of other words in ways rather different from their usual present-day meanings. He uses “Bedenklichkeit” and “Unbedenklichkeit” in ways that in the context only make sense if they are translated as “scrupulousness” for the former word and “unscrupulousness” or “lack of scruples” for the latter. But in present-day German “Bedenklichkeit” is usually translated as “seriousness,” “precariousness” or “anxiety”; and “Unbedanklichkeit” is usually translated as “harmlessness.” Since in this passage, Stirner plays a lot on “Bedenken,” “Denken” and “Gedenken” (wordplay sadly lost in translation), it is possible that he was also playing with these other two terms — implying that scrupulousness causes anxiety and that a lack of scruples is harmless compared to the moral dogmas of scrupulousness. In any case, I chose translate the words in the way that would make sense in context, as “scrupulousness” for the first word, and “unscrupulousness” or “lack of scruples” for the second.
Finally, I want to say that translating this work has been an act of egoistic love. I wanted to see a full English translation of it, and took the tools and means in hand to create it. I have had much enjoyment in doing so.
by Max Stirner
The following three notable writings have come out against The Unique and Its Own:
Szeliga’s critique in the March edition of the “Northern German Gazette”;
“On The Essence of Christianity in Relation to The Unique and Its Own” in the latest volume of Wigand’s Quarterly Review;
A pamphlet, “The Last Philosophers” by M. Hess.
Szeliga presents himself as a critic, Hess as a socialist and the author of the second piece as Feuerbach.
A brief response might be useful, if not to the critics mentioned above, at least to some other readers of the book.
The three opponents are in agreement about the terms that draw the most attention in Stirner’s book, i.e., the “unique” and “egoist.” It will therefore be very useful to take advantage of this unity and first of all discuss the points mentioned.
Szeliga, after first having in all seriousness allowed the unique “to become” and identified it with a “man” (page 4: “The unique wasn’t always unique, nor always a man, but was once a baby and then a young boy”), makes him an “individual of world history” and finally, after a definition of spooks (from which it emerges that “a spirit lacking thought is a body, and that the pure and simple body is the absence of thought”), he finds that the unique is “therefore the spook of spooks.” It is true that he adds, “For the critic who doesn’t just see in universal history fixed ideas replacing each other, but creative thoughts continually developing, for the critic, however, the unique is not a spook, but an act of creative self-consciousness, which had to arise in its time, in our time, and fulfill its determined task”; but this act is merely a “thought,” a “principle” and a book.
When Feuerbach deals with the unique, he limits himself to considering it as a “unique individual,” chosen from a class or species and “opposed as sacred and inviolable to other individuals.” In this choosing and opposing “the essence of religion remains. This man, this unique, this incomparable being, this Jesus Christ, is only and exclusively God. This oak, this place, this bull, this day is sacred, not the others.” He concludes: “Chase the Unique in Heaven from your head, but also chase away the Unique on earth.”
Hess strictly only alludes to the unique. He first identifies Stirner with the unique, and then says of the Unique: “He is the headless, heartless trunk, i.e., he has the illusion of being so, because in reality he doesn’t just lack spirit, but body as well; he is nothing other than his illusions.” And finally he pronounces his judgment on Stirner, “the unique”: “He is boasting.”
From this, the unique appears as “the spook of all spooks,” as “the sacred individual, which one must chase from the head” and as the “pale boaster.”
Stirner names the unique and says at the same time that “Names don’t name it.” He utters a name when he names the unique, and adds that the unique is only a name. So he thinks something other than what he says, just as, for example, when someone calls you Ludwig, he isn’t thinking of a generic Ludwig, but of you, for whom he has no word.
What Stirner says is a word, a thought, a concept; what he means is neither a word, nor a thought, nor a concept. What he says is not the meaning, and what he means cannot be said.
One flattered oneself that one spoke about the “actual, individual” human being when one spoke of the human being; but was this possible so long as one wanted to express this human being through something universal, through an attribute? To designate this human being, shouldn’t one, perhaps, have recourse not to an attribute, but rather to a designation, to a name to take refuge in, where the view, i.e., the unspeakable, is the main thing? Some are reassured by “real, complete individuality,” which is still not free of the relation to the species; others by the “spirit,” which is likewise a determination, not complete indeterminacy. This indeterminacy only seems to be achieved in the unique, because it is given as the specific unique being, because when it is grasped as a concept, i.e., as an expression, it appears as a completely empty and undetermined name, and thus refers to a content outside of or beyond the concept. If one fixes it as a concept — and the opponents do this — one must attempt to give it a definition and will thus inevitably come upon something different from what was meant. It would be distinguished from other concepts and considered, for example, as “the sole complete individual,” so that it becomes easy to show it as nonsense. But can you define yourself; are you a concept?
The “human being,” as a concept or an attribute, does not exhaust you, because it has a conceptual content of its own, because it says what is human and what a human being is, i.e., because it is capable of being defined so that you can remain completely out of play. Of course, you as a human beingstill have your part in the conceptual content of the human being, but you don’t have it as you. The unique, however, has no content; it is indeterminacy in itself; only through you does it acquire content and determination. There is no conceptual development of the unique, one cannot build a philosophical system with it as a “principle,” the way one can with being, with thought, with the I. Rather it puts an end to all conceptual development. Anyone who considers it a principle, thinks that he can treat it philosophically or theoretically and inevitably takes useless potshots against it. Being, thought, the I, are only undetermined concepts, which receive their determinateness only through other concepts, i.e., through conceptual development. The unique, on the other hand, is a concept that lacks determination and cannot be made determinate by other concepts or receive a “nearer content”; it is not the “principle of a series of concepts,” but a word or concept that, as word or concept, is not capable of any development. The development of the unique is your self-development and my self-development, an utterly unique development, because your development is not at all my development. Only as a concept, i.e., only as “development,” are they one and the same; on the contrary, your development is just as distinct and unique as mine.
Since you are the content of the unique, there is no more to think about a specific content of the unique, i.e., a conceptual content.
What you are cannot be said through the word unique, just as by christening you with the name Ludwig, one doesn’t intend to say what you are.
With the unique, the rule of absolute thought, of thought with a conceptual content of its own, comes to an end, just as the concept and the conceptual world fades away when one uses the empty name: the name is the empty name to which only the view can give content.
But it is not true, as Stirner’s opponents present it, that in the unique there is only the “lie of what has been called the egoistic world up to now”; no, in its nakedness and its barrenness, in its shameless “candor,” (see Szeliga, p. 34) the nakedness and barrenness of concepts and ideas come to light, the useless pomposity of its opponents is made clear. It becomes obvious that the biggest “phrase” is the one that seems to be the word most full of content. The unique is the frank, undeniable, clear — phrase; it is the keystone of our phrase-world, this world whose “beginning was the word.”
The unique is an expression with which, in all frankness and honesty, one recognizes that he is expressing nothing. Human being, spirit, the true individual, personality, etc. are expressions or attributes that are full to overflowing with content, phrases with the greatest wealth of ideas; compared with these sacred and noble phrases, the unique is the empty, unassuming and completely common phrase.
The critics suspected something of the sort about the unique; they treated it as a phrase. But they considered the unique as if it claimed to be a sacred and noble phrase, and they disputed this claim. But it wasn’t meant to be anything more than a common phrase, and therefore actual, which the inflated phrases of its opponents can never be, and therefore a desecration of phrase-making.
The unique is a word, and everyone should always be able to think something when he uses a word; a word should have thought content. But the unique is a thoughtless word; it has no thought content. So then what is its content, if it is not thought? It is content that cannot exist a second time and so also cannot be expressed, because if it could be expressed, actually and wholly expressed, it would exist for a second time; it would exist in the “expression.”
Since the content of the unique is not thought content, the unique cannot be thought or said; but since it cannot be said, it, this perfect phrase, is not even a phrase.
Only when nothing is said about you and you are merely named, are you recognized as you. As soon as something is said about you, you are only recognized as that thing (human, spirit, christian, etc.). But the unique doesn’t say anything because it is merely a name: it says only that you are you and nothing but you, that you are a unique you, or rather your self. Therefore, you have no attribute, but with this you are at the same time without determination, vocation, laws, etc.
Speculation was directed toward finding an attribute so universal that everyone would be understood in it. However, such an attribute wasn’t supposed to express in each instance what each one should be, but rather what he is. Therefore, if “human” was this attribute, one shouldn’t mean by it something that everyone has to become, since otherwise all the things that one has not yet become would be excluded, but something that everyone is. Now, “human” also actually expresses what everyone is. But this What is an expression for what is universal in everyone, for what everyone has in common with each other, so it isn’t an expression for “everyone,” it doesn’t express who everyone is. Are you thoroughly defined when one says you are a human being? Has one expressed who you are completely? Does the attribute, “human,” fulfill the task of the attribute, which is to express the subject completely, or doesn’t it, on the contrary, completely take subjectivity away from the subject, and doesn’t it say what the subject is rather than saying who he is?
Therefore, if the attribute should include everyone in itself, everyone should appear as subject, i.e., not only as what he is, but as who he is.
But how can you present yourself as who you are, if you don’t present yourself? Are you a doppelganger or do you exist only once? You are nowhere except in yourself, you are not in the world a second time, you are unique. You can emerge only if you appear in the flesh.
“You are unique,” isn’t this a sentence? If in the sentence “you are human,” you don’t come in as the one who you are, do you actually come in as you in the sentence “you are unique”? The sentence “you are unique” means nothing but “you are you,” a sentence that logic calls nonsense, because it doesn’t make judgments on anything, it doesn’t say anything, because it is empty, a sentence that is not a sentence. (In the book on page 232, the absurd sentence is considered as “infinite” or indeterminate; here however, after the page, it is considered as an “identical” sentence.)
What the logician treats with contempt is undoubtedly illogical or merely “formally” logical; but it is also, considered logically, only a phrase; it is logic dying in a phrase.
The unique should only be the last, dying expression (attribute) of you and me, the expression that turns into a view: an expression that is no longer such, that falls silent, that is mute.
You — unique! What thought content is here, what sentence content? None! Whoever wants to deduce a precise thought-content of the Unique as if it were a concept, whoever thinks that with “unique” one has said about you what you are, would show that they believe in phrases, because they don’t recognize phrases as phrases, and would also show that they seek specific content in phrases.
You, inconceivable and inexpressible, are the phrase content, the phrase owner, the phrase embodied; you are the who, the one of the phrase. In the unique, science can dissolve into life, in which your this becomes who and this who no longer seeks itself in the word, in the Logos, in the attribute.
Szeliga takes the pain to show that the unique “measured by its own principle of seeing spooks everywhere becomes the spook of all spooks.” He senses that the unique is an empty phrase, but he overlooks the fact that he himself, Szeliga, is the content of the phrase.
The unique in Heaven, which Feuerbach places beside the unique on earth, is the phrase without a phrase-owner. The unique considered here is God. This is the thing that guaranteed that religion would last, that it had the unique at least in thought and as a phrase, that it saw it in Heaven. But the heavenly unique is only a unique in which no one has an interest, whereas Feuerbach instead, whether he likes it or not, is interested in Stirner’s unique, because he would have to treat it oddly, if he wanted to chase his own unique from his head. If the heavenly unique were one that existed in its own head rather than in Feuerbach’s, it would be difficult to chase this unique from its head.
Hess says of the unique: “he’s boasting.” Undoubtedly, the unique, this obvious phrase, is an empty boast; it is Feuerbach’s phrase without the phrase-owner. But isn’t it a pathetic boast to call a long and broad thing a boast only because one can’t find anything in it but the boast? Is Hess, this unique Hess, therefore nothing but a boast? Most certainly not!
The critics display even more irritation against the “egoist” than against the unique. Instead of delving into egoism as Stirner meant it, they stop at their usual childish depiction of it and roll out to everyone the well-known catalogue of sins. Look at egoism, the horrible sin that this Stirner wants to “recommend” to us.
Against the Christian definition: “God is love,” critics in old Jerusalem could rise up and cry: “So now you see that the Christians are announcing a pagan God; because if God is love, then he is the pagan god Amor, the god of love!” What need do the Jewish critics have to deal with love and the God who is love, when they have spit on the love-god, on Amor for so long?
Szeliga characterizes the egoist like this: “The egoist hopes for a carefree, happy life. He marries a rich girl — and now he has a jealous, chatterbox wife — in other words his hope was realized and it was an illusion.”
Feuerbach says: “There is a well-founded difference between what is called egoistic, self-interested love, and what is called unselfish love. What? In a few words this: in self-interested love, the object is your courtesan; in unselfish love, she is your beloved. I find satisfaction in both, but in the first I subordinate the essence to a part; in the second I instead subordinate the part, the means, the organ to the whole, to the essence. Thus, I satisfy myself, my full, entire essence. In short, in selfish love, I sacrifice the higher thing to the lower thing, a higher pleasure to a lower pleasure, but in unselfish love, I sacrifice the lower thing to the higher thing.”
Hess asks: “First of all, what is egoism in general, and what is the difference between the egoistic life and the life of love?” This question already reveals his kinship with the other two. How can one assert such a contrast between egoistic life and the life of love against Stirner, since for him the two get along quite well? Hess continues: “Egoistic life is the life of the animal world, which tears itself down and devours itself. The animal world is precisely the natural history of life that tears itself down and destroys itself, and all our history up to now is nothing but the history of the social animal world. But what distinguishes the social animal world from the animal world of the forest? Nothing but its consciousness. The history of the social animal world is precisely the history of the consciousness of the animal world, and as the predator is the final point of the natural animal world, so the conscious predator is the highest point of the social animal world. As egoism is mutual alienation of the species, so the consciousness of this alienation (egoistic consciousness) is religious consciousness. The animal world of the forest has no religion, simply because it lacks consciousness of its egoism, of its alienation, i.e., consciousness of sin. The earliest consciousness of humanity is consciousness of sin. — When egoistic theory, egoistic consciousness, religion and philosophy had reached their peak, egoistic practice also had to reach its peak. It has reached it in the modern, Christian, shopkeeper’s world. This is the ultimate point of the social animal world. — The free competition of our modern shopkeeper’s world is not only the perfect form of modern murder with robbery, but is at the same time the consciousness of the mutual, human alienation. Today’s shopkeeper’s world is the mediated form of conscious and basic egoism, corresponding to its essence.”
These are quite popular characterizations of egoism, and one is only surprised that Stirner didn’t make such simple reflections and let himself abandon the hateful monster, considering how stupid, vulgar and predatorily murderous egoism is. If he had thought, like Szeliga, that the egoist is nothing but a numbskull who marries a rich girl and ends up with a bickering wife, if he would have seen, like Feuerbach, that the egoist can’t have a “sweetheart,” or if he would have recognized, like Hess, the human-beast in egoism or would have sniffed out the predatory murderer there, how could he not have conceived a “profound horror” and a “legitimate indignation” towards it! Murder with robbery alone is already such infamy that it really is enough for Hess to cry out this single phrase against Stirner’s egoist in order to raise all honest people against him and have them on Hess’s side: the phrase is well chosen — and moving for a moral heart, like the cry of “heretic” for a mass of true believers.
Stirner dares to say that Feuerbach, Hess and Szeliga are egoists. Indeed, he is content here with saying nothing more than if he had said Feuerbach does absolutely nothing but the Feuerbachian, Hess does nothing but the Hessian, and Szeliga does nothing but the Szeligan; but he has given them an infamous label.
Does Feuerbach live in a world other than his own? Does he perhaps live in Hess’s world, in Szeliga’s world, in Stirner’s world? Since Feuerbach lives in this world, since it surrounds him, isn’t it the world that is felt, seen, thought by him, i.e., in a Feuerbachian way? He doesn’t just live in the middle of it, but is himself its middle; he is the center of his world. And like Feuerbach, no one lives in any other world than his own, and like Feuerbach, everyone is the center of his own world. World is only what he himself is not, but what belongs to him, is in a relationship with him, exists for him.
Everything turns around you; you are the center of the outer world and of the thought world. Your world extends as far as your capacity, and what you grasp is your own simply because you grasp it. You, the unique, are “the unique” only together with “your property.”
Meanwhile, it doesn’t escape you that what is yours is still itself its own at the same time, i.e., it has its own existence; it is the unique the same as you. At this point you forget yourself in sweet self-forgetfulness.
But when you forget yourself, do you then disappear? When you don’t think of yourself, have you utterly ceased to exist? When you look in your friend’s eyes or reflect upon the joy you would like to bring him, when you gaze up at the stars, meditate upon their laws or perhaps send them a greeting, which they bring to a lonely little room, when you lose yourself in the activity of the infusion of tiny animals under a microscope, when you rush to help someone in danger of burning or drowning without considering the danger you yourself are risking, then indeed you don’t “think” of yourself, you “forget yourself.” But do you exist only when you think of yourself, and do you dissipate when you forget yourself? Do you exist only through self-consciousness? Who doesn’t forget himself constantly, who doesn’t lose sight of himself thousands of times in an hour?
This self-forgetfulness, this losing of oneself, is for us only a mode of self-enjoyment, it is only the pleasure we take in our world, in our property, i.e. world-pleasure.
It is not in this self-forgetfulness, but in forgetting that the world is our world, that unselfishness, i.e., duped egoism, has its basis. You throw yourself down before a “higher,” absolute world and waste yourself. Unselfishness is not self-forgetfulness in the sense of no longer thinking of oneself and no longer being concerned with oneself, but in the other sense of forgetting that the world is “ours,” of forgetting that one is the center or owner of this world, that it is our property. Fear and timidity toward the world as a “higher” world is cowardly, “humble” egoism, egoism in its slavish form, which doesn’t dare to grumble, which secretly creeps about and “denies itself”; it is self-denial.
Our world and the sacred world — herein lies the difference between straightforward egoism and the self-denying egoism that cannot be confessed and crawls about incognito.
What happens with Feuerbach’s example of the courtesan and the beloved? In the first case, one has a commercial relationship without personal interest (and doesn’t it happen in countless other, completely different cases of commercial relationships that one can only be satisfied if one has an interest in the person with whom one deals, if one has a personal interest?), in the second case one has a personal interest. But what is the meaning of the second relationship? Most likely mutual interest with the person. If this interest between the people disappears from the relationship, it would become meaningless, because this interest is its only meaning. So what is marriage, which is praised as a “sacred relationship,” if not the fixation of an interesting relationship despite the danger that it could become dull and meaningless? People say that one shouldn’t get divorced “frivolously.” But why not? Because frivolity is a “sin” if it concerns a “sacred thing.” There must be no frivolity! So then there is an egoist, who is cheated out of his frivolity and condemns himself to go on living in an uninteresting but sacred relationship. From the egoistic union, a “sacred bond” has developed; the mutual interest the people had for each other ceases, but the bond without interest remains.
Another example of the uninteresting is work, which passes for one’s lifework, for the human calling. This is the origin of the prejudice that one has to earn his bread, and that it is shameful to have bread without having worked a bit to get it: this is the pride of the wage. Work has no merit in itself and does no honor to anyone, just as the life of the idler brings him no disgrace. Either you take an interest in work activity, and this interest doesn’t let you rest, you have to be active: and then work is your desire, your special pleasure without placing it above the laziness of the idler which is his pleasure. Or you use work to pursue another interest, a result or a “wage,” and you submit to work only as a means to this end; and then work is not interesting in itself and has no pretension of being so, and you can recognize that it is not anything valuable or sacred in itself, but simply something that is now unavoidable for gaining the desired result, the wage. But the work that is considered as an “honor for the human being” and as his “calling” has become the creator of economics and remains the mistress of sacred socialism, where, in its quality as “human labor,” it is supposed to “develop human capacities,” and where this development is a human calling, an absolute interest. (We will have more to say about this further on).
The belief that something other than self-interest might justify applying oneself to a given thing, the belief that leaves self-interest behind, generates a lack of interest, “sin” understood as a tendencies towards one’s own interest.
Only in the face of sacred interest does one’s own interest become “private interest,” abominable “egoism,” “sin” — Stirner points out the difference between sacred interest and one’s own interest briefly on page 224: “I can sin against the former, the latter I can only throw away.”
Sacred interest is the uninteresting, because it is an absolute interest, or an interest for its own sake, and it’s all the same whether you take an interest in it or not. You are supposed to make it your interest; it is not originally yours, it doesn’t spring from you, but is an eternal, universal, purely human interest. It is uninteresting, because there is no consideration in it for you or your interest; it is an interest without interested parties, because it is a universal or human interest. And because you are not its owner, but are supposed to become its follower and servant, egoism comes to an end before it, and “lack of interest” begins.
If you take just one sacred interest to heart, you’ll be caught and duped about your own interests. Call the interest that you follow now sacred, and tomorrow you will be its slave.
All behavior toward anything considered absolutely interesting, or valuable in and for itself, is religious behavior or, more simply, religion. The interesting can only be interesting through your interest, the valuable can only have value insofar as you give it value, whereas, on the other hand, what is interesting despite you is an uninteresting thing, what is valuable despite you is a valueless thing.
The interest of those spirits, like that of society, of the human being, of the human essence, of the people as a whole, their “essential interest,” is an alien interest and should be your interest. The interest of the beloved is your interest and is of interest to you only so long as it remains your interest. Only when it stops being an interest of yours can it become a sacred interest, which should be yours although it is not yours. The relationship that was interesting up to that point now becomes a disinterested and uninteresting relationship.
In commercial and personal relationships, your interest comes first, and all sacrifices happen only to benefit this interest of yours, while on the contrary, in the religious relationship, the religious interest of the absolute or of the spirit, i.e., the interest alien to you, comes first, and your interests should be sacrificed to this alien interest.
Therefore, duped egoism consists in the belief in an absolute interest, which does not spring from the egoist, i.e., is not interesting to him, but rather arises imperiously and firmly against him, an “eternal” interest. Here the egoist is “duped,” because his own interest, “private interest,” is not only left unconsidered, but is even condemned, and yet “egoism” remains, because he welcomes this alien or absolute interest only in the hope that it will grant him some pleasure.
This absolute interest, which is supposed to be interesting without interested persons, and which is also therefore not the unique’s thing, but for which instead human beings are supposed to view themselves as “vessels of honor” and as “weapons and tools,” Stirner calls simply “the sacred.” Indeed, the sacred is absolutely uninteresting, because it has the pretension of being interesting even though no one is interested in it; it is also the “universal,” i.e., the thing of interest that lacks a subject, because it is not one’s own interest, the interest of a unique. In other words, this “universal interest” is more than you — a “higher” thing; it is also without you — an “absolute”; it is an interest for itself — alien to you; it demands that you serve it and finds you willing, if you let yourself be beguiled.
To stay with Feuerbach’s touching definition of the courtesan, there are those who would gladly be lewd, because physical desire never gives them rest. But they are told, do you know what lewdness is? It is a sin, a vulgarity; it defiles us. If they were to say we don’t want lewd interests to cause us to neglect other interests that are even more important to us than the enjoyment of the senses, this would not be a religious consideration, and they would make their sacrifice not to chastity, but to other benefits of which they cannot deprive themselves. But if instead they deny their natural impulse for the sake of chastity, this occurs due to religious considerations. What interest do they have in chastity? Unquestionably, no natural interest, because their nature advises them to be lewd: their actual, unmistakable and undeniable interest is lewdness. But chastity is a scruple of their spirit, because it is an interest of the spirit, a spiritual interest: it is an absolute interest before which natural and “private” interests must remain silent, and which makes the spirit scrupulous. Now some throw off this scruple with a “jerk” and the cry: “How stupid!” because, however scrupulous or religious they may be, here an instinct tells them that the spirit is a grouchy despot opposed to natural desire — whereas others overcome this scruple by thinking more deeply and even reassure themselves theoretically: the former overcome the scruples; the latter — thanks to their virtuosity of thinking (which makes thinking a need and a thing of interest for them) — dissolve the scruple. Thus, lewdness and the courtesan only look so bad because they offend the “eternal interest” of chastity.
The spirit alone has raised difficulties and created scruples; and from this it seems to follow that they could only be eliminated by means of the spirit or thought. How bad it would be for those poor souls who have let themselves be talked into accepting these scruples without possessing the strength of thought necessary to become the masters of the same! How horrible if, in this instance they would have to wait until pure critique gave them their freedom! But sometimes these people help themselves with a healthy, homemade levity, which is just as good for their needs as free thought is for pure critique, since the critic, as a “virtuoso” of thought, possesses an undeniable impulse to overcome scruples through thought.
Scruples are as much an everyday occurrence as talking and chatting; so what could one say against them? Nothing; only everyday scruples are not sacred scruples. Everyday scruples come and go, but sacred scruples last and are absolute; they are scruples in the absolute sense (dogmas, articles of faith, basic principles). Against them, the egoist, the desecrator, rebels and tests his egoistic force against their sacred force. All “free thought” is a desecration of scruples and an egoistic effort against their sacred force. If, after a few attacks, much free thought has come to a stop, after a few attacks, before a new sacred scruple, which would disgrace egoism, nonetheless free thought in its freest form (pure critique) will not stop before any absolute scruple, and with egoistic perseverance desecrates one scrupulous sanctity after another. But since this freest thought is only egoistic thought, only mental freedom, it becomes a sacred power of thought and announces the Gospel that only in thought can one find redemption. Now even thought itself appears only as a sacred thing, as a human calling, as a sacred scruple: hereafter, only a scruple (a realization) dissolves scruples.
If scruples could only be dissolved through thought, people would never be “mature” enough to dissolve them.
Scrupulousness, even if it has achieved the pure scruple or purity of critique, is still only religiosity; the religious is the scrupulous. But it remains scrupulousness, when one thinks one is only able to put an end to scruples through scruples, when one despises a “convenient” lack of scruples as the “egoistic aversion to work of the mass.”
In scrupulous egoism, all that is missing for putting the emphasis on egoism rather than scrupulousness and seeing egoism as the victor is the recognition of the lack of scruples. So it doesn’t matter whether it wins through thought or through a lack of scruples.
Is thought perhaps “rejected” through this? No, only its sanctity is denied, it is rejected as a purpose and a calling. As a means it is left to everyone who gains might through this means. The aim of thought is rather the loss of scruples, because the thinker in every instance starts out, with his thought on this, to finally find the right point or to get beyond thought and put an end to this matter. But if one sanctifies the “labor of thought,” or, what is the same, calls it “human,” one no less gives a calling to human beings than if one prescribed faith to them, and this leads them away from the lack of scruples, rather than leading them to it as the real or egoistic meaning of thought. One misleads people into scrupulousness and deliberation, as one promises them “well-being” in thought; weak thinkers who let themselves be misled can do nothing more than comfort themselves with some thought due to their weak thinking, i.e., they can only become believers. Instead of making light of scruples, they become scrupulous, because they imagine that their well-being lies in thought. (Footnote: The religious turmoil of our times has its reason in this: it is a immediate expression of this scrupulousness).
But scruples, which thought created, now exist and can certainly be eliminated through thought. But this thought, this critique, achieves this aim only when it is egoistic thought, egoistic critique, i.e., when egoism or self-interest is asserted against scruples or against the uninteresting, when self-interest is openly professed, and the egoist criticizes from the egoistic viewpoint, rather than from the christian, socialist, humanist, human, free thought, spiritual, etc., viewpoint (i.e., like a christian, a socialist, etc.), because the self-interest of the unique, thus your self-interest, gets trampled underfoot precisely in the sacred, or human, world, and this same world, which Hess and Szeliga for example, reproach as being egoist, on the contrary has bound the egoist to the whipping post for thousands of years and fanatically sacrificed egoism to every “sacred” thing that has rained down from the realm of thought and faith. We don’t live in an egoistic world, but in a world that is completely sacred down to its lowest scrap of property.
It might seem that it must, indeed, be left to every individual to rid himself of scruples as he knows how, but that it is still the task of history to dissolve scruples through critical reflection. But this is just what Stirner denies. Against this “task of history,” he maintains that the history of scruples and the reflections that relate to them is coming to an end. Not the task of dissolving, but the capriciousness that makes short work of scruples, not the force of thought, but the force of a lack of scruples seems to come into play. Thinking can serve only to reinforce and ensure the lack of scruples. “Free thought” had its starting point in unscrupulous egoistic revolt against sacred scruples; it started from the lack of scruples. Anyone who thinks freely makes no scruples over the most sacred of scruples: the lack of scruples is the spirit and the egoistic worth of free thought. The worth of this thought lies not in the thinker, but in the egoist, who egoistically places his own power, the force of thought, above sacred scruples, and this doesn’t weaken you and me at all.
To describe this lack of scruples, Stirner uses (p. 197) expressions like “jerk, leap, jubilant whoop,” and says “the vast significance of unthinking jubilation could not be recognized in the long night of thinking and believing.” He meant nothing less by this than, first of all, the hidden, egoistic basisof each and every critique of a sacred thing, even the blindest and most obsessed, but in the second place, the easy form of egoistic critique, which he tried to carry out by means of his force of thought (a naked virtuosity). He strove to show how a person without scruples could use thought as a critique of scruples from his own viewpoint, as the unique. Stirner didn’t leave the “deliverance of the world” in the hands of thinkers and the scrupulous anymore.
Jubilation and rejoicing becomes a bit ridiculous when one contrasts them with the mass and volume of deep scruples that still cannot be overcome with so little effort. Of course, the mass of scruples accumulated in history and continually reawakened by thinkers cannot be eliminated with mere rejoicing. Thinkers cannot get past it if their thinking does not receive full satisfaction at the same time, since the satisfaction of their thinking is their actual interest. Thought must not be suppressed by jubilation, in the way that, from the point of view of faith, it is supposed to be suppressed by faith. Anyway, as an actual interest and, therefore, your interest, you can’t let it be suppressed. Since you have the need to think, you cannot limit yourself to driving scruples out through jubilation; you also need to think them away. But it is from this need that Stirner’s egoistic thought has arisen, and he made a first effort, even if still very clumsy, to relate the interests of thought to unscrupulous egoism, and his book was supposed to show that uncouth jubilation still has the potential, if necessary, to become critical jubilation, an egoistic critique.
Self-interest forms the basis of egoism. But isn’t self-interest in the same way a mere name, a concept empty of content, utterly lacking any conceptual development, like the unique? The opponents look at self-interest and egoism as a “principle.” This would require them to understand self-interest as an absolute. Thought can be a principle, but then it must develop as absolute thought, as eternal reason; the I, should it be a principle, must, as the absolute I, form the basis of a system built upon it. So one could even make an absolute of self-interest and derive from it as “human interest” a philosophy of self-interest; yes, morality is actually the system of human interest.
Reason is one and the same: what is reasonable remains reasonable despite all folly and errors; “private reason” has no right against universal and eternal reason. You should and must submit to reason. Thought is one and the same: what is actually thought is a logical truth and despite the opposing manias of millions of human beings is still the unchanging truth; “private” thought, one’s view, must remain silent before eternal thought. Youshould and must submit to truth. Every human being is reasonable, every human being is human only due to thought (the philosopher says: thought distinguishes the human being from the beast). Thus, self-interest is also a universal thing, and every human being is a “self-interested human being.” Eternal interest as “human interest” kicks out against “private interest,” develops as the “principle” of morality and sacred socialism, among other things, and subjugates your interest to the law of eternal interest. It appears in multiple forms, for example, as state interest, church interest, human interest, the interest “of all,” in short, as true interest.
Now, does Stirner have his “principle in this interest, in the interest? Or, contrarily, doesn’t he arouse your unique interest against the “eternally interesting” against — the uninteresting? And is your self-interest a “principle,” a logical — thought? Like the unique, it is a phrase — in the realm of thought; but in you it is unique like you yourself.
It is necessary to say a further word about the human being. As it seems, Stirner’s book is written against the human being. He has drawn the harshest judgments for this, as for the word “egoist,” and has aroused the most stubborn prejudices. Yes, the book actually is written against the human being, and yet Stirner could have gone after the same target without offending people so severely if he had reversed the subject and said that he wrote against the inhuman monster. But then he would have been at fault if someone misunderstood him in the opposite, i.e., the emotional way, and placed him on the list of those who raise their voice for the “true human being.” But Stirner says: the human being is the inhuman monster; what the one is, the other is; what is said against the one, is said against the other.
If a concept lacks an essence, nothing will ever be found that completely fits that concept. If you are lacking in the concept of human being, it will immediately expose that you are something individual, something that cannot be expressed by the term human being, thus, in every instance, an individual human being. If someone now expects you to be completely human and nothing but human, nonetheless you wouldn’t be able to strip yourself of your individuality, and precisely because of this individuality, you would be an inhuman monster, i.e. a human being who is not truly human, or a human being who is actually an inhuman monster. The concept of human being would have its reality only in the inhuman monster.
The fact that every actual human being, measured by the concept of human being, is an inhuman monster, was expressed by religion with the claim that all human beings “are sinners” (the consciousness of sin); today the sinner is called an egoist. And what has one decided in consequence of this judgment? To redeem the sinner, to overcome egoism, to find and realize the true human being. One rejected the individual, i.e., the unique, in favor of the concept; one rejected the inhuman monster in favor of the human being, and didn’t recognize that the inhuman monster is the true and only possible reality of the human being. One absolutely wanted a truly human reality of human beings.
But one aspired to an absurdity. The human being is real and actual in the inhuman monster; every inhuman monster is — a human being. But you are an inhuman monster only as the reality of the human being, an inhuman monster only in comparison to the concept of human being.
You are an inhuman monster, and this is why you are completely human, a real and actual human being, a complete human being. But you are even more than a complete human being, you are an individual, a unique human being. Human being and inhuman monster, these contrasts from the religious world lose their divine and diabolical, and thus their sacred and absolute, meaning, in you, the unique.
The human being, which our saints agonize so much to recognize, insofar as they always preach that one should recognize the human being in the human being, gets recognized completely and actually only when it is recognized as the inhuman monster. If it is recognized as such, all religious or “human” impositions cease, and the domination of the good, the hierarchy, comes to an end, because the unique, the altogether common human being (not Feuerbach’s virtuous “common man”), is at the same time the complete human being.
While Stirner writes against the human being, at the same time and in the same breath, he writes against the inhuman monster, as opposed to the human being; but he doesn’t write against the human being who is an inhuman monster or the inhuman monster who is a human being — i.e., he writes for the utterly common unique, who is a complete human being for himself anyhow, because he is an inhuman monster.
Only pious people, sacred socialists, etc., only “saints” of every kind prevent the human being from being recognized and appreciated in the human being. They alone paralyze pure human intercourse, as they have always limited common egoistic intercourse and strive to limit it. They have introduced a sacred intercourse, and where possible they would like to make it the Holy of Holies.
Actually, Szeliga also says various things about what the egoist and egoism are, but he has exhausted the topic with his example of the rich girl and the nagging wife. He depicts the egoist as having a horror of work, as a man who “hopes that roasted pigeons will fly into his mouth,” who “preservesnothing worthy of the name of hope,” etc. By this he means a man who wants to live comfortably. If instead he’d defined the egoist as a sleepyhead, it would have been even clearer and simpler.
Just as Szeliga betrays that his egoist can only be measured by an absolute, insofar as he measures him by “real hopes,” Feuerbach, who is generally more the master of the appropriate word, repeats the same thing in an even more determined way, saying of the selfish person (the egoist) that “he sacrifices what is higher to what is lower”; and of the unselfish person that he “sacrifices the lower thing to the higher thing.” What is “higher and lower”? Isn’t it something which is directed toward you and of which you are the measure? If something was worthwhile for you, and precisely for you in this moment — because you are you only in the moment, only in the moment are you actual; as a “universal you,” you would instead be “another” in each moment — if it counted for you at this moment as somewhat “higher” than something else, you would not sacrifice it to the latter. Rather, in each moment, you sacrifice only what in that precise moment seems “lower” or less important to you. Thus, if Feuerbach’s “higher thing” is supposed to have a meaning, it has to be a higher thing separate and free from you, from the moment; it has to be an absolute higher thing. An absolute higher thing is such that you are not asked if it is the higher thing for you; rather it is the higher thing despite you. Only in this way can one speak of a higher thing and a “more elevated enjoyment” that “is sacrificed.” In Feuerbach, such a “higher thing” is the enjoyment of the beloved in contrast to the enjoyment of the courtesan, or the lover in contrast to the courtesan; the first is higher, the second lower. If for you perhaps the courtesan is the higher pleasure, because for you in the moment, she is the only pleasure you desire, what does this matter to great noble hearts like Feuerbach, who take pleasure only in the “beloved” and decree, with the measure of their pure hearts, the beloved must be the higher thing! Only the one who is attached to a beloved, and not a courtesan, “satisfies his full, complete essence.” And in what does this full, complete essence consist? Certainly not in your essence of the moment, in what you are right now in essence, nor even in the essence that you are generally, but rather in the “human essence.” For the human essence the beloved is the highest. — So who is the egoist in Feuerbach’s sense? The one who sins against “the higher thing” against the absolute higher thing (i.e., higher in spite of your opposing interest), against the uninteresting; thus, the egoist is — the sinner. The same would be true of Szeliga’s egoist, if he had more power over his expressions.
Hess is the one who says most unequivocally that the egoist is the sinner. Of course, in saying this, Hess also confesses in a complete and undisguised way that he has not, even distantly, understood what Stirner’s book is getting at. Doesn’t Stirner deny that the egoist is the sinner and that conscious egoism (conscious is the sense that Hess intends it) is the consciousness of sin? If a European kills a crocodile, he acts as an egoist against crocodiles, but he has no scruples about doing this, and he is not accused of “sin” for it. If instead an ancient Egyptian, who considered the crocodile to be sacred, had nonetheless killed one in self-defense, he would have, indeed, defended his skin as an egoist, but at the same time, he would have committed a sin; his egoism would have been sin, — he, the egoist, a sinner. — From this, it should be obvious that the egoist is necessarily a sinnerbefore what is “sacred,” before what is “higher”; if he asserts his egoism against the sacred, this is, as such, a sin. On the other hand, though, that is only a sin insofar as it is measured by the criterion of the “sacred,” and the only egoist who drags the “consciousness of sin” along with him is the one who is possessed at the same time by the consciousness of the sacred. A European who kills a crocodile is aware of his egoism in doing this, i.e., he acts as a conscious egoist; but he doesn’t imagine that his egoism is a sin and he laughs at the Egyptian’s consciousness of sin.
Against the “sacred,” the egoist is always a sinner; toward the “sacred,” he can’t become anything other than — a criminal. The sacred crocodile marks the human egoist as the human sinner. The egoist can cast off the sinner and the sin from himself only if he desecrates the sacred, just as the European beats the crocodile to death without sin because His Holiness, the Crocodile, is for him a crocodile without holiness.
Hess says: “Today’s mercantile world is the conscious and basic mediated form of egoism, corresponding to its essence.” This present world, which is full of philanthropy, completely agrees with socialism in principle (see, for example, in the Gesellschaftsspiegel [Society Mirror] or the Westphälischen Dampfboot [Westphalian Steamboat], how socialist principles are completely the same as the “Sunday thoughts” and ideals of all good citizens or bourgeois) — this world in which the great majority can be brought to give up their advantages in the name of sacred things and where the ideals of brotherhood, philanthropy, right, justice, the ideals of being and doing for others, etc., don’t just pass from one person to another, but are a horrible and ruinous seriousness — this world that yearns for true humanity and hopes to finally find true redemption through socialists, communists, philanthropists of every sort — this world in which socialist endeavors are nothing but the obvious sense of the “shopkeeper’s soul” and are well-received by all right-thinking people — this world whose principle is the “welfare of all people” and the “welfare of humanity,” and that only dreams of this welfare because it doesn’t yet know how it is supposed to produce this welfare and does not yet trust in the socialist actualization of its pet idea — this world that lashes out violently against all egoism, Hess vilifies as an “egoistic” world. And yet, he is right. Because the world is agitating against the devil, the devil sits on its neck. Only Hess should have reckoned sacred socialism along with this egoistic, sin-conscious world.
Hess calls free competition the complete form of murder with robbery and also the complete consciousness of the mutual human alienation (i.e., egoism). Here again, egoism should still be guilty. Why then did one decide on competition? Because it seemed useful to each and all. And why do socialists now want to abolish it? Because it doesn’t provide the hoped-for usefulness, because the majority do badly from it, because everyone wants to improve his position and because the abolition of competition seems advisable for this purpose.
Is egoism the “basic principle” of competition, or, on the contrary, haven’t egoists just miscalculated about this? Don’t they have to give it up precisely because it doesn’t satisfy their egoism?
People introduced competition because they saw it as well-being for all; they agreed upon it and experimented collectively with it. This thing, this isolation and separation, is itself a product of association, agreement, shared convictions, and it didn’t just isolate people, but also connected them. It was a legal status, but this law was a common tie, a social federation. In competition, people come to agreement perhaps in the way that hunters on a hunt may find it good for the hunt and for each of their respective purposes to scatter throughout the forest and hunt “in isolation.” But what is most useful is open to argument. And now, sure enough, it turns out — and, by the way, socialists weren’t the first ones to discover it — that in competition, not everyone finds his profit, his desired “private advantage,” his value, his actual interest. But this comes out only through egoistic or selfish calculations.
But meanwhile, some have prepared their own depiction of egoism and think of it as simply “isolation.” But what in the world does egoism have to do with isolation? Do I become an egoist like this, by fleeing from people? I may isolate myself or get lonely, but I’m not, for this reason, a hair more egoistic than others who remain among people and enjoy contact with them. If I isolate myself, this is because I no longer find pleasure in society, but if instead I remain among people, it is because they still offer me a lot. Remaining is no less egoistic than isolating oneself.
Of course, in competition everyone stands alone; but if competition disappeared because people see that cooperation is more useful than isolation, wouldn’t everyone still be an egoist in association and seek his own advantage? Someone will object that one seeks it at the expense of others. But one won’t seek it at the expense of others, because others no longer want to be such fools as to let anyone live at their expense.
But “the egoist is someone who thinks only of himself!” — This would be someone who doesn’t know and relish all the joys that come from participation with others, i.e., from thinking of others as well, someone who lack countless pleasures — thus a poor sort. But why should this desolate loner be an egoist in comparison to richer sorts? Certainly, for a long time, we were able to get used to considering poverty a disgrace, as a crime, and the sacred socialists have clearly proven that the poor are treated like a criminals. But sacred socialists treat those who are in their eyes contemptibly poor in this way, just as much as the bourgeoisie do it to their poor.
But why should the person who is poorer with respect to a certain interest be called more egoistic than the one who possesses that interest? Is the oyster more egoistic that the dog; is the Moor more egoistic than the German; is the poor, scorned, Jewish junkman more egoistic than the enthusiastic socialist; is the vandal who destroys artworks for which he feels nothing more egoistic than the art connoisseur who treats the same works with great love and care because he has a feeling and interest for them? And now if someone — we leave it open whether such a one can be shown to exist — doesn’t find any “human” interest in human beings, if he doesn’t know how to appreciate them as human beings, wouldn’t he be a poorer egoist with regard to this interest rather than being, as the enemies of egoism claim, a model of egoism? One who loves a human being is richer, thanks to this love, than another who doesn’t love anyone. But there is no distinction between egoism and non-egoism in this at all, because both are only pursuing their own interest.
But everyone should have an interest in human beings, love for human beings!
But see how far you get with this “should,” with this law of love. For two millennia this commandment has been led people by the heart, and still today, socialists complain that our proletarians get treated with less love than the slaves of the ancients, and yet these same socialists still raise their voices quite loudly in favor of this — law of love.
If you want people to take an interest in you, draw it out of them and don’t remain uninteresting sacred beings holding out your sacred humanity like a sacred robe and crying like beggars: “Respect our humanity, that is sacred!”
Egoism, as Stirner uses it, is not opposed to love nor to thought; it is no enemy of the sweet life of love, nor of devotion and sacrifice; it is no enemy of intimate warmth, but it is also no enemy of critique, nor of socialism, nor, in short, of any actual interest. It doesn’t exclude any interest. It is directed against only disinterestedness and the uninteresting; not against love, but against sacred love, not against thought, but against sacred thought, not against socialists, but against sacred socialists, etc.
The “exclusiveness” of the egoist, which some want to pass off as isolation, separation, loneliness, is on the contrary full participation in the interesting by — exclusion of the uninteresting.
No one gives Stirner credit for his global intercourse and his union of egoists from the largest section of his book, “My Intercourse.”
* * *
With regard to the three opponents specifically mentioned it would be a tedious task to go through all the twisted passages of their writings. In the same way, I have little intention at this time of more closely examining the principles that they represent or would like to represent, specifically Feuerbach’s philosophy, pure critique and socialism. Each of these deserves a treatise of its own, for which another occasion may well be found. Therefore, we add only a few considerations.
Szeliga starts this way: “Pure critique has shown, etc.,” as if Stirner hadn’t spoken about this subject (e.g., on page 469 of The Unique). In the first two pages, Szeliga presents himself as the “critic whom critique leads to sit down as one with the object being observed, to recognize it as mind born of mind, enter into the innermost depths of the essence he is to fight, etc.” Szeliga hasn’t in the least entered into the innermost depths of Stirner’s book, as we’ve shown, and so we would like to consider him here not as the pure critic, but simply as one of the mass who wrote a review of the book. We’ll look to see if Szeliga does what he would have critique do, without noting whether critique would do the same thing, and so instead of saying, for example, this “critique will follow the life course of the unique,” we will say: “Szeliga will follow, etc.”
When Szeliga expresses one of his thoughts in a completely conceptual way with the word “ape,” one could say that pure critique expresses a similar thought with a different word; but words aren’t indifferent for either Szeliga or critique, and one would be doing wrong to critique if one tried to impose Szeliga’s “ape” upon its thought which might be differently nuanced: the ape is the true expression of thought only for Szeliga.
From page 24 to page 32, Szeliga expressly takes the cause of pure critique. But wouldn’t pure critique perhaps find this poetic manner of taking its cause quite awkward?
We don’t welcome his invocation of the Critical Muse, which is supposed to have inspired or “gave rise to” him, and pass over everything that he says in praise of his muse, even “the new action of self-perfecting for which the unique (i.e., Stirner, whom Szeliga, Feuerbach and Hess call the “unique”) gives him the opportunity.”
One can see how Szeliga is able to keep up with the life course of the unique if one compares, for example, the first paragraph on page 6 of his writing with pages 468–478 of The Unique [in “My Self-Enjoyment”]. Szeliga opposes the courage of thinking to Stirner’s “thoughtlessness” as if to a kind of cowardice. But why doesn’t he “enter into the innermost depths of the essence he is to fight”; why doesn’t he examine whether this thoughtlessness doesn’t get along quite well with the courage of thinking? He should have precisely “sat down as one with the object being observed.” But who could ever enjoy sitting down as one with an object as despicable as thoughtlessness. The mere need to name it makes one want to spit it out.
Stirner says of pure critique: “From the standpoint of thought, there is no force at all that can be higher than your own, and it is a pleasure to see how easily and playfully this dragon devours every other worm of thought.” Since Szeliga presents the thing as if Stirner was also acting as a critic, he thinks that “the unique (like an ape) entices the Dragon — critique — and spurs it to devour the worms of thought, starting with those of freedom and unselfishness.” But what critique does Stirner apply? Most likely not pure critique, because this, according to Szeliga’s own words, only fights against “particular” freedom against “true” freedom, in order to “educate ourselves to the idea of true, human freedom in general.” What does Stirner’s egoistic, and so not at all “pure,” critique have to do with the “idea of unselfish, true, human freedom,” with the freedom “which is not a fixed Idea, because (a very pointed reason) it is not fixed in the state or in society or in a creed or in any other particularity, but is recognized in every human being, in all self-consciousness, and leaves to everyone the measure his freedom, but at the same time measures him according to its measure?” (The idea of freedom, which recognizes itself and measures every human being according to the mass, in which he is included. Just as God recognizes himself and measures human beings according to the mass, giving each their measure of freedom as he divides them into the unrepentant and the elect.)
On the other hand, the unique “should have loosed the dragon, critique, against another worm of thought, right and law.” But again, this is not pure critique, but self-interested critique. If Stirner practiced pure critique, then he would have to, as Szeliga expresses it, “demand the renunciation of privilege, of right based on violence, the renunciation of egoism”; thus, he would have to lead “true, human” right in the struggle against that “based on violence,” and admonish people that they should adhere to the true right. Stirner never uses pure critique, never goads this dragon to do anything, has no need of it and never achieves his results by means of the “progressive purity of critique.” Otherwise, he would also have to imagine like Szeliga, for example, that “love must be a new creation which critique tries to lead to the heights.” Stirner doesn’t have such Szeligian magnificence, as “true freedom, the suppression of egoism, the new creation of love,” in mind at all.
As we said, we’ll pass over the passages in which Szeliga really campaigns against Stirner for the cause of critique, as one would have to attack nearly every sentence. “Work avoidance, laziness, idle essence, corruption” play a particularly lovely role in these passages; but then he also speaks of the “science of human beings” which the human being must create from the concept of “human being,” and on page 32 he says: “The human being to discover is no longer a category, and therefore not something particular outside of the human being.” If Szeliga had understood that since the unique is a completely empty term or category, it is therefore no longer a category, he might have acknowledged it as “the name of that which for him is still nameless.” But I fear he doesn’t know what he’s saying when he says: “no longer a category.”
Finally, “the new act of self-perfection, in which the unique gave opportunity to pure critique,” consists in this, that “the world, which the unique completes, has in him and through him given its fullest denial,” and that “critique can only bid farewell to it, to this old exhausted, shattered, corrupted world.” Such a courteous self-perfection!
Whether Stirner has read and understood Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity could only be demonstrated by a particular critique of that book, which shouldn’t be set forth here. Therefore, we’ll limit ourselves to a few points.
Feuerbach believes that he is speaking in Stirner’s sense when he says: “This is precisely a sign of Feuerbach’s religiosity, of his restriction, that he is still infatuated with an object, that he still wants something, still loves something — a sign that he has still not risen to the absolute idealism of egoism.” But has Feuerbach even looked at the following passages from The Unique? “The meaning of the law of love may be this: every human being must have Something that stands above him.” (p. 381). This Something of sacred love is the spook. “The one who is full of sacred (religious, moral, human) love, loves only the spook, etc.” (p. 383). A bit later, on pages 383–395, for example: “It is not as my feeling that love becomes an obsession, but through the alienation of the object, through the absolute love-worthy object, etc.” “My love is my own when it exists in a particular and egoist interest; consequently, the object of my love is actually my object or my property.” “I’ll stick with the old love song and love my object,” thence my “something.”
Where Stirner says: “I have based my cause on nothing,” Feuerbach makes it “the Nothing,” and so concludes from this that the egoist is a pious atheist. However, the Nothing is a definition of God. Here Feuerbach plays with a word with which Szeliga (on page 33 of the “Nordeutsche Blätter”) struggles in a Feuerbachian way. Furthermore, Feuerbach says on page 31 of The Essence of Christianity: “The only true atheist is the one for whom the attributes of the divine essence, like love, wisdom, justice are nothing, and not the one for whom only the subject of these attributes is nothing.” Doesn’t Stirner achieve this, especially if the Nothing is not loaded on him in place of nothing?
Feuerbach asks: “How does Feuerbach allow (divine) attributes to remain?” and answers: “Not in this way, as attributes of God, no, but as attributes of nature and humanity, as natural, human properties. When these attributes are transferred from God into the human being, they immediately lose their divine character.” Stirner answers against it: Feuerbach allows the attributes to exist as ideals — as essential determinations of the species, which are “imperfect” in individual human beings and only become perfect “in the mass of the species,” as the “essential perfection of perfect human beings,” thus as ideals for individual human beings. He doesn’t allow them to continue to exist as divine attributes, insofar as he doesn’t attribute them to their subject, God, but as human attributes, insofar as he “transfers them from God to the human being.” Now Stirner directs his attack precisely against the human, and Feuerbach ingenuously comes back with the “human being” and means that if only the attributes were made “human,” or moved into the human being, they would immediately become completely “profane and common.” But human attributes are not at all more common and profane than divine attributes, and Feuerbach is still a long way from being “a true atheist” in the way he defines it, nor does he want to be one.
“The basic illusion,” Feuerbach says, “is God as subject.” But Stirner has shown that the basic illusion is rather the idea of “essential perfection,” and that Feuerbach, who supports this basic prejudice with all his might, is therefore, precisely, a true christian.
“Feuerbach shows,” he continues, “that the divine is not divine, God is not God, but only the human essence loving itself, affirming itself and appreciating itself to the highest degree.” But who is this “human essence”? Stirner has shown that this human essence is precisely the spook that is also called the human being, and that you, the unique essence, are led to speak as a Feuerbachian by the attaching of this human essence to “self-affirmation.” The point of contention that Stirner raised is thus again completely evaded.
“The theme, the core of Feuerbach’s writing,” he continues, “is the abolition of the split into an essential and non-essential I — the deification of the human being, i.e., the positioning, the recognition of the whole human being from head to foot. Isn’t the divinity of the individual specifically announced at the end as the shattered secret of religion?” “The only writing in which the slogan of modern times, the personality, individuality, has ceased to be a senseless phrase is precisely The Essence of Christianity.” But what the “whole human being” is, what the “individual, personality, individuality” are, is shown in the following: “For Feuerbach, the individual is the absolute, that is, the true, actual essence. But why doesn’t he say: this exclusive individual? Because, in that case, he wouldn’t know what he wanted — from that standpoint, which he denies, he would sink back into the religious standpoint.” — So “the whole human being” is not “this human being,” not the common, criminal, self-seeking human being. Of course, Feuerbach would fall into the religious standpoint that he rejects if he described this exclusive individual as the “absolute essence.” But it wouldn’t be because he was saying something about this individual, but rather because he describes him as something religious (the “absolute essence”) or rather uses his religious attributes for this, and secondly because he “sets up an individual” as “sacred and untouchable by all other individuals.” Thus, with the words cited above, nothing is said against Stirner, since Stirner does not talk about a “sacred and untouchable individual,” nor of an “incomparable and exclusive individual that is God or can become God”; it doesn’t occur to him to deny that the “individual” is “communist.” In fact, Stirner has granted validity to the words “individual” and “particular person” because he lets them sink into the expression “unique.” But in doing so, he does what he recognizes specifically in the part of his book entitled “My Power,” saying on page 275: “In the end, I still have to take back half the style of expression that I wanted to make use of only so long as, etc.”
When later, against Stirner’s statement, “I am more than a human being,” Feuerbach raises the question: “Are you also more than male?,” one must indeed write off the entire masculine position. He continues like this: “Is your essence or rather — since the egoist scorns the word essence, even though he uses it — [Stirner inserts:] perhaps Stirner only cleanses it of the duplicity it has, for example, in Feuerbach, where it seems as if he is actually talking of you and me when he speaks of our essence, whereas instead he is talking about a completely subordinate essence, namely the human essence, which he thus makes into something higher and nobler. Instead of having you in mind — the essence, you, you who are an essence, instead he concerns himself with the human being as “your essence” and has the human being in mind instead of you. Stirner uses the word essence, for example on page 56, saying: “You, yourself, with your essence, are of value to me, for your essence is not something higher, it is not higher and more universal than you. It is unique, as you are, because it is you.” — [end of Stirner’s insertion] is your I not masculine? Can you sever masculinity from what is called mind? Isn’t your brain, the most sacred and elevated organ of your body, definitively masculine? Are your feelings, your thoughts unmanly? Are you merely a male animal, a dog, an ape, a stallion? What else is your unique, incomparable, and consequently sexless I, but an undigested residue of the old christian supernaturalism?”
If Stirner had said: You are more than a living essence or animal, this would mean, you are still an animal, but animality does not exhaust what you are. In the same way, he says: “You are more than a human being, therefore you are also a human being; you are more than a male, but you are also a male; but humanity and masculinity do not express you exhaustively, and you can therefore be indifferent to everything that is held up to you as ‘true humanity’ or ‘true masculinity.’ But you can always be tortured and have tortured yourself with these pretentious duties. Still today, holy people intend to grab hold of you with them.” Feuerbach is certainly no mere animal male, but then is he nothing more than a human male? Did he write The Essence of Christianity as a male, and did he require nothing more than to be a male to write this book? Instead, wasn’t this unique Feuerbach needed for that, and could even another Feuerbach, Friedrich, for example — who is still also a male — have brought it off? Since he is this unique Feuerbach, he is also, at the same time, a human being, a male, a living essence, a Franconian, etc. But he is more than all this, since these attributes have reality only through his uniqueness. He is a unique male, a unique human being, etc.; indeed, he is an incomparable male, an incomparable human being.
So what does Feuerbach want with his “consequently sexless I”? Since Feuerbach is more than male, is he consequently sexless? Feuerbach’s holiest, most elevated organ is undoubtedly manly, definitively manly, and it is also, among other things, Caucasian, German, etc. But all this is only true, because it is a unique thing, a distinct, unique thing, an organ or brain which will not come forth a second time anywhere in the world, however full the world may be of organs, of organs as such or of absolute organs.
And is this unique Feuerbach supposed to be “an undigested residue of old christian supernaturalism”?
From this, it is also quite clear that Stirner does not, as Feuerbach says, “separate his I in thought from his sensible, male essence” just as the refutation Feuerbach makes on page 200 of [Wigand’s] Quarterly would collapse if Feuerbach didn’t present the unique wrongly, as lacking individuality as he depicts it as sexless.
“To realize the species means to actualize an arrangement, a capacity, a determination for human nature generally.” Rather, the species is already realized through this arrangement; whereas what you make of this arrangement is a realization of your own. Your hand is fully realized for the purposes of the species, otherwise it wouldn’t be a hand, but perhaps a paw. But when you train your hands, you do not perfect them for the purposes of the species, you do not realize the species that is already real and perfect, because your hand is what the species or the species-concept of “hand” implies, and is thus a perfect hand — but you make of them what and how you want and are able to make them; you shape your will and power into them; you make the species hand into your own, unique, particular hand.
“Good is what accords with the human being, what fits it; bad, despicable, what contradicts it. Ethical relationships, e.g., marriage, are thus not sacred for their own sake, but only for the sake of human beings, because they are relationships between human beings, and thus are the self-affirmation, the self-enjoyment of the human essence.” But what if one were an inhuman monster who didn’t think these ethical relations were fitting for him? Feuerbach will demonstrate to him that they are fitting for the human being, the “actual sensual, individual human essence,” and so also must fit him. This demonstration is so thorough and practical that already for thousands of years, it has populated the prisons with “inhuman monsters,” i.e., with people who did not find fitting for them what was nonetheless fitting for the “human essence.”
Of course, Feuerbach is not a materialist (Stirner never says he is, but only speaks of his materialism clothed with the property of idealism); he is not a materialist, because, although he imagines that he is talking about the actual human being, he doesn’t say a thing about it. But he is also not an idealist, because though he constantly talks about the human essence, an idea, he makes out that he is talking about the “sensual human essence.” He claims to be neither a materialist not an idealist, and I’ll grant him this. But we will also grant what he himself wants to be, and passes himself off as, in the end: he is a “common man, a communist.” Stirner has already seen him as such, e.g., p 413.
About the point upon which alone this all would hang, namely Stirner’s assertion that the human essence is not Feuerbach’s or Stirner’s or any other particular human being’s essence, just as the cards are not the essence of the house of cards; Feuerbach circles about this point, indeed, he doesn’t get it at all. He sticks with his categories of species and individual, I and thou, human being and human essence, with complete complacency.
Hess has the “historical development of German philosophy behind him” in his pamphlet, “The Last Philosophers,” but has before him “the development of the philosophers Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer and Stirner, disengaged from life” and knows from his own development, not exactly disengaged from life, that the development of these philosophers “had to turn into nonsense.” But is a development disengaged from life not “nonsense,” and is a development not disengaged from life not likewise “nonsense”? But, no, he has sense, because he flatters the sense of the great masses which imagine that underneath the philosopher there is always one who understands nothing of life.
Hess begins this way: “It never occurs to anyone to maintain that the astronomer is the solar system that he has understood. But the individual human being, who has understood nature and history, is supposed to be the species, the all, according to our last German philosophers.” But how, if the latter also never occurs to anyone? Who has ever said that the individual human being is the species because he has “understood” nature and history? Hess has said this and no one else. He even cites Stirner as a reference, here: “As the individual is all nature, so is he also the whole species.” But did Stirner say that the individual first had to understand in order to be able to be the entire species? Rather, Hess, this individual, actually is the entire “human” species and can serve, with skin and hair, as a source for Stirner’s statement. What would Hess be if he were not perfectly human, if he lacked even the smallest thing for being human? He could be anything except a human being; — he could be an angel, a beast or a depiction of a human being, but he can only be a human being if he is a perfect human being. The human being can be no more perfect than Hess is, there is no more perfect human being than — Hess. Hess is the perfect human being, or if one wants to use the superlative, the most perfect human being. Everything, all that belongs to the human being is in Hess. Not even the smallest crumb of what makes a human being human is missing in Hess. Of course, the case is similar for every goose, every dog, every horse.
So is there no human being more perfect than Hess? As a human being — none. As a human being, Hess is as perfect as — every human being, and the human species contains nothing that Hess does not contain; he carries it all around with him.
Here is another fact, that Hess is not just a human being, but an utterly unique human being. However, this uniqueness never benefits the human being, because the human being can never become more perfect than it is. — We don’t want to go into this further, since what is said above is enough to show how strikingly Hess can find Stirner guilty of “nonsense” simply with an “understood solar system.” In an even clearer way, on page 11 of his pamphlet, Hess exposes Stirner’s “nonsense” and shouts with satisfaction: “This is the logic of the new wisdom!”
Hess’s expositions on the development of Christianity, as socialist historical intuitions, don’t matter here; his characterization of Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer is utterly the sort that would have to come from one who has “laid philosophy aside.”
He says of socialism that “it carries out the realization and negation of philosophy seriously and speaks not only of that, but of philosophy as a mere apprenticeship to negate and to realize in social life.” He could have also added that socialism wants to “realize” not only philosophy, but also religion and Christianity. Nothing easier than this, when, like Hess, one knows life, in particular the misery of life. When the manufacturer, Hardy, in The Wandering Jew, falls into misery, he is completely open to the teachings of the Jesuits, particularly when he could hear all the same teachings, but in a “human,” melodious form, from the “human” priest Gabriel. Gabriel’s lessons are more pernicious than Rodin’s.
Hess quotes a passage from Stirner’s book, page 341, and deduces from it that Stirner has nothing against “practically existing egoism, except the lack of consciousness of egoism.” But Stirner doesn’t at all say what Hess makes him say, that “all the errors of present day egoists consist in not being conscious of their egoism.” In the passage cited, Stirner says: “If only the consciousness of this existed.” Of what? Not of egoism, but of the fact that grabbing is not a sin. And after twisting Stirner’s words, Hess dedicates the entire second half of his pamphlet to the struggle against “conscious egoism.” Stirner says in the middle of the passage that Hess quotes: “One should simply know this, that the technique of grabbing is not contemptible, but the clear act in which some egoists agree among themselves to express themselves.” Hess omits this, because he has no more understanding of egoists agreeing among themselves than what Marx already said earlier about shopkeepers and universal rights (for example in the Deutsch-Französischen Jahrbüchern); Hess repeats this, but with none of the keen skill of his predecessor. — Stirner’s “conscious egoist” doesn’t merely not adhere to the consciousness of sin, but also to the consciousness of law, or of universal human rights.
Hess finishes with Stirner like this: “No, you precocious child, I don’t at all create and love in order to enjoy, I love from love, I create from a creator’s desire, from a vital instinct, from an immediate natural desire. When I love in order to enjoy, then I not only do not love, but I also do not enjoy, etc.” But does Stirner challenge such trivialities anywhere? Doesn’t Hess rather attribute “nonsense” to him in order to be able to call him a “precocious child”? In other words, “Precocious child” is the final judgment to which Hess comes, and he repeats it in the conclusion. Through such final judgments, he manages to put “the historical development of German philosophy behind him.”
On page 14, Hess lets “the species break up into individuals, families, tribes, people, races.” This disintegration, he says, “this alienation is the first form of the existence of the species. To come into existence, the species must individualize itself.” From whence only Hess knows all that the species “must” do. “Form of existence of the species, alienation of the species, individualization of the species,” he gets all this from the philosophy that he has put behind him, and to top it off, commits his beloved “robbery with murder” insofar as he “robs” this, for example, from Feuerbach and at the same time “murders” everything in it that is actually philosophy. He could have learned precisely from Stirner that the pompous phrase “alienation of the species” is “nonsense,” but where could he have gotten the weapons against Stirner if not from philosophy, which he has put behind him, of course, through a socialist “robbery with murder” — ?
Hess closes the second part of his book with the discovery that “Stirner’s ideal is bourgeois society, which takes the state to itself .” Hegel has shown that egoism is at home in bourgeois society. Whoever has now put Hegelian philosophy behind him, also knows, from this philosophy behind him, that anyone who “recommends” egoism has his ideal in bourgeois society. He will later take the opportunity to speak extensively about bourgeois society; then it will seem that it is no more the site of egoism than the family is the site of selflessness. The sense of bourgeois society is rather the life of commerce, a life that can be pursued by saints in sacred forms — as happens all the time today — as by egoists in an egoistic form — as happens now only in the activity of a few acting clandestinely. For Stirner, bourgeois society does not at all lie at the heart, and he doesn’t at all think of extending it so that it engulfs the state and the family. So Hess could suspect such a thing about Stirner only because he came to him through Hegelian categories.
The selfless Hess has become accustomed to a particular, gainful and advantageous phrase by noting repeatedly that the poor Berliners get hold of their wisdom from the Rhine, i.e., from Hess and the socialists there, and also from France, but unfortunately through stupidity, these beautiful things get ruined. So, for example, he says: “Recently, there has been talk of the embodied individual among us; the actual human being, the realization of the idea, so that it can be no surprise to us if tidings of it have reached Berlin and there have moved certain philosophical heads from their bliss. But the philosophical heads have understood the thing philosophically.” — We had to mention this so much to spread what is, for us, a well-deserved reputation; we add also that already in the Rhenish Gazette, although not in “recent times,” the actual human being and similar topics were spokenabout a lot, and exclusively by Rhenish correspondents.
Immediately thereafter, Hess wants “to make what he means by the actual, living human being conceivable to philosophers.” Since he wants to make it conceivable, he reveals that his actual human being is a concept, thus not an actual human being. Rather, Hess himself is an actual human being, but we want to grant him what he means by an actual human being, since on the Rhine (“among us”), they speak about it enough.
Stirner says: “If you consume what is sacred, you have made it property! You digest the host and you get rid of it!” Hess answers: “As if we haven’t consumed our sacred property for a long time!” Of course, we consumed property as a sacred thing, a sacred property; but we did not consume its sacredness. Stirner says: “If you consume what is sacred (Hess doesn’t take this with much precision and makes Stirner say “sacred property” instead of “what is sacred”), you make it property, etc.,” i.e., something (dirt, for example) that you can throw away. “Reason and love are generally without reality,” Hess makes Stirner say. But doesn’t he speak of my reason, my love? In me they are real, they have reality.
“We may not develop our essence from the inside out,” Stirner is supposed to say. Of course, you may develop your essence, but “our essence,” “the human essence,” that is another thing, which the whole first part of the book deals with. Anyway, Hess again makes no distinction between your essence and our essence, and in doing so, follows Feuerbach.
Stirner is accused of knowing only the beginnings of socialism, and even these only through hearsay, otherwise he would have to know, for example, that on the political terrain communism has already been divided for quite some time into the two extremes of egoism (intérêt personnel) and humanism (dévouement). This contrast that is so important for Hess, who may possibly know a thousand more things about socialism than Stirner, although the latter has seen through socialism better, was subordinated by Stirner, and could only have seemed important to him if his thinking about egoism was as thoroughly unclear as that of Hess.
The fact that Stirner, by the way, “knows nothing of society” is something that all socialist and communists understand, and there is no need for Hess to prove it. If Stirner had known anything about it, how could he have dared to write against Your Holiness, and what’s more, to write so ruthlessly, in so much detail!
Anyone who hasn’t read Stirner’s book immediately recognizes without question how precisely he judged and how little he needed to justify the following judgment: “Stirner’s opposition to the state is the utterly common opposition of the liberal bourgeoisies who put the blame on the state when people fall into poverty and starve.”
Hess reprimands Stirner like this: “Oh, unique, you are great, original, brilliant! But I would have been glad to see your ‘union of egoists’, even if only on paper. Since this isn’t granted to me, I will allow myself to characterize the real concept of your union of egoists.” He wants to characterize the “concept” of this union, indeed, he does characterize it; saying authoritatively that it is “the concept of introducing now in life the most uncouth form of egoism, wildness.” Since the “concept” of this union is what interests him, he also explains that he wants to see it on paper. As he sees in the unique nothing but a concept, so naturally, this union, in which the unique is the vital point, also had to become a concept for him. But if one repeats Hess’s own words to him: “Recently, there has been talk of the unique among us, and tidings of it have also reached Köln; but the philosophical head in Köln has understood the thing philosophically,” has a concept been preserved?
But he goes further and shows that “all our history up to now has been nothing but the history of egoistic unions, whose fruit — ancient slavery, medieval bondage and modern, fundamental, universal servitude — are known to us all.” First of all, here Hess puts “egoistic union” — because he needs to take it in precisely this way! — in place of Stirner’s “union of egoists.” His readers, who he wants to persuade — one sees in his preface what type of people he has to persuade, namely people whose works, like those of Bruno Bauer, derive from an “incitement to reaction,” in other words, exceptionally smart and political heads) — these readers, of course, immediately find it correct and beyond doubt that nothing but “egoistic unions” has ever existed. — But is a union in which most of those involved are hoodwinked about their most natural and obvious interests, a union of egoists? Have “egoists” come together where one is the slave or serf of the other? There are, it’s true, egoists in such a society, and in this sense, it might in some aspects be called an “egoistic union”; but the slaves have not really sought this society from egoism, and are instead, in their egoistic hearts, against these lovely “unions,” as Hess calls them. — Societies in which the needs of some get satisfied at the expense of others, in which, for example, some can satisfy their need for rest only by making others work until they are exhausted; or lead comfortable lives by making others live miserably or perhaps even starve; or live the high life because others are so addle-brained as to live in want, etc. — Hess calls such societies egoistic unions, and since he is free “of the secret police of his critical conscience,” impartially and against police orders, he identifies this egoistic league of his with Stirner’s union of egoists. Stirner probably also needs the expression “egoistic union,” but it is explained first of all through the “union of egoists,” and secondly, it is explained correctly, whereas what Hess called by this name is rather a religious society, a community held in sacred respect through rights, laws and all the formalities or ceremonies of justice.
It would be another thing indeed, if Hess wanted to see egoistic unions not on paper, but in life. Faust finds himself in the midst of such a union when he cries: “Here I am human, here I can be human” — Goethe says it in black and white. If Hess attentively observed real life, to which he holds so much, he will see hundreds of such egoistic unions, some passing quickly, others lasting. Perhaps at this very moment, some children have come together just outside his window in a friendly game. If he looks at them, he will see a playful egoistic union. Perhaps Hess has a friend or a beloved; then he knows how one heart finds another, as their two hearts unite egoistically to delight (enjoy) each other, and how no one “comes up short” in this. Perhaps he meets a few good friends on the street and they ask him to accompany them to a tavern for wine; does he go along as a favor to them, or does he “unite” with them because it promises pleasure? Should they thank him heartily for the “sacrifice,” or do they know that all together they form an “egoistic union” for a little while?
To be sure, Hess wouldn’t pay attention to these trivial examples, they are so utterly physical and vastly distinct from sacred society, or rather from the “fraternal, human society” of sacred socialists.
Hess says of Stirner: “he remains constantly under the secret police of his critical conscience.” What is he saying here, if not that when Stirner criticizes, he doesn’t want to go on a binge of critique, to babble, but really just wants to criticize? Hess, however, would like to show how right he is in not being able to find any difference between Stirner and Bruno Bauer. But has he ever generally known how to find any difference other than that between sacred socialists and “egoistic shopkeepers”? And is even this difference anything more than histrionics? What need does he have to find a difference between Bruno Bauer and Stirner, since critique is undoubtedly — critique? Why, one might ask, does Hess have to concern himself with such strange birds, in whom, only with great difficult, will he ever find sense except by attributing his own senseto them, as he did in his pamphlet, and who, therefore, (as he says in his preface) “had to turn into nonsense” — why since he has such a wide human field of the most human action before him?
* * *
To close, it might not be inappropriate to remind the critics of Feuerbach’s Critique of the Anti-Hegel, page 4.
 However, outside of the title of Stirner’s book, I have chosen to translate the word “Eigentum” as “property.” The word can also translate as “possession” as in the phrase “to acquire possession of the book” or as “ownership.” It is useful to keep all these translations in mind when you read the word “property” in this text.
 G. W. F. Hegel, Théodore F. Geraets (translator), Wallis Arthur Suchting (translator), Henry Silton Harris (translator) The Encyclopaedia Logic: Part I of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences with the Zusätze (Indianapolis, 1991), in “Notes to Glossary,” p. 351.
 Throughout this passage and the following several paragraphs, Stirner is playing on the words “Bedenken” (scruples) and “Denken” (thinking or thought), a bit of wordplay lost in translation. It also helps to know that “Bedenken” can also translate as “reflection” or “doubt,” and in some places, Stirner seems to play on all these meanings as well. — translator
 This is the single instance where I have chosen to translate “Mensch” as man, in order to emphasize the distinction Stirner is making. He is emphasizing that what is actually “common” to every human being is that he or she is unique, as opposed to Feuerbach’s idealized concept of the “common man.” — translator.
 Two socialist/left democratic publications of the time. Moses Hess published the first oF these.
 Or “mindlessness,” giving further evidence of Stirner’s familiarity with eastern philosophy. However, in context, “thoughtlessness” works better here. — translator
 “Worm” here is being used in its archaic sense of a specific type of dragon… In the original Stirner uses “Drachen” and “Würm.” I have used the corresponding terms in my translation. — translator
 “personal interest,” in French in the original — translator
 “devotion,” in French in the original — translator
 Perhaps a reference to this appropriate passage: “He always has other things than his opponent in his head. He cannot assimilate his ideas and consequently cannot make them out with his understanding. They move in confusion like Epicurian atoms in the empty space of his own self. And his understanding is the accident that brings them together with special external expedient accents into an apparent whole.” — translator’s note
In 1888, John Henry Mackay, the Scottish-German poet, while at the British Museum reading Lange’s History of Materialism, encountered the name of Max Stirner and a brief criticism of his forgotten book, Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum (The Only One and His Property; in French translated L’Unique et sa Propriété, and in the First English translation more aptly and euphoniously entitled The Ego and His Own). His curiosity excited, Mackay, who is an anarchist, procured after some difficulty a copy of the work, and so greatly was he stirred that for ten years he gave himself up to the study of Stirner and his teachings, and after incredible painstaking published in 1898 the story of his life. (Max Stirner: Sein Leben und sein Werk: John Henry Mackay.) To Mackay’s labors we owe all we know of a man who was as absolutely swallowed up by the years as if he had never existed. But some advanced spirits had read Stirner’s book, the most revolutionary ever written, and had felt its influence. Let us name two: Henrik Ibsen and Friedrich Nietzsche. Though the name of Stirner is not quoted by Nietzsche, he nevertheless recommended Stirner to a favorite pupil of his, Professor Baumgartner at Basel University. This was in 1874.
One hot August afternoon in the year 1896 at Bayreuth, I was standing in the Marktplatz when a member of the Wagner Theatre pointed out to me a house opposite, at the corner of the Maximilianstrasse, and said: “Do you see that house with the double gables? A man was born there whose name will be green when Jean Paul and Richard Wagner are forgotten.” It was too large a draft upon my credulity, so I asked the name. “Max Stirner,” he replied. “The crazy Hegelian,” I retorted. “You have read him, then?” “No; but you haven’t read Nordau.” It was true. All fire and flame at that time for Nietzsche, I did not realize that the poet and rhapsodist had forerunners. My friend sniffed at Nietzsche’s name; Nietzsche for him was an aristocrat, not an Individualist — in reality, a lyric expounder of Bismarck’s gospel of blood and iron. Wagner’s adversary would, with Renan, place mankind under the yoke of a more exacting tyranny than Socialism, the tyranny of Culture, of the Superman. Ibsen, who had studied both Kierkegaard and Stirner — witness Brand and Peer Gynt — Ibsen was much nearer to the champion of Ego than Nietzsche. Yet it is the dithyrambic author of Zarathustra who is responsible, with Mackay, for the recrudescence of Stirner’s teachings.
Nietzsche is the poet of the doctrine, Stirner its prophet, or, if you will, its philosopher. Later I secured the book, which had been reprinted in the cheap edition of Reclam (1882). It seemed colorless, or rather gray, set against the glory and gorgeous rhetoric of Nietzsche. I could not see then what I saw a decade later — that Nietzsche had used Stirner as a springboard, as a point of departure, and that the Individual had vastly different meanings to those diverse temperaments. But Stirner displayed the courage of an explorer in search of the north pole of the Ego.
The man whose theories would make a tabula rasa of civilization, was born at Bayreuth, October 25, 1806, and died at Berlin June 25, 1856. His right name was Johann Caspar Schmidt, Max Stirner being a nickname bestowed upon him by his lively comrades in Berlin because of his very high and massive forehead. His father was a maker of wind instruments, who died six months after his son’s birth. His mother remarried, and his stepfather proved a kind protector. Nothing of external importance occurred in the life of Max Stirner that might place him apart from his fellow-students. He was very industrious over his books at Bayreuth, and when he became a student at the Berlin University he attended the lectures regularly, preparing himself for a teacher’s profession. He mastered the classics, modern philosophy, and modern languages. But he did not win a doctor’s degree; just before examinations his mother became ill with a mental malady (a fact his critics have noted) and the son dutifully gave up everything so as to be near her. After her death he married a girl who died within a short time. Later, in 1843, his second wife was Marie Dähnhardt, a very “advanced” young woman, who came from Schwerin to Berlin to lead a “free” life. She met Stirner in the Hippel circle, at a Weinstube in the Friedrichstrasse, where radical young thinkers gathered: Bruno Bauer, Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Moses Hess, Jordan, Julius Faucher, and other stormy insurgents. She had, it is said, about 10,000 thalers. She was married with the ring wrenched from a witness’s purse — her bridegroom had forgotten to provide one. He was not a practical man; if he had been he would hardly have written The Ego and His Own.
It was finished between the years 1843 and 1845; the latter date it was published. It created a stir, though the censor did not seriously interfere with it; its attacks on the prevailing government were veiled. In Germany rebellion on the psychic plane expresses itself in metaphysics; in Poland and Russia music is the safer medium. Feuerbach, Hess, and Szeliga answered Stirner’s terrible arraignment of society, but men’s thoughts were interested elsewhere, and with the revolt of 1848 Stirner was quite effaced. He had taught for five years in a fashionable school for young ladies; he had written for several periodicals, and translated extracts from the works of Say and Adam Smith.
After the book appeared, relations with his wife became uneasy. Late in 1846 or early in 1847 she left him and went to London, where she supported herself by writing; later she inherited a small sum from a sister, visited Australia, married a laborer there, and became a washerwoman. In 1897 Mackay wrote to her in London, asking her for some facts in the life of her husband. She replied tartly that she was not willing to revive her past; that her husband had been too much of an egotist to keep friends, and was “very sly.” This was all he could extort from the woman, who evidently had never understood her husband and execrated his memory, probably because her little fortune was swallowed up by their mutual improvidence. Another appeal only elicited the answer that “Mary Smith is preparing for death” — she had become a Roman Catholic. It is the irony of things in general that his book is dedicated to “My Sweetheart, Marie Dähnhardt.”
Stirner, after being deserted, led a precarious existence. The old jolly crowd at Hippel’s seldom saw him. He was in prison twice for debt — free Prussia — and often lacked bread. He, the exponent of Egoism, of philosophic anarchy, starved because of his pride. He was in all matters save his theories a moderate man, eating and drinking temperately, living frugally. Unassuming in manners, he could hold his own in debate — and Hippel’s appears to have been a rude debating society — yet one who avoided life rather than mastered it. He was of medium height, ruddy, and his eyes deep blue. His hands were white, slender, “aristocratic,” writes Mackay. Certainly not the figure of a stalwart shatterer of conventions, not the ideal iconoclast; above all, without a touch of the melodrama of communistic anarchy, with its black flags, its propaganda by force, its idolatry of assassinations, bomb-throwing, killing of fat, harmless policemen, and its sentimental gabble about Fraternity. Stirner hated the word Equality; he knew it was a lie, knew that all men are born unequal, as no two grains of sand on earth ever are or ever will be alike. He was a solitary. And thus he died at the age of fifty. A few of his former companions heard of his neglected condition and buried him. Nearly a half century later Mackay, with the co-operation of Hans von Bülow, affixed a commemorative tablet on the house where he last lived, Phillipstrasse 19, Berlin, and alone Mackay placed a slab to mark his grave in the Sophienkirchhof.
It is to the poet of the Letzte Erkentniss, with its stirring line, “Doch bin ich mein,” that I owe the above scanty details of the most thorough-going Nihilist who ever penned his disbelief in religion, humanity, society, the family. He rejects them all. We have no genuine portrait of this insurrectionist — he preferred personal insurrection to general revolution; the latter, he asserted, brought in its train either Socialism or a tyrant — except a sketch hastily made by Friedrich Engels, the revolutionist, for Mackay. It is not reassuring. Stirner looks like an old-fashioned German and timid pedagogue, high coat-collar, spectacles, clean-shaven face, and all. This valient enemy of the State, of Socialism, was, perhaps, only brave on paper. But his icy, relentless, epigrammatic style is in the end more gripping than the spectacular, volcanic, whirling utterances of Nietzsche. Nietzsche lives in an ivory tower and is an aristocrat. Into Stirner’s land all are welcome. That is, if men have the will to rebel, and if they despise the sentimentality of mob rule. The Ego and His Own is the most drastic criticism of Socialism thus far presented.
For those who love to think of the visible universe as a cosey corner of God’s footstool, there is something bleak and terrifying in the isolated position of man since science has postulated him as an infinitesimal bubble on an unimportant planet. The soul shrinks as our conception of outer space widens. Thomas Hardy describes the sensation as “ghastly.” There is said to be no purpose, no design, in all the gleaming phantasmagoria revealed by the astronomer’s glass; while on our globe we are a brother to lizards, bacteria furnish our motor force, and our brain is but a subtly fashioned mirror, composed of neuronic filaments, a sort of “dark room” in which is somehow pictured the life without. Well, we admit, for the sake of the argument, that we banish God from the firmament, substituting a superior mechanism; we admit our descent from stardust and apes, we know that we have no free will, because man, like the unicellular organisms, “gives to every stimulus without an inevitable response.” That, of course, settles all moral obligations. But we had hoped, we of the old sentimental brigade, that all things being thus adjusted we could live with our fellow man in (comparative) peace, cheating him only in a legitmiate business way, and loving our neighbor better than ourselves (in public). Ibsen had jostled our self-satisfaction sadly, but some obliging critic had discovered his formula — a pessimistic decadent — and with bare verbal bones we worried the old white-haired mastiff of Norway. Only a decadent! It is an easy word to speak and it means nothing. With Nietzsche the case was simpler. We couldn’t read him because he was a madman; but he at least was an aristocrat who held the bourgeois in contempt, and he also held a brief for culture. Ah! when we are young we are altruists; as Thackeray says, “Youths go to balls; men go to dinners.”
But alone comes this dreadful Stirner, who cries out: Hypocrites all of you. You are not altruists, but selfish persons, who, self-illuded, believe yourselves to be disinterested. Be Egoists. Confess the truth in the secrecy of your mean, little souls. We are all Egotists. Be Egoists. There is no truth but my truth. No world but my world. I am I. And then Stirner waves away God, State, society, the family, morals, mankind, leaving only the “hateful” Ego. The cosmos is frosty and inhuman, and old Mother Earth no longer offers us her bosom as a reclining-place. Stirner has so decreed it. We are suspended between heaven and earth, like Mahomet’s coffin, hermetically sealed in Self. Instead of “smiting the chord of self,” we must reorchestrate the chord that it may give out richer music. (Perhaps the Higher Egoism which often leads to low selfishness.)
Nevertheless, there is an honesty in the words of Max Stirner. We are weary of the crying in the market-place, “Lo! Christ is risen,” only to find an old nostrum tricked out in socialistic phrases; and fine phrases make fine feathers for these gentlemen who offer the millennium in one hand and perfect peace in the other. Stirner is the frankest thinker of his century. He does not soften his propositions, harsh ones for most of us, with promises, but pursues his thought with ferocious logic to its covert. There is no such hybird with him as Christian Socialism, no dodging issues. He is a Teutonic Childe Roland who to the dark tower comes, but instead of blowing his horn — as Nietzsche did — he blows up the tower itself. Such an iconoclast has never before put pen to paper. He is so sincere in his scorn of all we hold dear that he is refreshing. Nietzsche’s flashing epigrammatic blade often snaps after it is fleshed; the grim, cruel Stirner, after he makes a jab at his opponent, twists the steel in the wound. Having no mercy for himself, he has no mercy for others. He is never a hypocrite. He erects no altars to known or unknown gods. Humanity, he says, has become the Moloch to-day to which everything is sacrificed. Humanity — that is, the State, perhaps, even the socialistic state (the most terrible yoke of all for the individual soul). This assumed love of humanity, this sacrifice of our own personality, are the blights of modern life. The Ego has too long been suppressed by ideas, sacred ideas of religion, state, family, law, morals. The conceptual question “What is Man?” must be changed to “Who is Man?” I am the owner of my might, and I am so when I know myself as unique.
Stirner is not a communist — so long confounded with anarchs — he does not believe in force. That element came into the world with the advent of Bakounine and Russian nihilism. Stirner would replace society by groups; property would be held, money would be a circulating medium; the present compulsory system would be voluntary instead of involuntary. Unlike his great contemporary, Joseph Proudhon, Stirner is not a constructive philosopher. Indeed, he is no philosopher. A moralist (or immoralist), and Ethiker, his book is a defense of Egoism, of the submerged rights of the Ego, and in this piping times of peace and fraternal humbug, when every nation, every man, embraces his neighbor preparatory to disembowelling him in commerce or war, Max Stirner’s words are like a trumpet-blast. And many Jericho-built walls go down before these ringing tones. His doctrine is the Fourth Dimension of ethics. That his book will be more dangerous than a million bombs, if misapprehended, is no reason why it should not be read. Its author can no more be held responsible for its misreading than the orthodox faiths for their backsliders. Nietzsche has been woefully misunderstood; Nietzsche, the despiser of mob rule, has been accaimed a very Attila — instead of which he is a culture-philosopher, one who insists that reform must be first spiritual. Individualism for him means only an end to culture. Stirner is not a metaphysician; he is too much realist. He is really a topsy-turvy Hegelian, a political pyrrhonist. His Ego is his Categorical Imperative. And if the Individual loses his value, what is his raison d’etre for existence? What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole word but loses his own Ego? Make your value felt, cries Stirner. The minority may occasionally err, but the majority is always in the wrong. Egoism must not be misinterpreted as petty selfishness or as an excuse to do wrong. Life will be ennobled and sweeter if we respect ourselves. “There is no sinner and no sinful egoism…. Do not call men sinful; and they are not.” Freedom is no a goal. “Free — from what? Oh! what is there that cannot be shaken off? The yoke of serfdom, of sovereignty, of aristocracy and princes, the dominion of the desires and passions; yes, even the dominion of one’s own will, of self-will, for the completest self-denial is nothing but freedom — freedom, to wit, from self-determination, from one’s own self.” This has an ascetic tang, and indicates that to compass our complete Ego the road traveled will be as thorny as any saint’s of old. Where does Woman come into this scheme? There is no Woman, only a human Ego. Humanity is a convenient fiction to harry the individualist. So, society, family are the clamps that compress the soul of woman. If woman is to be free she must first be an individual, an Ego. In America, to talk of female suffrage is to propound the paradox of the masters attacking their slaves; yet female suffrage might prove a good think — it might demonstrate the reductio ad absurdum of the administration of the present ballot system.
Our wail over our neighbor’s soul is simply the wail of a busybody. Mind your own business! is the pregnant device of the new Egoism. Puritanism is not morality, but a psychic disorder.
Stirner, in his way, teaches that the Kingdom of God is within you. That man will ever be sufficiently perfected to become his own master is a dreamer’s dream. Yet let us dream it. At least by that road we make for righteousness. But let us drop all cant about brotherly love and self-sacrifice. Let us love ourselves (respect our Ego), that we may learn to respect our brother; self-sacrifice means doing something that we believe to be good for our souls, there egotism — the higher egotism, withal egotism. As for going to the people — the Russian phrase — let the people forget themselves as a collective body, tribe, or group, and each man and woman develop his or her Ego. In Russia “going to the people” may have been sincere — in America it is a trick to catch, not souls, but votes.
“The time is not far distant when it will be impossible for any proud, free, independent spirit to call himself a socialist, since he would be classed with those wretched toadies and worshippers of success who even now lie on their knees before every workingman and lick his hands simply because he is a workingman.”
John Henry Mackay spoke these words in a book of his. Did not Campanella, in an unforgetable sonnet, sing, “The people is a beast of muddy brain that knows not its own strength…. With its own hands it ties and gags itself”?
The Ego and His Own is divided into two parts: first, The Man; second, I. Its motto should be, “I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.” But Walt Whitman’s pronouncement had not been made, and Stirner was forced to fall back on Goethe — Goethe, the grand Immoralist of his epoch, wise and wicked Goethe, from whom flows all that is modern. “I base my all on Naught” (“Ich Vanitas! Vanitum Vanitas!) is Stirner’s key-note to his Egoistic symphony. The hateful I, as Pascal called it, caused Zola, a solid egotist himself, to assert that the English were the most egotistic of races because their I in their tongue was but a single letter, while the French employed two, and not capitalized unless beginning a sentence. Stirner must have admired the English, as his I was the sole counter in his philosophy. His Ego and not the family is the unit of the social life. In antique times, when men were really the young, not the ancient, it was a world of reality. Men enjoyed the material. With Christianity came the rule of the spirit; ideas were become sacred, with the concepts of God, Goodness, Sin, Salvation. After Rousseau and the French Revolution humanity was enthroned, and the State became our oppressor. Our first enemies are our parents, our educators. It follows, then, that the only criterion of life is my Ego. Without my Ego I could not apprehend existence. Altruism is a pretty disguise for egotism. No one is or can be disinterested. He gives up one thing for another because the other seems better, nobler to him. Egotism! The ascetic renounces the pleasures of life because in his eyes renunciation is nobler than enjoyment. Egotism again! “You are to benefit yourself, and you are not to seek your benefit,” cries Stirner. Explain the paradox! The one sure thing of life is the Ego. Therefore, “I am not you, but I’ll use you if you are agreeable to me.” Not to God, not to man, must be given the glory. “I’ll keep the glory myself.” What is Humanity but an abstraction? I am Humanity. Therefore the State is a monster that devours its children. It must not dictate to me. “The State and I are enemies.” The State is a spook. A spook, too, is freedom. What is freedom? Who is free? The world belongs to all, but all are I. I alone am individual proprietor.
Property is conditioned by might. What I have is mine. “Whoever knows how to take, to defend, the thing, to him belongs property.” Stirner would have held that property was not only nine but ten points of the law. This is Pragmatism with a vengeance. He repudiates all laws; repudiates competition, for persons are not the subject of competition, but “things” are; therefore if you are without “things” how can you compete? Persons are free, not “things.” The world, therefore, is not “free.” Socialism is but a further screwing up of the State machine to limit the individual. Socialism is a new god, a new abstraction to tyrannize over the Ego. And remember that Stirner is not speaking of the metaphysical Ego of Hegel, Fichte, Schelling, but of your I, my I, the political, the social I, the economic I of every man and woman. Stirner spun no metaphysical cobwebs. He reared no lofty cloud palaces. He did not bring from Asia its pessimism, as did Schopenhauer; nor deny reality, as did Berkeley. He was a foe to general ideas. He was an implacable realist. Yet while he denies the existence of an Absolute, of a Deity, State, Categorical Imperative, he nevertheless had not shaken himself free from Hegelianism (he is Extreme Left as a Hegelian), for he erected his I as an Absolute, though only dealing with it in its relations to society. Everything is relative. So we shall see presently that with Stirner, too, his I is not so independent as he imagines.
He says “crimes spring from fixed ideas.” The Church, State, the Family, Morals, are fixed ideas. “Atheists are pious people.” They reject one fiction only to cling to many old ones. Liberty for the people is not my liberty. Socrates was a fool in that he conceded to the Athenians the right to condemn him. Proudhon said (rather, Brisson before him), “Property is theft.” Theft from whom? From society? But society is not the sole proprietor. Pauperism is the valuelessness of Me. The State and Pauperism are the same. Communism, Socialism abolish private property and push us back into Collectivism. The individualism is enslaved by the machinery of the State or by socialism. Your Ego is not free if you allow your vices or virtues to enslave it. The intellect has too long ruled, says Stirner; it is the will (not Schopenhauer’s Will to Live, or Nietzsche’s Will to Power, but the sum of our activity expressed by an act of volition; old-fashioned will, in a word) to exercise itself to the utmost. Nothing compulsory, all voluntary. Do what you will. Fay ce que vouldras, as Rabelais has it in his Abbey of Thélème. Not “Know thyself,” but get the value out of yourself. Make your value felt. The poor are to blame for the rich. Our art to-day is the only art possible, and therefore real at the time. We are at every moment all we can be. There is no such thing as sin. It is an invention to keep imprisoned the will of our Ego. And as mankind is forced to believe theoretically in the evil of sin, yet commit it in its daily life, hypocrisy and crime are engendered. If the concept of sin had never been used as a club over the weak-minded, there would be no sinners — i.e., wicked people. the individual is himself the world’s history. The world is my picture. There is no other Ego but mine. Louis XIV said, “L’Etat, c’est moi”; I say, “L’Univers, c’est moi.” John Stuart Mill wrote in his famous essay on liberty that “Society has now got the better of the individual.”
Rousseau is to blame for the “Social Contract” and the “Equality” nonsense that has poisoned more than one nation’s political ideas. The minority is always in the right, declared Ibsen, as opposed to Comte’s “Submission is the base of perfection.” “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it” (Bernard Shaw). “Nature does not seem to have made man for independence” (Vauvenargues). “What can give a man liberty? Will, his own will, and it gives power, which is better than liberty” (Turgenev). To have the will to be responsible for one’s self, advises Nietzsche. “I am what I am” (Brand). “To thyself be sufficient” (Peer Gynt). Both men failed, for their freedom kills. To thine own self be true. God is within you. Best of all is Lord Acton’s dictum that “Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is of itself the highest political end.” To will is to have to will (Ibsen). My truth is the truth (Stirner). Mortal has made the immortal, says the Rig Veda. Nothing is greater than I (Bha gavat Gita). I am that I am (the Avesta, also Exodus). Taine wrote, “Nature is in reality a tapestry of which we see the reverse side. This is why we try to turn it.” Hierarchy, oligarchy, both forms submerge the Ego. J.S. Mill demanded: “How can great minds be produced in a country where the test of a great mind is agreeing in the opinion of small minds?” Bakounine in his fragmentary essay on God and the State feared the domination of science quite as much as an autocracy. “Politics is the madness of the many for the gain of the few,” Pope asserted. Read Spinoza, The Citizen and the State (Tractatus Theologico-Politicus). Or Oscar Wilde’s epigram: “Charity creates a multitude of sins.” “I am not poor enough to give alms,” says Nietzsche. But Max Beerbohm has wittily said — and his words contain as much wisdom as wit — that “If he would have his ideas realized, the Socialist must first kill the Snob.”
Science tells us that our I is really a We; a colony of cells, an orchestra of inherited instincts. We have not even free will, or at least only in a limited sense. We are an instrument played upon by our heredity and our environment. The cell, then, is the unit, not the Ego. Very well, Stirner would exclaim (if he had lived after Darwin and 1859), the cell is my cell, not yours! Away with other cells! But such an autonomous gospel is surely a phantasm. Stirner saw a ghost. He, too, in his proud Individualism was an aristocrat. No man may separate himself from the tradition of his race unless to incur the penalty of a sterile isolation. The solitary is the abnormal man. Man is gregarious. Man is a political animal. Even Stirner recognizes that man is not man without society.
In practice he would not have agreed with Havelock Ellis that “all the art of living lies in the fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” Stirner, sentimental, henpecked, myopic Berlin professor, was too actively engaged in wholesale criticism — that is, destruction of society, with all its props and standards, its hidden selfishness and heartlessness — to bother with theories of reconstruction. His disciples have remedied the omission. In the United States, for example, Benjamin R. Tucker, a follower of Josiah Warren, teaches a practical and philosophical form of Individualism. He is an Anarch who believes in passive resistance. Stirner speaks, though vaguely, of a Union of Egoists, a Verein, where all would rule all, where man, through self-mastery would be his own master. (“In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”) Indeed, his notions as to Property and Money — “it will always be money” — sound suspiciously like those of our “captains of industry.’ Might conquers Right. He has brought to bear the most blazing light-rays upon the shifts and evasions of those who decry Egoism, who are what he calls “involuntary,” not voluntary egotists. Their motives are shown to the bone. Your Sir Willoughby Patternes are not real Egoists, but only half-hearted selfish weaklings. The true egotist is the altruist, says Stirner; yet Leibnitz was right; so was Dr. Pangloss. This is the best of possible worlds. Any other is not conceivable for man, who is at the top of his zoological series. (Though Quinton has made the statement that birds followed the mammal.) We are all “spectres of the dust,” and to live on an overcrowded planet we must follow the advice of the Boyg: “Go roundabout!” Compromise is the only sane attitude. The world is not, will never be, to the strong of arm or spirit, as Nietzsche believes. The race is to the mediocre. The survival of the fittest means survival of the weakest. Society shields and upholds the feeble. Mediocrity rules, let Carlyle or Nietzsche thunder to the contrary. It was the perception of these facts that drove Stirner to formulate his theories in The Ego and His Own. He was poor, a failure, and despised by his wife. He lived under a dull brutal régime. The Individual was naught, the State all. His book was his great revenge. It was the efflorescence of his Ego. It was his romance, his dream of an ideal world, his Platonic republic. Philosophy is more a matter of man’s temperament than some suppose. And philosophers often live by opposites. Schopenhauer preached asceticism, but hardly led an ascetic life; Nietzsche’s injunctions to become Immoralists and Supermen were but the buttressing up of a will diseased, by the needs of a man who suffered his life long from morbid sensibility. James Walker’s suggestion that “We will not allow the world to wait for the Superman. We are the Supermen,” is a convincing criticism of Nietzscheism. I am Unique. Never again will this aggregation of atoms stand on earth. Therefore I must be free. I will myself free. (It is only spiritual liberty that counts.) But my I must not be of the kind described by the madhouse doctor in Peer Gynt: “Each one shuts himself up in the barrel of self. In the self-fermentation he dives to the bottom; with the self-bung he seals it hermetically.” The increased self-responsibility of life in an Egoist Union would prevent the world from ever entering into such ideal anarchy (an-arch, i.e., without government). There is too much of renunciation in the absolute freedom of the will — that is its final, if paradoxical implication — for mankind. Our Utopias are secretly based on Chance. Deny Chance in our existence and life would be without salt. Man is not a perfectible animal; not on this side of eternity. He fears the new and therefore clings to his old beliefs. To each his own chimera. He has not grown mentally or physically since the Sumerians — or a million years before the Sumerians. The squirrel in the revolving cage thinks it is progressing; Man is in a revolving cage. He goes round but he does not progress. Man is not a logical animal. He is governed by his emotions, his affective life. He lives by his illusions. His brains are an accident, possibly from overnutrition as De Gourmont has declared. To fancy him capable of existing in a community where all will be self-governed is a poet’s vision. That way the millennium lies, or the High Noon of Nietzsche. And would the world be happier if it ever did attain this condition?
The English translation of The Ego and His Own, by Steven T. Byington, is admirable; it is that of a philologist and a versatile scholar. Stirner’s form is open to criticism. It is vermicular. His thought is sometimes confused; he sees so many sides of his theme, embroiders it with so many variations, that he repeats himself. He has neither the crystalline brilliance nor the poetic glamour of Nietzsche. But he left behind him a veritable breviary of destruction, a striking and dangerous book. It is dangerous in every sense of the word — to socialism, to politicians, to hypocrisy. It asserts the dignity of the Individual, not his debasement.
“Is it not the chief disgrace in the world not to be a unit; to be reckoned one character; not to yield that peculiar fruit which each man was created to bear, but to be reckoned in the gross, in the hundred of thousands, of the party, of the section to which we belong, and our opinion predicted geographically as the North or the South?”
Herbert Spencer did not write these words, nor Max Stirner. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote them.
This page is broken down into two sections. The first are advertisements featured in the back of the 1907 edition that is the basis for our digital edition. The second section is period advertisements for the book itself.
Advertisements from the book:
BENJ. R. TUCKER’S
Unique Catalogue of
THAT MAKES FOR
EGOISM IN PHILOSOPHY
ANARCHISM IN POLITICS
ICONOCLASM IN ART
128 pages, representing more than 400 authors and listing nearly 1,000 titles, besides being enriched by about 600 pithy and epigrammatic quotations, of an Anarchistic and Egoistic character, from some of the works catalogued.
Benj. R. Tucker carries the most complete line of advanced literature in the English language offered for sale at any one place in the entire world.
All books listed in his catalogue are carried constantly in stock, and may be seen at
Benj. R. Tucker’s Bookstore
225 Fourth Avenue, Room 13
NEW YORK CITY
BENJ. R. TUCKER, Editor
An Anarchistic journal, expounding the doctrine that in Equal Liberty is to be found the most satisfactory solution of social questions, and that majority rule, or democracy, equally with monarchical rule, is a denial of Equal Liberty.
G. BERNARD SHAW, author of “Man and Superman“:
“Liberty is a lively paper, in which the usual proportions of a half-pennyworth of discussion to an intolerable deal of balderdash are reversed.”
ERNEST H. CROSBY, author of “Captain Jinks, Hero“:
“In these days of running after false gods, it is refreshing to find one American remaining unflinchingly true to Liberty, and using in her defence not his emotions, but a peculiarly keen and vigorous intellect and style.”
JOHN COTTON DANA, Librarian of the Free Public Library, Newark, N.J.:
“Liberty is good for your intellectuals, being full of plain, hard thinking.”
HENRY BOOL, merchant, manufacturer, farmer, dairyman, and florist, Ithaca, N. Y.:
“Pursuing its policy of equal liberty with consummate ability and unswerving purpose, Liberty is the unrivaled exponent of Absolute Free Trade.”
SAMUEL W. COOPER, counsellor at law, Philadelphia:
“Liberty is a journal that Thomas Jefferson would have loved.”
EDWARD OSGOOD BROWN, Judge of the Illinois Circuit Court:
“I have seen much in Liberty that I agreed with, and much that I disagreed with, but I never saw any cant, hypocrisy, or insincerity in it, which makes it an almost unique publication.”
Published Bimonthly. Twelve Issues, $1.00
Single Copies, 10 Cents
BENJ. R. TUCKER, P. O. Box 1312, New York City
TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH BY
BENJ. R. TUCKER
In this story Zola takes four typical marriages,—one from the nobility, one from the bourgeoisie, one from the petite bourgeoisie, and one from the working people,—and describes, with all the power of his wondrous art, how each originates, by what motive each is inspired, how each is consummated, and how each results.
A new edition from new plates, and at a reduced price.
Price, 10 cents
FRANCIS DU BOSQUE
A very remarkable story of New York’s Italian quarter,—in fact, one of the best short stories ever written in America.
Price, 10 cents
Here’s Luck to Lora
WILLIAM WALSTEIN GORDAK
Mr. Gordak comes entirely unannounced, but his verse speaks well for him. He is a natural poet who writes evenly and melodiously of the beauties of nature and the daintier side of love. Nothing in his little book is cheap. His muse has a lofty flight, and his teachings uplift.—Oregonian, Portland, Ore.
PRICE, ONE DOLLAR
A Picture of Civilization at the Close of the Nineteenth Century
JOHN HENRY MACKAY
Translated from the German by
New York Morning Journal.—”‘The Anarchists’ is one of the very few books that have a right to live. For insight into life and manners, for dramatic strength, for incisiveness of phrase, and for cold, pitiless logic, no book of this generation equals it.”
St. Louis Republic.—”The book is a prose poem.”
Cloth, One Dollar; Paper, Fifty cents
The First American Anarchist
A Biography, with portrait
The biography is preceded by an essay on “The Anarchist Spirit,” in which Mr. Bailie defines Anarchist belief in relation to other social forces.
Price, One Dollar
The Philosophy of Egoism
JAMES L. WALKER
My nose I’ve used for smelling, and I’ve blown it:
But how to prove the RIGHT by which I own it?
Schiller, freely translated
“No more concise exposition of the philosophy of Egoism has ever been given to the world. In this book Duty, Conscience, Moralism, Right, and all the fetiches and superstitions which have infested the human intellect since man ceased to walk on four feet, are annihilated, swept away, relegated to the rubbish heap of the waste of human intelligence that has gone on through the progress of the race from its infancy.”—Liberty.
Cloth, 75 cents; Paper, 35 cents
Slaves to Duty
JOHN BADCOCK, JR.
Assailing the morality superstition as the foundation of the various schemes for the exploitation of mankind. Max Stirner himself does not expound the doctrine of Egoism in bolder fashion.
Price, 5 cents
How Far They Agree and Wherein They Differ
BENJ. R. TUCKER
The opening chapter of “Instead of a Book,” reprinted separately. The best pamphlet with which to meet the demand for a compact exposition of Anarchism.
Price, 5 cents
The Attitude of Anarchism
BENJ. R. TUCKER
An address delivered in Central Music Hall, Chicago, on September 14, 1899, before the Conference on Trusts held under the auspices of the Civic Federation.
Chicago Chronicle.—”The speech which roused the most intense degree of enthusiasm and called forth the greatest applause at yesterday’s sessions of the trust conference fell in rounded periods and with polished utterance from the lips of a professed Anarchist.”
Prof. Edward W. Bemis in the New York Journal.—”Benj. R. Tucker, the famous Anarchist writer, gave the most brilliant literary effort of the conference thus far.”
Prof. John R. Commons in the Chicago Tribune.—”The most brilliant piece of pure logic that has yet been heard. It probably cannot be equaled. It was a marvel of audacity and cogency. The prolonged applause which followed was a magnificent tribute to pure intellect. That the undiluted doctrines of Anarchism should so transport a great gathering of all classes here in Chicago would not have been predicted.”
Price, 5 cents
WILLIAM B. GREENE
Showing the radical deficiency of the existing circulating medium, and the advantages of a free currency; a plan whereby to abolish interest, not by State intervention, but by first abolishing State intervention itself.
A new edition, from new plates, of one of the most important works on finance in the English language, and presenting, for the first time, a portrait of the author.
Price, 10 cents
CHARLES A. DANA’S
PLEA FOR ANARCHY
His “Bank of the People”
CHARLES A. DANA
A defence of the great French Anarchist; showing the evils of a specie currency, and that interest on capital can and ought to be abolished by a system of free and mutual banking.
The series of newspaper articles composing this pamphlet appeared originally in the New York “Tribune,” of which Mr. Dana was then managing editor, and a little later in “The Spirit of the Age,” a weekly paper published in New York in 1849 by Fowlers & Wells and edited by Rev. William Henry Channing. Editor Channing accompanied the publication of the series by a foot-note, in which he stated that the articles had already appeared in the “Tribune,” but that “Mr. Dana, judging them worthy of being preserved in a form convenient for binding, has consented to revise them for our paper.”
Price, 5 cents; in leatherette, 10 cents
The Ballad of Reading Gaol
By C. 3. 3
A poem of more than 600 lines, dedicated to the memory of a trooper of the Horse Guards who was hanged in Reading Gaol during the poet’s confinement there. An English classic.
Cloth, One Dollar; Paper, Ten Cents
The cloth edition has covers of blue and vellum, and is beautifully printed from large type on hand-made antique deckle-edge paper. It is a sumptuous book of 96 pages, and should be in every library.
Albany Press.—”Strong writing, almost too strong; it is horrible, gruesome, uncanny, and yet most fascinating and highly ethical…. One of the greatest poems of the century, a permanent addition to English literature…. It is the best Lenten and Easter sermon of the year.”
Brooklyn Citizen.—”Many of the stanzas are cries out of the lowest hell. The poem, indeed, takes rank with the most extraordinary psychological phenomena of this or any time.”
Indianapolis Journal.—”The work is one of singular power, holding the reader fascinated to the last line. Nothing approaching it in strength has been produced in recent years.”
Philadelphia Conservator.—”People who imagine themselves superior to the prisoners in jails should read this poem. People who love invasive laws should read this poem. People who think existing governmental methods of meeting social invasion civilized should read this poem. People who do not know that laws may make as well as punish crime should read this poem. In fact, everybody should read this poem. For somewhere it touches everybody, accuses everybody, appeals to everybody.”
God and the State
TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH BY
BENJ. R. TUCKER
“One of the most eloquent pleas for liberty ever written. Paine’s ‘Age of Reason’ and ‘Rights of Man’ consolidated and improved. It stirs the pulse like a trumpet-call.”—The Truth Seeker.
Price, 15 Cents
Free Political Institutions
Their Nature, Essence, and Maintenance
AN ABRIDGMENT AND REARRANGEMENT OF
LYSANDER SPOONER’S “TRIAL BY JURY”
One of the most important works in the propaganda of Anarchism
I.—Legitimate Government and Majority Rule. II.—Trial by Jury as a Palladium of Liberty. III.—Trial by Jury as Defined by Magna Carta. IV.—Objections Answered. V.—The Criminal Intent. VI.—Moral Considerations for Jurors. VII.—Free Administration of Justice. VIII.—Juries of the Present Day Illegal.
Price, 15 cents
A Blow at Trial by Jury
BENJ. R. TUCKER
An examination of the special jury law passed by the New York legislature in 1896. A speech delivered by the editor of Liberty at a mass meeting held in Cooper Union, New York, June 25, 1897, under the auspices of the Central Labor Union, Typographical Union No. 6, and other labor organizations. Distribution of this pamphlet among lawyers and legislators will tend indirectly to interest them in Anarchism.
Price, 5 cents
Instead of a Book
BY A MAN TOO BUSY TO WRITE ONE
A FRAGMENTARY EXPOSITION OF
Culled from the writings of
BENJ. R. TUCKER
EDITOR OF LIBERTY
With a Full-Page Half-Tone Portrait of the Author
A large, well-printed, and excessively cheap volume of 524 pages, consisting of articles selected from Liberty and classified under the following headings: (1) State Socialism and Anarchism: How Far They Agree, and Wherein They Differ; (2) The Individual, Society, and the State; (3) Money and Interest; (4) Land and Rent; (5) Socialism; (6) Communism; (7) Methods; (8) Miscellaneous. The whole elaborately indexed.
Cloth, One Dollar; Paper, Fifty cents
MAILED, POST-PAID, BY
BENJ. R. TUCKER, P. O. Box 1312, New York City.
Advertisements for the book:
In this final section of TheEgoAndHisOwn.com we will relay bibliographic detail and history of the book in its various iterations for the first 100 years in the English language. With the advent of print-on-demand publishing by computer algorithm, there is a proliferation of poor facsimiles, in addition to some poor editions put together by humans. We will give credit to Verso Press, who has recently put out a very nice, retypeset edition that stands out from the rest.