For more than twenty years I have entertained the design of publishing an English translation of “Der Einzige und sein Eigentum.” When I formed this design, the number of English-speaking persons who had ever heard of the book was very limited. The memory of Max Stirner had been virtually extinct for an entire generation. But in the last two decades there has been a remarkable revival of interest both in the book and in its author. It began in this country with a discussion in the pages of the Anarchist periodical, “Liberty,” in which Stirner’s thought was clearly expounded and vigorously championed by Dr. James L. Walker, who adopted for this discussion the pseudonym “Tak Kak.” At that time Dr. Walker was the chief editorial writer for the Galveston “News.” Some years later he became a practising physician in Mexico, where he died in 1904. A series of essays which he began in an Anarchist periodical, “Egoism,” and which he lived to complete, was published after his death in a small volume, “The Philosophy of Egoism.” It is a very able and convincing exposition of Stirner’s teachings, and almost the only one that exists in the English language. But the chief instrument in the revival of Stirnerism was and is the German poet, John Henry Mackay. Very early in his career he met Stirner’s name in Lange’s “History of Materialism,” and was moved thereby to read his book. The work made such an impression on him that he resolved to devote a portion of his life to the rediscovery and rehabilitation of the lost and forgotten genius. Through years of toil and correspondence and travel, and triumphing over tremendous obstacles, he carried his task to completion, and his biography of Stirner appeared in Berlin in 1898. It is a tribute to the thoroughness of Mackay’s work that since its publication not one important fact about Stirner has been discovered by anybody. During his years of investigation Mackay’s advertising for information had created a new interest in Stirner, which was enhanced by the sudden fame of the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, an author whose intellectual kinship with Stirner has been a subject of much controversy. “Der Einzige,” previously obtainable only in an expensive form, was included in Philipp Reclam’s Universal-Bibliothek, and this cheap edition has enjoyed a wide and ever-increasing circulation. During the last dozen years the book has been translated twice into French, once into Italian, once into Russian, and possibly into other languages. The Scandinavian critic, Brandes, has written on Stirner. A large and appreciative volume, entitled “L’Individualisme Anarchiste: Max Stirner,” from the pen of Prof. Victor Basch, of the University of Rennes, has appeared in Paris. Another large and sympathetic volume, “Max Stirner,” written by Dr. Anselm Ruest, has been published very recently in Berlin. Dr. Paul Eltzbacher, in his work, “Der Anarchismus,” gives a chapter to Stirner, making him one of the seven typical Anarchists, beginning with William Godwin and ending with Tolstoi, of whom his book treats. There is hardly a notable magazine or a review on the Continent that has not given at least one leading article to the subject of Stirner. Upon the initiative of Mackay and with the aid of other admirers a suitable stone has been placed above the philosopher’s previously-neglected grave, and a memorial tablet upon the house in Berlin where he died in 1856; and this spring another is to be placed upon the house in Bayreuth where he was born in 1806. As a result of these various efforts, and though but little has been written about Stirner in the English language, his name is now known at least to thousands in America and England where formerly it was known only to hundreds. Therefore conditions are now more favorable for the reception of this volume than they were when I formed the design of publishing it, more than twenty years ago.
The problem of securing a reasonably good translation (for in the case of a work presenting difficulties so enormous it was idle to hope for an adequate translation) was finally solved by entrusting the task to Steven T. Byington, a scholar of remarkable attainments, whose specialty is philology, and who is also one of the ablest workers in the propaganda of Anarchism. But, for further security from error, it was agreed with Mr. Byington that his translation should have the benefit of revision by Dr. Walker, the most thorough American student of Stirner, and by Emma Heller Schumm and George Schumm, who are not only sympathetic with Stirner, but familiar with the history of his time, and who enjoy a knowledge of English and German that makes it difficult to decide which is their native tongue. It was also agreed that, upon any point of difference between the translator and his revisers which consultation might fail to solve, the publisher should decide. This method has been followed, and in a considerable number of instances it has fallen to me to make a decision. It is only fair to say, therefore, that the responsibility for special errors and imperfections properly rests on my shoulders, whereas, on the other hand, the credit for whatever general excellence the translation may possess belongs with the same propriety to Mr. Byington and his coadjutors. One thing is certain: its defects are due to no lack of loving care and pains. And I think I may add with confidence, while realizing fully how far short of perfection it necessarily falls, that it may safely challenge comparison with the translations that have been made into other languages.
In particular, I am responsible for the admittedly erroneous rendering of the title. “The Ego and His Own” is not an exact English equivalent of “Der Einzige und sein Eigentum.” But then, there is no exact English equivalent. Perhaps the nearest is “The Unique One and His Property.” But the unique one is not strictly the Einzige, for uniqueness connotes not only singleness but an admirable singleness, while Stirner’s Einzigkeit is admirable in his eyes only as such, it being no part of the purpose of his book to distinguish a particular Einzigkeit as more excellent than another. Moreover, “The Unique One and His Property” has no graces to compel our forgiveness of its slight inaccuracy. It is clumsy and unattractive. And the same objections may be urged with still greater force against all the other renderings that have been suggested,—”The Single One and His Property,” “The Only One and His Property,” “The Lone One and His Property,” “The Unit and His Property,” and, last and least and worst, “The Individual and His Prerogative.” “The Ego and His Own,” on the other hand, if not a precise rendering, is at least an excellent title in itself; excellent by its euphony, its monosyllabic incisiveness, and its telling—Einzigkeit. Another strong argument in its favor is the emphatic correspondence of the phrase “his own” with Mr. Byington’s renderings of the kindred words, Eigenheit and Eigner. Moreover, no reader will be led astray who bears in mind Stirner’s distinction: “I am not an ego along with other egos, but the sole ego; I am unique.” And, to help the reader to bear this in mind, the various renderings of the word Einzige that occur through the volume are often accompanied by foot-notes showing that, in the German, one and the same word does duty for all.
If the reader finds the first quarter of this book somewhat forbidding and obscure, he is advised nevertheless not to falter. Close attention will master almost every difficulty, and, if he will but give it, he will find abundant reward in what follows. For his guidance I may specify one defect in the author’s style. When controverting a view opposite to his own, he seldom distinguishes with sufficient clearness his statement of his own view from his re-statement of the antagonistic view. As a result, the reader is plunged into deeper and deeper mystification, until something suddenly reveals the cause of his misunderstanding, after which he must go back and read again. I therefore put him on his guard. The other difficulties lie, as a rule, in the structure of the work. As to these I can hardly do better than translate the following passage from Prof. Basch’s book, alluded to above: “There is nothing more disconcerting than the first approach to this strange work. Stirner does not condescend to inform us as to the architecture of his edifice, or furnish us the slightest guiding thread. The apparent divisions of the book are few and misleading. From the first page to the last a unique thought circulates, but it divides itself among an infinity of vessels and arteries in each of which runs a blood so rich in ferments that one is tempted to describe them all. There is no progress in the development, and the repetitions are innumerable…. The reader who is not deterred by this oddity, or rather absence, of composition gives proof of genuine intellectual courage. At first one seems to be confronted with a collection of essays strung together, with a throng of aphorisms…. But, if you read this book several times; if, after 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 depth.”
A word about the dedication. Mackay’s investigations have brought to light that Marie Daehnhardt had nothing whatever in common with Stirner, and so was unworthy of the honor conferred upon her. She was no Eigene. I therefore reproduce the dedication merely in the interest of historical accuracy.
Happy as I am in the appearance of this book, my joy is not unmixed with sorrow. The cherished project was as dear to the heart of Dr. Walker as to mine, and I deeply grieve that he is no longer with us to share our delight in the fruition. Nothing, however, can rob us of the masterly introduction that he wrote for this volume (in 1903, or perhaps earlier), from which I will not longer keep the reader. This introduction, no more than the book itself, shall that Einzige, Death, make his Eigentum.