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 It is at once a historical document, a pamphlet of the intellectual disturbance of the mid-nineteenth century, and a timeless classic.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