Project Introduction

This project was initiated on July 28th, 2017 and announced October 25th of the same year. It is a robust online edition of The Ego and His Own by Max Stirner, as translated by Stephen Byington. Benjamin Tucker’s 1907 edition will serve as a basis, but many additional materials will be continually added as the project progresses.

Most importantly is to:

  • make the work easily accessible in an attractive manner
  • collect important commentary and materials otherwise scattered or unavailable online
  • illustrate and notate the work in a useful manner to the casual reader and scholar alike

Because much of the writing in the “Front Matter” section was created to stand by itself to introduce the work it prefaced, there will certainly be quite a bit of repetition of basic biographical and other information from one to another.

If you would like to contribute to the project, please contact us through patreonfacebook or twitter.

Title Page




Translated from the German by

With an Introduction by

New York
BENJ. R. TUCKER, Publisher

Copyright. 1907, by



Benjamin R. Tuckers’s Preface

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.

February, 1907.

B. R. T.

Steven T. Byington’s Preface

Translator’s Preface

If the style of this book is found unattractive, it will show that I have done my work ill and not represented the author truly; but, if it is found odd, I beg that I may not bear all the blame. I have simply tried to reproduce the author’s own mixture of colloquialisms and technicalities, and his preference for the precise expression of his thought rather than the word conventionally expected.

One especial feature of the style, however, gives the reason why this preface should exist. It is characteristic of Stirner’s writing that the thread of thought is carried on largely by the repetition of the same word in a modified form or sense. That connection of ideas which has guided popular instinct in the formation of words is made to suggest the line of thought which the writer wishes to follow. If this echoing of words is missed, the bearing of the statements on each other is in a measure lost; and, where the ideas are very new, one cannot afford to throw away any help in following their connection. Therefore, where a useful echo (and there are few useless ones in the book) could not be reproduced in English, I have generally called attention to it in a note. My notes are distinguished from the author’s by being enclosed in brackets.

One or two of such coincidences of language, occurring in words which are prominent throughout the book, should be borne constantly in mind as a sort of Keri perpetuum: for instance, the identity in the original of the words “spirit” and “mind,” and of the phrases “supreme being” and “highest essence.” In such cases I have repeated the note where it seemed that such repetition might be absolutely necessary, but have trusted the reader to carry it in his head where a failure of his memory would not be ruinous or likely.

For the same reason,—that is, in order not to miss any indication of the drift of the thought,—I have followed the original in the very liberal use of italics, and in the occasional eccentric use of a punctuation mark, as I might not have done in translating a work of a different nature.

I have set my face as a flint against the temptation to add notes that were not part of the translation. There is no telling how much I might have enlarged the book if I had put a note at every sentence which deserved to have its truth brought out by fuller elucidation,—or even at every one which I thought needed correction. It might have been within my province, if I had been able, to explain all the allusions to contemporary events, but I doubt whether any one could do that properly without having access to the files of three or four well-chosen German newspapers of Stirner’s time. The allusions are clear enough, without names and dates, to give a vivid picture of certain aspects of German life then. The tone of some of them is explained by the fact that the book was published under censorship.

I have usually preferred, for the sake of the connection, to translate Biblical quotations somewhat as they stand in the German, rather than conform them altogether to the English Bible. I am sometimes quite as near the original Greek as if I had followed the current translation.

Where German books are referred to, the pages cited are those of the German editions even when (usually because of some allusions in the text) the titles of the books are translated.

Steven T. Byington.

James L. Walker’s Introduction

Fifty years sooner or later can make little difference in the case of a book so revolutionary as this.

It saw the light when a so-called revolutionary movement was preparing in men’s minds, which agitation was, however, only a disturbance due to desires to participate in government, and to govern and to be governed, in a manner different to that which prevails. The “revolutionists” of 1848 were bewitched with an idea. They were not at all the masters of ideas. Most of those who since that time have prided themselves upon being revolutionists have been and are likewise but the bondmen of an idea,—that of the different lodgment of authority.

The temptation is, of course, present to attempt an explanation of the central thought of this work; but such an effort appears to be unnecessary to one who has the volume in his hand. The author’s care in illustrating his meaning shows that he realized how prone the possessed man is to misunderstand whatever is not moulded according to the fashions in thinking. The author’s learning was considerable, his command of words and ideas may never be excelled by another, and he judged it needful to develop his argument in manifold ways. So those who enter into the spirit of it will scarcely hope to impress others with the same conclusion in a more summary manner. Or, if one might deem that possible after reading Stirner, still one cannot think that it could be done so surely. The author has made certain work of it, even though he has to wait for his public; but still, the reception of the book by its critics amply proves the truth of the saying that one can give another arguments, but not understanding. The system-makers and system-believers thus far cannot get it out of their heads that any discourse about the nature of an ego must turn upon the common characteristics of egos, to make a systematic scheme of what they share as a generality. The critics inquire what kind of man the author is talking about. They repeat the question: What does he believe in? They fail to grasp the purport of the recorded answer: “I believe in myself”; which is attributed to a common soldier long before the time of Stirner. They ask, What is the principle of the self-conscious egoist,—the Einzige? To this perplexity Stirner says: Change the question; put “who?” instead of “what?” and an answer can then be given by naming him!

This, of course, is too simple for persons governed by ideas, and for persons in quest of new governing ideas. They wish to classify the man. Now, that in me which you can classify is not my distinguishing self. “Man” is the horizon or zero of my existence as an individual. Over that I rise as I can. At least I am something more than “man in general.” Pre-existing worship of ideals and disrespect for self had made of the ego at the very most a Somebody, oftener an empty vessel to be filled with the grace or the leavings of a tyrannous doctrine; thus a Nobody. Stirner dispels the morbid subjection, and recognizes each one who knows and feels himself as his own property to be neither humble Nobody nor befogged Somebody, but henceforth flat-footed and level-headed Mr. Thisbody, who has a character and good pleasure of his own, just as he has a name of his own.

The critics who attacked this work and were answered in the author’s minor writings, rescued from oblivion by John Henry Mackay, nearly all display the most astonishing triviality and impotent malice.

We owe to Dr. Eduard von Hartmann the unquestionable service which he rendered by directing attention to this book in his “Philosophie des Unbewussten,” the first edition of which was published in 1869, and in other writings. I do not begrudge Dr. von Hartmann the liberty of criticism which he used; and I think the admirers of Stirner’s teaching must quite appreciate one thing which Von Hartmann did at a much later date. In “Der Eigene” of August 10, 1896, there appeared a letter written by him and giving, among other things, certain data from which to judge that, when Friedrich Nietzsche wrote his later essays, Nietzsche was not ignorant of Stirner’s book.

Von Hartmann wishes that Stirner had gone on and developed his principle. Von Hartmann suggests that you and I are really the same spirit, looking out through two pairs of eyes. Then, one may reply, I need not concern myself about you, for in myself I have—us; and at that rate Von Hartmann is merely accusing himself of inconsistency: for, when Stirner wrote this book, Von Hartmann’s spirit was writing it; and it is just the pity that Von Hartmann in his present form does not indorse what he said in the form of Stirner,—that Stirner was different from any other man; that his ego was not Fichte’s transcendental generality, but “this transitory ego of flesh and blood.” It is not as a generality that you and I differ, but as a couple of facts which are not to be reasoned into one. “I” is somewise Hartmann, and thus Hartmann is “I”; but I am not Hartmann, and Hartmann is not—I. Neither am I the “I” of Stirner; only Stirner himself was Stirner’s “I.” Note how comparatively indifferent a matter it is with Stirner that one is an ego, but how all-important it is that one be a self-conscious ego,—a self-conscious, self-willed person.

Those not self-conscious and self-willed are constantly acting from self-interested motives, but clothing these in various garbs. Watch those people closely in the light of Stirner’s teaching, and they seem to be hypocrites, they have so many good moral and religious plans of which self-interest is at the end and bottom; but they, we may believe, do not know that this is more than a coincidence.

In Stirner we have the philosophical foundation for political liberty. His interest in the practical development of egoism to the dissolution of the State and the union of free men is clear and pronounced, and harmonizes perfectly with the economic philosophy of Josiah Warren. Allowing for difference of temperament and language, there is a substantial agreement between Stirner and Proudhon. Each would be free, and sees in every increase of the number of free people and their intelligence an auxiliary force against the oppressor. But, on the other hand, will any one for a moment seriously contend that Nietzsche and Proudhon march together in general aim and tendency,—that they have anything in common except the daring to profane the shrine and sepulchre of superstition?

Nietzsche has been much spoken of as a disciple of Stirner, and, owing to favorable cullings from Nietzsche’s writings, it has occurred that one of his books has been supposed to contain more sense than it really does—so long as one had read only the extracts.

Nietzsche cites scores or hundreds of authors. Had he read everything, and not read Stirner?

But Nietzsche is as unlike Stirner as a tight-rope performance is unlike an algebraic equation.

Stirner loved liberty for himself, and loved to see any and all men and women taking liberty, and he had no lust of power. Democracy to him was sham liberty, egoism the genuine liberty.

Nietzsche, on the contrary, pours out his contempt upon democracy because it is not aristocratic. He is predatory to the point of demanding that those who must succumb to feline rapacity shall be taught to submit with resignation. When he speaks of “Anarchistic dogs” scouring the streets of great civilized cities, it is true, the context shows that he means the Communists; but his worship of Napoleon, his bathos of anxiety for the rise of an aristocracy that shall rule Europe for thousands of years, his idea of treating women in the oriental fashion, show that Nietzsche has struck out in a very old path—doing the apotheosis of tyranny. We individual egoistic Anarchists, however, may say to the Nietzsche school, so as not to be misunderstood: We do not ask of the Napoleons to have pity, nor of the predatory barons to do justice. They will find it convenient for their own welfare to make terms with men who have learned of Stirner what a man can be who worships nothing, bears allegiance to nothing. To Nietzsche’s rhodomontade of eagles in baronial form, born to prey on industrial lambs, we rather tauntingly oppose the ironical question: Where are your claws? What if the “eagles” are found to be plain barnyard fowls on which more silly fowls have fastened steel spurs to hack the victims, who, however, have the power to disarm the sham “eagles” between two suns?

Stirner shows that men make their tyrants as they make their gods, and his purpose is to unmake tyrants.

Nietzsche dearly loves a tyrant.

In style Stirner’s work offers the greatest possible contrast to the puerile, padded phraseology of Nietzsche’s “Zarathustra” and its false imagery. Who ever imagined such an unnatural conjuncture as an eagle “toting” a serpent in friendship? which performance is told of in bare words, but nothing comes of it. In Stirner we are treated to an enlivening and earnest discussion addressed to serious minds, and every reader feels that the word is to him, for his instruction and benefit, so far as he has mental independence and courage to take it and use it. The startling intrepidity of this book is infused with a whole-hearted love for all mankind, as evidenced by the fact that the author shows not one iota of prejudice or any idea of division of men into ranks. He would lay aside government, but would establish any regulation deemed convenient, and for this only our convenience is consulted. Thus there will be general liberty only when the disposition toward tyranny is met by intelligent opposition that will no longer submit to such a rule. Beyond this the manly sympathy and philosophical bent of Stirner are such that rulership appears by contrast a vanity, an infatuation of perverted pride. We know not whether we more admire our author or more love him.

Stirner’s attitude toward woman is not special. She is an individual if she can be, not handicapped by anything he says, feels, thinks, or plans. This was more fully exemplified in his life than even in this book; but there is not a line in the book to put or keep woman in an inferior position to man, neither is there anything of caste or aristocracy in the book.

Likewise there is nothing of obscurantism or affected mysticism about it. Everything in it is made as plain as the author could make it. He who does not so is not Stirner’s disciple nor successor nor co-worker.

Some one may ask: How does plumb-line Anarchism train with the unbridled egoism proclaimed by Stirner? The plumb-line is not a fetish, but an intellectual conviction, and egoism is a universal fact of animal life. Nothing could seem clearer to my mind than that the reality of egoism must first come into the consciousness of men, before we can have the unbiased Einzige in place of the prejudiced biped who lends himself to the support of tyrannies a million times stronger over me than the natural self-interest of any individual. When plumb-line doctrine is misconceived as duty between unequal-minded men,—as a religion of humanity,—it is indeed the confusion of trying to read without knowing the alphabet and of putting philanthropy in place of contract. But, if the plumb-line be scientific, it is or can be my possession, my property, and I choose it for its use—when circumstances admit of its use. I do not feel bound to use it because it is scientific, in building my house; but, as my will, to be intelligent, is not to be merely wilful, the adoption of the plumb-line follows the discarding of incantations. There is no plumb-line without the unvarying lead at the end of the line; not a fluttering bird or a clawing cat.

On the practical side of the question of egoism versus self-surrender and for a trial of egoism in politics, this may be said: the belief that men not moved by a sense of duty will be unkind or unjust to others is but an indirect confession that those who hold that belief are greatly interested in having others live for them rather than for themselves. But I do not ask or expect so much. I am content if others individually live for themselves, and thus cease in so many ways to act in opposition to my living for myself,—to our living for ourselves.

If Christianity has failed to turn the world from evil, it is not to be dreamed that rationalism of a pious moral stamp will succeed in the same task. Christianity, or all philanthropic love, is tested in non-resistance. It is a dream that example will change the hearts of rulers, tyrants, mobs. If the extremest self-surrender fails, how can a mixture of Christian love and worldly caution succeed? This at least must be given up. The policy of Christ and Tolstoi can soon be tested, but Tolstoi’s belief is not satisfied with a present test and failure. He has the infatuation of one who persists because this ought to be. The egoist who thinks “I should like this to be” still has the sense to perceive that it is not accomplished by the fact of some believing and submitting, inasmuch as others are alert to prey upon the unresisting. The Pharaohs we have ever with us.

Several passages in this most remarkable book show the author as a man full of sympathy. When we reflect upon his deliberately expressed opinions and sentiments,—his spurning of the sense of moral obligation as the last form of superstition,—may we not be warranted in thinking that the total disappearance of the sentimental supposition of duty liberates a quantity of nervous energy for the purest generosity and clarifies the intellect for the more discriminating choice of objects of merit?

J. L. Walker.

John Henry Mackay’s Introduction

Translator’s preface:

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.

Hubert Kennedy


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

James J. Martin’s Introduction

The following introduction was published in the 1963 Libertarian Book Club edition of The Ego and His Own that was edited by Dr. James J. Martin. Though the word “libertarian” is now most associated with a very specific political orientation, the LBC was started by European and Jewish Anarchists and Communists when the term had a much wider connotation. The group was one of the the longest running anarchist organizations in New York, though they are now defunct. —Kevin I. Slaughter

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.


Malibu, California

September 8, 1962

Sidney E. Parker’s Introduction

(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.

Massimo Passamani’s Introduction

(2001 Italian edition)
Massimo Passamani
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.
–Andre Breton

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

Translator’s notes

(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.