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Legends of Anarchism
Stirner was born in Bayreuth, Bavaria. What little is known of his life is mostly due to the Scottish-born German writer John Henry Mackay, who wrote a biography of Stirner (Max Stirner – sein Leben und sein Werk), published in German in 1898 (enlarged 1910, 1914), and translated into English in 2005.
Stirner was the only child of Albert Christian Heinrich Schmidt (1769–1807) and Sophia Elenora Reinlein (1778–1839). His father died of tuberculosis on April 19, 1807 at the age of 37. In 1809 his mother remarried to Heinrich Ballerstedt, a pharmacist, and settled in West Prussian Kulm (now Chełmno, Poland).
When Stirner turned 20, he attended the University of Berlin, where he studied philology, philosophy, and theology. He attended the lectures of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who was to become a source of inspiration for his thinking. He attended Hegel's lectures on the history of philosophy, the philosophy of religion and the subjective spirit. Stirner then moved to the University of Erlangen, which he attended at the same time as Ludwig Feuerbach.
Stirner returned to Berlin and obtained a teaching certificate, but was unable to obtain a full-time teaching post from the Prussian government.
While in Berlin in 1841, Stirner participated in discussions with a group of young philosophers called "Die Freien" ("The Free"), and whom historians have subsequently categorized as the Young Hegelians. Some of the best known names in 19th century literature and philosophy were involved with this group, including Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Bruno Bauer, and Arnold Ruge. Contrary to popular belief, Feuerbach was not a member of Die Freien, although he was heavily involved in Young Hegelian discourse. While some of the Young Hegelians were eager subscribers to Hegel's dialectical method and attempted to apply dialectical approaches to Hegel's conclusions, the left-wing members of the group broke with Hegel. Feuerbach and Bauer led this charge.
Frequently the debates would take place at Hippel's, a wine bar in Friedrichstraße, attended by, among others, Marx and Engels, who were both adherents of Feuerbach at the time. Stirner met with Engels many times, and Engels even recalled that they were "great friends", but it is still unclear whether Marx and Stirner ever met. It does not appear that Stirner contributed much to the discussions, but he was a faithful member of the club and an attentive listener.
The most-often reproduced portrait of Stirner is a cartoon by Engels, drawn 40 years later from memory at biographer Mackay's request. It is highly likely that this and the group sketch of Die Freien at Hippel's are the only firsthand images of Stirner.
Stirner worked as a teacher in a school for young girls owned by Madame Gropius when he wrote his major work, The Ego and Its Own, which in part is a polemic against Feuerbach and Bauer, but also against communists such as Wilhelm Weitling and the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. He resigned from his teaching position in anticipation of controversy from this work's publication in October 1844.
Stirner married twice. His first wife was a household servant, with whom he fell in love at an early age. She died from complications with pregnancy in 1838, soon after their marriage. In 1843 he married Marie Dähnhardt, an intellectual associated with Die Freien. They divorced in 1846. The Ego and Its Own was dedicated "to my sweetheart Marie Dähnhardt". Marie later converted to Catholicism and died in 1902 in London.
Stirner planned and financed (with Marie's inheritance) an attempt by some Young Hegelians to own and operate a milk-shop on co-operative principles. This enterprise failed partly because the dairy farmers were suspicious of these well-dressed intellectuals. The milk shop was also so well decorated that most of the potential customers felt too poorly dressed to buy their milk there.
After The Ego and Its Own, Stirner wrote Stirner's Critics and translated Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and Jean-Baptiste Say's Traite d'Economie Politique into German, to little financial gain. He also wrote a compilation of texts titled History of Reaction in 1852. Stirner died in 1856 in Berlin from an infected insect bite; it is said that Bruno Bauer was the only Young Hegelian present at his funeral, which was held at the Friedhof II der Sophiengemeinde Berlin.
October 25, 1806 - June 26, 1856
Johann Kaspar Schmidt, better known as Max Stirner, was a German philosopher. He is often seen as one of the forerunners of nihilism, existentialism, psychoanalytic theory, postmodernism, and anarchism, especially of individualist anarchism. Stirner's main work is The Ego and Its Own, also known as The Ego and His Own (Der Einzige und sein Eigentum in German, which translates literally as The Only One and His Property). This work was first published in 1845 in Leipzig, and has since appeared in numerous editions and translations.