Legends of Anarchism
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike 4.0 International License.
The philosophy of Stirner is credited as a major influence in the development of nihilism, existentialism, post-modernism, and anarchism (especially of individualist anarchism, post-anarchism, and post-left anarchy). Stirner's main philosophical work was 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 Unique One and His Property).
Stirner argues that the concept of the self is something impossible to fully comprehend; a so-called 'creative nothing' he described as an "end-point of language". Stirner has been broadly understood as a proponent of both psychological egoism and ethical egoism, although the latter position can be disputed, as there is no claim in Stirner's writing, in which one 'ought to' pursue one's own interest, and further claiming any 'ought' could be seen as a new 'fixed idea'. However, he may be understood as a rational egoist in the sense that he considered it irrational not to act in one's self-interest. How this self-interest is defined, however, is necessarily subjective, allowing both selfish and altruistic normative claims to be included.
Individual self-realization rests on each individual's desire to fulfill their egoism. The difference between an unwilling and a willing egoist, is that the former will be 'possessed' by an empty idea and believe that they are fulfilling a higher cause, but usually being unaware that they are only fulfilling their own desires to be happy or secure, and the latter, in contrast, will be a person that is able to freely choose its actions, fully aware that they are only fulfilling individual desires.
Sacred things exist only for the egoist who does not acknowledge himself, the involuntary egoist ... in short, for the egoist who would like not to be an egoist, and abases himself (combats his egoism), but at the same time abases himself only for the sake of "being exalted", and therefore of gratifying his egoism. Because he would like to cease to be an egoist, he looks about in heaven and earth for higher beings to serve and sacrifice himself to; but, however much he shakes and disciplines himself, in the end he does all for his own sake... [on] this account I call him the involuntary egoist. ...As you are each instant, you are your own creature in this very 'creature' you do not wish to lose yourself, the creator. You are yourself a higher being than you are, and surpass yourself ... just this, as an involuntary egoist, you fail to recognize; and therefore the 'higher essence' is to you – an alien essence. ... Alienness is a criterion of the "sacred".
— Ibidem, Cambridge edition, pp. 37–8
The contrast is also expressed in terms of the difference between the voluntary egoist being the possessor of his concepts as opposed to being possessed. Only when one realizes that all sacred truths such as law, right, morality, religion etc., are nothing other than artificial concepts, and not to be obeyed, can one act freely. For Stirner, to be free is to be both one's own "creature" (in the sense of 'creation') and one's own "creator" (dislocating the traditional role assigned to the gods). To Stirner power is the method of egoism. It is the only justified method of gaining 'Property (philosophy)'.
Stirner proposes that most commonly accepted social institutions – including the notion of State, property as a right, natural rights in general, and the very notion of society – were mere illusions, "spooks" or ghosts in the mind.
He advocated egoism and a form of amoralism, in which individuals would unite in 'unions of egoists' only when it was in their self-interest to do so. For him, property simply comes about through might: "Whoever knows how to take, to defend, the thing, to him belongs property." And, "What I have in my power, that is my own. So long as I assert myself as holder, I am the proprietor of the thing." He says, "I do not step shyly back from your property, but look upon it always as my property, in which I respect nothing. Pray do the like with what you call my property!" Stirner considers the world and everything in it, including other persons, available to one's taking or use without moral constraint – that rights do not exist in regard to objects and people at all. He sees no rationality in taking the interests of others into account unless doing so furthers one's self-interest, which he believes is the only legitimate reason for acting. He denies society as being an actual entity, calling society a "spook" and that "the individuals are its reality" (The Ego and Its Own).
Union of egoists
Stirner's idea of the "Union of Egoists", was first expounded in The Ego and Its Own. The Union is understood as a non-systematic association, which Stirner proposed in contradistinction to the state. The Union is understood as a relation between egoists which is continually renewed by all parties' support through an act of will. The Union requires that all parties participate out of a conscious egoism. If one party silently finds themselves to be suffering, but puts up and keeps the appearance, the union has degenerated into something else. This union is not seen as an authority above a person's own will.
Stirner criticizes conventional notions of revolution, arguing that social movements aimed at overturning the state are tacitly statist because they are implicitly aimed at the establishment of a new state thereafter.
Hegel's possible influence
Scholars such as Karl Löwith and Lawrence Stepelevich have argued that Hegel was a major influence on The Ego and Its Own. Stepelevich argues, that while The Ego and its Own evidently has an "un-Hegelian structure and tone to the work as a whole", as well as being fundamentally hostile to Hegel's conclusions about the self and the world, this does not mean that Hegel had no effect on Stirner.
The main juncture leading from Hegel to Stirner is found [in The Phenomenology of the Spirit] at the termination of a phenomenological passage to absolute knowledge. Stirner's work is most clearly understood when it is taken to be the answer to the question, 'what role will consciousness play after it has traversed the series of shapes known as 'untrue' knowledge and has attained to absolute knowledge?
— Lawrence Stepelevich, "Max Stirner as Hegelian", Journal of the History of Ideas, v.15, pp. 597–614 (1985).
To go beyond and against Hegel in true dialectical fashion is in some way continuing Hegel's project, and Stepelevich argues that this effort of Stirner's is, in fact a completion of Hegel's project. Stepelevich concludes his argument referring to Jean Hyppolite, who in summing up the intention of Hegel's Phenomenology, stated: "The history of the world is finished; all that is needed is for the specific individual to rediscover it in himself."
Stirner as an Einziger took himself directly to be that 'specific individual' and then went on as a Hegelian to propose the practical consequence which would ultimately follow upon that theoretical rediscovery, the free play of self-consciousness among the objects of its own determination: "The idols exist through me; I need only refrain from creating them anew, then they exist no longer: 'higher powers' exist only through my exalting them and abasing myself.... My intercourse with the world consists in my enjoying it, and so consuming it for my self-enjoyment" (Ego, 319)
— Lawrence Stepelevich, "Max Stirner as Hegelian"
Scholars such as Douglas Moggach and Widukind De Ridder have argued that Stirner was obviously a student of Hegel, like his contemporaries Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer, but this does not necessarily make him an 'Hegelian'. Contrary to the Young Hegelians, Stirner scorned all attempts at an immanent critique of Hegel and the Enlightenment, and renounced Bruno Bauer and Ludwig Feuerbach's emancipatory claims as well. Contrary to Hegel, who considered the given as an inadequate embodiment of rationality, Stirner leaves the given intact by considering it a mere object, not of transformation, but of enjoyment and consumption ("His Own"). Stirner does not go beyond Hegel according to Douglas Moggach, but in fact leaves the domain of philosophy in its entirety:
Stirner refused to conceptualize the human self, and rendered it devoid of any reference to rationality or universal standards. The self was moreover considered a field of action, a ‘never-being I’. The ‘I’ had no essence to realize and life itself was a process of self-dissolution. Far from accepting, like the humanist Hegelians, a construal of subjectivity endowed with a universal and ethical mission, Stirner’s notion of ‘the Unique’ ( Der Einzige ) distances itself from any conceptualization whatsoever: ‘There is no development of the concept of the Unique. No philosophical system can be built out of it, as it can out of Being, or Thinking, or the I. Rather, with it, all development of the concept ceases. The person who views it as a principle thinks that he can treat it philosophically or theoretically and necessarily wastes his breath arguing against it’.
— Douglas Moggach & Widukind De Ridder, "Hegelianism in Restoration Prussia,1841–1848: Freedom, Humanism and ‘Anti-Humanism’ in Young Hegelian Thought.", In: 'Hegel's Thought in Europe: Currents, Crosscurrents and Undercurrents', ed. Lisa Herzog (pp. 71-92). Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, p. 75