Egoistische Sache

A collection of Prefaces, Introductions and Notes about Max Stirner (1806-1856) writings.

Location: Valencia, Comunidad Valenciana, Spain

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


(J. L. Walker, 1907)
[Der Einzige und sein Eigentum]

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

It saw the light when a so-called revolutionary movement waspreparing in men's minds, which agitation was, however, only adisturbance due to desires to participate in government, and togovern and to be governed, in a manner different to that whichprevails. The " revolutionists " of 1848 were bewitched with anidea. They were not at all the masters of ideas. Most of thosewho since that time have prided themselves upon being revolu-tionists 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 explana-tion of the central thought of this work; but such an effort ap-pears to be unnecessary to one who has the volume in his hand.The author's care in illustrating his meaning shows that he real-ized how prone the possessed man is to misunderstand whateveris not moulded according to the fashions in thinking. Theauthor's learning was considerable, his command of words andideas may never be excelled by another, and he judged it needfulto develop his argument in manifold ways. So those who enterinto the spirit of it will scarcely hope to impress others with thesame conclusion in a more summary manner. Or, if one mightdeem that possible after reading Stirner, still one cannot thinkthat it could be done so surely. The author has made certainwork 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 ofthe saying that one can give another arguments, but not understanding. The system-makers and system-believers thus far can-not get it out of their heads that any discourse about the natureof an ego must turn upon the common characteristics of egos, tomake 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 failto grasp the purport of the recorded answer: " I believe in my-self "; which is attributed to a common soldier long before thetime 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 ananswer 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 toclassify the man. Now, that in me which you can classify is notmy distinguishing self. " Man " is the horizon or zero of myexistence as an individual. Over that I rise as I can. At leastI am something more than "man in general." Pre-existing wor-ship of ideals and disrespect for self had made of the ego at thevery most a Somebody, oftener an empty vessel to be filled withthe grace or the leavings of a tyrannous doctrine; thus a No-body. Stirner dispels the morbid subjection, and recognizeseach one who knows and feels himself as his own property to beneither humble Nobody nor befogged Somebody, but henceforthflat-footed and level-headed Mr. Thisbody, who has a characterand good pleasure of his own, just as he has a name of his own.

The critics who attacked this work and were answered in theauthor's minor writings, rescued from oblivion by John HenryMackay, nearly all display the most astonishing triviality andimpotent malice.

We owe to Dr. Eduard von Hartmann the unquestionableservice which he rendered by directing attention to this book inhis "Philosophie des Unbewussten," the first edition of whichwas published in 1869, and in other writings. I do not begrudgeDr. von Hartmann the liberty of criticism which he used; and I think the admirers of Stirner's teaching must quite appreciateone thing which Von Hartmann did at a much later date. In'' Der Eigene '' of August 10, 1896, there appeared a letter writ-ten by him and giving, among other things, certain data fromwhich to judge that, when Friedrich Nietzsche wrote his lateressays, Nietzsche was not ignorant of Stirner's book.
Von Hartmann wishes that Stirner had gone on and developedhis principle. Von Hartmann suggests that you and I are reallythe same spirit, looking out through two pairs of eyes. Then,one may reply, I need not concern myself about you, for in my-self I have—us; and at that rate Von Hartmann is merely accus-ing himself of inconsistency: for, when Stirner wrote this book,Von Hartmann's spirit was writing it; and it is just the pity thatVon Hartmann in his present form does not indorse what he saidin the form of Stirner,—that Stirner was different from any otherman; that his ego was not Fichte's transcendental generality,but " this transitory ego of flesh and blood." It is not as a gen-erality that you and I differ, but as a couple of facts which arenot to be reasoned into one. " I " is somewise Hartmann, andthus Hartmann is " I "; but I am not Hartmann, and Hartmannis not—I. Neither am I the " I " of Stirner; only Stirner him-self was Stirner's " I." Note how comparatively indifferent amatter it is with Stirner that one is an ego, but how all-impor-tant it is that one be a self-conscious ego,—a self-conscious, self-willed person.

Those not self-conscious and self-willed are constantly actingfrom 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 moraland religious plans of which self-interest is at the end and bot-tom ; but they, we may believe, do not know that this is morethan a coincidence.

In Stirner we have the philosophical foundation for politicalliberty. His interest in the practical development of egoism tothe dissolution of the State and the union of free men is clear and pronounced, and harmonizes perfectly with the economicphilosophy of Josiah Warren. Allowing for difference of tem-perament and language, there is a substantial agreement be-tween Stirner and Proudhon. Bach would be free, and sees inevery increase of the number of free people and their intelli-gence an auxiliary force against the oppressor. But, on theother hand, will any one for a moment seriously contend thatNietzsche and Proudhon march together in general aim and ten-dency,—that they have anything in common except the daringto 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, ithas occurred that one of his books has been supposed to containmore sense than it really does—so long as one had read only the extracts.

Nietzsche cites scores or hundreds of authors. Had he readeverything, and not read Stirner ?
But Nietzsche is as unlike Stirner as a tight-rope performance isunlike an algebraic equation.
Stirner loved liberty for himself, and loved to see any and all menand women taking liberty, and he had no lust of power. Democracyto him was sham liberty, egoism the genuine liberty.
Nietzsche, on the contrary, pours out his contempt upondemocracy because it is not aristocratic. He is predatory tothe point of demanding that those who must succumb to felinerapacity shall be taught to submit with resignation. When hespeaks of " Anarchistic dogs " scouring the streets of great civi-lized cities, it is true, the context shows that he means the Com-munists; but his worship of Napoleon, his bathos of anxiety forthe rise of an aristocracy that shall rule Europe for thousands ofyears, his idea of treating women in the oriental fashion, showthat Nietzsche has struck out in a very old path—doing theapotheosis of tyranny. We individual egoistic Anarchists, how-ever, may say to the Nietzsche school, so as not to be misunder-stood ; We do not ask of the Napoleons to have pity, nor of the predatory barons to do justice. They will find it convenient fortheir own welfare to make terms with men who have learned ofStirner what a man can be who worships nothing, bears alle-giance to nothing. To Nietzsche's rhodomontade of eagles inbaronial form, born to prey on industrial lambs, we rather taunt-ingly oppose the ironical question : Where are your claws ?What if the " eagles " are found to be plain barnyard fowls onwhich more silly fowls have fastened steel spurs to hack the vic-tims, who, however, have the power to disarm the sham" eagles " between two suns ?

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

Nietzsche dearly loves a tyrant.

In style Stirner's work offers the greatest possible contrast tothe puerile, padded phraseology of Nietzsche's " Zarathustra "and its false imagery. Who ever imagined such an unnaturalconjuncture as an eagle " toting " a serpent in friendship ? whichperformance is told of in bare words, but nothing comes of it.In Stirner we are treated to an enlivening and earnest discussionaddressed to serious minds, and every reader feels that the wordis to him, for his instruction and benefit, so far as he has mentalindependence and courage to take it and use it. The startlingintrepidity of this book is infused with a whole-hearted love forall mankind, as evidenced by the fact that the author shows notone iota of prejudice or any idea of division of men into ranks.He would lay aside government, but would establish any regula-tion deemed convenient, and for this only our convenience isconsulted. Thus there will be general liberty only when the dis-position toward tyranny is met by intelligent opposition that willno longer submit to such a rule. Beyond this the manly sym-pathy and philosophical bent of Stirner are such that rulershipappears by contrast a vanity, an infatuation of perverted pride.We know not whether we more admire our author or more lovehim.

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 hislife than even in this book; but there is not a line in the book toput or keep woman in an inferior position to man, neither isthere anything of caste or aristocracy in the book.

Likewise there is nothing of obscurantism or affected mystic-ism about it. Everything in it is made as plain as the authorcould make it. He who does not so is not Stirner's disciple norsuccessor nor co-worker.

Some one may ask : How does plumb-line Anarchism trainwith 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 tomy mind than that the reality of egoism must first come into theconsciousness of men, before we can have the unbiased Einzigein place of the prejudiced biped who lends himself to the sup-port of tyrannies a million times stronger over me than the nat-ural self-interest of any individual. When plumb-line doctrineis misconceived as duty between unequal-minded men,—as a reli-gion of humanity,— it is indeed the confusion of trying to readwithout knowing the alphabet and of putting philanthropy inplace of contract. But, if the plumb-line be scientific, it is orcan be my possession, my property, and I choose it for its use—when circumstances admit of its use. I do not feel bound to useit because it is scientific, in building my house; but, as my will,to be intelligent, is not to be merely wilful, the adoption of theplumb-line follows the discarding of incantations. There is noplumb-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-sur-render and for a trial of egoism in politics, this may be said: thebelief that men not moved by a sense of duty will be unkind orunjust to others is but an indirect confession that those who holdthat belief are greatly interested in having others live for themrather than for themselves. But I do not ask or expect so much.

I am content if others individually live for themselves, and thugcease in so many ways to act in opposition to my living for my-self,—to our living for ourselves.

If Christianity has failed to turn the world from evil, it is notto be dreamed that rationalism of a pious moral stamp will suc-ceed in the same task. Christianity, or all philanthropic love, istested in non-resistance. It is a dream that example will changethe hearts of rulers, tyrants, mobs. If the extremest self-surren-der fails, how can a mixture of Christian love and worldly cau-tion succeed ? This at least must be given up. The policy ofChrist and Tolstoi can soon be tested, but Tolstoi's belief is notsatisfied with a present test and failure. He has the infatuationof one who persists because this ought to be. The egoist whothinks " I should like this to be " still has the sense to perceivethat it is not accomplished by the fact of some believing andsubmitting, inasmuch as others are alert to prey upon the un-resisting. The Pharaohs we have ever with us.

Several passages in this most remarkable book show the au-thor as a man full of sympathy. When we reflect upon his de-liberately expressed opinions and sentiments,—his spurning ofthe sense of moral obligation as the last form of superstition,—may we not be warranted in thinking that the total disappear-ance of the sentimental supposition of duty liberates a quantityof nervous energy for the purest generosity and clarifies the in-tellect for the more discriminating choice of objects of merit ?


Post a Comment

<< Home