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The Sad, Sour Spook:
Max Stirner & His Proper Ties, Part I

3,753 words

Part 1 of 2. Part 2 here.

The Unique and Its Property by Max Stirner
Translated with a new introduction by Wolfi Landstreicher
Underworld Amusements, 2017

John Daggett: I paid you a small fortune.
Bane: And this gives you power over me?
The Dark Knight Rises (Nolan, 2012)

Another week, another witch-hunt. This time, the protectors of ideological purity are defending the escutcheon of Max Stirner from supposed besmirchment. If that doesn’t even more sound absurd and hypocritical than usual[1], read on!

These periodical transformations of soi-disant rationalists and “enlightened” folk into reincarnations of the Witchfinders General[2] (or more likely, Witchsmellers Pursuivant[3]) have always reminded me of Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus, whose major theme is the many ways in which pure rationality leads to barbarism and even diabolism.

In an early chapter — set, appropriately, in a theological college — the protagonist and narrator are invited to dinner at the home of a favorite professor, one Dr. Kumpf. Kumpf is sort of a Teutonic Ned Flanders, who flaunts his proto-Barth fideism[4] in the form of a compulsive and relentlessly cheerful Lutheran Gemutlichkeit worthy of those who know they are saved — or hope they are. Beer, good German home cooking, be-dirndled daughters, folk songs… it’s quite grueling. Could it get more embarrassing? “It had to happen, and it did…”

“Behold!” he cried. “There in the corner, the Mocker, the Killjoy, the sad, sour, spook, and will not suffer our hearts to rejoice in God with meat and song! But he shall not have the better of us, the Archvillain, with his sly, fiery darts! Apage!” he thundered, grabbed a hard roll, and hurled it into the corner.[5]

Herr Prof. Dr. Kumpf’s hard roll came to mind again as a Facebook post alerted me to Keith Preston’s blog post about the latest kerfuffle about Max Stirner’s “ties to the Nazis.” (Lastest? We’ll get to that in a sec’).

Preston summarizes it in his book review thus:

Underworld Amusements is owned by Kevin Slaughter,[6] a man who has been attacked as an OFFICIAL BAD PERSON by leftist critics of [translator Wolfi] Landstreicher’s work. … Landstreicher has been accused of some great moral failure for allowing an alleged OFFICIAL BAD PERSON to publish this translation. A screed titled “Wolfi and White Supremacy: What Happened and What It Means” was originally posted on the TheConjureHouse.Com website. The post was a stereotypical “fascist creep” screed, authored by a “Dr. Bones” individual whose online avatar features an emaciated-looking young man with a hammer and sickle scarf masking his face. [7]

As it happens, I would not have known about the book itself (or that Kevin Slaughter even had a publishing house) at all had the outrage not led to Preston’s post, so as per usual, good job, SJW’s!

About the book, the publisher writes:

Max Stirner’s opus was first published in Germany in 1844. In 1907 Benjamin R. Tucker published the first English-language translation of Der Einzige und sein Eigentum, carried out by Steven T. Byington and titled The Ego and His Own. Every edition of Stirner’s book since that time has been a reproduction or revision of the Byington translation—until now.

You’d think these Antifa creeps would be grateful.

And about Stirner, Preston writes elsewhere:

The individual in question was a dissolute figure who wrote under the curious pseudonym of Max Stirner.

Stirner was born as Johan Caspar Schmidt on October 25, 1806, into a lower middle class German household of a Lutheran religious affiliation. Stirner’s father died when he was only six months old, and Stirner was consequently raised by his mother, and later by his aunt after his mother remarried. His mother appears to have been plagued by mental illness, and it is interesting to considering what psychological effects having been raised without a father and by an unstable mother might have had on Stirner.

Stirner never expressed anything other than contempt for bourgeois norms in either his philosophy or, ultimately, in his private life. His two marriages seem to have likely been for the sake of convenience, most probably financially motivated, and Max Stirner was largely responsible for squandering the inheritance of Marie, his second wife.[8] Much of his later life was spent dodging debt collectors, and Stirner spent two stints in debtors’ prison before he eventually died in 1856 at the age of forty-nine. His cause of death has been traditionally attributed to an illness that was developed after a poisonous insect bite.[9]

In short, a typical Millennial; perhaps a typical alt-Righter.

But the point is, Stirner can’t really be reduced to any definite figure; he devoted his work to freeing his readers from what he saw as dogmas, fixed ideas (as in OCD) or most typically what he called “spooks;” in short, bats in the belfry.[10] It’s crucial to understand that these included both God and Man (the God-substitute of the “pious atheist”), religion and secularism, etc.[11]

Yet such is Man, that from the start people have read their own—fixed — ideas into Stirner, and jealously claimed him as their champion. As Preston says:

When the Byington translation was issued over a century ago, Tucker said of the work, “Some call it The Anarchists’ Bible, others call it The Billionaires’ Bible.” But that’s clearly the point. The egoist philosophy advanced by Stirner contains no ideological, let alone moral, prescription. Stirner’s ideas are just as applicable to the predatory billionaire capitalist (see the current US President) as they are to revolutionary anarchist assassins. A consistent application of Stirner’s philosophy would simply involve going about the business of pursuing one’s interests while giving no thought to either prescribed notions of virtue or to societal interests. [12]

Of course, “pursuing one’s interests while giving no thought to either prescribed notions of virtue or to societal interests” is exactly not the SJW M.O., even when claiming to rally ‘round the drapeau noir.

Stirner was driving people nuts right from the start.

Marx famously claimed to have found Hegel standing on his head, and to have set him right-side up; in other words, he re-inverted Hegel’s already inverted idealist dialectic and made material reality the basis of ideas.

Stirner, by contrast, picked Hegel up and held him over his head, spun him around, and then pile-drived him into the mat; a philosophical Hulk Hogan.

Stirner’s magnum opus is a kind of parody of Hegelianism, if not exactly Hegel[13]. But in fact he spends most of his time using his dialectic to torment Hegel’s epigones, first Feuerbach and then, at much greater length, the Whole Sick Crew of (mid-19th century Euro-)socialism.

Marx was as well and truly gaslit[14], a kind of 19th century Hillary besieged by this, this — cartoon frog of a philosopher[15], and responded with an epic flame war, devoting most of his massive work, The German Ideology, to a figure he mocked as”St. Max.” [16] Finding that there were no blogs to post it, Marx put it away in a drawer, not discovered again until 1932, when Stalin exhumed it and made it mandatory reading.

Striner, like Nagarjuna or Chuang Tzu, uses the Hegelian dialectic as tool to expose the absurdity of all social, political, philosophical ideas, in order to free the minds of his readers.

Have you philosophers really no clue that you have been beaten with your own weapons? Only one clue. What can your common-sense reply when I dissolve dialectically what you have merely posited dialectically? You have showed me with what kind of ‘volubility’ one can turn everything to nothing and nothing to everything, black into white and white into black. What do you have against me, when I return to you your pure art?[17]

One ancillary result is the discovery that zealots have more in common than they might like to think:

The zealots for some sacred thing often don’t look very much like each other. How the strict Orthodox or Old Believers differ from the … Rationalists, etc. And yet how utterly unessential this difference is! If one calls single traditional truths (for example, miracles, the absolute princely power, etc.) into question, the Rationalists also call them into question, and only the Old Believers wail. But if one calls truth itself into question, he immediately has both, as believers, for opponents. (Ego, p64-65)

Perhaps because most of us non-Stirners tend to think in such binary terms, everyone seems to miss the message and instead reads Stirner as advocating some position or other.

Wikipedia provides a handy list of “thinkers have read and been affected by The Ego and Its Own in their youth,” such as:

Rudolf Steiner, Gustav Landauer, Victor Serge, Carl Schmitt and Jürgen Habermas. Few openly admit any influence on their own thinking. Ernst Jünger’s book Eumeswil, had the character of the “Anarch”, based on Stirner’s “Einzige.” Several other authors, philosophers and artists have cited, quoted or otherwise referred to Max Stirner. They include Albert Camus in The Rebel (the section on Stirner is omitted from the majority of English editions including Penguin’s), Benjamin Tucker, James Huneker, Dora Marsden, Renzo Novatore, Emma Goldman, Georg Brandes, John Cowper Powys, Martin Buber, Sidney Hook, Robert Anton Wilson, Horst Matthai, Frank Brand, Marcel Duchamp, several writers of the Situationist International including Raoul Vaneigem, and Max Ernst. Years before rising to power, Benito Mussolini was inspired by Stirner, and made several references to him in his newspaper articles. The similarities in style between The Ego and Its Own and Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism have caused some historians to speculate that Wilde (who could read German) was familiar with the book.

Not mentioned, as per usual, is Julius Evola, although he for one was willing to “openly admit … influence on [his] own thinking” in his youth, along with — Oscar Wilde.[18]

Surely any book “influencing” this motley crew is more like a Rorschach test than a treatise;[19] this is what happens when, as Zen says, you mistake the pointing finger for the moon.

Needless to say, the modern Hitler cult has had its innings as well. And therein lies a tale.

I first encountered Max Stirner in John Carroll’s Break-Out from the Crystal Palace: The Anarcho-Psychological Critique; Stirner, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky.[20] I can’t recall any particular reason for picking up the book, much less reading it – it’s slim enough though the prose is of academic opacity – other than an interest in Nietzsche that dated back to Kubrick’s 2001.[21]

So I was prepared to take notice when, at a table of new releases displayed by Harper & Row at an academic philosophy convention, I spotted Carroll’s edition of The Ego. [22]

Of course, it would have been hard not to notice it; it was clad, like an SS Sturmbannfuhrer,[23] in the severe black and white covers[24] of typically Hitler-obsessed Judaic academic George Steiner’s “Roots of the Right: Readings in Fascist, Racist and Elitism Ideology.” These “black books,” as Steiner calls them,[25] are intended to supply the eager student with “source-readings” to explain, if possible, the seventy million “dead through war, revolution and famine in Europe and Russia between 1914 and 1945,” and the “return to barbarism, torture and mass extermination in the heartlands of civilized life.”[26]

Of course, there are a couple of obvious problems here. First, a considerable amount of said “war, revolution and famine … barbarism, torture and mass extermination” was at the hands of the Communists, who don’t seem to figure in this series. Secondly, and more importantly here, what the Hell does Stirner have to do with this?

Well, not much at all. Carroll brings the same academic trash compactor to work on Stirner as he would later on Stirner, Nietzsche and Dostoevsky to force them all into the “anarcho-psychological” mold; here, Stirner is simply a Fascist malgre lui and avant le lettre.

It’s a stupid argument, and a reviewer at Amazon, one “Einzige,” deals with it adequately for our purposes:

Pointing out that Stirner’s preferred method of social change is insurrection and self-liberation—as opposed to the political action and violence preferred by the left—Carroll, in his introduction, asserts, “Stirner has by default Rightist tendencies.” Furthermore, that Marxists, therefore, have the “right” to make the argument favored by demagogues and ideologues throughout history: “He who is not with us is against us.” (page 13)

What such an argument reveals, without even meaning to, is the fundamental inadequacy of the right-left spectrum. Carroll can sense this (on page 16, for example, he says “Stirner is one of the men who defy political classification; the orthodox categories break down.”), but he apparently doesn’t have the ability to break free of it. It would seem that, to him, our only choices are the dictatorship of the proletariat on the left hand, or the dictatorship of the total state on the right. The autonomy of the individual is out of the question. It takes the one-dimensional thinking of an authoritarian Hegelian to posit such a false dichotomy, as if fascism and socialism were our only options.

Carroll then tries to tie Stirner to Italian Fascism with a couple of vague, inconsequential quotes from Mussolini: “And these summits of the spirit are called Stirner, Nietzsche…” (page 13); “Leave the way free for the elemental power of the individual…Why shouldn’t Stirner become significant again?” (page 14). That’s all Carroll has in support of his thesis that Stirner had an influence on Fascist Italy???

Next, Carroll draws some vaporous connections between Stirner and Nazism. Afterwards he admits that Hitler probably never heard of Stirner. Once again, though, he neglects to discuss the much stronger Marxist influence on Nazism. For example, Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, wrote “The National Socialist movement has one single master: Marxism.” Hitler himself is purported to have said, “The whole of National Socialism is based on Marx.” Oops, another of Carroll’s arguments goes up in smoke!

Carroll’s attack on Stirner does end with the admission “that the case for including Stirner in `the roots of the Right’ is not watertight.” My question, then, is: Why publish the book? Carroll’s answer appears to be that “many of [Stirner’s] themes form a vital component of fascist ideology.” However, as I pointed out above, a much stronger case (dare I say “watertight”?) can be made that Marxism, rather than individualism and egoism, is THE vital component of Fascism.[27]

“Why publish the book” indeed. I imagine Carroll either, knee-deep in his Crystal Palace book, jumping at a chance to metamorphose some of it in a book published by a major house and under the auspices of a famous academic, an excellent way to get word of mouth going for the real book later. Or inversely, perhaps Carroll, like Jim Dixon in Lucky Jim, was dragooned into this piece of make-work in order to curry favor with said famous academic.[28] Who knows?


[1] “Liberals believe that we should all love one another, and hate those who don’t.” Fred Reed, “Social Justice Warriors and Bubonic Plague:Is There a Difference?” Fred on Everything, March 30, 2017, here.

[2]Witchfinder General is a 1968 British horror film directed by Michael Reeves and starring Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, and Hilary Dwyer. The screenplay was by Reeves and Tom Baker based on Ronald Bassett’s novel of the same name. Made on a low budget of under £100,000, the movie was co-produced by Tigon British Film Productions and American International Pictures. The story details the heavily fictionalised murderous witch-hunting exploits of Matthew Hopkins, a 17th-century English lawyer who claimed to have been appointed as a “Witch Finder Generall” by Parliament during the English Civil War to root out sorcery and witchcraft. The film was retitled The Conqueror Worm in the United States in an attempt to link it with Roger Corman’s earlier series of Edgar Allan Poe–related films starring Price—although this movie has nothing to do with any of Poe’s stories, and only briefly alludes to his poem.” Wikipedia, here.

[3] “’Witchsmeller Pursuivant’ is the fifth episode of the first series of the BBC sitcom Blackadder (The Black Adder). It is set in England in the late 15th century and centres on the fictitious Prince Edmund, who finds himself falsely accused of witchcraft by a travelling witch hunter known as the Witchsmeller Pursuivant. The story satirises mediaeval superstition and religious belief.” Wikipedia, here.

[4] Mann says he had reversed Descartes, moving from the frailty of reason to the necessity of revelation; a reversal that would have amused Stirner, as we’ll see.

[5] Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend; trans. by John E. Woods (New York: Knopf, 1999), p108. Stirner alludes to Luther’s legendary vulgarity in The Unique, p99; a few pages later he also agrees with Mann’s narrator that “it is only as theology that philosophy can actually realize itself, complete itself.” P.103. Stirner discusses Luther and Descartes (pp99ff.); it could have been worse: Landstriecher mentions in his notes that Luther once set the Devil running with a mighty fart.

[6] In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that although I have never met, spoken with or emailed Kevin Slaughter, he has designed the covers of all four of my Counter-Currents books, and they are quite lovely, are they not?

[7] “A Little Less Piousness, Please,” Attack the System, July 24, 2017, here.

[8] I must say this is somewhat unfair; Stirner and the rest of his drinking buddies invested heavily in a scheme to set up a milk delivery system in Berlin, which went teats up. He’s more like your cousin Eddie with his get-rich-quick schemes than a spendthrift or wastrel. See John Carroll (ed), The Ego and His Own (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), pp23-4.

[9] “The Dissolute Life of an Egoist,” Attack the System, March 30, 2017, here.

[10] Not that he cared one way or another; it simply amused him to point this out.

[11] As Nietzsche later said, the Englishman wanted to get rid of God but keep Christian morality.

[12] Preston, loc. cit.

[13] “As with so many other young intellectuals of his generation, it was Hegel who would clearly become the most important influence on Stirner’s later thought as Stirner’s egoism is essentially a negation of the Hegelian view of the supremacy of spirit.” Preston, loc. cit.

[14] “’St. Max’ is the work of a mind under stress.” John Carroll, introduction to The Ego and Its Own, p14. We’ll soon see Prof. Carroll under stress as well. “According to Lawrence Stepelevich, even Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ extremely sympathetic biographer Franz Mehring, called [it] “an oddly schoolboyish polemic.” (“Feuerbach and the Young Hegelians,” published in Simon Critchley, A Companion to Continental Philosophy, p. 112); quoted by Jason McQuinn, here.

[15] The flies had their revenge; Stirner died at 49, from an infected insect bite.

[16] Trust me, it’s not any funnier in German.

[17] Max Stirner,The Philosophical Reactionaries: The Modern Sophists by Kuno Fischer”, reprinted in Newman, Saul (ed.), Max Stirner (Critical Explorations in Contemporary Political Thought), Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, p99.

[18] See his autobiography, The Path of Cinnabar: An Intellectual Autobiography; translated by Sergio Knipe (London: Artkos Media, 2009).

[19] Rorschach of Watchmen is a classic example of someone with bats in the belfry, as is Ozymandias; only the Comedian and, to an extent, Dr. Manhattan, get it: as the Comedian says, “It’s all a joke.”

[20] London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974.

[21] That is, to Jerome Agel’s The Making of Kubirck’s 2001 (Signet, 1970); not to be confused with The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stephanie Schwam and Jay Cocks (New York: Modern Library Movies, 2000) nor The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ by Piers Bizony and M/M (Paris: Taschen, 2015).

[22] Wikipedia, in the “publications history” of The Ego, says: “An abridged English edition of the Byington translation revised, selected and annotated by John Carroll. New York City / London: Harper & Row 1971. 266 pp. The book appeared in a series “Roots of the Right. Readings in Fascist, Racist and Elitist Ideology”, together with writings by Gobineau, Alfred Rosenberg, de Maistre, Maurras. The text consists of a mix of about a hundred quotations from The Ego (and some from Stirner’s minor writings), reducing the volume by about a half. The reason why Stirner’s work was selected for this series remains unclear [as we’ll see] given the book’s fierce anti-authoritarianism and emphasis on the sovereignty of the individual.” I’ve discovered, again thanks to the SJW’s, that Underworld Amusements is selling some 45 “uncirculated” copies of this edition online, here.

[23] Or Neil Patrick Harris in Starship Troopers, aka “Doogie Howser Joins the SS.”

[24] Severe, yet “startlingly erotic,” as Crow T. Robot notes regarding the “Miss Prim and Proper” speaker in the short instructional film “Speech: Platform Posture and Appearance” which opens Mystery Science Theater’s episode 619: Red Zone Cuba.

[25] Not to be confused, I guess, with the BritCom Black Books, created by Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan and broadcast on Channel 4 from 2000 to 2004.

[26] I always imagine his saying this in the voice of Mr. Kently (Cecil Hardwicke) in Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) as he takes Brandon to task for his supposed “contempt, if I may say so, for that I think civilized”. The gay killers are usually supposed to have absorbed Nietzsche’s ideas through their schoolmaster, Rupert Cadell (James Stewart) but their views sound just as much like Stirner, whose hidden influence on Nietzsche has often been debated.

[27] A contemporary reviewer, Sidney E. Parker, adds: “The rest of Mr. Carroll’s examples are little more than unsupported insinuations. For instance, when Stirner argues that it is not enough for the press to be free, that it must become his own, and concluded “writing is free only when it is my own, dictated to me by no power or authority, by no faith, no dread: the press must not be free—that is too little—it must be mine—ownness of the press or property in the press, that is what I will take”—Mr. Carroll notes that this is “an anticipation of…fascist attitudes to the press”! Such an assertion is frankly absurd. No fascist favours uncontrolled individual ownership of the press, nor believes in the freedom of the writer from authority.” See “Anarchism, Angst, and Max Stirner,” here.

[28] Welch (Steiner) to Dixon (Carroll): “I thought something like ‘Merrie England’ might do as a subject. Not too academic, and not too… not too… Do you think you could get something together along those sort of lines?” Remarkably, the “front flap copy” for the Carroll book calls it “a new look at this strangely neglected thinker,” which is almost verbatim the opening of the tedious article Dixon writes to get tenure: “’In considering this strangely neglected topic,’ it began. This what neglected topic? This strangely what topic? This strangely neglected what? His thinking all this without having defiled and set fire to the typescript only made him appear to himself as more of a hypocrite and fool.” Lucky Jim (New York Review Books, 2012), pp. 11, 9.


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One Comment

  1. Walter
    Posted August 8, 2017 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    How interesting!
    I haven’t thought about Stirner in a long time, and never got very far in reading his book Der Einzige und sein Eigentum.
    I encountered Max Stirner a long time ago while reading Egon Friedell’s Kulturgeschichte der Neuzeit. Friedell mentions “Stirnertum” very briefly as an extreme form of egotism. Since we experience the world as an individual, following the line to the ego or pure self at its very end seemed like an intriguing idea. Anyway, this is what I derived at the time of reading Friedell’s book from the title >The Ego and his Own< alone and it seems worthwhile to actually read the book. I have it, so I will. I remember from the little I read that I did not like his style at all.
    This is a very engaging exposition of Stirner and his work by James O'Meara.
    Perhaps James O'Meara has also an interest in Bonaventura's Nightwatches , a book that greatly fascinated me and also has as its topic an extreme individualist, the nightwatchman named Kreuzgang.

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