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Max Stirner:
Marxist, Meme Master, or Mentor?
Part One

Max Stirner, as sketched by Friedrich Engels

7,551 words

Part 1 of 2 (Part 2 here)

Jacob Blumenfeld
All Things are Nothing to Me: The Unique Philosophy of Max Stirner
Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2018

“Your Holiness would perhaps prefer to be called Leo, or Pius, or Gregory, as is the modern manner?” the Cardinal- Dean inquired with imperious suavity. “The previous English pontiff was Hadrian the Fourth. The present English pontiff is Hadrian the Seventh. It pleases us; and so, by Our own impulse, We command.”[1]

A. Max Among the Marxists

As always, Marx was wrong. The specter that haunts Europe and America continues to be – despite the efforts of Marx himself and his modern lickspittles – the man known to posterity as “Max Stirner.”[2]

While checking Amazon to see if Wolfi Landstreicher’s superior new translation of Max Stirner’s The Unique and Its Property[3] had been kindlized (answer: no), I came across this new study of Stirner from Zero Books, purveyors of fashionably post-postmodern, culturally Marxist academic agitprop. Academic attention to Stirner is rare enough, and having read with pleasure one of their previous books Graham Harman’s Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy[4] I decided to look this one over. Poor Prof. Harman was sternly lectured by his colleagues for enthusiastically giving notice to my review on his blog, and even providing a link to what – had he investigated properly – he would have discovered to be a notorious “neo-Nazi” website.

Totally forgotten within a few years of his debut and dying soon after, Stirner seems to be having another one of his periodic revivals,[5] due, I think, to two interrelated factors: the development of Internet “troll” culture, and the growing sense that not only the American “two parties” but even the worldwide “Left-Right” dichotomy itself is in need of drastic re-imagining. Stirner is back, and he’s pissing off all the right people.

While Prof. Blumenfeld’s book has its moments, it’s very much in the academic antifa spirit, as one might expect from a work emanating from The New School, the very Ground Zero of the Cultural Marxist infestation.

In his Introduction, Prof. Blumenfeld gives a pretty good capsule account of “Stirner’s provocation”:

Stirner’s philosophy is a big fuck you to every progressive and liberal viewpoint.[6] It is not expressed in the name of some superior tradition, race, gender, or nationality. Fuck them all, Stirner says, and fuck you too. I don’t care about your values, your issues, your cause – I care about me. Only after we learn how to care for ourselves can we begin to care for each other as singular equals, and not as generic representatives of groups, classes, identities, and states.

Well, where do I sign up? That’s what worries Prof. Blumenfeld. In the process of “exhuming this philosophical corpse,” he has discovered Stirner to be not only “un-dead” but living among us!

Stirner’s anti-moral, anti-political, and anti-social philosophy is especially in vogue today, in a hyperpolarized, post-crisis world where god, government and the good have all died, replaced by technology, markets and private interest. Stirner’s “egoistic” philosophy at first seems compatible with this neoliberal nightmare, and surely enough, his once-sketched face has been revived as a meme, popping up in the stranger corners of the Internet. As one of the first trolls to ridicule everything sacred in modern life, to praise the transgression of all social norms, values and customs, Stirner may even be seen as a harbinger of today’s edgy alt-right. But that is just one of many Stirners, a rather superficial one at best. What I hope to show is another Stirner – contemporary, critical, useful.

I at first thought that there was a bit of “old man yells at cloud” here; surely by “meme” the author means “avatar,” since several people on my own Facebook friends list use the famous “only known sketch” of Stirner for their profile picture (as does the cover of the book under review, and this very essay). But sure enough, such memes do exist, and there’s even a whole Facebook page for them; I guess I tend not to frequent “the stranger corners of the Internet,” where lurk “today’s edgy alt-right.” Since the author shows little knowledge of the “alt right” outside of citing Nagle’s Kill All Normies “on the ‘transgressive’ nature of the alt-right,”[7] he may actually believe it has something to do with neoliberalism, or rather, the sort of old-time libertarianism that liked to cite Stirner as an “anarcho-capitalist.”[8] But not to worry; Prof. Blumenfeld is clever enough to conjure up a less “superficial,” hipper, and “useful” version of Stirner.

To see what Prof. Blumenfeld has in mind, he would prefer that you divert your lying eyes from the seductive sirens of the “alt right” and instead subject yourself to reading the likes of “the Invisible Committee,” which “‘rage[s] against the insufferable liberalism, identitarianism,[9] and pseudoactivism of today’s left.” Oh, and they “advocate crime” – I guess in place of that “pseudoactivism.”

Well, I’ve never heard of these goobers, either,[10] and can’t be bothered to read up on them, especially since the history of “really, this time we’re not authoritarian psychopaths” movements on the Left is not encouraging.

Fellow parlour pink Paul Stephan’s review over at “Marx and Philosophy” gives us a nice precis of his colleague’s work:

Blumenfeld undertakes his reconstruction of Stirner as a contemporary in four steps: in the first part of the book, titled ‘Stirner’s Revenge’, he develops a methodological framework; in the second part, ‘Stirner’s World’, he gives a reading of Der Einzige und sein Eigentum. The third and by far longest part, ‘My Stirner’, consists of a comprehensive reinterpretation of Stirner’s thinking and places it within the discourse of modern philosophy. In the last chapter, ‘All Things are Nothing to Me: Stirner, Marx and Communism’, Blumenfeld finally sums up his interpretation and argues for the relevance of Stirner today.

Part One is the most interesting (i.e., the one I like) since it recapitulates themes from my review of Wolfi’s translation.[11] Mostly he makes the reasonable case that Stirner should be read on his own terms, not subsumed into his historical era (the “Young Hegelians” such as Bauer, Feuerbach, and Marx), nor reduced to a mere influence (on Nietzsche, Camus, or Heidegger).[12]

Prof. Blumenfeld is not entirely an academic hack, and there are not a few passages when interesting connections are made, and in memorable ways. For example, regarding Heidegger’s rather melodramatic notions of death and “authenticity”:

Is Stirner’s Eigenheit the original template for Heidegger’s Eigentlichkeit? If so, then Stirner is in trouble, since authenticity is perhaps the weakest element in Heidegger’s phenomenological edifice, riven with ideological trappings.

Stirner’s Einzige does not give a shit about being “authentic” or facing up to its historical destiny; those are just more phantoms in the picture gallery of spirits. If enjoying my life in the cellars and bars of depraved proletarians is somehow inauthentic, then authenticity has no value to me.[13]

Death, too, is an abstraction to be consumed, like all others, in my own unique way.[14]

Or on the ease with which corporate culture promotes “being yourself”:

To be “selfish” is perhaps the most commonplace, banal, and socially acceptable form of behavior there is in capitalist society. The call to “find oneself” or follow one’s “true” self fits perfectly well with the neoliberal demands of our era: to cultivate as much human capital as possible for one’s prostitution on the market as an extremely precarious, but “self-realized” or “self-fulfilled”, wage-slave. To be yourself today almost always means adapting one’s soul to the needs of the market, or to find oneself reflected in a menu of tailored commodities particularly suited to one’s niche identity. All these market-mediated identities are not my own, Stirner would say, I am rather their product. Ownness is the complete destitution of these identities and pseudo-selves.

And here Prof. Blumenfeld comes close to defining what I (after Dalí) have called my “paranoiac-critical method”:

To step off the rails of thinking involves withdrawing from common patterns of thought, dissolving their autonomous power, and letting the unthought come to the fore.

Whether this involves releasing the unconscious, confronting the uncanny,[15] or speaking the taboo, Stirner is open to the infinite possibilities that arise when one stops trying to force oneself into processed containers of meaning.

But these gems in the mud are too rare; he ultimately spends most of his time trying to prove the absurd idea that Marx took the idea of alienation from Stirner,[16] and by applying it solely to economics, composed Capital. Thus, while in some sense this means Stirner is obviously Marx’s superior, Stirner’s value still must be seen in terms of Marx, who thus – dialectically! – remains the senior partner. In this way, Stirner’s danger is muted, converted from providing aid to the “alt right” into providing another way to keep talking about Marx without having a corpse in your mouth.

Blumenfeld’s scheme is nicely illustrated, or unveiled, by a passage where he follows the shrewd observation that while:

The word egoist [made] sense in Stirner’s time as a provocative rebuke to the hypocritical demands of a self-sacrificing morality based in Christianity . . . today the “egoist” is the moral actor par excellence . . . the paradigm of homo economicus.

He adds the nonchalant suggestion that:

To treat others as singular beings can no longer be called egoistic in earnest, but rather communistic. . . .

It’s a testament to the insular world these well-paid academic phonies live in that one would imagine people could read Stirner’s account of how his alternative social formation, the “Union of Egoists” (which we will soon encounter), is “my own creation, my creature, not sacred, not a spiritual power above my spirit,” and then think, “Wow, now I understand what Fidel was up to!”[17]

Blumenfeld then tips his hand entirely by insisting that Stirner’s “state” must be expanded to “the entire sphere of politics itself,” which for this academic antifa means “pseudo-divisions of public and private, male and female, citizen and alien” – and, I suppose, up and down.

Of course, Stirner does not believe in this fashionable pomo agenda; he’s not an idiot.[18] More to the point, he’s not a nominalist; he knows there are natural kinds, like male and female.[19] He knows there are Christians, and Hegelians, and liberals, and others, because he argues against them. More controversially, he satirizes Hegel’s philosophy of history by talking about Negroid, Mongoloid and Caucasian periods; and as if that wasn’t bad enough, Caucasian is the highest![20] As for judicial facts like citizen and alien, he knows that Prussia exists, and that China is a different country, so to avoid the Prussian censor, he uses “China” when criticizing the former.

Nor is Stirner a solipsist, although his “Unique” terminology does lend itself to that idea; we’ll come back to that, but for now let’s stipulate that Stirner is aware that there are other people in the world, just as effectively creative as he is – hence, the Union of Egoists we’ll also be discussing – so he knows that other people are maintaining those distinctions in reality, whatever his whims.

What Stirner demands is not that we become idiots, but that we recognize that these are our creations, and that we should stop worshiping them as gods.[21] This hardly entails, or is equivalent to, treating them as nonexistent.[22] They are justified by their utility,[23] and when they cease to please or enable, we are free to change or discard them. As Stirner says:

But with the dialectical trick . . . neither you nor I will cancel the great facts of modern natural research, no more than Schelling and Hegel did.[24]

Indeed, Blumenfeld knows this; earlier, he points out that “Stirner does not advocate . . . super-nominalism, as Leibniz once called the philosophy of Hobbes”:

He . . . seeks another strategy: to stop trying to think one’s way out of universals altogether. Once cannot simply think or speak their way out of generalization, and thus, out of ideology. The solution can only be practical, as a particular orientation towards everything external to oneself. Such a practice will eventually be called consumption by Stirner.

A generality is always deceptive to Stirner, perhaps necessary, but deceptive none the less. Although this may seem like a kind of nominalism, it is not. For Stirner does not deny the existence of universals, he only denies their absoluteness, their unconditionality. To Stirner, universals are one-sided, incomplete expressions of truth. They thus must be domesticated, qualified and mediate through the singularity of individuals.

Indeed, Stirner can equally well sound like a paleoconservative disputing the idea of “equality”:

We are equal only in thoughts, only when “we” are thought, not as we really and bodily are. I am I and you are I: but I am not this thought-of I; this I in which we are all equal is only my thought. I am human, you are human, but “human” is only a thought, only a generality.

So much for the God-given equality of “muh Declaration!” It seems as if Stirner can be claimed by the Left and Right, hence his long history of being taken up by one or another side only prove an embarrassment when the other side makes an equally good claim.

And yet . . . he really does seem to be of one of ours.

B. Max Stirner: Twenty-First Century Boy

Prof. Blumenfeld’s contributions are not much help in coming to understand the continuing appeal of Stirner; we don’t need Stirner to understand Marx, or vice versa; nor is the Unique the gateway to the worker’s paradise or the postmodern playground.

So what will help? I suggest we start by going back to Blumenfeld’s starting point, Stirner’s curiously synchronistic relation to the Internet, the Dissident Right, and – I would suggest – meme magick.

First of all, the name. Born Johann Kaspar [25] Schmidt, he acquired the nickname “Stirner” from his schoolmates due to his prominent forehead (in German, Stirn); it struck the lad’s fancy, both as implying big brains, as well as being a homonym from Stern – “star” – and he later repurposed it as a pseudonym.[26]

Not only did Stirner publish under what we would today call a “user name” or “handle,” we might modernize it even more if we translate it as “Max Forehead” – as in “Max Headroom.”[27] How appropriate, then, for Stirner to have emerged, as noted above, as an avatar; he even seems to share, with William Burroughs, a sort of precognitive vision of the Internet itself: “The young are of age when they can twitter like the old.”

This could be a function of Stirner’s constant use of an em dash, which gives his work both a unique rhythm, and the appearance – perhaps the reality as well – of one of Burroughs’ “cut-up” texts.[28]

What, then, of the man himself? Turning to Stirner’s “dissolute life,”[29] we find a clear precursor of the Internet troll. He drifts from college to college, and for a time drops out to live with his mother. He barely qualifies for a limited license to teach in high school. Though married twice, he confesses to a distaste for female flesh, and his second marriage was likely to have been more for access to his wife’s inheritance,[30] which he promptly pissed away in a failed milk delivery scheme (he forgot to advertise). Divorced, he lives in various shabby apartments, advertises for a loan, embarks on a project to translate and annotate the writings of the British economists (the translation appears, without the promised commentary), moves back with his mother (though, to be fair, mostly to care for her as she slips into dementia), and tries to get another loan against the value of the house he would have inherited – but in the end, he dies before her, from a flea bite.[31]

Otherwise, he mostly sits around in dive bars drinking beer and smoking cigars (supposedly his only vice), while boasting about the great book he’s writing, which will show everyone what’s what and make him famous. Even his friends (or rather, drinking buddies) doubt it exists, and when it appears, it does create a brief buzz, but soon disappears, replaced by new fads.

Still, the book exists, and without it no one would know he ever lived. And here, too, things are oddly contemporary. First, the role of Amazon is played by the Prussian censor; Stirner resides in Berlin, but the Prussian censor is so influential his decision will likely be followed everywhere else. Stirner’s publisher prepares to evade the expected ban, but the censor declines to exercise his function: the book is too ridiculous to be a danger to the public.

And here we find another intimation of the Internet – Stirner’s discussion of censorship evokes the idea of “deplatforming” in his contrast between the emptiness of liberal “freedom” and the reality of “ownness”:

The state allows me to realize value from all my thoughts and to find customers for them . . . but only so long as my thoughts are – its thoughts. If, on the other hand, I harbour thoughts that it cannot approve (make its own), then it does not allow me at all to realize value from them, to bring them into exchange into commerce. My thoughts are free only if they are granted to me by the state’s grace, if they are the state’s thoughts. It lets me philosophize freely only so far as I approve myself a “philosopher of state”; against the state I must not philosophize, gladly as it tolerates my helping it out of its “deficiencies,” “furthering” it. – Therefore, as I may behave only as an ego most graciously permitted by the state, provided with its testimonial of legitimacy and police pass, so too it is not granted me to realize value from what is mine, unless this proves to be its, which I hold as fief from it. My ways must be its ways, else it distrains me; my thoughts its thoughts, else it stops my mouth.

Meanwhile, Marx was well and truly gaslit by Stirner’s relentless demolition of his erstwhile hero, Feuerbach; a kind of nineteenth-century Hillary besieged by this, this – cartoon frog of a philosopher, and he responded with an epic – if one-sided – flame war, devoting most of his massive work, The German Ideology, to a figure he mocked as ”St. Max.” Finding that there were no blogs on which to post it, Marx put it away in a drawer, where it was not rediscovered until 1932, when Stalin exhumed it and made it mandatory reading.[32]

Moving on to the book itself, the reader faces something of a dilemma. On the one hand, “Modern readers hoping to understand The Ego and Its Own are confronted by several obstacles, not least the form, structure, and argument, of Stirner’s book,” whose style he calls “remorselessly idiosyncratic“;[33] on the other hand, Jason McQuinn quotes “one of the most perceptive commentators on Stirner’s work, Lawrence Stepelevich” on Stirner’s “stylistic élan, an ease of expression seldom encountered in philosophic literature”:

The earliest remark upon his style, made by Marx’s one-time friend, Arnold Ruge, was that Stirner was responsible for “the first readable book in philosophy that Germany has produced.”[34] This early praise of Stirner’s skill has found its most recent echo in the words of R.W.K. Paterson: “Der Einzige is compulsively readable. . . . His style, direct, vivid, and economical, has a terseness and candour which cuts like a new knife through the turgid and obscure verbosities which characterized so much of the writing of his neo-Hegelian predecessors.”

The paradox here is that Stirner has structured his entire book as a parody of Hegel and his followers, with their tripartite dialectics and remorselessly systematic style;[35] indeed, many a reader has been fooled into thinking of Stirner as “the last Hegelian” rather than Hegel’s gravedigger. As an exasperated Stirner taunted his reviewers:

Do you philosophers actually have an inkling that you have been beaten with your own weapons? Nothing but an inkling. What retort can you hearty fellows make against it, when I again dialectically demolish what you have just dialectically put up? You have shown me with what “eloquence” one can make all into nothing and nothing into all, black into white and white into black. What do you have against it, when I turn your neat trick back on you?[36]

His imitation Hegelianism is so convincing, only because it arises from the same talented source that marbles the work with a very un-Hegelian, un-Germanic élan, not to be seen again until Nietzsche.[37]

Rather than the hackneyed notion of “talent,” we can say that Stirner demonstrates in this way his “ownership” of language, to use one of his own key notions:[38]

His unusual style reflects a conviction that both language and rationality are human products which have come to constrain and oppress their creators. Stirner maintains that accepted meanings and traditional standards of argumentation are underpinned by a conception of truth as a privileged realm beyond individual control. As a result, individuals who accept this conception are abandoning a potential area of creative self-expression in favour of adopting a subordinate role as servants of truth. In stark contrast, Stirner insists that the only legitimate restriction on the form of our language, or on the structure of our arguments, is that they should serve our individual ends.

In short, Stirner’s book is a five-hundred-page, nineteenth-century form of shitposting.[39]

Now we can begin to move from form to content; Stirner’s style, we said, is an example of his concept of “ownership”; and what is the opposite of ownership, where “human products . . . have come to constrain and oppress their creators”? These are spooks:

Man, your head is haunted; you have wheels in your head![40] You imagine great things, and depict to yourself a whole world of gods that has an existence for you, a spirit-realm to which you suppose yourself to be called, an ideal that beckons to you. You have a fixed idea! Do not think that I am jesting or speaking figuratively when I regard those persons who cling to the Higher, and (because the vast majority belongs under this head) almost the whole world of men, as veritable fools, fools in a madhouse.

What is it, then, that is called a “fixed idea”? An idea that has subjected the man to itself. When you recognize, with regard to such a fixed idea, that it is a folly, you shut its slave up in an asylum. And is the truth of the faith, say, which we are not to doubt; the majesty of (e. g.) the people, which we are not to strike at (he who does is guilty of – lese-majesty); virtue, against which the censor is not to let a word pass, that morality may be kept pure; – are these not “fixed ideas”? Is not all the stupid chatter of (e.g.) most of our newspapers the babble of fools who suffer from the fixed idea of morality, legality, Christianity, etc., and only seem to go about free because the madhouse in which they walk takes in so broad a space?

He who is infatuated with Man leaves persons out of account so far as that infatuation extends, and floats in an ideal, sacred interest. Man, you see, is not a person, but an ideal, a spook.[41]

As a reddit discussion notes:

While I remember Stirner using the word spook, he does so rarely although it is a core concept of his thought, but the leftist/anarchist internet adopted the word as one of their favorite memes.

True, the word “spook” rarely occurs, but I would prefer to say that “spook” and meme are essentially the same thing altogether. Or rather, if a meme has you in its power, even if you are its creator, it is a spook.[42]

Freedom, or rather, “ownness,” is the clue to another of Stirner’s key ideas, the “Union of Egoists.” He – typically – reverses the received idea that we are born into a state of nature and gradually acquire a social identity. No; even in the womb we are dependent on another, and as soon as we are born we are put on – someone’s – breast. We are bound by countless personal, social, economic, and religious ties, and it is only with maturity and considerable effort that we begin to form voluntary associations. “Society is our state of nature.”[43]

The more we learn to feel ourselves, the connection that was formerly most intimate becomes ever looser and the dissolution of the original society more unmistakable. To have once again for herself the child that once lay under her heart, the mother must fetch it from the street and from the midst of its playmates. The child prefers the intercourse that it enters into with its fellows to the society that it has not entered into, but only been born in.

As Leopold outlines the idea:

The egoistic future is said to consist not of wholly isolated individuals but rather in relationships of ‘uniting’, that is, in impermanent connections between individuals who themselves remain independent and self-determining. The central feature of the resulting union of egoists is that it does not involve the subordination of the individual. The union is “a son and co-worker” of autonomy, a constantly shifting alliance which enables individuals to unite without loss of sovereignty, without swearing allegiance to anyone else’s ‘flag’. This union of egoists constitutes a purely instrumental association whose good is solely the advantage that the individuals concerned may derive for the pursuit of their individual goals; there are no shared final ends and the association is not valued in itself.

Just as the freely created meme can become an oppressive spook when we no longer recognize it as our own but as an external power, so the union may rigidify into a State or some other formalized, rule-driven entity that demands our submission and obedience:

A society does assuredly arise by union too, but only as a fixed idea arises by a thought –to wit, by the vanishing of the energy of the thought (the thinking itself, this restless taking back all thoughts that make themselves fast) from the thought. If a union [Verein] has crystallized into a society, it has ceased to be a coalition [Vereinigung]; for coalition is an incessant self-uniting; it has become a unitedness, come to a standstill, degenerated into a fixity; it is – dead as a union, it is the corpse of the union or the coalition, i.e. it is – society, community. A striking example of this kind is furnished by the party.

Stirner and others have sought for and offered various examples of such unions. Stirner suggests a father and son who pass beyond the roles of parental supervision and become genuine friends;[44] in a later work, he further warms to the subject:

If Hess attentively observed real life, to which he holds so much, he will see hundreds of such egoistic unions, some passing quickly, others lasting. Perhaps at this very moment, some children have come together just outside his window in a friendly game. If he looks at them, he will see a playful egoistic union. Perhaps Hess has a friend or a beloved; then he knows how one heart finds another, as their two hearts unite egoistically to delight (enjoy) each other, and how no one “comes up short” in this. Perhaps he meets a few good friends on the street and they ask him to accompany them to a tavern for wine; does he go along as a favor to them, or does he “unite” with them because it promises pleasure? Should they thank him heartily for the “sacrifice,” or do they know that all together they form an “egoistic union” for a little while?[45]

Nyberg adds that “our man Stirner does indeed speak of unions consisting of thousands of people, too, unions uniting to catch a thief[46] or to get better pay for one’s own labour,” and then add his own analysis:

The relation is understood as a process. It is a process in which the relation is continually renewed [so] that both [/all] parts support it through an act of will. The Union requires that both/all parties are present through conscious egoism – i.e. own-will. If the one part silently finds him/her-self to be suffering, but puts up and – keeps the appearance, the union has degenerated into something else.

At this point I will simply suggest that Stirner’s relevance today comes from this idea as well: for what better example of a Union of Egoists than an online community; even, perhaps, the Internet itself?

Notes

[1] Baron Corvo (Frederick Rolfe), Hadrian the Seventh (New York: New York Review of Books Classics, 2001). With his pseudonyms and multiple personalities, obsessive writing, and above all his compulsive, self-defeating taste for insult and outrage, Rolfe is also something of a proto-troll.

[2] Rather than clogging this already perhaps overstuffed little essay yet more with an overview of Stirner, I refer the interested reader to David Leopold’s excellent account of Stirner’s life and work, here. Also, I will dispense with page numbers for Stirner’s main work, as the classic Stephan Byington translation is available online in various places, such as here.

[3] Max Stirner, The Unique and Its Property; translated and with a new Introduction by Wolfi Landstreicher (Baltimore: Underworld Amusements, 2017); my review is here.

[4] Graham Harman, Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy (Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2012); reviewed here and reprinted in my collection The Eldritch Evola . . . & Others, ed. Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014).

[5] “Subsequent interpretations of Stirner have often followed contemporary intellectual fashion. For example, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Stirner was frequently portrayed as a precursor of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), as having anticipated, if not influenced (it is far from certain that Nietzsche had read Stirner’s work), both the style and substance of Nietzsche’s work. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Stirner was rediscovered as a forerunner of existentialism, whose anti-essentialist concept of the self as a ‘creative nothing’ had affinities with the notion of human nature employed by Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980). More recently, Stirner has been identified as a nascent poststructuralist (linked not least with Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995)), rejecting the idea of a universal human nature, employing a genealogical critique of humanist discourses of power and identity, and opposing various forms of state-centric thought. It would be a mistake to deny that these parallels can be plausible and interesting. However, they might well seem to reflect changing historical enthusiasms as much as they accurately capture aspects of Stirner’s philosophical and political thought.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. As for Nietzsche’s debt to Stirner, see Bernd A. Laska, “Nietzsche’s Initial Crisis: New Light on the Stirner/Nietzsche Question.” In my review of Wolfi, I discuss the attempt by John Carroll and George Steiner to find Stirner to be the “root” of fascism, and thus responsible for the deaths of tens of millions.

[6] Already we see the “alt-right” tone: “Michael Moore on Trump: “The Biggest Fuck You in Human History.”

[7] Claus Brinker says that “Nagle wishes to tie the Alt Right directly to chan culture and to define their relationship in her own terms. While there is certainly a dynamic connection between the two, her book muddies the water a bit to conflate the distinction. Perhaps this is a dishonest approach, or perhaps it’s merely wishful thinking on her part not wanting to delve seriously into the ideas posed by the Alt Right proper. Nevertheless she avoids many of the tropes so often used to denounce the Alt Right and her tone is far less inflammatory than most news coverage and political commentary found in the mainstream.”

[8] The Libertarian Book Club kept Stirner’s book, translated by Stephen Byington as The Ego and His Own, in print for years, and perhaps still does.

[9] Again, grandpa here means “identity politics.”

[10] Talk about being invisible. Who does their publicity? Might I recommend a torchlight parade, preferably in a hostile town?

[11] Blumenfeld references Wolfi’s superior translation, but notes that it appeared too late to incorporate into his text, so I suppose he hasn’t cribbed anything from my review.

[12] To say nothing (as Blumenfeld does) of Julius Evola, who appreciated Stirner’s opposition to all things bourgeois, or Ernst Jünger, whose “Anarch” owes much to Stirner’s Einzige; see Part One of my review of it.

[13] One might compare this to the “authentically inauthentic” Tiki culture, as I describe it here.

[14] Evola, who read Stirner as a teenager, continued to hold such dismissive views; see Ride the Tiger (Rochester, Vt: Inner Traditions, 2003), Part Three, “The Dead End of Existentialism.”

[15] On the uncanny, see Christopher Pankhurst, Numinous Machines, Foreword by Kerry Bolton (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2017).

[16] It was, in fact, the common property of all the “Young Hegelians,” from Rousseau via Hegel. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Alienation mentions Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, and Feuerbach, but not Stirner. More plausibly, Laska (op. cit.) says that “Stirner’s superior response to {Feuerbach’s critique] pushed the young Marx, at that time a follower of Feuerbach, into a situation which rightfully can be called his own ‘initial crisis’. . . . During this process Marx conceived his original idea of “historical materialism”, the framework of which he sought to fill out in a lifelong effort of economic study. But Marx probably felt that his attack on Stirner might lead him to suffer the same fate as Feuerbach. In any case he decided to leave the manuscript unpublished.” Already in 1974 John Carroll, in Break-Out from the Crystal Palace: The Anarcho-psychological Critique: Stirner, Nietzsche and Dostoevsky (London: Routledge, 1974), pp. 87-88, while granting that “the direction of philosophical departure of the greatest German thinkers for several following generations could be read in how they oriented themselves to” Hegel’s master/slave dialectic, points out that Marx “followed and adapted Hegel, and not Stirner, in his terminology”; i.e., Marx remains on the level of economics, while Stirner takes alienation as “primarily a distortion in moral, not economic, conditions,” foreshadowing Nietzsche’s critique of slave morality. Cf. his abridged and supplemented edition of Byington’s translation (New York City / London: Harper & Row 1971) – part of George Steiner’s series Roots of the Right: Readings in Fascist, Racist and Elitist Ideology, alongside writings by Arthur de Gobineau, Alfred Rosenberg, Joseph de Maistre, Charles Maurras, and others – p. 66n1.

[17] No doubt deluded beatnik types in the ‘50s thought exactly that; see the Cuban escape in Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, as well as the later tontos utiles of the Venceremos Brigades.

[18] Neither does Prof. Blumenfeld, who would be very upset if the New School proposed erasing the “pseudo-division” of paid and unpaid; or if I tried to overcome the alienation of the distance between my fist and his nose.

[19] As we’ll see, he loves to quote the Bible: “Male and female created He them.”

[20] Blumenfeld, typically, deplores this as olde tyme racism; Wolfi sees it as Stirner’s humor. As we’ll see, Stirner’s un-PC humor places him in the lineage of the online Dissident Right.

[21] Do I contradict myself? The scientific enterprise that determines facts such as the reality of race or gender may, ultimately, be rooted in human interests – see Carroll’s discussion of “anarchist epistemology” in his Break-Out, Chapter 3, “The critique of knowledge – but that is not the same as being merely random quirks or purely political or social “constructions.” Stirner, like Feyerabend and his “anarchist epistemology,” would demand that science serve man, not vice versa. Feyerabend calls for a “separation of science and state” to parallel the separation of church and state, while Stirner would get rid of the state altogether; see Jason R. Jorjani, Prometheus and Atlas (London: Arktos Media, 2017), Chapter One. Stirner, Nietzsche (Beyond Good and Evil, 207), and Feyerabend agree that the scientist – today’s much idolized STEM nerd – is not a whole man, but at best a useful instrument, a slave to be exploited for his amusing toys, which, per Stirner, we own for our own amusement or use.

[22] The naïve student of the Vedanta, hearing that all things are God, is run over by a rogue elephant. His teacher berates him: “Did you not hear the mahout? That was God too, telling you to get out of the way!”

[23] Not, of course, utility of the Utilitarian sort; see Carroll, Chapter 4, “The critique of homo economicus.”

[24] Max Stirner, “The Philosophical Reactionaries,” in Stirner’s Critics, translated by Wolfi Landstreicher (Berkeley, Ca.: LBC Books & Oakland, Ca.: CAL Press, 2012), pp. 106-107.

[25] Another spook! – see below.

[26]Forehead of Doom” is a recognized trope, with Stirner himself cited under “Real Life Examples” at TV Tropes: “Many animated shows, especially Japanese ones, have a habit of giving a character (sometimes more than one) an over-sized forehead. For some reason, the character, even if their head is their Berserk Button, will always have it prominently displayed. Especially if it is a visual indicator of their hard-headedness, figuratively or literally. It will often be drawn as exaggeratedly shiny and, like cue ball characters, a common gag is to have others be literally blinded by the glare reflecting off their dome. This type of forehead could also be emphasized with the right hairstyle. Compare the less realistic My Brain Is Big.” Often a key component of the Kubrick Stare. For example, “Anthony Hopkins makes best use of his as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, particularly in his last meeting with Clarice wherein as he probes her for details of her worst memory the camera focuses closer and closer on his lowered head, pale blue eyes glowering from under a hugely emphasised forehead.”

[27] Wikipedia says, “Max Headroom is a fictional artificial intelligence (AI) character, known for his wit and stuttering, distorted, electronically sampled voice. He was introduced in early 1984.” Thirty years later, Oliver Harris says that “Burroughs had long wanted to ‘create something that will have a life of its own’ . . . and in The Soft Machine his mechanical methods do create a strange, stuttering version of autonomous life.” Oliver Harris, Introduction to The Soft Machine: The Restored Text (New York: Grove Press, 2014), p. xxxii.

[28] Unique, p. 75. Compare Burroughs’ Nova Express, where, according to editor Oliver Harris, “. . . it’s hard to say what is or isn’t a ‘reference,’ since the text’s viral signifiers find their signifieds not only in the past but in the future. Faced with cut-up passages, the reader can only learn to wait for the ‘original’ words, at which point they take on meaning by discovering new referents. . . . What? Does it really say ‘Lens googles stuttering light flak’? And Uranian Willy ‘heard the twittering supersonic threats through antennae embedded in his translucent skull’? Google and Twitter?” William Burroughs, Nova Express: The Restored Text, ed. Oliver Harris (New York: Grove / London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2013), p. xiv. “Sometimes a word clicks, a bell rings and the future leaks out.” For discussion of how the future leaks out, see my reviews of recent books on Burroughs, “Curses, Cut-Ups, & Contraptions: The ‘Disastrous Success’ of William Burroughs’ Magick,” reprinted in Magick for Housewives: Essays on Alt-Gurus (Melbourne, Victoria: Manticore, 2018), and on Brion Gysin, inventor of the cut-up method: “Looking for the Alt-Master.”

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

[30] Marie herself seems to be a precursor to the modern post-feminist, gamer girl; dressed in male attire, drinking and smoking cigars with the boys at Hippel’s bierstube. Tracked down and contacted years later by MacKay, she would only say, “He was a very sly man.”

[31] Narrating his life, I’m reminded of the voice of Jeff Goldblum: “He wasn’t my partner. He had the idea for the club. He’s out of it now. We weren’t conducive. We got together and hypered each other into a frenzy. His wife left for a younger woman, he couldn’t make love. He was hospitalized for being such a nerd.” The Big Chill (Lawrence Kasdan, 1983).

[32] Stirner’s first and foremost biographer, John Henry MacKay, describes Marx’s effort – almost as long as Der Einzige itself – thus: “Surely the most extremely silly and empty wordplay that the dialectical fights of the time produced. . . . Stirner [had] finished with the jargon of the post-Hegelian school. . . . But while he changed it into the very language of life, Marx and his echo remained stuck in it and then led it over into those abstractions that still today [1897] – unfortunately for unliberated labor – rule their party and let it stagnate in the old, rigid forms.” Plus ça change . . . A contemporary voice adds: “In conclusion, in their polemic against Stirner, Marx and Engels had no desire to understand their adversary, but only to better advance their own theses. [Shades of Blumenfeld!] The evidence for this is found in the fact that Marx and Engels . . . were not so dissatisfied, after all, to have left it to the ‘gnawing critique of mice.’ This true essence of the Marxist text should be kept in mind. If it is quite important for understanding the growth of Marx and Engels’ thought, as well as for an objective evaluation of their debts, its only importance in relation to Stirner is that it contributed to pulling his work out of oblivion, a work that opens paths never traveled, a work on which discredit is thrown with great ease and with the most absolute ignorance.” Quoted from here, “a translation of a brief passage from Alfredo Bonanno’s book, Max Stirner, published by Edizione Anarchismo. Wolfi Landstreicher refers to it as a ‘rough translation that I still need to polish up.’”

[33] Leopold, op. cit.

[34] What of Schopenhauer? At this point, Schopenhauer was still in eclipse; there is no evidence that Ruge, Stirner, or anyone in their circle ever read him. Nietzsche would be the next readable German, and controversy still rages over whether or not he had read Stirner; see Laska, op. cit.

[35] Leopold does an excellent job excavating the book’s “intelligible, but scarcely transparent, structure.” Stirner’s almost exact contemporary, Søren Kierkegaard, attempted much the same thing, especially in his immensely larger Concluding Unscientific Postscript to his own Philosophical Fragments, published the year after Stirner’s book and also under one of his many pseudonyms. Interestingly, both men attended Schelling’s lectures in Berlin, with similar disappointment.

[36] Stirner, “The Philosophical Reactionaries,” quoted from Wolfi, p. 11.

[37] Leopold: “Much of Stirner’s prose – which is crowded with aphorisms, emphases, and hyperbole – appears calculated to disconcert. Most striking, perhaps, is the use of word play. Rather than reach a conclusion through the conventional use of argument, Stirner often approaches a claim that he wishes to endorse by exploiting words with related etymologies or formal similarities. For example, he associates words for property (such as Eigentum) with words connoting distinctive individual characteristics (such as Eigenheit) in order to promote the claim that property is expressive of selfhood. (Stirner’s account of egoistic property . . . gives this otherwise orthodox-looking Hegelian claim a distinctive twist.).”

[38] “Ownership” is Stirner’s more tangible alternative to the liberal’s “freedom,” as shown in the passage on censorship above: “freedom of the press” is granted to me by the State, conditional to my meeting various criteria and always subject to revocation; “ownness” is my disregard for the State and willingness to publish whatever I wish. See Saul Newman, “Whither anarchy: ownness as a form of freedom” (The Conversation, August 5, 2016). Later, Stirner provides a less anodyne example, that may have influenced Ayn Rand: “free trade” is an ideal, to be striven for in some future golden age; I assert my ownership of the idea now, for myself, in the form of – smuggling.

[39] “Shitposting is posting large amounts of content of ‘aggressively, ironically, and trollishly poor quality’ to an online forum or social network, in some cases intended to derail discussions or otherwise make the site unusable to its regular visitors. In May 2016 The Daily Dot wrote that a shitpost is ‘a deliberate provocation designed for maximum impact with minimum effort.’” – Wikipedia.

[40] A Germanism; Wolfi renders this in English as “bats in your belfry.”

[41] Stirner critiques what he calls economic, social, and humane forms of Liberalism; these correspond to our libertarianism, communism, and PC liberalism. Stirner’s analysis already predicts that the “liberal” worships Man but despises ordinary humans; they are – deplorables.

[42] The parallel to Shelley’s Frankenstein is evident; see the discussion in Jorjani, op. cit.

[43] Hans Bluher, the theoretician of the Männerbund, also denied any “state of nature” prior to human culture; see Alisdair Clarke’s “Hans Blüher and the Wandervogel,” a talk from sixth New Right meeting in London, February 2006.

[44] We recall that Stirner’s father died in his youth, and his only child, by his first marriage, was stillborn. Note to the Blumenfelds: the father/son relation is not a “social construct.”

[45] From his 1845 essay “Stirner’s Critics,” written in response to Feuerbach and others (in the custom of the time, he refers to himself in the third person); included in Stirner’s Critics, op. cit. This passage is one of the excerpts in Carroll’s edition of The Ego.

[46] Fritz Lang’s M (1932) explores several kinds of hierarchical societies: the State, the police, organized crime, even a “Union of Beggars”; the efforts of the last two to find the child murderer whose pursuit by the police is making business difficult might be considered a Union of Egoists. Lang has said that it was intended as a satire of a party – specifically, the National Socialists (of course, how convenient for his Hollywood career, and “muh Nazis” is indeed a good example of a spook), and, like Stirner, expected to be censored, but learned that Goebbels loved the film, who considered it to be promoting the need to restore order to the failed Weimar Republic. Of course, Lang was a great liar. I haven’t found any evidence of his knowledge of Stirner.

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3 Comments

  1. Die Weltanschaung
    Posted April 6, 2019 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    I love Max Stirner, there is no denying the ultimate motivation in all people asides from material needs is Ego.

  2. Paul
    Posted April 5, 2019 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    Marx’s attack on him is, I think, the chief reason for his enduring fame. I would go even further and say that that was his intention: Marx selected his own opposition. He choose who is to be the other pole of philosophical discourse. Thus he posited the radical individualism – radical collectivism dialectics, that continues to this day.

    Stirner/Rand ultimately lead to same end as does Marx.

  3. Ovidiu
    Posted April 4, 2019 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    I read “The Ego and Its Own” some 20 years ago and my impression then was that Stirner was a radical individualist, a radical liberal, thus fitting in the “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains” (Rousseau) mindset promoted by the Enlightenment.

    What is specific to him was his method to ‘free’ the individual from the “chains” (which he sees as being the our internalized ‘musts’, ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’) which society has imposed on him.
    He saw a weakness in these chains in that they are being mediated by man’s the capacity for abstract thinking. They are based on abstract concepts. Hence Stirner proceeded to, we would say today, deconstruct language and thinking by employing a rhetoric grounded in the philosophical view called “nominalism”. A philosophical view which denies the existence of universals and abstract objects. You know, everything is “unique” and so is every person, hence no generalizations, no laws, including moral-laws and obligations, do apply.

    If society’s rule and customs expects (Stirner’s example as I recall it) from you “to be a man” this obligation can be eluded by pointing out that no such universal “man” has ever been seen and can be given as example. You (and any other too) are an unique being and hence you can never be classified as a “man”. No generalization and thus no law (moral or otherwise, but the moral ones are what interests Stirner) can “capture” you in its abstract conceptual net and thus no law can require you what you should be and how you should behave.

    It is a tricky, and masterfully, dazzlingly, argued by Stirner, attempt at ‘liberating your mind/self’ from the constraints imposed by your own thinking. A liberation from the self-limiting concepts which you have absorbed through socialization/enculturation and which now you perpetuate and use against yourself (somewhat helplessly since we can’t stop thinking, we are trapped).

    It is also problematic from a philosophical point of view (as there are all ‘postmdernish’- deconstructionist approaches) since it runs into the problem of self-referentiality. A lot of the thinking involved in the argument assumes as true (the universals in Stirner’s case, even “uniqueness” is an abstract-universal) what it claims to prove as false and/or to deconstruct.
    Stirner’s discourse works more as a rhetorical and psychological technique of “detaching” (disidentifying) yourself from your moral sense, from the sense of moral obligation ( being that ‘moral obligation’ an obligation to strive toward a socially defined ideal or to comply with some garden variety moral rule).

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