Sidney E. Parker
Anarchism, Angst, and Max Stirner
(The Ego and His Own: Selections from Max Stirner. Selected and introduce by John Carroll. Jonathan Cape. £2.95. The Egoist Nihilist Max Stirner. By R. W. K. Paterson. Published for The University of Hull by Oxlord University Press. £3.50.)
After many years of neglect the philosophy of Max Stirner is at last receiving attention in British academic circles. These two books mark his public début into the world of professional savants and it will be very interesting to see what kind of reception this intellectual vagabond will get.
Mr. Carroll’s choice of extracts is as good as one can expect another man’s to be. He includes many of Stirner’s most pungent passages which amply support his claim that “Stirner is the only writer to develop fully the implication of a total rejection of external authority. In his book the anarcho-egoist stands before us in full view.” He also contributes a lengthy and valuable introductory essay and a number of informative footnotes.
So far, so good. The question remains, however, what is Max Stirner doing in a series called “Roots of the Right” which is described as “readings in fascist, racist, and elitist ideology”?
Mr. Carroll himself seems uneasy at having to justify the inclusion. He confesses that “in the end we have to admit that the case for including Stirner in the ‘Roots of the Right’ is not watertight” and that “to be fair to him, we accept that his work is categorically anti-authoritarian, that there is no suggestion of racism, and that he had nothing but contempt for German nationalism.” He is also severely critical of Hans G. Helms’ recent Marxist attempt to represent Stirner as “the first ideologist of the middle class and one of the precursors of fascism.”
Nonetheless, Mr. Carroll claims that Stirner “presents himself as an important contributor to the growth of European fascism” and it is necessary to look at his reasons for making such a claim. Just what relationship, if any, has “the philosopher of the self” to the collectivist doctrine fascism which urges self-sacrifice and the subordination of the individual to the group ideal?
Mr. Carroll’s case is a poor one. He gives no clearly delineated causal connection between Stirner’s conscious egoism and the altruism of fascism. He can only suggest, for example, that Stirner’s ideas had a direct influence on Mussolini and perhaps and indirect influence on Hitler. Since he admits that Hitler was probably ignorant of Stirner his conjectures about are too tenuous to consider.
Mussolini is a different matter. He wrote enthusiastically “why shouldn’t Stirner become significant again” and praised individualism as late as 1919. But, as Mr. Carroll says, his “notorious exhibitionism made him less a passionate follower of ideas than an intellectual opportunist, freely swapping them to suit the cause of the moment.
True to form, once he was in authority, Mussolini dropped his sympathy for individualism like a hot potato. At the Fascist Party Congress of 1929 he declared that the individual only existed as part of the State and subordinate to its necessities. And in his “The Political and Social Doctrines of Fascism” he wrote: “The foundation of Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State...” It would take a medieval schoolman or a Marxist theoretician to find any trace of Stirner in such statements as these.
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.
Despite these unconvincing efforts to connect Stirner with fascism, this attractively-produced volume is a useful introduction to the unique world of “The Ego and His Own.” The price, however, is extortionate and those who are willing to sample the original without preliminaries can still obtain a hard-backed edition for about the same money.
Mr. Paterson’s book is the first full-length critical study of Max Stirner to appear in the English language (apart from Marx and Engels’ excruciating “German Ideology”). It deserves attention for this aIone.
The author has clearly done a great deal of research on his subject. He makes many interesting suggestions for interpretation and about possible parallels with Nietzsche and existentialism which will be of value to anyone wishing to study Stirner’s philosophy. In the end, however, Stirner eludes his grasp and those familiar with “The Ego and His Own” may wonder at times if Mr. Paterson is writing about the same book.
A French critic once remarked that he arose from reading “The Ego and His Own” feeling like a king. Mr. Paterson views Stirner through different lenses. For him, Stirner sombrely describes the landscape of some sterile, metaphysical wasteland where no joy is allowed and one is continually menaced by an eternal Dr. Caligari. The sense of self-liberation that Stirner has stimulated in others, is absent in him. He grants that. Stirner’s magnum opus “remains a profoundly original and a uniquely disturbing book.” After a hundred and twenty years Stirner’s voice rings no less urgently, and the grim solution which he describes certainly retains its power to fascinate and dismay”. But who-will find it “grim”? Whom will it “dismay”? Surely only those who cling to the transcendental metaphysical and social fictions Stirner devastates, Mr, Paterson shows no awareness that Stirner’s famous dictum “all things are nothing to me” was taken, as William Flygare has pointed out, from the first line of a merry drinking song by Goethe.
In fact, the author’s thesis is flawed throughout by his bogey-man approach. According to him the conscious egoist is “predatory”, “rapacious, cynical and brazenly indifferent to the interests of others”, and should want these others to be “docile, scrupulous, law-abiding” in order to be able to “ruthlessly exploit them”. He is plainly scared by the Stirnerian negation of the Kantian ethic of ‘duty” and paints its author in all the colours of moral obloquy that the Judeo-Christian-humanist tradition can produce. His skeleton-rattling was so well answered by Stirner that he can answer for himself:
“The egoist, before whom the humanist shudders, is a spook as much as the devil is: he exists only as a bogey and phantasm in their brain. If they were not unsophisticatedly drifting back and forth in the antediluvian opposition of good and evil, to which they have given the modern names of ‘human’ and ‘egoistic’, they would not have freshened up the hoary ‘sinner’ into an ‘egoist’ either, and put a new patch on an old garment. But they could not do otherwise, for they hold it for their task to be ‘men’. They are rid of the Good One; good is left!”
Nor does it follow that the egoist must want everyone else to be supine and servile. He might well relish testing his strength against a worthwhile opponent” or enjoying the company of shrewd and strong friends, recognizing with Stirner that “he who, to hold his own, must count on the absence of will in others is a thing made by these others”. Nor must one overlook the importance Stirner gives to opposition in the process of calling forth “the unique toner”.
The bogey-man will get you only if you believe in bogey-men....
Mr. Paterson argues that Stirner’s egoism is incompatible with anarchism. He reaches his conclusion by a simple device. Anarchism, according to him, aims at an ideal “of universal love and brotherly co-operation”. Stirner, on the other hand, has a programme that “permits the most brutal acts of coercion and deceit, the ‘insurrection’ in which his Unique One daily engages, far from adumbrating a form of the anarchist social revolution, in reality merely designates the Unique One’s chosen course of heartless frivolity and criminal irresponsibility”. Anarchists are saints. Stirner is the devil. Ergo, Stirner is not an anarchist.
Of course, if one accepts Mr. Paterson’s premise then his conclusion is valid. By identifying anarchism with the utopianism of evangelical socialism he can logically exclude Stirner. But if one does not accept his premise his device is useless. This is not the place to give a detailed account of “Stirnerian” anarchism which is clear enough to anyone who is not obsessed by the vision of Stirner as a bogey-man. It is enough to say with Enzo Martucci;
“The question between anarchists and archists has been badly stated from the beginning, We are not concerned with whether anarchy or archy can cement the best social relations, or bring about the most complete understanding and harmony between individuals. We try, instead, to discover which is the most useful for the realization and expression of the individual.” (In Defence of Stirner.)
That is why the most thoroughgoing anarchist individualists are “philosophical disciples” of Stirner, despite Mr. Paterson’s statement that they do not exist. That is why they regard Stirner’s philosophy as anarchist.
One thing is made certain by this book. Stirner will prove a most recalcitrant subject for any homogenizing process designed to turn his ideas into some smooth pabalum for the delectation of academic conformists. Herbert Read once remarked that Stirner’s conscious egoism stuck in his gizzard. He could not digest it, nor could he forget it. Stirner belongs among those outsiders, individualists, and lone rebels who have made him their own. Any attempt to assimilate him into the Groves of Academe will only lead to more uncomfortable intellectual gizzards. Prozit, Max, let’s have another!