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Max Stirner

Johann Kaspar Schmidt (October 25, 1806 - June 26, 1856), better known as Max Stirner (the nom de plume he adopted from a schoolyard nickname he had been given as a child because of his high brow (Stirn)) was a philosopher and is considered one of the literary grandfathers of anarchism and existentialism, especially of individualist anarchism, despite his explicit denials that he held any such position in his philosophy, further stating that if he must be identified with some ideology (some "-ism") let it be egoism (Stirner clearly embraced both psychological egoism and ethical egoism) -- the antithesis of all ideologies and social causes, as he conceived of it.

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Biography


Max Stirner as portrayed by Friedrich Engels.

Stirner was a German schoolteacher employed in a Berlin academy for young ladies when he wrote The Ego and Its Own (Der Einzige und sein Eigentum), although he resigned this position in anticipation of his infamy at the time of its publication. Schmidt associated with the Young Hegelians who clustered around Arnold Ruge[?] and Bruno Bauer, and was present at some of the same debates as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. One of the few portraits we have of Stirner is a cartoon by Engels. However, as Stirner's writing makes abundantly clear, he had little or no political or philosophical common-ground with his contemporaries, and his reported silence at all of these debates seems to indicate that he had little interest in disputing their positions. The feeling was not mutual, and Marx wrote a histrionic indictment of Stirner spanning several hundred pages (in the original, unexpurgated text) of his book The German Ideology, co-authored with Engels. Nevertheless, there is some biographical evidence that Stirner could co-operate with these friends, despite their political differences.

Stirner had two marriages; his first wife died due to complications in pregnancy, and the second abandoned him just prior to the publication of The Ego and Its Own -- thus, we note the loving dedication to her on the first edition's title page serves as a plea for her return.

In one of most curious events in 19th century philosophic history, Stirner planned and financed (with his wife's inheritance) the short-lived attempt of the Young Hegelians to own and operate a milk-shop on co-operative principles. This enterprise failed because the German dairy farmers were suspicious of these well-dressed intellectuals with their confusing talk about profit-sharing and other high-minded ideals. Meanwhile, the milk shop itself was so ostentatiously decorated that most of the customers felt they were too poorly dressed buy their milk there.

His death followed rapidly on an infectuous insect-bite in 1856. His only publication following The Ego and Its Own was a translation of Adam Smith's economics into German.

Philosophy

Detailed discussion of Stirner's philosophy may be found under the rubric of his one book, The Ego and Its Own -- although the development of his philosophy may be charted through a series of articles that appeared shortly before this central work (On Education[?] being of particular interest).

The publication of The Ego and Its Own was accompanied by a flurry of popular, political and academic interest. Over the course of the next hundred-and-fifty years, the text has seen periodic revivals of interest based around widely divergent interpretations -- some psychological, others political in their emphasis -- and has been subject to some rather revisionist "translation" to suit various political movements.

Marx's lengthy, ferocious polemic against Stirner assured The Ego and Its Own a place of permanent interest among Marxist readers. Communists have considered Marx's critique of Stirner a turning point in his intellectual development from "Idealism" to "Materialism".

At present, Stirner remains at the centre of a diffuse but highly charged debate spanning Europe; ample secondary literature can be found in German, Italian, French, and Spanish, although English sources are fewer, and tend to reflect either anarchist or existentialist interpretations.

Train of Influence

Max Stirner has been cited, quoted or otherwise referred to by several authors, ideologists[?] and philosophers. Among them are:

  • Benjamin Tucker
  • Dora Marsden[?]
  • Robert Anton Wilson
  • Several writers of the situationist movement.
  • We don't know for sure whether Søren Kierkegaard read Stirner or not, but it is highly plausible.
  • It has been recently established that Nietzsche did read Stirner, although the signs of Stirner's influence were such that this had been previously presumed without historical evidence.
  • The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini read and was inspired by Stirner, and made several references to him in his newspaper articles (prior to rising to power). His later writings would hold the opposite view of Stirner.
  • As noted, Marx and the other Young Hegelians were influenced by, and wrote critiques of Stirner.

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