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Stirner and Foucault Toward a Post-Kantian Freedom-EnG

Stirner and Foucault Toward a Post-Kantian Freedom-EnG

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Published by: libermay on Jan 13, 2012
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1/9/12 12:30 AMStirner and Foucault: Toward a Post-Kantian FreedomPage 1 of 22file:///Users/libermay/Downloads/Moshe-Elhanati-Thinking-Anarchism%202/007d-Stirner_and_Foucault_Toward_a_Post-Kantian_Freedom.htm
Stirner and Foucault: Toward a Post- Kantian Freedom
Saul Newman
 1. Max Stirner and Michel Foucault are two thinkers notoften examined together. However, it has been suggestedthat the long-ignored Stirner may be seen as a precursor tocontemporary poststructuralist thought.
Indeed, there aremany extraordinary parallels between Stirner's critique of Enlightenment humanism, universal rationality, andessential identities, and similar critiques developed bythinkers such as Foucault, Jacques Derrida, GillesDeleuze, and others. However, the purpose of this paper isnot merely to situate Stirner in the "poststructuralist"tradition, but rather to examine his thinking on thequestion of freedom, and to explore the connections herewith Foucault's own development of the concept in thecontext of power relations and subjectivity. Broadlyspeaking, both thinkers see the classical Kantian idea of freedom as deeply problematic, as it involves essentialistand universal presuppositions which are themselves oftenoppressive. Rather, the concept of freedom must berethought. It can no longer be seen in solely negativeterms, as freedom from constraint, but must involve morepositive notions of individual autonomy, particularly thefreedom of the individual to construct new modes of subjectivity. Stirner, as we shall see, dispenses with theclassical notion of freedom altogether and develops atheory of 
] to describe this radicalindividual autonomy. I suggest in this paper that such atheory of ownness as a non-essentialist form of freedomhas many similarities with Foucault's own project of freedom, which involves a critical ethos and an
of the self. Indeed, Foucault questions theanthropological and universal rational foundations of thediscourse of freedom, redefining it in terms of ethicalpractices.
Both Stirner and Foucault are therefore crucialto the understanding of freedom in a contemporary sense--they show that freedom can no longer be limited byrational absolutes and universal moral categories. Theytake the understanding of freedom beyond the confines of 
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the Kantian project--grounding it instead in concrete andcontingent strategies of the self.
Kant and Universal Freedom
2. In order to understand how this radical reformulation of freedom can take place, we must first see how the conceptof freedom is located in Enlightenment thought. In thisparadigm, the exercise of freedom is seen as an inherentlyrational property. According to Immanuel Kant, forinstance, human freedom is presupposed by moral law thatis rationally understood. In the
Critique of Practical  Reason
, Kant seeks to establish an absolute rationalground for moral thinking beyond empirical principles. Heargues that empirical principles are not an appropriatebasis for moral laws because they do not allow their trueuniversality to be established. Rather, morality should bebased on a universal law--a
categorical imperative
--whichcan be rationally understood. For Kant, then, there is onlyone categorical imperative, which provides a foundationfor all rational human action:
"Act only on that maximwhereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law"
(38). In other words, the moralityof an action is determined by whether or not it shouldbecome a universal law, applicable to all situations. Kantoutlines three features of all moral maxims. Firstly, theymust have the form of universality. Secondly, they musthave a rational end. Thirdly, the maxims that arise fromthe autonomous legislation of the individual should be inaccordance with a certain teleology of ends.3. This last point has important consequences for thequestion of human freedom. For Kant, moral law is basedon freedom--the rational individual freely chooses out of asense of duty to adhere to universal moral maxims. Thus,for moral laws to be rationally grounded they cannot bebased on any form of coercion or constraint. They must befreely adhered to as a rational act of the individual.Freedom is seen by Kant as an autonomy of the will--thefreedom of the rational individual to follow the dictates of his own reason by adhering to these universal moral laws.This autonomy of the will, then, is for Kant the supremeprinciple of morality. He defines it as "that property of itby which it is a law to itself (independently of anyproperty of objects of volition)" (59). Freedom is,therefore, the ability of the individual to legislate for himor herself, free from external forces. However, thisfreedom of self-legislation must be in accordance withuniversal moral categories. Hence, for Kant, the principleof autonomy is: "Never choose except in such a way that
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the maxims of the choice are comprehended in the samevolition as a universal law" (59). It would appear that thereis a central paradox in this idea of freedom--
 you are freeto choose as long as you make the right choice, as long as you choose universal moral maxims.
However, for Kantthere is no contradiction here because, although adherenceto moral laws is a duty and an absolute imperative, it isstill a duty that is freely chosen by the individual. Morallaws are rationally established, and because freedom canonly be exercised by rational individuals, they willnecessarily, yet freely, choose to obey these moral laws. Inother words, an action is free only insofar as it conforms tomoral and rational imperatives--otherwise it ispathological and therefore "unfree." In this way, freedomand the categorical imperative are not antagonistic but,rather, mutually dependent concepts. Individual autonomy,for Kant, is the very basis of moral laws.
But that the principle of autonomy[...] is the sole principle of moralscan be readily shown by mere analysisof concepts of morality; for by thisanalysis we find that its principle must be a categorical imperative, andthat [the imperative] commands neither more nor less than this very autonomy.(59)
The Authoritarian Obverse
4. Nevertheless, it would seem that there is a hiddenauthoritarianism in Kant's formulation of freedom. Whilethe individual is free to act in accordance with the dictatesof his own reason, he must nevertheless obey universalmoral maxims. Kant's moral philosophy is a philosophy of the law. That is why Jacques Lacan was able to diagnose ahidden
--or enjoyment in excess of the law--thatattached itself to Kant's categorical imperative. Accordingto Lacan, Sade is the necessary counterpart to Kant--theperverse pleasure that attaches itself to the law becomes,in the Sadeian universe, the law of pleasure.
The thingthat binds Kantian freedom to the law is its attachment toan absolute rationality. It is precisely because freedommust be exercised rationally that the individual finds himor herself dutifully obeying rationally founded universalmoral laws.5. However, both Foucault and Stirner have called intoquestion such universal rational and moral categories,which are central to Enlightenment thought. They contendthat absolute categories of morality and rationalitysanction various forms of domination and exclusion and

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