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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 1

Egoism and Nihilism

By Max Stirner

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 2

Max Stirner's
Egoism and Nihilism
A Thesis

Presented to the Faculty of

San Diego State University

In Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements for the Degree

Master of Arts

in

Philosophy

by

Larry Alan Schiereck

Summer 1981

SDSU Thesis Committee:


William Snyder, Philosophy (Chair)
Sherwood Nelson, Philosophy
Kingsley Widmer, English & Comparative Literature

Revised for W3 1996 ©L. A. Schiereck

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 3

N.B.: This paper is based upon literature available in 1981, and while extensively revised, it has
not been updated for content. Comments, suggestions or other info are welcomed by the author,
address to: lsezig@yahoo.com

Best viewed in NETSCAPE 3+ or Explorer 3+ (some versions of Explorer, e.g. French 3.02,
seem to disable internal links).

DEDICATION

In remembrance of my father, Fred W. Schiereck


and Professors Walter Koppelman and Michael Carella of SDSU

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The author thanks Josef Binter, Bea Rose, Paul Wheatcroft, Larry Watson and
Hoke Simpson for their "schenkenden Tugend"; also Linda Moore for her
encouragement, and along the way Richard Vancil, Bill Stoddard, and Rosita
Davis. Barbara Franke-Watson of SDSU helped resolve some difficulties in
German texts. Soon I plan to add a translation of Goethe's poem "Vanitas,
Vanitatum Vanitas!" that inspired Stirner. A special thanks to Professor Antonio
T. De Nicolás for his unsparing insights and impeccable scholarship in
"preserving sensuality", during 1979-80 class and lunch sessions at S.U.N.Y.,
StonyBrook.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
(Endnotes follow each chapter)
Abstract
Overture to the Nihilistic
Chapter I
Egoist

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 4

Chapter II Oratorio: "Total Atheism"


A One-Urchin Chorus: The
Chapter III
Egoistic Nihilist
Chapter IV
Sunday, Billy Sunday: The
Nihilistic Egoist
Chapter V
Requiem & Scherzo for
Solipsist
Chapter VI
Capriccio & Finale
Bibliography

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 5

ABSTRACT
T.O.C.

During the early 1970s a number of commentators on the intellectual scene noted something
of a 'revival' taking place of the philosophy of Max Stirner, born Johann Kaspar Schmidt (1806-
1856), centering upon his only real book Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum -- a book that has been
called a "revolutionary anarchist manual', a 'Banker's Bible', a 'structural model of petit-
bourgeois self-consciousness', and many other names since appearing in 1844.
Arguably the most comprehensive study of Stirner's thought to appear during this revival was
R.W.K. Paterson's 1971 The Nihilistic Egoist: Max Stirner, which aimed to supersede all
previous studies in English. By wading deep into Stirner's concepts, Paterson demonstrated his
commitment to take Der Einzige as substantive philosophical discourse. Paradoxically, he would
conclude that Stirner was seriously advocating a grim but absolute frivolity.
This study examines in detail what proves to be a passionate and melodramatic but not quite
objective reading on the part of Prof. Paterson, both as to Stirner's meaning in his own time and
to his relevance today. If Paterson's prosecution of Stirner fails the test of objectivity,
nevertheless The Nihilistic Egoist is a significant study and a jumping-off point, with or without
the abyss, for a revisionist perspective which rediscovers, rather than falsifies, Stirner's own
intentionality.
In the course of contrasting Stirner's own words with how Paterson interprets him, some
engrained trivializations and misconceptions can be undone, and the modern relevance of Stirner
re-visioned. I will argue Stirner does indeed present a nihilistic egoism, in a loose but not literal
sense, and poorly interpreted as the rapacious frivolity claimed by Paterson. From a position that
claims value-circumspection rather than value-neutrality, this paper makes a tentative
reassessment of Stirner less as metaphysician than as social critic and educator.

CHAPTER I

OVERTURE TO THE NIHILISTIC EGOIST

T.O.C.

In a 1973 review entitled "The Revival of Max Stirner", Lawrence Stepelevich noted the
appearance of new studies on the Young Hegelian movement in pre-1848 German thought, and
asked, "Are we witnessing the beginning of another cycle of interest in Stirner?" [ 1 ]
Since John Henry Mackay's original attempt at a biography in 1898 -- the first real Stirner
"revival" although in German -- philosophical interest in his philosophy at least in English-
speaking countries has come in fits and starts. Partially dissipating his obscurity were discussions

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 6

in Sidney Hook's From Hegel to Marx, published in 1936, and Karl Löwith's From Hegel to
Nietzsche (1941).[ 2 ]
Also notable had been Martin Buber's 1936 "Question to the Single One", and Albert Camus'
brief treatment of Stirner in L'Homme Révolté, translated as The Rebel. Henri Arvon presented
Stirner to postwar France in his Max Stirner, aux Sources de l'Existentialisme .[ 3 ]
In Germany there has been continuous focus on Stirner, notably in Hans Helms' imposing
1966 treatise, Die Ideologie der Anonymen Gesellschaft. More recently and in the same vein,
was a work by Hans Heinz Holz, Die Abenteurliche Rebellion.[ 4 ]
A detailed critique of these authors, and the German philosophical tectonics they represent, is
beyond our scope here of the chiefly Anglo-American 'revival'. Stepelevich's review does cite
Helms' 1968 edition of Der Einzige, but it omits reference to the 1963 James J. Martin version,
the only edition available for the English reading masses. Martin, in turn, had presided over a
reprint of the Byington-Tucker 1907 translation, and its title as The Ego and His Own. [ 5 ]
John P. Clark III[6] as well as Stepelevich had called attention to the new Stirner criticism,
and they both single out one work as the probable apex: R.W.K. Paterson's The Nihilistic
Egoist--Max Stirner. From 1973 to 1981, one serious new focus appeared, John Carroll's
Breakout from the Crystal Palace.[7]
Of the more modern works in English listed above, Arvon and Paterson have undertaken to
examine Stirner's thought as a whole, and Arvon seems dated by recent scholarship: while his
all-too-brief juxtapositions of Stirner and Kierkegaard are suggestive, 'existentialist' categories
are taken for granted, with little interchange or polemic. Though Carroll makes the most original
use of Stirner, his sociological perspective and tendentious use of key Stirnerian concepts, noted
below, would inhibit effective focus on Stirner's own criteria. Therefore Paterson seems to be the
only one claiming a comprehensive objectivity, relative to the long history of partisan treatment
of Stirner in radical frames of reference.
Up to now it has seemed as though there could be no neutral dissection of what Stirner means,
and since one has gained a prominent place in the philosophical literature, a close scrutiny seems
overdue, however the sparks of polemics cannot be doused by any declaration of objectivity, a
term that tends to be used tendentiously or as a buzzword in philosophical texts. Examining the
rationality of rationalities, however, is the core of philosophy. It tends where meaningful to
behave like a bee's stinger, easily detached from its owner and used against him. In the case of
Stirner, only a polemical and argumentative tack befits the subject, consciously at the expense of
academic pretentiousness.
In this way dialogue -- as polemic -- is restored from the institutionalized ways of thinking
that create philosophical brigs and analysis that dispatches its material forthwith to walk the
plank without debate. If there are no disagreements, there is no debate, and if no passions, then
no premises to dogfight, and we never get off the ground.
As it happens, Paterson's critique seems to avoid dialogue with Stirner, preferring a clinical
commentary of a sanitized academic operation. We will take it up anyway, however, because of
the poor form in dismissing a priori even the a priori. As Hegel noted in his Preface, there is no
royal road to knowledge. Better to proceed as aroused and polemical students, neither as mere
acolytes nor as logicians (engineers of language) working from a passionless and desensualized
blueprint.
A précis of Paterson's own introduction will start us off on the most complete critique of the
recent Anglo-American 'revival' of Stirner. To launch his project, Paterson states that partisan

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 7

and parenthetical critique of Stirner hitherto has produced virtually no real understanding of his
true place in the history of philosophy. He offers us The Nihilistic Egoist as

in fact the first full-scale presentation of Stirner's philosophy in English, although


more than a century has elapsed since his death.... I shall maintain that nearly all
of the earlier literature of Stirner has been in large measure vitiated by a basic
misunderstanding..., and that only with the rise of existentialist philosophies in
Europe during the last forty years has it been possible to undertake an
illuminating appraisal of his true contribution to the development of European
thought.[8]

While it will not do to describe Stirner as a founding existentialist, he has "clear bearings
within the existentialist world-view, even if it must eventually be defined in opposition to most
'existential' standpoints." While existentialists have portrayed alienated man's "rootlessness, his
isolation, his sense of spiritual dispossession," this estrangement has "infected humanity at its
centre and has spread to every phase of modern life"; but wherever it is manifest, he explains,
"human estrangement and its products can be attributed to an original and basic denial" (NE, pp.
viii-ix). What denial? Purely and simply, "for the existentialist this is essentially a denial of
any objective meaning or intrinsic value to human experience." He expands on this tidy
capsulizing of existential philosophy:

For the moralist, it appears to be a denial of all ideals and principles of conduct.
For the theologian...another--perhaps the ultimate--denial of God.... Now, in the
aetiology of nihilism Stirner's case history stands unique. His one great book must
be the only sustained attempt to present a philosophy of unsparing nihilism
systematically and without reserve.

He goes on in this vein:

For Stirner, this is the nihilism of the nihilistic egoist. Resting as it does on an
ontology of negation, in which vacuity, purposelessness and disintegration are the
constitutive concepts, his total egoism is essentially grounded in a world view
which is starkly nihilistic and which provides the critic, therefore, with an
unprecedented opportunity to study the metaphysical structure of a nihilistic
system formulated in the unabashed first person with classical directness and
lucidity.

While the figure of the 'nihilistic egoist' has been "lapidated by philosophers from Plato to
Marcel," and also portrayed by novelists such as Balzac and Gide, nevertheless "seldom, if ever,
has he been allowed to speak for himself."
Note that Paterson here rejects estrangement or alienation as an existentialist problematic
entirely, and because the Young Hegelians and existentialists a hundred years later took it as
their point of departure -- although they did not invent it -- Paterson must dismiss the whole
thing in order to toss it back, like an enemy hand grenade, into their camp.
We see at the outset, then, a strategy of counterattack in favor of absolutistic thinking is
possible in order to blame Stirner for creating the problem of alienation. If Stirner had said, 'the

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 8

bad news is that there's alienation, the good news that there can be egoism,' the reply here will be
that the bad news is those who rejected absolutes are in a state of sin, the good news is that we
can go back to the absolutes.
Let us see how this prescription, baldly laid out in the beginning pages of his study, is going
to work. He tells us Stirner's

entire philosophy is centred on the concept of 'self-possession', to be understood


in its most literal sense as the self-love and self-assertion of the particular
historical human being who was Max Stirner [emphasis added]. Although his
personality is not an engaging one, therefore [sic], it is indissolubly infused with
the substance and meaning of his philosophy. The substance of his message is not
so affected by the intellectual fabric of [his] age...for he is essentially occupied in
restating a truly perennial philosophical position, but the conceptual apparatus
with which he worked was mainly supplied by the conceptual artificers of his
day....(NE, pp. viii-x).

Alienated consciousness and embodied unfreedom, then, was simply a set of conceptual
premises invented by his contemporaries. On the one hand, 'self-possession' refers only to the
long-dead Stirner, but on the other hand it is something perennial, known to philosophers,
novelists, and other solipsists (an essence, perhaps?). Which other artificers made an issue of
self-possession?[9] We will get to that later, but here he has sent the first volley announcing
Stirner's solipsism as he sees it.
Paterson anesthetizes the breakout logic (to paraphrase John Carroll) of Stirner by defining it
as "an intimate, circumstantial, and unexpurgated view of the workings of the nihilistic mind". If
this in turn provokes more people to "reconsider Stirner's contribution to modern thought, more
light will be shed on one of the darker corners of the moral universe."
With these Rachmaninovian strings from "Isle of the Dead", Paterson adds that even should
Stirner's "accents announce a sinister reef", still no one will "gainsay that the warning bell is
often an irreplaceable aid to navigation." Thus a tentative venturing towards Stirner's treacherous
waters of estrangement is "an intellectual obligation which we cannot shirk" (NE, p. xiii).
With this melodramatic christening of the project, and summarizing what little information
Mackay had been able to glean about Stirner's life,[10] Paterson gets on his latex gloves for a
metaphysical pre-autopsy as it were, using one of Hans Helms' more obscure finds, a 1903 article
from a Berlin Archiv Für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten, written by one Ernst Schultze,
entitled "Stirnerian Ideas in a Paranoid Delusional System".
Isn't it a bit early for psychiatry, which may smack the reader as intellectual fascism? He
summarizes:

Schultze felt unable to reach an opinion as to Stirner's emotional normality. From


the evidence of Der Einzige he concludes that, if the book escapes psychiatric
condemnation, this is only because its author is prepared to extend to others the
boundless egoistic irresponsibility which he claims for himself.

This presents Schultze as saying, 'well, this man would be suffering from delusions of
Godhood only he invites everybody to join him'. Paterson intends to go Schultze one better, to
"argue, however, that precisely such an extension is excluded, when the fullest implications of

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 9

Stirner's concept of The Unique One are developed."[11]


Der Einzige, we read, is "translucently intelligible as a categorical document without
recourse to the intellectual matrix in which it historically figured", and this certainly appears like
a prescription, I submit, for a context free analysis. The Nervenkrankheiten thread then seems
gratuitous or presumptuous in that it occurs so soon in the analysis. Isn't it a bit too self-
justifying to self-warrant oneself to white out the historical context of a book and its roots with
which one disagrees so emphatically?
He goes on that the book is "essentially an act of self-designation" which is merely
"silhouetted" by "circumjacent movements".

Moreover, despite its inner freedom from the intellectual resolves of its own or
any other time, his philosophy in fact reflects, both by its choice of issues and by
its metaphysical idiom, the German and European crisis of consciousness which it
sought to abjure (NE, p. 20).

This appears to restate Marx' strongest accusation against Stirner -- that he reflected the
alienation he attacked -- substituting polite sanctity for the vitriol and sarcasm.
No one, of course, can create a conceptual innovation in a vacuum, or apart from his or her
contemporaries, and one is condemned to use the language of the day in order to be understood.
But isn't this to dismiss Stirner at the outset for creating the problem he set out to address, a
rationale to "kill the messenger"?
Paterson proceeds to a very brief synopsis of the range of contemporary philosophical
literature with which Stirner was 'conversant'. There is a list of books and articles he can be
presumed to have read, and a hurried discussion of his retorts and debts to Hegel and
Feuerbach.[12] With all this historical baggage Paterson is clearly impatient to keep Stirner
drifting along with the tumbling tumbrels. In "Descent into the Vacuum", the trajectory of 1842-
1845 is described:

In less than three years Stirner traversed a direct and unerring route from a
commonplace if militant liberal humanism, by way of a recklessly defiant
individualism, to the relaxed and arrogant form of nihilistic egoism in terms of
which he finally settled his philosophic identity.... In his journalistic writings we
can see [his] early radical concern, his passionate detestation of social convention
and political authority yielding gradually but inevitably to a self-centred disregard
of moral and religious prescriptions, and then at last to the solitary and calm self-
possession of the nihilist (NE, p. 46).

The evolution can be seen in Stirner's review of Bruno Bauer's The Last Trumpet, in which
Stirner "describes the 'self-sufficiency of the free man', who brings down a whole world in his
murder of God, and whose work of self-creation cannot be distinguished from his work of
destruction". All the same, says Paterson,

for every reference to the self-appropriation or the 'reckless and licentious will' of
the sovereign individual,...there are twenty references to 'the truly and completely
human', as constituting 'my best and true self', to the 'God within oneself', or even
to 'morality and rationality' as the highest faculties of the free spirit. For the

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 10

philosophical voyage on which he was now embarking Stirner had to travel


lightly,...jettisoning [the] redundant burdens -- morality, social justice, reason, and
humanity -- which even at the start served only as ballast and which had to go
overboard if he was to carry to its destination his purely personal freight...to the
very brink of that total nihilism into which his immediate course lay to plunge
(NE, pp. 49-50).

Such brinkmanship is evident, we are told, in Stirner's four significant essays of 1842-3: "On
the False Principle of Our Education" and "Art and Religion" appeared as supplements to the
Rheinische Zeitung (prior to Marx's stint as editor-in- chief); then came his review of Eugene
Sue's sentimental liberal novel The Mysteries of Paris (itself later excoriated in Marx and
Engels' The Holy Family); and finally "Some Preliminary Remarks on the State Founded on
Love".
The first of the above presents Stirner as educator, emphasizing the need for the raw, imparted
material of learning to undergo transformative annihilation -- so that it might rise again in the
'free person' as will and creativity, the reborn task of education being thus to produce 'creators'
rather than 'creatures'"[13].
Here Paterson finds Stirner still battling away at conservative morality, not yet barricading
himself in his cave. While the essay "still relies heavily on the Hegelian concept of 'Spirit'",
nevertheless an "astonishingly precocious miniature of the Unique One" is hatched:

The vacuous, impenetrable self of the 'free person', who negates and consumes the
world in the act of exploiting and enjoying it, is the embryo of that 'creative
nothingness' in which the identity of The Unique One is centred and from which
he emerges to disembowel and caress the physical and social universe in which he
alights.... Stirner's educational essay is not yet a testament either of nihilism or
egoism in the sense to which he was later to carry these concepts, but already his
moral and social dissent has taken the form of a capricious individualism (NE, p.
52).

In the essay "Art and Religion", Paterson finds that "it was as yet only man's expropriation of
the divine to which [Stirner] was determined to put an end":

Besides the traditional concepts of Young Hegelianism with which Stirner is


plainly working in this essay, the special influence of Feuerbach is discernibly
present in his endeavors to be a definitive re-appropriation of self-consciousness
by itself and in his treatment of 'the divine' as the estranged and vapid parody of
man's own nature.

In retrospect we see how ominous Stirner's deepening interest in theology was to prove for his
unwary allies on the Hegelian left. His atheism was in the end to be...a denial of philosophy also,
and a destruction down to the last shreds of anything that a Feuerbach or a Bauer might seek to
nominate in the place of God.... The weapons of classical atheism were now his, even if for the
moment he restricted his target-practice to the approved targets.[14]
He gives this paraphrase of the review of Sue's Mysteries of Paris:

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 11

...Sue is too parochial to conceive a man who might be 'superior to virtue as well
as vice, to morality as well as sin', a 'character of steel' who has the nerve to live
'as a self-created man, fabricating his own identity from his own creative power in
reckless disregard of both impulse and belief'.... To the self created man, who
refuses to submit his merits or shortcomings to the reckoning, the whole arbitrary
distinction between 'virtue and vice, morality and sin' is nothing but a futile
obsession, an enfeebling idée fixe, and of it he makes a public and wholesale
mockery. Stirner's self-created man, in short, is the settled and confident
amoralist.

Thus, he comments, begins the journey to "the bottom of the abyss where the only echoes to
be heard were his own" (NE, p. 57).
This I submit is too cloying to even pass as philosophy, the country from which, like the
Mexico of lore, it is difficult to be deported from. Refusing cellophaned leftovers of past
ideologies, for an honest agnostic or atheist if the abyss is the only alternative to the old Christian
heaven it just might be the kind of bed and breakfast worth making reservations for early to beat
the crowds.
What is already happening a few pages into Paterson's tome is that a tapestry is being drawn
of Stirner as a spectacle, as a pathetic case, as a pariah, maintaining a position no one in his right
mind would maintain, a philosophical hunchback, village idiot, caricature or metaphysical
"Oswald" of his time. But let us not impede our author who only 60 pages along pronounces:

In Stirner's case, we have the spectacle of a man initially professing two themes,
an abrupt individualism and a rapacious scepticism, either which on its own might
have been harnessed in the service of a profound moral concern or of some
notable social purpose.... In Stirner's case, however, a singularly truculent
individualism was from the start irrigated by an explosive scepticism which
would not rest until it had dissected and discredited every cause which reason or
history could propose; reacting organically on each other, these turbulent
elements, by an irresistible internal alchemy, transformed what had been an
intense political and cultural engagement into a callous and self-centred frivolity,
from within the ark of which he could subsequently write, 'Away then with every
cause which is not wholly and entirely my cause!'

One possibility here is that Stirner's outlook is grounded not in metaphysics but in passion,
and this tends to look like irrationalism, i.e., not acknowledging a metaphysical orthodoxy. Nor
in this scheme is a thinker entitled to evolve his thinking, or expression, the way artists do. While
evolution of style and content forms the sine qua non of biography in art and literature, no, in
philosophy this is a matter for the Gedankenspolizei.
Of course, any skewing toward Dichtung is a dangerous maneuver for philosophers, and we
understand their plight. After all, reason is hard enough as discourse, what do we not have to
wade through to makes sense of the passions!
A glance at history may reveal however that as Nietzsche later argued at length, it was
Passion that gave birth to Reason, and not the other way around. Here, though, Paterson needs to
deal with rather than just label his opponent.
Well, if nihilism is so horrible, let's embrace it and see what happens. It may be that to

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 12

remove passion from discourse a priori is to castrate discourse, the ancient Sophist game of
Upsmanship. Then too the Royal Road to wisdom may be for those who can't keep up a
minimum speed.
So who would deny objective meaning or intrinsic value? Only philosophical lepers, outcasts,
renegades! The dirty, dark people in the history of philosophy. Quite so. There is no question
Stirner is attacking the petrified forest of absolutes, notably "objective meaning" and "intrinsic
value". Since he is arguing they are quite false and harmful, to counter in an offended tone that
he is attacking these very things is hardly an argument, but merely begging the question.
Otherwise one would have to address another baseline concept of existentialism trampled
over here, namely the contingent, mortal, and lower case nature of value and reality. If Paterson
believes his own rhetoric here, he should give us some evidence Stirner admitted to doing
metaphysics. There is no hint that Stirner may be an original interpreter of, say, ethics instead of
metaphysics, although this is what strikes any lay reader of the book at first take.

...Thus from January 1842, given his drive to intellectual destructiveness and
moral self-sufficiency, it could be surmised that he would plunge, step by cynical
step, ever more deeply into the abyss of nihilistic egoism which had seemed from
the outset to beckon him (NE, p. 59).

Let us disperse the white wig powder flying here, but continue towards this abyss on the hope
that we may be saved because it is not an abyss, only something abysmal. First let us examine his
concept of "total atheism".

ENDNOTES to CHAPTER I
1 Lawrence Stepelevich, "The Revival of Max Stirner," Journal of the History of Ideas, 35 (Winter, 1973), 325.

2 See John Henry Mackay, Max Stirner: Sein Leben und Sein Werk (Berlin: Schuster & Loeffler, 1898); Sidney
Hook, From Hegel to Marx (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962); Karl Löwith, From Hegel to
Nietzsche, trans. David E. Green (New York: Anchor, 1967).

3 Martin Buber, "Question to the Single One," in Between Man and Man, trans. R.G. Smith (New York:
Macmillan, 1975); Albert Camus, The Rebel, trans. Anthony Bower (New York: Vintage, 1966); Henri Arvon,
Max Stirner: Aux Sources de l'Existentialisme (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1954).

4 Hans Helms, Die Ideologie der Anonymen Gesellschaft (Köln: M. du Mont Schauberg, 1966); Hans Heinz Holz,
Die Abenteurliche Rebellion (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1976).

5 Max Stirner, The Ego and His Own, trans. Stephen T. Byington (London and New York: Fifield and Walker,
1913; reprinted by Dover Books, 1973). Where my translation differs from Byington I have used the Reclam
German version easily found in European bookstores, ed. Ahlrich Meyer (Stuttgart, 1972). All EO page references
are to the Dover edition. All German translations other than of Der Einzige are mine, except where noted. For most
browsers, German terms have been highlit in dark green, other languages in italics and titles of works in boldface.

6 John P. Clark III, in The Personalist, 55 (Winter, 1974), 67.

7 R.W.K. Paterson, The Nihilistic Egoist: Max Stirner (London: Oxford University Press, 1971); John Carroll,
Breakout From the Crystal Palace (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974).

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 13

8 Paterson, op. cit., pp. vii-viii; henceforth cited as "NE" in text.

9 See NE, p. x. For "Eigenheit" I shall follow Byington's "ownness". For "Der Einzige" only "the unique one" fits
though the upper or lower case is arbitrary.

10 Any psychoanalysis of Stirner should be tempered by the paucity of facts about his life. Mackay's is at best a
compendium of conjecture and second hand biography, and so it is Stirner must remain ambiguous, which is good
for egoism and bad for the clerics. Despite the fact that Paterson ignores the early and last writings, which show
Stirner as social critic rather than solipsist, a fuller picture of Stirner is outside the scope of this essay, and in any
case I believe we should, more egoistically and less scholastically, focus on his importance in a modern context.

11 See NE, p. 17. The promised argument is in his chapter "The Egoist", discussed later.

12 Paterson shows little curiosity for probing what had to be the roots of Stirner's philosophy, but again, alienation,
in thought and reality, was one of the quintessential Young Hegelian concerns. For an excellent look at the topics of
the Young Hegelian revolt, see Nicholas Lobkowicz, Theory and Practice (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame
Press, 1967), esp. parts 2 and 3. See also his "Karl Marx and Max Stirner" in F.J. Adelmann, ed., Demythologizing
Marxism (Beacon Hill: Boston College, 1969), pp. 64-95. Lobkowicz is one of the few philosophers along with
Stepelvich to actually have read Stirner conscientiously.

13 See Stirner 1842 essay, The False Principle of Our Education, trans. Robert Beebe (Colorado Springs: Ralph
Myles, 1967), p. 11 and passim. Paterson wrote a thesis on this subject, entitled "Max Stirner's Philosophy of
Education" but I have not located it (NE, p. 51).

14 The skeptic finds in Art and Religion a much broader attack than indicated by our author, again directed against
alienating positivities. The inner core of man, Stirner had argued, must always break forth in a new, creative
Gestaltung, crumbling the old one fetishized in religion. The time has come, we are told, to let art "skip circles
around the total seriousness of the ancient beliefs -- because Christianity has lost the gravity of its substance, which
must now be given back to the gay poet [den fröhlichen Dichter] as a jovial comedy is now set up."
Religion " remains as the most hackneyed thing possible, and every unimaginative booby [phantasielosen Tropf]
can and will have religion...." Significantly Stirner remarks that "in the measure in which hate has waned in our
time, the religious love of God has also grown fainter, and has given way to a humane love, which is not pious but
ethical, since it crusades more for human welfare than for God." Thus the critique of Feuerbach is unambiguous,
contra The Nihilistic Egoist, which dismisses the matter as generic 'atheism'. The essay is found in Kleinere
Schriften, ed. Mackay, pp. 258-268 (henceforth "KS").

CHAPTER II

ORATORIO: "TOTAL ATHEISM"

T.O.C.

Only three or four times does Paterson, in discussing Stirnerian atheism, cite from Der
Einzige at any length, but somehow he finds enough to complain that Stirner had written a book
that "takes the form of a systematic and absolute denial of every principle by which the hearts
and minds of men have been moved."

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 14

Here is where our author must attempt to convert Stirner's denial of Absolutes and ideational
fetishes into fetishistic and Absolute Denial. In later discussion of what Stirner called "Sparren",
or "wheels in the head", I believe that rather than a mere ad hominem tool to attack opponents,
this part of Stirner's critique goes to interrogate the core premises of the debate. The holiest
ground of any set of ideas being the premises, the foundations, to escape the idle infinite regress
one must ask if the philosopher's starting premises are sensible, and if they are not, the broader
human framework allows us to ask if they are hare-brained. This is the relevance of Sparren.
The view that ideas are utterly apart from the persons whose creations they are is as
unintelligible as the other folly, that they are 'nothing but' the reflection of the author's neuroses
or material conditions. Responsible critique has to take in the psychology as well as the
metaphysics, the personal daimon and the egoism of the source.
In his chapter on "Total Atheism", Paterson at the outset proposes to show how Stirner "took
it upon himself to demonstrate, with harrowing thoroughness, exactly what is involved in the full
denial of God" (NE, p. 207).
The radical atheist, says Paterson, rejects not only God-as-Subject, but all the alleged divine
attributes as "ideal conceptions", and as having "any inherent claims" on anyone. Just what those
would consist of, besides objects somehow sacred an sich, is not made clear by our author. In
fact just this had been Feuerbach's definition of true atheism, defining "exactly the standpoint of
Stirner" in 1845 and now Paterson (NE, pp. 198, 209) as history tends to repeat other people.
He continues:

Thus the denial of God is not merely the denial of Allah, or of Jehovah, or of
Christ: it is the denial that there is any absolute over us, requiring and deserving
our devotion. Now, if we ask what it is that is being claimed when different
adherents of religion [make claims about the divine], the answer to this question
will furnish us with a definition of those attributes which are essentially involved
in the idea of 'God', regardless of the identities of the particular claimants who are
competing for this title. If the adherents of these different religions are really
engaged in meaningful dispute, they must be engaged in making the same claim,
albeit on behalf of different candidates (NE, pp. 207-208)

Skeptically we might, with Nietzsche, object that if one gets rid of the "subject" God, one is
not entitled to keep any of the attributes either, no matter the sacred exceptions of Feuerbach, his
translator, or English moralists.[1]
Another sticking point is the presupposition that believers of contradictory faiths are on some
kind of logical common ground. It may not do to be just "in the ballpark" of monotheism if you
are not playing for the correct Team and Owner. Also note the presumption that claims about
God are metaphysical claims: while this may be regulation grapeshot in the philosophical canon
Paterson represents, it may not depict very well the realities of religions from the barest
anthropological standpoint.
The empirical and cultural fact is that religions have always had egoistic adherents as well:
not everyone is in it for the metaphysical creaminess. Even granting egoistic heresies and
cultural tropes within religions that have motivated millions -- not to mention conversions for the
sake of marriage and dowries -- religion is a matter of culture, of language and of power, not a
mere beauty pageant in Monotheism Hall from which Aristotelian attributes can be separated as
by specially trained ushers. Passionate believers as well as atheists can reject this notion of

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 15

Paterson's as far too pat, as showing how far the author has meandered from the actual practice
of religions.
For one to say "Listen, I reject all absolutes and here's why," and the response being in an
offended tone, "this man is rejecting all absolutes!" is not argument at all but a form of
exclamatory rhetoric, not too far from Mr. Oyl in Robert Altman's film Popeye, a person always
complaining about unwelcome behavior by twittering about being owed an apology -- one
neither substantiated with a major premise nor indeed ever forthcoming.
How far-fetched is it to imagine an egoist participating in a religion for the above reasons, or
perhaps to enjoy the contest of wills between himself and that larger projection of the
"unnamable and unthinkable", the Old Man Upstairs, the Ultimate Egoist or the "gentleman up
there"? The very thing that Paterson rejects a priori, a ludic and sensuous and practical look at
ethics, he would precisely need to make sense out of someone like Stirner. From those who have
not, it shall be taken away.
Paterson has defined "God" as "always and at least the adequate object of worship". What is
worship then? More than love, homage or fear -- those chthonic, emotive things -- worship is a
"total engagement and surrender of the whole person," who in this moment "recognizes the
worthlessness of what he is surrendering in comparison with the transcendent glory of the reality
to which surrender is made." This is because only the Creator, says our author, is the proper
object of holy 'dread' or 'awe'.
The atheist, we are told, is unable to "shudder," or in Rudolf Otto's phrase, "feel horror in the
true sense of the word," as Paterson explains:

Horror, dread, awe, adoration -- these are the responses of the man who feels
himself comprehended by the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, which cannot
be comprehended by him because it eternally transcends him. The atheist, by
contrast, limits his concern to what can be...grasped or appropriated by him (NE,
pp. 208, 212).

Does this mean the nihilist is someone who denies that we're not worthy?! Did we miss
something? As noted above, there are not just believers, infidels, and atheists but a broader swath
of folks who are "in it" for different reasons, not just the metaphysical pedigree of the cleric who
has hoist himself on his own pedestal by means of superior humility. Stirner was one of the first
to point to the social core of religion. If religion is a cult of society rather than of metaphysics,
this changes the playing field considerably, so it is not quite the affair of metaphysical polo balls
Paterson may be adept at swatting from the fields of Oxford or Hull.
This 'worship' of Paterson's, there can be no doubt, must be ideal and absolute, infinitely
exceeding mortal and contingent, conditioned (i.e. Stirnerian or existential) love:

A humanist [such as Feuerbach] who did not recognize such an ideal of perfection
could not properly be styled a religious humanist. And of course a man who did
not recognize this or any other ideal perfection would be precisely the homo
irreligiosus of whom Stirner set out to be the definitive exemplar. The profoundly
irreligious man, the total atheist, as we have seen, is the homo calculans, into
whose calculations, inevitably, only objects of finite utility, of conditional and
therefore measurable worth, can gain entry (NE, p. 209).

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 16

Compared with such an infinite vision, all humanisms are nothing but playing with sticks and
stones, they are NOT WORTHY. Again, this is all far too gaseous to let go. One can appreciate
the atmosphere of Silly Putty here by realizing that the description, devotion and even adoration
of the concept of the infinite or unbounded was elaborated first as philosophical Dichtung by the
pagan Presocratics, up through William Blake and Nietzsche, and by many scientists as well as
artists along the way. To claim it as some sort of property of Anglican Christianity is rubbish, or
if not, it's property in the Proudhonian sense of theft. Indeed many people who are religious
under general liberal arts or anthropological rules would have to run, not walk, towards 'atheism'
given these definitions.
Paterson has already told us that Stirner, unlike Sartre at some point, did not at all find it
embarrassing that God does not exist.[2] In fact Der Einzige "must be the must uncompromising
of atheistic manifestos. It self-consciously sets out to define the ne plus ultra of radical atheism"
(NE, p. 192).
While Der Einzige expounds a forthright atheism, to make that the point and innovation of
the author is not borne out in the texts, as we shall see. In the history of libertarian thought, not
stopping with the Enlightenment, we can see why the critic who takes on the foundation of
religion, such as the cult of society, is far more dangerous than the corner atheist. Many people
would simply accept the Stirnerian idea of rejecting absolute ideals and ideas, as having been
achieved in the past century by the inroads of science, implemented in our time through
technology and secular humanism, practiced in universities all over the Western world.
Indeed there is nothing that the figure of the "total atheist" will not deny in his rush to affirm
only Nothingness. His

denial of 'God' is a denial that his existence has any intrinsic or final worth. His
denial of the idea of 'God' is a denial that life has any objective or global meaning.
It is an affirmation of meaninglessness and worthlessness as the constitutive
features of ultimate reality, and at the same time it is an affirmation of
motivelessness and wantonness as the dominant traits of the individual atheist:
knowing all his choices to be equally gratuitous, he does not pretend to justify
them by appeal to some fictitious standard of objective reason, for the atheist's
denial of transcendence is also a denial of reason as an objective standard
transcending, and therefore in the last analysis alien to, the particular concrete
individuals between whom it purports to arbitrate (NE, p. 212).

And such would make for one slimy, slippery slope off the belfry towers. The tone gets even
more shrill:

What the total atheist denies...is that our experience has any ultimate moral or
metaphysical meaning.... If the idea of 'God' is the idea of a unifying principle
which transforms our centrifugal experiences into a coherent whole, then the
atheist's denial of God is a denial of the possibility of any such ideal unity. In
Stirner this...is carried to its extreme.... [as] the realization of the whole can be
accomplished only by suppressing the reality of the part.... What he wants to
preserve is the pure exteriority of the unrelated parts, their impenetrable identity
as parts; what he wants to preserve is the exclusive being of the irreducible

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 17

individual who articulates himself as purely this part-icular individual (NE, p.


214).

Evidently, the nihilistic egoist would sell his own mother for parts! Because the ground of
human dignity is God, to reject God is to reject human dignity! This presumes, of course, that
human dignity is a theological concept unjustifiable except by appeal to the otherworldly. What
century is our author living in? Has he ever heard of the Frankfurt school, or secular humanism
of any stripe? The mind reels.

The truly irreligious man...is the homo calculans who, believing that everything
has its price,...therefore equates 'pricelessness' with worthlessness, and whose
denial of God is at the same time a denial of human dignity. [For] the calculating
egoist...there is nothing that he would not sell. The full rejection of religion,
Stirner claims, is thus the rejection of human dignity, freedom, justice and love,
as eternal ideals demanding our unqualified homage and raised above all
considerations of selfish expediency [emphasis added]. If atheism is to complete
itself, it must become a denial of all men's social and moral ideals (NE, p. 216).

Absolutes, one can counter here, are the preferred cloak technology for those who advocate
the undoing of the Enlightenment. One need not go as far back as paganism, to the chthonic and
polymorphously perverse theisms, as medieval times are considered the Golden Age of
Absolutism. If literature tells the story right, very often it was the figure of the cleric or priest
who was busy 'calculating' how he might profit from the alleged sins of the flesh and sanctify the
most vicious behavior, including genocide, all In The Name Of. Small wonder revolutionaries in
France, America or Mexico had such an abiding hatred of the clergy. The curious idea that
Religion is the mainstay of human dignity, either historically or today, would have to be argued
and cannot be tossed off so glibly.
Clearly anyone can see that the thrust of The Nihilistic Egoist is to tenderize Stirner to a
pulpit by means of lamenting this lost, but quite imaginary, continent of Absolutes. We on the
other hand must go back to the text and its proper context.

There is little question but that Stirner did deny absolute ideals, but not necessarily human
dignity, social justice, love, and so on. In fact Ludwig Feuerbach, Moses Hess, Count Szeliga
and others in the Young Hegelian circles in Berlin had already accused him of this in 1845.
Stirner attempted to set them straight:

Egoism, as Stirner proposes it, is no antithesis to love, nor to thinking, it is no


enemy of a sweet life of love, nor of devotion and sacrifice.... It is directed not
against love, but against sacred [heilige] love; not against thinking, but against
sacred thinking; not against the socialists, but the holy socialists, and so on.[3]

But what does he have to support the contention that "everything sacred is a tie, a fetter"? One
must look at the institution of alienation, or consciousness estranged and alienated from itself,
embodied in alienated institutions, in particular Christianity deployed as mystification. And what
we find may surpass in its conciseness formulations of existentialism a century later:

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 18

In everything sacred there lies something 'uncanny' [unheimlich], i.e., strange,


wherein we are not quite at home and comfortable. What is sacred to me is not my
own; and if for me another's property were not sacred, I would view it as mine
when the occasion arose.... Or, on the other hand, if I look upon the face of the
Chinese emperor as sacred, then it remains foreign to my eye, which I shut at the
sight.[4]

The 'sacred' is just this embodied mystification:

Before the sacred, one loses every feeling of power, and all courage; one takes up
a humble and powerless position. And yet, nothing is sacred or holy except by my
declaring it so -- through my decree, my judgment, my kneeling, in short through
my Conscience...

This only affirms that religion, metaphysics, and so on is a human cultural invention and a
human institution, so the fallibility of Christianity must be addressed and critiqued as "human,
all-too-human" -- as Nietzsche titled his first substantive psycho-cultural critique of Christianity,
some thirty years after Stirner was writing.

For small children, as for animals, nothing sacred exists, since in order to make
room for this idea one must have already come so far in one's understanding to
distinguish 'good and evil', 'warranted and unwarranted', and so on. Only at such a
level of reflection or comprehension -- which is the proper standpoint of religion -
- can unnatural reverence [Ehrfurcht], produced through thinking only, take the
place of natural fear [Furcht]. This sacred dread', involves taking something
outside oneself for mightier, greater, more entitled, superior and such. This is the
attitude whereby one recognizes the power of something alien -- not merely
feeling it, but expressly acknowledging it; one admits, yields, surrenders, lets
oneself be bound (devotion, humility, servility, submissiveness, etc.). Here troops
the entire pack of the 'Christian virtues'.

For instance, an ordinarily grown emotion of fear, mystified through the operation of
intellection and embellished by the hocus-pocus of the priestly class, becomes holy dread, a
cultural spook or fiction. In contemporary terms we might label this reprogramming of human
emotions, the human operating software developed by Christianity over centuries, shaping the
way we feel, think and act. This reprogramming was required to create Christianity as a social
force, as an embodied culture, not just one religion among others but as the religion, and this was
the exclusivity or egoism of Christianity, which dissembled that nature as valid 'universally' for
all men (sinners).
And it makes sense, because men are egoists, and their externalized creations, as institutions,
as cultural tropes, as belief systems, exemplify this egoism and carry it to new historical heights
or depravities. Since religions are an extension of men, they at every point in their illustrious
occupation of history behave as "human, all-too human."
Stirner then is not denying the right of such cultures to exist, including Christianity, but rather
he proposes, for individuals, the "subjects" of these cultures, an extreme philosophy of
empowerment only for those suited for it and ready for it. It is not for the complacent, rather for

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 19

those who are dissatisfied and demand liberation. This is the question of freedom as it appears in
Der Einzige.

Everything towards which you cherish any respect of reverence deserves the
name of sacred; you yourselves also say that you would feel a 'holy dread' of
laying hands on it. And you give this tinge to the unholy too (gallows, crime, etc.)
-- you have a horror of touching it. Therein lies something that is uncanny --
something unfamiliar or not your own.

Any reprogramming the brain depends on the cooperation of the indoctrinee because it takes
two to have a brainwashing.

...Fear always comes first, ...but in fear there always remains the attempt to free
oneself from it through cunning, deception, tricks, and such. With reverence, the
story is different. Here not only is something feared but revered [geehrt]: what is
feared has become an inward power which I can no longer flee. I honor it, am
captivated by it, belong to it. By the honor I pay, I am fully in its power; I do not
even attempt liberation any more (EO, pp. 92-93).

Anthropologically, this is only saying that if you take ordinary human emotions such as fear
and sublimate them or reprogram them through institutions, you eventually can create an
alienating positivity such as "sacredness", which is the sacredness of institutions, such as religion
or the state, no longer identical to the sacredness of animals or a god-king or his sceptre in
previous cultures. If the 'sacred' is always a compulsive mystery, it is tied into knowledge
[Wissen] through conscience [Gewissen]: knowledge is a function of value, and this could be
Stirner's contribution to pragmatism.
Addressing the matrix of Entfremdung or mystification, a person

is no longer creating, but rather learning (knowing, investigating), being occupied


with a fixed object, losing himself in its depths without returning to himself. The
relation to this object is that of knowing, probing, establishing, etc., not that of
dissolution, abolition, and such. One says, 'one must be religious', and that settles
it; thenceforth one busies oneself as to how this is to be done....
Quite otherwise when one takes the axiom to be doubtful and questionable,
though it may end up on the compost heap. Morality too is such a sacred idea....
One does not venture to go after it asking if it might not itself be a fraud. Morality
remains exalted above all doubt, unchangeable (EO, pp. 72-3).

Clearly people have to be taught and instructed in the Absolutes, no less than the missionaries
teaching the so-called savages by destroying the culture of the latter. Here we note the famous
"man has killed God" passage, written the same year Nietzsche was born. The Enlightenment
achieved the "overcoming of God", but

…what has gone unnoticed is that man has killed God in order to become -- sole
God on high'. The Beyond outside us [das Jenseits außer uns] is indeed swept
away, and the great undertaking of the Enlightenment complete; but the Beyond

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 20

inside us has become a new heaven and calls us to renewed heaven-storming (EO,
p. 154).

Here is the reason for 'nihilism': one cannot substitute "man" for "God" as the object of
worship, as in revolution to replace a regent with another is a coup or succession, but hardly
revolution. Stirner is arguing revolution in the classic challenge as an original libertarian. God,
then, is understood as the expired figurehead who presided over a complex, bustling theatre of
alienation and unfreedom.

With this higher Being, also hallowed as 'The Almighty', and Être Suprême,
atheists have the butt of their jokes and trample one after another 'proof of His
existence' into the dust, not realizing they themselves, out of need for a higher
being, only annihilate the old one to make room for the new....Man is free [says
Feuerbach] when 'Man is to man the supreme being.' Thus it belongs to the
completion of liberalism that every other supreme being be annulled, theology
overturned by anthropology, God and his grace laughed down, 'atheism'
universal...(EO, pp. 142-3)

The fear of God, Stirner explains,

was shaken long ago, and a more or less conscious 'atheism', marked on the
outside by a widespread 'unchurchliness', has involuntarily become the mode; but
what was taken from God has been added to the account of Man...

"Our atheists," Stirner continues, "are a pious lot":

In coarser times than ours one cherished a particular faith, demanded devotion to
a particular sacred being, and did not look kindly on those who believed
otherwise. However, since 'freedom of belief' has taken the field, the 'jealous God
and sole Lord' gradually melted into a fairly general 'supreme Being', and humane
tolerance is satisfied so long as everyone reveres 'something sacred' (EO, pp. 185,
279).

This is also the core of Stirner's rejection of Feuerbach, who has provided an ersatz liberation
from God, and who "clutches desperately at the assembled substance of Christianity," to snatch it
back to Earth from Heaven, retain the God-figure as an abstract figurine (EO, pp. 31-2).
Feuerbach, having humanized the divine, misses the point that "if God has tormented us, his
'Man' stands by to do so even more pressingly" (EO, p. 174).
Despite grandiose claims made by Feuerbach for his new outlook (supposedly atheism,
materialism, 'sensuousness', de-alienation), Stirner charges him with setting up a new Being or
Essence [Wesen] to lord over humanity: an ethical and Wassergemütlich revision of existing
religion. Feuerbach's Castalian water was spiked with the sacred essence (even Marx had fallen
briefly under its spell), leaving us in a stupor in the "same old rut" of alienation.[5]
The conflict over essences or supreme Beings, in which Stirner's fellow radicals were
embroiled, struck him as futile, creating a cult [Kultus] "to which service and worship are due":

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 21

Whether the One God or the three-in-one, whether the Lutheran God or...no God
at all but 'Man' instead...it makes no difference to one who negates the supreme
Being itself, to one in whose eyes the servants of the latter are all together -- pious
folk: the most rabid atheist no less than the most believing Christian (EO, p. 39).

This is a considerable departure from a standpoint advocating "absolute atheism" as a


metaphysical position. Clearly, Paterson has missed the dialectical twists that inspired Stirner to
express himself as a critic of his times. Atheism was a fait accompli. Atheism was a banality. But
if you are merely going to transfer the account balance of religion to humanism, then the
Enlightenment, Stirner argued, is merely a fraud. The Enlightenment was not enough:

After bloody combats this much has finally been attained, that opposing
views...are no longer condemned as worthy of death. But why should I only
dissent (think otherwise) about a subject? Why not push dissent to its last
extremity, namely to the point of having no regard at all for the matter, thinking
its nihilation, crushing it? Then the interpretation itself comes to an end, since
there is nothing left to interpret. Why say that God is not Allah, not Brahman, not
Yahweh, but -- God? Why not say instead that God is nothing but a deception?
(EO, p. 338).

There remains another dimension, the critique of 'Spirit' [Geist], a key concept of
Hegelianism old and young, which Stirner set out to debunk, since the project of Der Einzige is
to reject or eject the received language of theologians and philosophers up to that time.
The dissolution of Geist and essences [Wesen] go hand in hand because they formed a system
of truth that Stirner viewed as archaic. "To know and acknowledge essences [die Wesen] and
only essences, that is religion; its realm is a realm of essences, spooks and ghosts [Geiste]" (EO,
p. 40). In a comprehensive study of Stirner's thought, the history of Spirit or 'spiritualizing' in
German philosophical systems would have to be addressed. Here, as Stirner plays with and puns
with the German language so stalinized by religions and spiritualizers, we will just sketch the
basics.
In his lectures on the Philosophy of History, Hegel had called the new principle of Spirit "the
axis on which the History of the World turns. This is the goal and the starting point of
History"[6] as historical materialism would announce itself later to be the goal and end of
History. The phenomenology of Spirit unfolded in two distinct revolutions: the waning of the
Hellenistic period, and the Protestant Reformation. "Pre-Christian and Christian times pursue
opposite goals," he claimed. "The former willed the idealization of the Real, the latter wills the
realization of the Ideal (EO, p. 362).
That revaluation of all values whose generation was the demise of everything Hellenistic,
worldly, patriarchal, aristocratic, based on kinship and blood, began to exalt as 'sacred' not the
natural but the spiritual. The Sophists began to "recognize in mind [nous] the true weapon of
man against the world," against "the power of unshaken existing things," to which they had been
enslaved for so long. While the Sophists proclaimed this all-purpose weapon, they were far from

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 22

the 'holiness of spirit'. Socrates countered that "It is not enough to use one's understanding in all
things, but the question is what cause one exerts it for." Socrates is thus the founder of ethics
since as mortal man, one must obey the divine callings -- divine not yet equating to monolithic or
one-dimensional -- and one must serve the 'good cause' morally. Socrates, says Stirner,
introduced the period of 'purity of heart' in Greek thought. The general and civic good for all
men goes to war with the appetites until the spirit subdues them. Thus begins a war of attrition
lasting until, says Stirner, the

heretofore dominant, ancient powers" are driven from the heart, "in which they
had long dwelt unmolested, to have at last no part at all in man. This war is
opened by Socrates, and not till the dying day of the ancient world does it end in
peace (EO, pp. 17-18).

"So long as man is entangled in the motions of the world and embarrassed by his relations to
the world, " says Stirner, 'so long is he not yet Spirit." Man is not yet delivered, for Spirit has not
yet undertaken to divest itself of the body (and Socrates longs for precisely this in the Phaedo).
When the heart was purged and one became unperturbed and relation-less, only then could real
worldlessness begin. Thus a new focus came about:

The ancients soared to the level of Spirit and strove to become spiritual.... The
Spirit busies itself solely about the spiritual, and seeks out 'traces of Mind' in
everything; to the believing Spirit, 'everything comes from God' and interests him
only to the extent that it reveals this origin to the philosophic spirit, everything
appears with the stamp of Reason [Vernunft], and interests him only insofar as he
can discover Reason, i.e. spiritual content, contained therein (EO, pp. 18-19).

And so the Spirit "has to do with absolutely nothing that is not spiritual", with no thing at all,
but only "with the essence which exists behind and above things, with thoughts [Gedanken]."
The world familiar to the ancients was thus drained from the tub, along with the chthonic gods
and all natural family and community ties (EO, p. 19).

With the world of Spirit Christianity then begins. The man who still faces the
world armed is the ancient, the -- heathen (to which class the Jew, as non-
Christian, also belongs). The man who has come to be led only be his 'heart's
desire', his sympathy, his fellow-feeling, his -- spirit, is the modern, the --
Christian.
As the ancients strove toward the overcoming of the world, and labored to
release the heavy trusses of connection between man and that which is other they
at last came also to the dissolution of the State and precedence to everything
private. Of course community, family, and so on are thus natural relations,
burdensome hindrances which curtail my spiritual freedom (EO, p. 24).

Christianity, then, is not a matter of metaphysical claim- propositions, it is manifest in


Stirner's time as the question of Spirit. And he is not saying so much that Spirit is nonsense,
rather that Spirit is as it does: the proper "creations of Spirit make it Spirit":

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 23

As a visionary lives and has his world only the visionary images that he
himself creates; as a lunatic generates for himself his own dream world, without
which he could not be crazy, so the Spirit must create for itself its world, and is
not spirit before it does so.
And so its creations make it into Spirit, and by its creations we recognize the
Creator: in them he lives, they are his world.... Now, what is der Geist? The
creator of a spiritual world!
Once this notion of Spirit becomes flesh, the 'children of Spirit' run rampant,
and the new world view occupies itself with self-validation, the 'doing' of Spirit
building its own body:
The first creation...must come forth 'out of nothing' the Spirit has towards its
realization only itself, or rather it has not yet even itself, but must create itself....
Mystical as this sounds, we go through it as an everyday experience in this way:
Ask yourself, are you a thinking being before you think? In creating the first
thought you create yourself as one who thinks;...is not your singing what makes
you a singer, your speech that makes you a speaker (EO, pp. 28-31)

Stirner's foil, who appears frequently addressed in the second person familiar 'Du', would
reply here that "'I have a spirit, no doubt, but do not exist solely as spirit, rather I am a man with
a body.'" We invariably feel in our natural sense of ourselves that we are something besides
Spirit, as spirit contradicts immediacy except in the seizures of mystics, Christian uncanniness
coexists with this and creates a conscience, a self-awareness, an operating system for a new
society:

But, as thinking-I, sight and hearing are foregone in the enthusiasm of


thoughts, so you also have been seized by the spirit-enthusiasm... The spirit is
your ideal, the unattained, the otherworldly. Spirit is your -- God, for 'God is
Spirit'.
...Instead of saying, 'I am more than Spirit, you say with contrition, 'I am less
than Spirit, and pure Spirit or nothing-but-Spirit I can only think of but am not;
and since I am not it, so it is some Other, exists as an Other that I name as God'
(EO, pp. 29, 31).

Martin Luther shaped the German phenomenology of Spirit by inaugurating the period of
"purity of heart", just as Socrates had done for classical thought. According to Stirner Luther was

first to understand that man had to become other than he was, if he wanted to
comprehend Truth -- namely he must become as true as Truth herself.... With
Luther, accordingly, dawns the perception that Truth, because she is thought, is
only for the thinking man. And this means that man must take an utterly different
stance from this point on -- namely the heavenly, believing, scientific standpoint,
or that of thought [des Denkens] over against its object, the --standpoint of mind
in relation to mind [des Geistes gegenüber dem Geist]. Only thus can like
apprehend like.

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 24

However it was that Protestantism broke the medieval hierarchy, it "could be overlooked
entirely that it was precisely a 'Reformation', thus a modification of the antiquated hierarchy,"
not unlike a restaurant under a new name and a new menu but of the same owners.

I regard the reverse [of Bruno Bauer's view] to be the case, and think that the
dominion of spirits [Geisterherrschaft] or freedom of mind [Geistesfreiheit] --
they amount to the same -- was never before so omnipotent and all-embracing
because now, instead of rending the religious principle from Art, State, and
Science, it has raised these latter out of secularity into the 'realm of Spirit' and
made them religious (EO, p. 83).

Secularization then was superadded to the religious realm, and was not in any way its
undoing. The success of the Reformation came in a perfectly conservative Hegelian Aufhebung,
cancelling the previous hierarchy and yet raising and preserving it under a different form. Indeed
Stirner seems to parody Hegel's exposition in the lectures on the Philosophy of History, while the
analysis is grounded in it:

Luther's simple doctrine is that the specific embodiment of Deity -- infinite


subjectivity, true spirituality, Christ -- is in no way present and actual in outward
form, but as essentially spiritual.... Truth with Lutherans is not a finished and
completed thing; the subject himself must be imbued with Truth, surrendering his
particular being in exchanged for the substantial Truth, and making that Truth his
own....

Hegel continues advancing the ideal of Spirit:

In the proclamation of these principles is unfurled the latest standard around


which the peoples rally -- the banner of Free Spirit.... This is the banner under
which we serve and which we bear.... This is the sense in which we must
understand the State to be based on religion. States and laws are nothing else than
religion manifesting itself in the relations of the actual world.
This is the essence of the Reformation: Man is in his very nature destined to be
free.[7]

Stirner, contra Hegel, is anxious to show us the door out of there, as Hegel's celebration of
Lutheranism eulogizes the very specter that would make freedom free, while unfreedom still
rules the lives of all its subject. Another kind of liberation is required: "Let us," he proclaims,

take up the inheritance left by the ancients, and as active workers do with it as
much as can be done with it! The world lies despised at our feet, far beneath us
and our Heaven, into which her mighty arms no longer are thrust, and her sense-
stupefying breath does not reach (EO, p. 26).

Retrofitters of past eras of faith are clearly scavengers:

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 25

The heart, from day to day more unChristian, loses the contents which it had
busied itself with, until at last nothing remains but empty warmheartedness, the
quite general love of men, love of Man, consciousness of freedom, 'self --
consciousness' and such.
Only this is Christianity, completed because it has become bald, withered,
devoid of content.... What could there be in men to love, since they are alike all
'egoists', none of them Man as such?

Christianity is dead, then by virtue of its own internal exhaustion. It is a defeat based on running
out of internal resources, rather than the hostility of the external world. The death of Christianity
was death from within, exactly as Nietzsche would argue thirty years later.
Love of the flesh and blood individual, according to religion across its many facelifts, is non-
spiritual, worldly, sinful, sinning against Spirit. It is precisely this that cannot be love. But such
an institutional viewpoint ultimately commends self-hatred and hatred of the flesh by the flesh.
What this is a license for is self-torment on the one hand and perpetuation of the Inquisition in
more humane forms.
The psychology of all this tends to the classic reductio of all tyrannies:

To...pure theory, men exist only to be criticized, scoffed at, and finally despised;
for these perspectives they are, no less than for the fanatical parson, mere filth
[Dreck] and other such finery
Pressed to this extreme of disinterested warm-heartedness, we must finally
realize that the spirit, which alone is the Christian's love, is nothing -- or in other
words, that the Spirit is a lie (EO, pp. 25-6).

Hegel's optimism that "Thought ought to govern spiritual reality" is thus not just an example
of the coherence theory of metaphysical truth, not just a tautology, but a dangerously skewed
prescription that banishes mortality with morality, moralizes the mortality of acting beings with
the idea that "Man is not free when he is not thinking."[8] Precisely this for Stirner is the corrupt
cultural fixation that has to be undone.

Are you perhaps thinking of comparing yourselves to the ancients, who saw gods
everywhere? Gods, my dear moderns, are not spirits: gods do not degrade the
world to a semblance, do not spiritualize it.
But to you the whole world is spiritualized, and has become an enigmatic
ghost. Therefore do not wonder if you likewise find in yourself nothing but a
spook. Is not your body haunted by your spirit, and is not the latter alone the True
and Real, the former only the 'transitory, null' or 'semblance'? Are we not all
ghosts, uncanny beings awaiting our 'deliverance', namely 'spirits' (EO, p. 35)?

The kingdom of Spirit and the rational freedom to embody it had been for the Germans a
Wundermäre, but by Stirner's time had become a pious fraud. The originally rich soil of God's
death had become landfill, the offspring of Spirit had degenerated to spirits, the kind Grandma
was prone to "see flitting between her limbs" (EO, p. 34). Stirner's relentless punning on the
connotations of Geist are not just cheap shots but a protest of the trivialization of Spirit, a
magical notion that earlier in the century had so many in its grip.

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 26

The protest of Stirner here is against humanity being overrun by its own thought-
constructions, validating the nightmare of Descartes, in which automata stalked about under the
cloaks of passersby. The supreme 'haunting' had produced robots with loose screws [Sparren] in
the head. This was the comedown of such infatuation with the metaphor of 'Spirit', which was of
course invented by men, not by God. The supreme value of lofty ideals is shown as folly as they
devolve into patent nonsense. In other words, it's not whether the sacred is or is not; it's that the
sacred is an institution made by men, who then install themselves as the priestly class, and
whether you call it enlightenment, democracy, revolution, libertarianism or whatever, freedom
demands the dispossession of all priestly classes.
We had lost ourselves, suggests Stirner, in an adolescent fantasy. The idea that this is
advocating pure nihilism, though, is not borne out as is clear from the following passage:

Not until one has come to love his bodily self, and takes delight in his own flesh
and blood (but we are more apt to find this in a man of mature years), not till then
has one a personal or egoistic interest -- an interest not only of our spirit, but
rather of a complete satisfaction, one of the whole fellow, a selfish interest.
Compare a man with a youth, and see if he does not strike you as harder, less
magnanimous, more selfish [eigennütziger].... The point is, that he makes himself
more the center than does the raw youth, who is infatuated [schwärmt] more about
other things such as God or the Vaterland.

He offers the child-adolescent-adult model to suggest that philosophers ought to get a live
look at what's in front of them. In the adolescent stage we are likely to 'run after our thoughts'
now, and do their bidding as before we had done that of our parents. Our acts are governed by
our thoughts (ideas, representations, beliefs), as in childhood by the commands of elders.

Indeed we were already thinking as children, only our thoughts were not yet
fleshless, abstract, absolute, i.e., nothing but thoughts, a heaven in themselves, a
pure world of thoughts, logical thoughts.
Therefore the man is distinguished from the youth again in that the youth
found himself as spirit but then lost himself in the general spirit... While the man
finds himself as embodied Spirit.
...Christianity's magic circle would be shattered if the tension between
existence and calling -- i.e., between me as I am and me as I should be -- were to
cease.... The embodied idea, of the embodied or 'completed' spirit, floats in the air
before the Christian as 'the End of my Days', or as the 'goal of History'; to him it
is not present time (EO, pp. 11, 13, 365).

From the essay "Art and Religion" of 1842 until his final reply to his critics in 1848, Stirner
insisted that 'Religion' was a matter of the understanding, and that "Christianity consists in the
development of a world of thoughts" (EO, p. 351). In other words, reprogramming the human
brain through culture. This landscape was barren by its one-dimensionality, so the mystery
Christianity promised but can never deliver is its antithesis, the embodied Christ. Should Christ
be embodied within us, the need for religion ceases. If we are each as a Christ, the colossus of
Religion is toppled. Only if Religion promises what it can never deliver does it validate itself as
an institution. Humanity must therefore sit by the white telephone of eternity for it to ring. And

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 27

then few will be able to saunter back from the dead to demand a refund.
Stirner links Luther and Descartes in the idea that "Thoughts are the Sacred":

Luther and Descartes are fittingly placed together in their respective sayings, 'He
who believes is a God', and "I think, therefore I am'. Man's heaven is thought,
Geist.... Particular faith, like faith in Zeus, Astarte, Jehovah, Allah, and so on can
be destroyed, but faith itself is indestructible. In thought is freedom... In short, my
being is living in the heaven of thinking, of a mind, a cogitare. I myself am
nothing other than mind, whether thinking for Descartes or believing for Luther.
My body, on the other hand, that I am not.

Modern philosophy gave itself the task, then of completing Christianity by a transforming
secularization and humanizing reformation. Modern philosophy in this sense is an offspring of
Christianity and subservient to it. Philosophy invented its own immortality, mystifying itself in
the process. Stirner's critique of philosophy is neatly summarized in this passage:

For this reason the name of philosopher is not to be given to him who indeed has
open eyes for the things of the world, a clear and undazzled gaze, a correct
judgment about the world... But he alone is a philosopher who sees and
demonstrates or proves the presence of heaven in the world, the supernal in the
earthly, the divine in the mundane (EO, pp. 74, 84-86)

And thus in a secular sense the philosopher is the one who sees in the mundane the shadows
of the other, metaphysical world -- this "otherworld" had to be maintained from the rubble of the
Christian otherworld in order to maintain philosophers as a priestly class. When the
mystifications are stripped of their sense, they remain fossilized (institutionalized) in language.
Religion stripped of its cloak technologies is reduced to, as Lenny Bruce noted about
Catholicism, a real estate scam, but we have to include the human brain in the zoning plan.
Metaphysics has never recovered from the death of God, or else it would have to become science
and technology, and it would rather pine away the Golden Age than attempt to adjust itself to the
real world.
The all-too-human origin of religion, stripped bare of its robes and hoods, is just an
anthropological invention, an invention of a society, and herein lies the unity of the critique of
religion and of communism found in Stirner.

All religion is a cult of society [Gesellschaft], this principle by which social


(cultivated) man is dominated. Neither is any God the exclusive God of an I, but
always belongs to a society or community, whether that of a 'family' (the Romans'
Lar and Penates), of a 'people' (national God), or that of 'all men'...
Consequently the prospect exists of extirpating all religion, only when one is
prepared to antiquate society and all that springs from this principle. But it is
precisely in communism -- because everything is supposed to be held collectively
so as to establish 'equality' -- that the social principle plans its highest
achievement and triumph so far (EO, p. 310).

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 28

Society, Christianity, Philosophy, Communism: a matter of inventing, a matter of social


theory as Dichtung, as Greek poiesis, inventing worlds that did not exist before. The world-
making ability of the human brain also gave rise to the slavery inherent in the worlds it created,
and mystification is the principle activity of unfreedom to that end. As Jean Cocteau once wrote
in The Liar, "Imagine an unreal world...then get people to believe in it!" We are still left with the
opposition between the ghostly and the sensual, and Stirner arguably was in no way inventing
this dichotomy, but merely pointing it out as a crisis in the core memory of Western thinking.
The religious interpretation must be done with, then, and dealing with symptoms or reforming
logical superstructures is not enough. Here personal and social psychology, as for Nietzsche, is
where to locate the crucible of religion. Denial of mortality, hatred of sensuality, fear of
playfulness, repression of enjoyment, all such phenomena belong to the psychomorphology of
the control freaks of history and these emotions are embodied in institutions, freedom from
which was the project of the Enlightenment.
Here too we return to Stirner's idea of egoistic self- possession, contrasted to unegoistic
possession by alienated thought-projections (fixed ideas). Clearly self-possession versus
possession by the Other or others (unfreedom) is how the issue should be described. As
Nietzsche would argue later, socially reinforced psychology and self-torment is where you look
for the roots.

I am repulsive or odious to myself; I have a horror of, or loathe myself, am an


abomination, or I am never enough to satisfy myself. From such feelings spring
self- dissolution or self-criticism. Religiosity begins with self-renunciation and
ends with complete criticism.
I am possessed and want to be rid of the 'evil spirit'. How do I set about it? I
fearlessly commit the sin that seems to the Christian the worst, the sin of
blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Says Mark 3.29, 'But he that shall blaspheme
against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal
damnation.' I want no forgiveness and am not afraid of the Judgment (EO, p.
184).

Indeed Protestantism had adopted/kidnapped the figure of Satan as developed in medieval


Catholicism, and deployed him as 'egoism' in the realm of the bodily, the sensual.
Paterson's review of Stirner's "total atheism", then, has created a straw man, saying things
Stirner did not say and ignoring what he did say, via Paterson's transparent laundry list of what
Stirner "ought" to have said.

ENDNOTES to CHAPTER II
1 "They are rid of the Christian God and now believe all the more firmly that they must cling to Christian morality.
That is an English consistency... Twilight of the Idols, in The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New
York: Viking, 1979), p. 515.
In his chapter on "Stirner and Nietzsche" Paterson basically claims that Stirner would be horrified at the idea of
the Übermensch since it would be another transcendent moral ideal, but this is, of course, quibbling. Stirner did not
offer egoism as a panacea, and clearly delimited its scope as not for everyone, and was clear that it was no enemy of
love, devotion, poetry, cosmology, or modern cinema (c.f. footnote 3 below). Nietzsche also skewered mercilessly
the 'universality' of philosophers in metaphysics and ethics.
Parallels between Stirner and Nietzsche are rich, however, as they both rejected pedantry for mobile thinking that

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 29

dances, thinking as risky, as surprising, as action or praxis. One of the most striking passages suggesting Nietzsche
was certainly cognizant of Stirner is this from his Dionysos-Dithyramben: "Wer wäre das, der Recht dir geben
könnte? / So nimm dir Recht!" Gedichte, (Stuttgart: Kröner, 1964), p. 568.

2 Jean-Paul Sartre, "Existentialism as a Humanism" in Walter Kaufmann, ed., Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to
Sartre (New York: Meridian, 1975), p. 353. Paterson's citation of this is on his p. 222.

3 KS, p. 375. Paterson's assurances that Stirner was self-hoist on his own pétard and then cut his tether from
humanity is belied by the reply to the critics, wherein Stirner goes to great lengths to correct the readings of Der
Einzige by Feuerbach, Moses Hess and others.

4 EO, p. 216.

5 Ludwig Feuerbach, "The Necessity of a Reform of Philosophy", in Zawar Hanfi, ed. and trans., The Fiery Brook:
Selected Writings of Ludwig Feuerbach (New York: Anchor Books, 1972), p. 145. For Wassergemütlichkeit, see
his The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot (New York: Harper and Row, 1957), pp. xl-xli.

6 G.W.F. Hegel, "The Roman World", in Lectures on the Philosophy of History, trans. J. Sibree (New York:
Dover, 1956), p. 319.

7 Ibid., pp. 415-417.

8 Ibid., p. 349.

CHAPTER III

A ONE-URCHIN CHORUS: THE EGOISTIC NIHILIST

T.O.C.
NIHILIST, n. A [German] who denies the existence of anything
but [Stirner]. The leader of the school is [Stirner].
The Devil's Dictionary [1]

What brand of 'nihilism' was Stirner's own, then? In his chapter on "Stirner and
Existentialism", Paterson opts for a critical examination of Stirner "from within the general
existentialist perspective"; his chapter on "The Nihilist" completes the juxtaposition of Stirner
and atheistic existentialism. In the previous chapter, I have reviewed the core existentialism
presented to the reader in Der Einzige and shown it bears little resemblance to the anemic
portrait by Paterson.
The common ground of Stirner and 'existentialism', he tells us, is

the vision of a world without God and hence without any unifying or directive
principle; it is the vision of a meaningless world, in which there are no inscribed

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 30

purposes or true values; it is...strictly no 'world' but rather a moral and


metaphysical chaos (NE, p. 266).

He approvingly quotes a theologian, Helmut Kuhn, on this point. The world of the atheistic
existentialist is

'a world without signs' and therefore 'something less than a world -- a mere
congerie of obtrusive existents'; it is an unstable collocation of brute facts,
inexplicable, purposeless, absurd; it is the obliteration of the world in the sense of
a meaningful and familiar totality', ... a dumb and massive plenitude without form
or direction...

In such a world the "individual has no role except to invent for himself a role" (NE, pp. 172-
173). Presumably in such a God-awe-full world, one just asks God what the meaning of the
world is, gets handed a Bible, and out pops one's role in life and life's work no doubt embossed
on the bookmark. Quite so.
In the meaningless, nihilistic world of the existentialist qua atheist, "no meaningful life could
be lived". In a hand-off to another theologian, Helmut Thielicke this time, Paterson has the
nihilist go on living in spite of himself: only because he "has a conception of ultimate validities
and values". Even so much as ingesting food, for these gentlemen, is to be not a true nihilist no,
not ever? Quoting Thielicke here, the nihilist is "compelled 'to go on living with the threat of the
deadly abyss, to dwell on a thin crust of ice', because 'nobody as yet has ever lived in the watery
wastes beneath the ice" and that about says it for Thielicke.
But Paterson announces that Stirner is advocating exactly that, the impossible life under the
thin crust of ice. It is, he says, "precisely such a life 'in the watery wastes beneath the ice' which
he sets out to portray in the character of the Unique One" (NE, p. 228).
There is furthermore a "leap" involved from nihilism to affirmation, a discontinuity:

The movement in transition is a 'leap', not a development.... For that reason any
particular cause embraced, any objective pursued, any principle adopted in
consequence of that transitional move remains unrelated to the move itself. It is
something on which the chooser 'hits', a ground upon which he lands after his leap
in the dark.[2]

Against those revisionists like Kierkegaard would affirm that the abyss is precisely faith, and
independence from the nit-picking of reason, this revanchist view is that life in the abyss is, back
to the myth of Faust, the opposite of the "Light", but has been mapped by someone neither Kuhn
nor Thielicke considered in their sermons, namely, Stirner.
His leap is made deliberately, and yet he differs from the garden variety existentialist who
allegedly holds fast instead to the "authentic individual, with his rooted, stable, indivisible
concerns" (NE, p. 232). When Sartre, says Paterson,

describes those who hide themselves from their true situation as 'cowards' and
'scum', he seems to be applying a standard of objective moral judgment of the
very kind which he declares...impossible if we are to begin to live authentically. If
existential authenticity means...that there are no objective and given standards in

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 31

terms of which our lives can be judged, then the authentic individual is hardly
entitled to pass judgment on those who do not make this frank recognition and
like him found their lives upon it...

Objective for whom? Given, by whom? Stirner said, and Sartre said, the answer is society. It
is not that Paterson is incapable of grasping this point, he just has an ulterior motive:

Stirner would reject the existentialist concept of authenticity, then, both because
he rejects the ideas of personal integrity and dedication of purpose which are
contained in this concept [of authenticity] and because in practice [it] tends to be
used by existentialists, illicitly, as precisely the kind of moral standard or personal
ideal which habitually excites Stirner's most vigorous loathing (NE, pp. 233-234)

The fact is that existentialists and Stirner are on the same ground in rejecting, at a minimum,
God-base morality, or morality founded suprapersonally or on theology or the authority of divine
texts. The existentialist objection might be that such a morality is really no morality, despite its
ideological superstructure it is demonstrably human, all-too-human and very demonstrably
inhuman. This kind of exposition seems to muddle the issue only because Paterson is here
projecting on Stirner his own objection to existentialism so defined. Stirner objects to ethics that
forget the source and impute some nonexistent transcendent source, but that is what Paterson
either cannot imagine or admit.
If someone shouts "bastard!" to a sideswiping pedicab, or to a Gestapo interrogator, does one
need a holy writ to pass judgment and make the comment?
No, Stirner must reject the existentialist idea of authenticity, Paterson thinks, because
integrity is a moral standard and Stirner doesn't allow himself any moral standards. However,
'authenticity' is really the missing link as it is part of the connotation of the uniqueness in
German and carries this from the Greek root, meaning self-origination. He would have been on
safer ground arguing that the existentialists took the idea from Stirner, and then grilling them
with lots of holy sauce for doing so: that would have been honest.
All that stands out here is the major premise assumed but never shown: that anyone who
denies moral standards in theory denies moral standards in practice. One retort may already be in
the pages of Der Einzige where Stirner spoke of the "babble of fools", those suffering from "the
fixed ideas of morality, legality, Christianity," and of the "shrunken heads" and "maniacs" at
large in the society of his time.[3] This was not an 'absolute' moral judgment, one in need of an
imprimatur from Higher Authority, nor a mere ad hominem, but a forthright observation about
those possessed by 'absolutes'.
We may recall that Stirner was used to dealing with café intellectuals, and the rhetoric of his
book reflects this. It would have been foolish to write to academics such as Paterson, whose
objectivity curiously resembles exorcism. Academia is in my view an audience before which
Stirner was and is doomed, as his true audience is elsewhere, in the wider and less cloistered
world of popular culture and what Aristotle called practical wisdom.
Part of the Stirnerian rejoinder today should be that religion is basically a dangerous drug that
like many drugs produces delusions of grandeur, weeness, or both depending on the social
circumstances.
In the titanic struggle between simplemindedness and muddleheadedness, Paterson has stoked
a new claim from the old coals, arguing that having rejected authoritarian or supra-personal

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 32

'given' standards, therefore no personal judgment is allowed. It recalls the cleric whose wife, at
supper time, inquired of him what he was doing in the loo for so long, and his reply from behind
the door that God had instructed him to carry on until he completed his mission there.

As the tone of The Nihilistic Egoist waxes and wanes from dinning to thunderingly
whimperous, the author unfolds a gripping psychological drama: the "final irony" of the
existentialist's dilemma is that on one hand he has set his entire cause on himself -- for our
author, on the "total meaninglessness of existence" -- but he cannot "steel himself to enter and
make his abode in the nihilistic void which has opened up beneath his feet."
No, our nihilist must revert to the Gods he is trying to depose, creating a "philosophy of
disloyalty" out of existentialism (NE, pp. 240-241).
Stirner had addressed this nonsense in advance, because "if I cannot or dare not write
something, perhaps the primary fault lies with me" -- which follows from the fact that "if I am
weak, then of course I only have weak means" (EO, pp. 280, 165). To turn this robust idea of
self-reliance into a "philosophy of disloyalty" is a daffy way to score points against what
Paterson and the Siamese Helmuts take to be existential philosophy.
For Stirner, on the other hand, when the theory by which I live becomes unlivable, I throw out
the theory, not myself. The haunting of philosophy, by contrast, has always taken the opposite
tack, sacrificing flesh to ideas. Need one probe much more to see which of these approaches is
coded internally to fight unfreedom, and which to articulate it?
Well, what else can we saddle existentialism with? It is not only lack of commitment, but
relativism and spectatorship in regards to life as well. Thielicke's view went like this:

The moment I become a spectator and detach myself from life, looking at it as a
kind of panorama that lies below me, all absolute values are become confused and
are sucked into the engulfing stream of events.

O...kay. Could anything better illustrate, 150 years after Stirner, another episode of "the
shamelessness of the Sacred"? From this point on Paterson allows himself to coast with no
brakes:

Meaninglessness, the essential nullity of everything, is for Stirner the


governing and universal phenomenon, the key feature of the individual's
experience, draining it of all significance and value.

Even more, meaninglessness for Stirner is "the household demon which he himself unleashes,
it is his personal mark which he deliberately stamps upon experience,...which he has freely
chosen and wholly wills." As a result "the metaphysical desert which he inhabits is ultimately a
desert of his own creation; in looking into the abyss he is ultimately looking into himself."
Nihilism, meaninglessness, eatinglessness, what are we missing? Uh, maybe suicide?!
How disloyal of oneself not to commit suicide once all absolute values are sucked away! No,
the nihilist of the Stirnerian mark cannot do this, he "holds out", lives a meaningless and futile
existence outside the church, and thus according to our author perforce is committed to "a life of
permanent inconsequence" (NE, pp. 242-243). As opposed, one imagines, to the cleric's life of
permanent nonsequitur here.

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 33

So not only is the nihilist sentenced to starvation, as eating itself has been logically
invalidated, but life itself now: the only true nihilists are out in the alleys: rootless,

vagrant, detached; frivolous, unstable, irresponsible; squandering his fluid and


transient being in a consciously promiscuous career or deliberately gratuitous acts
of repudiation: in the solitary and arbitrary figure of The Unique One is
personified everything that is negative and destructive. On the grim, predatory
features of the ruthless egoist Stirner has etched the hollow, dissipated features of
the uncaring nihilist (NE, p. 248).

One thinks of the words of Joni Mitchell's nihilistic housewife with her Hockneyan summer
lawns hissing in chorus, 'Nothing's any good!'.[4] This free dissociation with Der Einzige
becomes even more urgent:

[Der Einzige ] is the portrait of deliberate and controlled disintegration. It is the


portrait of a cynical, sophisticated, and rootless opportunist, ambiguous and
evasive in his refusal to define or commit himself, deviously artificial in his
avoidance of private obligation or public role. The Unique One is a portrait of
refined incoherence, studied irresponsibility, accomplished purposelessness,. He
personifies the motiveless, the arbitrary, the gratuitous.

Not only is the egoist willing to do abuse others, but himself as well! This should hardly come
as a surprise in the annals of philosophic lunacy:

If Stirner's portrait...is a documentary guide to the exploitation and abuse of


others, it is also a study in the artistry of self-abuse, for The Unique One's
enjoyment and consumption of the world is at the same time a consumption and
dissolution of himself: his self-creation is an incessant self-destruction.

Presumably, then, gratuitousness is the only alternative to a plenum of absolutes. Stirner's


'self-possession' fares little better. It underlines for the egoist again the incoherent nature of "all
his undertakings, born in tedium and executed in indifference":

And the metaphysical disorder of this world is of course mirrored and embodied
in the personal disorder of The Unique One himself, which is also an artificial and
completely deliberate disorder. This immediate and symbolic transition, from the
original natural, untotalized meaninglessness into the artificial totalization of
meaninglessness which is the nihilist's chosen world, is the nihilistic equivalent of
the existentialist 'leap' or 'conversion'.... And of course the logical discontinuity of
[this] transition from Nothingness to Nothingness, its sheer gratuitousness, is
again reflected in the nihilistic personality of The Unique One, in his
desultoriness and motivelessness, in his severance from others and the world, and
in his chosen mode of being as a kind of rupture in the world, down which it
perpetually vanishes to be 'swallowed' and 'consumed'...(NE, pp. 245, 248-249).

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 34

To recap this syllogism. premise one, to reject God and all absolutes is to affirm the
meaninglessness of it all. Premise two, Stirner rejects God and all absolutes; therefore
conclusion, Stirner must affirm, with a vengeance, the totalized meaninglessness of everything
under the sun.
At first one's suspicions grew regarding Paterson's contamination anxiety, but finally we can
breath a sigh of relief that the figure of "Stirner" being examined and surgically described has
been reduced to a bogey man, a spook, to merely sheets.[5]

In order to be thorough and get a look into more rational and respectable critique of Stirner,
we might for a few pages contrast with the preceding Albert Camus' consideration of Der
Einzige in his book, L'Homme Revolté, known in English as The Rebel. This work also
painted Stirner to be a nihilist, but I would like here to introduce a more humanistic definition of
nihilist, as one who breaks with tradition and received language to create a dangerous and bold
paradigm or way of expression that threatens the traditional ideas of one's contemporaries.
If we liken nihilism to innovation, we can add the realization many of our beliefs have been
wrong and that scientific discovery as well as authenticity and personal integrity require a dose
of nihilism to achieve anything. Since we now enjoy a tremendous variety of so-called popular
nihilism established in American and European pop culture, in art, cinema, comedy, TV,
literature, fashion, and perhaps not enough in our philosophy and politics -- arguably Jesus
Christ, Buddha, Socrates, the Founding Fathers, all can be identified still as nihilistic in a relative
sense of the term. They broke with the established paradigm, to use a cliché, and were leaders in
the revaluation or abolition of repressive institutions.
What does it mean, then, to "eradicate the idea of God, after he had destroyed God himself"?
This is how Camus painted Stirner, at odds with Stirner's own description noted above in which
he did not take credit for the death of God. In a somewhat silly paraphrase, Camus adds that
unlike Nietzsche, "his nihilism was gratified. Stirner laughs in his blind alley, Nietzsche beats his
head against the wall."[6]
Camus wrote that "the only truth is the Unique, the enemy of eternity and of everything, in
fact, which does not further its desire for domination." Indeed with Stirner,

the concept of negation which inspires his rebellion irresistibly submerges every
aspect of affirmation. It also sweeps away the substitutes for divinity with which
the moral conscience is encumbered (HR, pp. 62-63)

Camus considered Stirner an originator of climactic individualism, but this time as before,
"rebellion leads to the justification of crime": Stirner, he says, not only

attempted to justify crime (in this respect the terrorist forms of anarchy are
directly descended from him) but is visibly intoxicated by the perspectives that he
thus reveals (HR, p. 64)

In the dialectic between total freedom, and freedom within self-imposed rational limits,
Camus placed Stirner as championing the former, of course.

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 35

Irrational crime and rational crime, in fact, both equally betray the value brought
to light by the movement of rebellion. Let us first consider the former. He who
denies everything and assumes the authority to kill -- Sade, the homicidal dandy,
the pitiless Unique One, Karamazov, the zealous supporters of the unleashed
bandit -- lay claim to nothing short of total freedom and the unlimited display of
human pride (HR, p. 282).

In metaphysical rebellion, Camus explains, man "protests against his condition and against
the whole of creation". As in the case of the rebellious slave, "we find a value judgment in the
name of which the rebel refuses to approve the condition in which he finds himself."
Metaphysical rebellion is "motivated by a concept of complete unity," then. The metaphysical
rebel

is therefore not definitely an atheist, as one might think him, but he is inevitably a
blasphemer.... Originally, at least, he does not suppress God; he merely talks to
him as an equal. But it is not a polite dialogue...; when the throne of God is
overturned, the rebel realizes that it is now his own responsibility to create the
justice, order, and unity that he sought in vain within his own condition, and in
this way to justify the fall of God (HR, pp. 23-25).

As a Stirnerian counterpoint, though, we can note that Stirner's embodied rebellion and
Camus' metaphysical rebellion are different philosophies a century apart. The desire to find
sources of totalitarianism is understandable in the postwar period, but easily leads to
scapegoating. It should be a simple matter to determine if Stirner was negating what existed at
the time he wrote, as I have here been arguing, or rather negating for the sake of negating. This
also shows the 'egoism' of philosophers in not giving credit where it is clearly due. In Stirner, I
would argue, there is no evidence of the desire for the 'complete unity'. Stirner seems to need no
metaphysics, and therefore is poorly read as fomenting metaphysical rebellion.
Scapegoating of thinkers like Stirner and Nietzsche has long been anachronistic, but for
philosophers to try and figure out what capitalism and socialism were, why Hitler's roots were in
World War One, for instance, would require them to get their minds and hands dirty in empirical
disciplines, in the details of history, biography, and psychology. For many philosophers there is
nothing as dreadworthy as real flesh and blood and chronology, since this knocks them out of
their cloud-cover where they had hid in metaphysics and the a priori, and forces them to describe
the way the world actually works.
It should be clear by now that Stirner rejected metaphysics and was not doing metaphysics, in
fact he led the rebellion against metaphysics and its realm of spooks and the sacred. For him to
be interpreted as a metaphysician is the height of cluelessness.
Rebellion always is grounded in the rebellion of the mortal individual in society. The above
paragraphs from Camus have a hollow ring, and one only need ask, in how many stories of
freedom in history is the rebellion not on behalf of one's fellows, be it a tribe, a province, a
colony, or even one's fellow slaves or cellmates? Where is it demonstrably in the service of an
abstract noble ideal of the sort invented by intellectuals, like democracy, knowledge, progress?
Ideas, in any case, are seldom ends in themselves and rather only means, and the ends are usually
mortal, contingent, and egoistic. Only philosophers take the ideas for the an sich.
Still, only for religion and cults of society, utopias and Orwell's 1984, do live men and

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 36

women live to perpetuate the abstraction of society. For Stirner as well as for Godard's hero
Lemmy Caution in his seminal 1966 film Alphaville, alienated consciousness prevails and
because it is the State (science, domination, unfreedom), men and women must make pacts of
rebellion. The idea that rebellion is something universal and philosophical is not shown by
Camus in the slightest, and does not bear the stamp of history. Rebellions occur rather in local,
tribal, or decentralized frames, to negate what exists in order the change what exists, and only
later can philosophers come along and universalize these ideas. Universality is just an idea that
was invented at a certain point in history, with Plato, perhaps, but it is contingent like all ideas.
Arguably it is never unfreedom in general, but this unfreedom and this partisan, contingent and
mortal cause, that is the object of struggle. So is the "ego" about this ego, or that one but not
some essence "the ego".
Stirner's motto that "I have made nothing my cause" simply reflects, besides Goethe's poem,
the celebration of autonomy, mortality, independence and freedom from the bonds of 'society'.
Similarly, in the above passage, there is no need to "justify" the fall of God. If God symbolizes
and embodies the social spirit of unfreedom, then the fall of God signifies liberation. The
justification of liberation is freedom. One owes nothing to the fallen gods or statues of Stalin.
Camus quotes from Der Einzige to support the idea that the spirit of rebellion finds "one of
its bitterest satisfactions in chaos":

You [the German nation] will be struck down. Soon your sister nations will follow
you; when all of them have gone your way, humanity will be buried and on its
tomb I, sole master of myself at last, I heir to all the human race, will shout with
laughter.' And so among the ruins of the world, the desolate laughter of the
individual-king illustrates the last victory of the spirit of rebellion. But at this
extremity, nothing else is possible but death or resurrection. Stirner, and with him
all the nihilistic rebels, rush to the utmost limits, drunk with destruction. After
which, when the desert has been disclosed, the next step is to learn how to live
there; Nietzsche's exhaustive search then begins (HR, p. 65).

The assertion that "the concept of negation which inspires his rebellion irresistibly submerges
every aspect of affirmation" (HR, p. 63) is as I have shown already quite unwarranted and the
cure is to go back and read the original texts.
In fairness, even if Camus was wrong on this point he was reflecting on real events in the
postwar world. The project of his book in part was to search out intellectual complicity for
fascism, in the spirit of Nuremburg, "in the era of premeditation and the perfect crime." (HR, p.
3). While it is doubtful if philosophy has contributed much to understanding recent history,
Nietzsche may have been correct in holding himself "far from blaming individuals for the
calamities of millenia."[7]
Paterson's spectre is something far more flimsy, an inversion of Camus' maxim, which is to
the mark, that "a nihilist is not one who believes in nothing, but who does not believe in what
exists" (HR, p. 69) and my claim here is that Camus reserved this maxim for himself. Surely
Camus was on the mark that "only two possible worlds can exist for the human mind: the
sacred...and the world of rebellion."(HR, p. 21) If Paterson has heisted Camus' analysis for his
own gain, neither author tried to come to grips with Stirner's actual relevance as a philosopher of
ambiguity and rebellion, and each has attempted to politicize him or tar him with tags of political
correctness. Camus bypassed Stirner's discussion of revolt [Empörung] in two sentences, though

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 37

it is certainly a central concept for the Stirnerian project.[8]


But if Paterson has ripped off Camus' figurehead of Stirner as nihilist figurehead, for Camus
nihilism is an aberrant form of rebellion, and the kind of rebellion affirmed in The Rebel is a
qualitatively circumscribed one. The rebel says No, but it is an affirmation as much as a
renunciation. "Rebellion is born of the spectacle of irrationality, confronted with an unjust and
incomprehensible condition" (HR, pp. 13, 10).
Nihilism is always one of those ideas people will associate with anarchists and bomb-
throwers, and so engrained in the language is this idea that nihilism is ideologically incorrect
(i.i.) that it functions in some circles like the old accusation of witchcraft, especially where the
term was never used in the original. The dialectic Camus missed entirely was the refusal by
Stirner to opt for abstract universality, in favor of contingency, thisness, mortality, and having
done so truly was an innovator of existentialism a century in advance, and one could even argue
that existentialism was a rip-off of certain German thinkers of the previous century! But no
matter, Camus in the end had little to say about Stirner, was using him for his own ammunition,
and is of course interesting in his own context. A classic Nietzschean paradox, where one
necessarily misunderstands and falsifies the past, but always for one's own purposes, always
from egoism.
But Camus had timidly raised the question if it were "possible to find a rule of conduct
outside the realm of religion and its absolute values". Stirner's answer to this echoes across
centuries, where Camus' is guarded and unsure.
In review, then, no matter if Paterson has made a caricature of Camus' caricature of Stirner,
neither author has adequately fathomed Stirner's actual relevance as social critic and educator,
dwelling instead on his alleged 'nihilism' and metaphysics. While calling someone a nihilist is
not quite as bad as calling them a nazi, the scapegoating is the same as long as one amputates the
context which the author addressed when he was writing.
Though it may come as a shock to the timid, egoism can paradoxically be classed with
humility instead of braggadocio, but certainly with honesty.

If Fichte says, 'Das Ich ist Alles', this seems to harmonize perfectly with my
claims. But it is not that the I is everything, rather that the I destroys everything
[zerstört Alles], and only the self-dissolving, never-being I, the finite I, is really --
I. Fichte speaks of the 'absolute' I, but Stirner speaks of me, the transitory I. (EO,
p. 182)

Certainly Stirner's gleeful anticipation of German national demise, cited by Camus, was a
nihilistic parody of Götterdämmerung. Along with the passage about the 'proud crime' recklessly
blossoming in the darkening sky, one may be inclined to jump with Camus to see "the somber
joy of those who create an apocalypse in a garret."[9] Then again, Stirner may have been trying
to share with the reader his intoxication at some genuine and joyful 'wrecking' in the wake of
falling ideologies, a hope largely frustrated by events as communism was being ideologically
spawned by Marx and Engels.
Omitted by Camus was a passage that we would be remiss not to place at this time. It may be
silly, but it is also passionate:

O thou, my much-tormented German people -- what was your agony? It was the
torment of a thought that cannot create for itself a body, that of a haunting spirit

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 38

that fades into nothingness at every cock-crow, yet pines for deliverance and
fulfillment. In me too you have lived long, dear thought, dearest -- spook...
Farewell, thou, dream of so many millions, farewell you who have tyrannized
your children for a thousand years!
Tomorrow they carry you to the grave; soon your sisters, the people [die
Völker] will follow you. When they have all done so, then -- humanity [die
Menscheit] is buried and I am my own, the laughing heir!

This is a passage philosophers have taking literally, since Marx, as they consider it mere
sophistry if a rhetorical, attention-getting campaign is put forth with wit and aggressive
individuality. The café society of Stirner at the time, with the proximity to the bar, requires a
measure of patience and awareness of context, no less than expressionist paintings. But
biography and psychology are empirical disciplines.
The above passage of Stirner is arguably just a delirious wake-up call from a nightmare, thus
affirming liberation and rebellion in sensual reality. In the final short section of his book, Stirner
indicates what sort of an affirmation he intended:

The opposition of the Real and the Ideal is an irreconcilable one,...not to be


overcome unless some one negates both. Only in this someone [man] the third
party, does the opposition come to an end; otherwise idea and reality will ever fail
to coincide. The idea can never actualize itself, until it dies as Idea (EO, pp. 217,
362).

This third party is Stirner's Unique One, who has laid down the conditions for embodied spirit
to be achieved. This is his antidote to Hegel, actually using Hegelian dialectic against Hegel
(especially the lectures on "The German World" gathered in "The Philosophy of History") and to
spurious liberation à la Feuerbach:

'Man' corresponds in today's culture to what the heathen Stoics set up as the 'wise
man', the former and the latter alike as fleshless beings. The unreal 'sage', this
bodiless 'saint' of the Stoics, became an actual person, a bodily 'Holy One', in the
God made flesh [Christ]. The unreal 'Man', the bodiless I shall become actual in
the bodily I, in me (EO, p. 363).

This seems to be a very strong antiPlatonic statement, and again celebration of mortality is the
core of it.

The ideal of 'Man' is realized, when the Christian intuition turns around into the
proposition that 'I', this original unique [Einzige] am man. The conceptual
question, 'What is Man' has been changed into the personal, 'Who is the man?'
[wer ist der Mensch]. With 'what' the concept was sought after, in order to realize
it; with 'who', there is no longer any question at all, but the answer is personally at
hand in the asker; the question answers itself (EO, p. 366).

This clearly favors the dissolution of philosophy in that it is a refusal to be bound by the
received language of philosophers. We can note the common reaction for philosophers to object

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 39

that the other is 'denying objective reality' when they are wounded that someone denies their
reality. The novel idea that most philosophical discussions are nonsensical had to wait for the
twentieth century to even be discussed, but Stirner incisively pinpointed the locus of trouble, in
artificial creations of language, the seduction of men by their own thought-constructions. Small
wonder that the egoist is taken for the bull in the china shop of holy artifacts, or is even this
picture a figment of the cleric living in a world that has passed him by?
To point out mystifications is perforce to raise the hackles of the mystifiers. Was it a shock to
see pious 'transcendence' identified by the Enlightenment as 'hocus-pocus'? Was it heresy, given
the Enlightenment, to refuse hierarchical and retrogressive forms of thinking, or was it rather the
completion of the Enlightenment just as demanding bread, land, and the dismantling of
absolutism?
Was Stirner, then, not just taking the best minds of the Enlightenment and saying that we
should go all the way and not turn back to philosophers and their putty colored puzzles, or then
again to the royal colors overthrown in politics but enduring in the spirit? Was it an offense to
recommend for Germany the kind of upheavals seen in France and America?
Little insight reveals that any adequate analysis would address these matters and raise the
issue of unfreedom and alienation that impassioned the Young Hegelians in the first place. But to
do so would require a fair discussion of Stirner's own criteria. So it is amusing to see Stirner
accused of being a shut-in or, as we are about to see, a solipsist.
One of the reason that heretics prefer to see the Untergang of philosophy is that this discipline
always reverts not to its roots but to its patrons, to authority, and again and again shrinks from
active participation in the society which tolerates it. The value of philosophy is certainly
knowing when to stop, and here many of the past century's great minds are unable to keep up
with Stirner.
To affirm nihilism here is only to note how philosophy has shrunk from changing the world in
the way of the egoist or revolutionary, rather it sticks to monkishly interpreting it, along the way
managing to torture undergraduates with excruciating texts like the Critique of Pure Reason,
symbolic logic or sundry pet topics of the instructor or teaching assistant, as if philosophy could
still exist as a kind of intellectual boot camp. If Stirner were speaking today, he would argue that
these people need to seriously get a grip, collect a clue, rediscover the empirical world, and pour
out the metaphysical malmsey. Another phrase for what Stirner was doing might be "dissolution
to the ground", which is not the same as a scorched earth policy.
On the other hand to interpret Stirner as affirming irrationalism is unjustified in the texts and
imposes another metaphysical overlay for the sake of intellectual pointsmanship.[10]

ENDNOTES to CHAPTER III


1 Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (Owings Mills, Md.: Stemmer House, 1978), p. 172. Bierce had
'Russian' and 'Tolstoi' for my substitutions.

2 NE, p. 229. Earlier (p. 164) Paterson has already noted in regard to Stirner and Kierkegaard "their common
radicalism is the nihilism that arises from extreme isolation." One could argue in just as silly an ad hominem fashion
that Kierkegaard's love of fairy tales or Stirner's nursing his senile mother was the real crucible of their ideas. It
demonstrates what Ayn Rand once called the psychology of psychologizing, or here psychiatrizing even, to explain
away ideas that are misbehaving before a 'holy' standpoint.
This napping or teaseling of the texts, with the full side portion of disingenuous twittering, is pure Paterson. What

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 40

else is one to call it when an objection is made to a text where the response to the objection is already present in the
text? Cf. discussion of "isolation" above, p. 69.

3 EO, p. 325: "Only a few," Stirner quips, "are so imbecile that one cannot get ideas into them. Hence all men are
usually considered capable of having religion."

4 Joni Mitchell, The Hissing of Summer Lawns (Asylum Records, 1975), title track.

5 In a review of an early draft, B. Lezardi commented to the author, that The Nihilistic Egoist "is quite an
inadvertent compliment to its target. Could it have been written as a joke by one of the UK Stirner crowd, or by
someone like Robert Anton Wilson?" The reference may be to S.I. Parker, a prominent British libertarian, and
Wilson is the author of the Illuminatus Trilogy and other works. However it is doubtful that R.W.K. Paterson is a
pseudonym, since he has apparently published in more than one journal since 1971.

6 Camus, op. cit., p. 62; henceforth designated as 'HR' in text.

7 Nietzsche, Ecce Homo (Stuttgart, Kröner, 1964), p. 311.

8 Cf. EO, pp. 316-317 and passim; with HR, esp. p. 288: "The revolution, first of all, proposes to satisfy the spirit of
rebellion which has given rise to it: then it is compelled to deny it, the better to affirm itself. There is, it would seem,
an ineradicable opposition between the movement of rebellion and the attainments of revolution."
Here of course, Marx accused Stirner of cowardice and ideological purity. The issue may be, however, the
empirical tendency of revolution to re-establish the established, create new institutions of repression, and usher in a
"new boss, same as the old boss", as in the 1970s song by the Who. On the other hand this risk is inherent in any
institutional change, and nowhere does Stirner counsel against revolution, only making of it a panacea or historic
'inevitability', thereby making of the philosopher a prophet in the milky tones of ideological creaminess that is
lampooned in Der Einzige.

9 Apocalyptic rhetorical style was of course commonplace among the Young Hegelians, and Camus missed the
point following Marx's caricature of the pauvre type Stirner, passively reflecting his personal circumstances, aloof in
his idea that changing his thinking is the same as changing material conditions of oppression, thereby making of
himself a quintessential wallflower of history, as it were. As in any revolutionary or even coffee house insurrection,
men get drunk on their own passions as far as personal attacks and pie-throwing or worse. For a later and more sober
sketch of a possible German future -- decidedly not the one chosen by history for the following century -- see the
essay "Reich und Staat" in KS, pp. 323-327.

10 Sociologist John Carroll, in his work Breakout from the Crystal Palace, noted the "mystical, irrationalist core
of Stirner's existentialist ontology" (p. 73). Simultaneously he reintroduces Der Einzige as an exposition of radical
individualist psychology", and also connects it to the roots of fascism, which is quite a step. Carroll claims that
Stirner has a psychology and it "derives from an ethic which stresses the value of behaviour which transcends the
patterns that can be predicted by examining previous social conditioning." Only when one "goes beyond" social
roles and so on "does one become an individual -- that is unique and creative.... For Stirner the individual is
unabashedly the categorical imperative" (p. 72)
This seems to me a misreading of the texts. As shown above Stirner refuses to make another transcendental
value, another 'Schuld' or should-system as this would be another ideological and ontological sales pitch. No
positivities such as 'the individual' or 'individualist psychology' avoid the fate of theories in Stirner's system (or anti-
system). Even when one affirms irrationalism or nontraditional intellectual values as bêtes noires the way Carroll
does, is giving far too much away.
Why are we so reluctant to concede that the 'id' (in Freud das Es ) reveals on inspection -- conditioning and more
conditioning? Apparently many feel the loss of intellectual sanctuaries, but sanctuaries imply the sanctum and the
'holy places' to trot off to. Stirner was saying there are none left, and that such disillusioning is necessary for self-
liberation.
There is no contradiction between awareness of my conditioned state and the thought and impulse towards
freedom. Otherwise one would need to hold that since I am totally conditioned, I can do nothing. But that is a

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 41

prescription as well. To be conscious is precisely to look around and see what to do, for humans no less than for
animals. The realm of action is the realm of freedom.

CHAPTER IV

SUNDAY, BILLY SUNDAY: THE NIHILISTIC EGOIST


T.O.C.

MINE, adj. Belonging to me if I can hold or seize it.

RESPONSIBILITY, n. A detachable burden easily shifted to


the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck, or one's neighbor...
The Devil's Dictionary[1]

We have seen how Paterson has assembled a new metaphysical heaven from props jettisoned
by Stirner in dismantling the idea of the Sacred. After the question of suicide, it seems that only
solipsism could be a deeper rung of Hell for egoism. Paterson realizes that this concept is one of
the principal straw men stitched up by philosophers in their meanderings way back to the time of
Pericles. His argument will show that Stirner both is and is not a solipsist.
Not surprisingly for Thielicke, "freedom is identical with solipsism", an idea confirmed
perhaps by the image of solitary confinement. Most dungeons are, of course, where some men
send other men, and it is no different here. "Of course, Stirner is not literally a 'solipsist.'" How
so not? A glance at his book Der Einzige confirms "many references to other 'egos'", whom he
"addresses in the second person or with whom he apparently aligns himself in the first person
plural" (NE, p. 255).
Here Paterson is correct: the Other for Stirner is "indispensible"[2], and Der Einzige in fact
addresses various Dus:

Neither divine nor human reason, but rather your and my temporally existing
reason is real [wirklich], as and because you and I [Du und Ich] are real.[3]

But if he doesn't literally consider himself THE Unique One, corporeally, this identity is
rather "the metaphysical identity into which he ultimately projects himself." Returning to themes
of his previous discussion, the metaphysical solitude of Stirner in such a case would be not
natural, but "an artificial solitude, deliberately contrived and consciously willed." As for the
book, it is a sublimation:

Thus when Stirner speaks of 'creating himself', he is presumably referring to


this project of creating his own identity as 'The Unique One' within the terms of
his personal metaphysical system...[wherein] the historical Max Stirner is
converted into the metaphysical 'Unique One'; the fact of his personal remoteness
and insularity is converted into the doctrine of The Unique One's cosmic

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 42

'uniqueness'; and so the actual solitude...is converted into the theoretical solipsism
in and through 'The Unique One'.... The solipsism...is a purely metaphysical
solipsism (NE, pp. 255-257).

Was this like Ptolemy who was not an actual geocentrist, but a metaphysical geocentrist in
his conscious hours? A disappointing solipsism, but also a parody of the Marxist line which
explains that because Stirner was a frustrated petit-bourgeois intellectual, his oeuvre can be
nothing but the theoretical apotheosis of "The Man on the Street"[4] writ large as the "structural
model of petit-bourgeois self-consciousness."[5].
Paterson insists the egoist is a practicing solipsist to the extent that he goes about

denying the subjectivity of others, by treating other persons as...natural


phenomena to be studied and manipulated without regard to their existential
claims as persons...by reducing others to the status of objects."[6]

In support of this scenario our author quotes a famous passage:

For me, no one is a person to be respected...but solely, like other beings, an object
[Gegenstand] for which I have an interest or else do not, an interesting or
uninteresting object...a usable or unusable subject [Subjekt].[7]

Is this it? This is solipsism? Paterson offers a skit -- based on the real-life ill-fated marriage of
Stirner to the bohemian Marie Dähnhart that was pilloried (surprise?) by Marx -- to illustrate that
"in themselves, for their own sakes, the needs and interests of others count for nothing in his
eyes."
Suppose that, not for any ulterior reason, but since he enjoys her wit and admires her
erudition, Max "would describe himself as 'loving' Marie". This love, however, cannot be a love
of Marie, in and for herself as a "loving and beloved subject", since Max "precisely denies
Marie's own subjectivity. His love of her is not a love of the whole individual who is Marie, but a
love of "certain objective qualities", such as her cynical wit, or her ability to drink the other café
Hegelians under the table.
If, though, Max should tire of her cigar-smoking, or should her wit up and leave her, then his
love for Marie would cease and she would become a useless object to him; he loves, in other
words, only what happens to "gratify him (NE, p. 258)".
Alright, is he a skinhead, an adolescent, a selfish bastard who wrote THE self-help-thyself
book on How to Be a Selfish Bastard -- check the Metaphysical section of your bookshop -- or
what? One need only apply the classic reductio here to see the silliness of this exposition. What
behavior would be proof of Max loving Marie as a "loving and beloved subject"? Devotion to
her every whim? To her every fad of religious conversion? To supplicate her later in life when
she got Religion? Then again, what's in it for her? The question answers itself. It's egoism all
around: it's a jungle, bunny.
This is the old retread argument of egoism as amounting to selfishness. The problem with it is
that selfish behavior of the everyday rank is arguably to do with a touchy, bloated, or sensitive
(self-consciously weak) ego. That everyone has an ego has never been in doubt; whether they
have the stuff to be egoists is quite another story and the whole point of Stirner writing his book.
In addition, I am convinced Stirner's analysis could be strengthened by distinguishing, as Freud

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 43

was later to do, between the "me", or socially conditioned self, and the active principle or "I",
and there is just no way that the "me" practices egoism. Stirner makes this point over and over
though not in so many words. The socially constructed and conditioned "me" is the enemy of the
ego as self-overcoming principle. Nietzsche was later to make this point himself in his critique of
habits versus egoism. If egoism was just a matter of pointing to habits, we'd all be egoists and the
concept would be null. Rather habits are the opposite or even enemy of egoism and this goes for
our personal consciousness and "free will."
If Marie requires an attitude of devotion and sacrifice and mystery a priori, I believe she may
well not be right for Max, and she may be better of with, for example, a man of the cloth. All of
this is meant to obfuscate the fact that Der Einzige is only discussing possessed versus self-
possessed love, a topic in popular culture, cinema and art of widely diverse pedigree never
acknowledged by Paterson, in order to present Stirner as a narcissistic delusional and invert
paranoid (the egoist is after them, not the reverse).

"I can with joy sacrifice to [the friend] numberless enjoyments, says Stirner. 'I can
deny myself numberless things for the enhancement of [his or her] her
pleasure...but myself, my own self, I do not sacrifice but remain an egoist" and
enjoy the person as the object of enjoyment, as an enjoyable subject:
Selfish love is far distant from unselfish, mystical or romantic love.... Love
becomes blind and crazy when a must takes it out of my power (infatuation), or
romantic by a should entering into it.... Now the object no longer exists for me,
but I for it (EO, pp. 258-259).

Paterson therefore summons the ogre of treating people as objects, and with this caricature,
drops the matter. The Other is then nothing but "raw material" to be administered and duly
exploited," a relationship that is "purely technical" and "managerial" (NE, pp. 257, 265).
"The egoist's love for another is not accompanies by any sense of responsibility," he
complains. "Strictly speaking he does not care for the person whom he loves". No, the

'loved one' is not a unique and irreplaceable object: how could he be, since it is his
egoistic 'lover' who is himself The Unique One? For this reason the egoist always
keeps himself aloof from the 'loved one', to whom he may give much, but to
whom he will always refuse to give himself, unconditionally and in his entirety
(NE, p. 258).

Please -- if it is maternal love that Paterson is bleating about here, why can't he come right out
with it? What is his problem in having lovers love the uniqueness of each other, and taking
English leave only when the other has become boring, gotten religion, or become someone else?
This is how people actually behave when it comes to love, as egoists.
So what's the problem? Many of us indeed would run for dear life from someone coming at
us with all-encompassing, unconditional, 'absolute' love. The professor has, then, given us not a
single reason against the view that Life is a Western or that Love is a Battlefield -- just a lot of
poodling on about how egoistic love is nothing but cruel and cavemanesque.
This whole mess goes back at least to Feuerbach in his critique of Der Einzige:

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 44

Only the species is in a position to both transcend religion and replace it. To have
no religion is: to think only of oneself. To have religion is to think of another.
And this religion is the one that alone remains, at least as long as there is not only
a 'unique' man left on earth. For so long as we have just two, as man and wife, we
still have religion. Two, difference, is the origin of religion -- the Thou, God of
the I, for the I not without the Thou. No Thou -- no I.[8]

Feuerbach here reproaches Stirner with the "complacent categories" the latter had attacked in
Der Einzige and in "Stirner's Critics".[9] First the inauthentic response is to deny the
conditioned, contingent, mortal and arbitrary character of one's actions and relations, and hoist
those up somehow to the abstract level of invulnerable, sacrosanct Truth. Then one calls in the
Choir for reinforcements.
Practical solipsism, therefore, is the same as metaphysical solipsism, and the same as total
atheism it is a straw man, a faketoid. Paterson is fixed upon absolutes and there is nothing he will
take instead. Note that via such transubstantiated egoism, it is still egoism, just 'holified' and
sprinkled with self-righteousness like the whole swath of The Nihilistic Egoist. For an egoist,
the personal fight is never a jihad, and the impulsive fisticuffs that knocks over the café tables is
never an inquisition or crusade for decency.

The ball is really still in the other court. From the perspective of the Ideal, men are always too
short or too long for the bed. Like Stephen Blackpool in Charles Dickens' Hard Times, people
exist to be sacrificed as scapegoats, or caught in the crossfire of the fanatics of both sides. One
need not scour the works of Dickens, Twain , Melville, Lawrence, or Ayn Rand to clinch this
basic perception. Twain in fact in The Mysterious Stranger made many of Stirner's points
about those imbued with "the moral sense". How much literature would be left if one subtracted
stories about "honeyed speech and a lying heart, pompous words and beggarly thoughts"?[10]
According to one reading of the Tao-Te-Ching: "Failing virtue, man resorts to humanity; failing
humanity, man resorts to morality."[11]
Radical finitude, though, bids you "dissolve yourself as time dissolves all things." Stirner
maintained that all human worth and dignity flowed from uniqueness, singularity, and originality
(all connoted by the term Einzigkeit). These qualities are antipodal to the abstract universality
that reduces flesh and blood human beings to the status of a "chalk point" measured against the
uncanny jealousy of spirits. Once the idea of the 'species' holds sway, men are reduced to
"specimens."[12] The people with wheels in the head are always well down the slope of seeing
the other not as unique, but -- the example is Stirner's -- as merely a thief or prostitute or Jew,
and as nothing but the same.
Egoism is as antithetical to fascism and other collective hysteria as anything can be. Rather
than egoists treating each other as puppets, the point is that this was the gravy train of religion, to
tame humanity, to create a species of servants. The masters, of course, remain. Through egoism,
on the other hand, men arrive "most easily at a mutual understanding."[13]
"One always flatters oneself," wrote Stirner, "that one speaks about 'actual, individual' men
while one is talking about 'Man'."[14] In the same way, one flatters oneself speaking of the
sacred, when something far more pedestrian, bipedal and human, all-too-human is being
advanced.

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 45

The 'sacred' exists only for the egoist who does not acknowledge himself, for the
involuntary egoist who...thinks he is serving a supreme being, who...is infatuated
with something higher, in short for the egoist who would like not to be an egoist,
and debases himself.... But however much he shudders and castigates himself, in
the end he does it all for his own sake, and the odious egoism will not rub off him.
For this reason I call him the involuntary egoist (EO, pp. 36-37).

If love postulates an object as "absolutely loveworthy", then the simple answer to Paterson's
muddle about egoistic love is that it's precisely what Stirner is calling inauthentic and
involuntary. He sees in the institution of romantic love

the same pattern: everywhere the hypocrisy, or rather self-deception of an


'unselfish love', an interest in the object for the object's sake.... I owe my property
[Eigentum] nothing, and have no duty to it, as little as I might have a duty to my
eye; if nevertheless I guard it with the greatest care, I do so on my account.
Antiquity was lacking in love as little as the Christian era; the love-god is older
than the God of Love. But the mystical possessedness belongs to the moderns
(EO, pp. 292-294).

We should at this point demystify the idea of Eigentum or property for Stirner, as this has
been portrayed as a bourgeois economic notion of relationship to the Other, as well as the
stereotype of callous exploitation depicted by clerics like Paterson. Although Stirner protested
the identification of himself with Der Einzige, for instance in his rejoinder to Moses Hess,[15]
the notion we might describe as the 'conservation of Egoism' principle is brought back to bear:

If he ever admits any others to the metaphysical status which he claims for
himself, the status of the pure Consumer to whom everything is merely pabulum,
then manifestly he cannot identify himself as 'The Unique One'. It would, for
example, be clearly inconsistent for a total egoist, who his determined to further
only his own interests, to encourage others to behave towards him in the
conscienceless, predatory ways in which he himself intends to behave towards
them...

The egoist for Stirner must, goes this line of thinking, maintain things so that others remain
"docile, scrupulous, law-abiding" in the ways that he despises. While Paterson admits Stirner's
book is "full of exhortations to become audacious, piratical egoists," he writes this off as
illegitimate. Why, because all Big Bad Wolves and Little Pigs and Grandma's houses to one side,
the Unique One should prefer a playing field where he has the element of surprise, keeping "the
crucial advantage" of "the man who is not bound by moral considerations" dealing with those
who are.
No, Stirner should have kept mum on this, so that he might profitably deploy "against others
the hypnotic abracadabra of morality, to which he himself would be safely immune," but which
might induce "his naiver [sic] victims to subordinate their interests to his own" (NE, p. 266).
Again, this is easily turned around. It is more likely the stratagem of the cleric, to which he is
immune, to court and prey on the timidity and goodness of men to confide their goods, their
secrets, and their virtue. Need we add there is a substantial, if not enormous, literature on this?

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 46

As Stirner noted, "In Austria and Bavaria the Legitime, in Belgium the Sansculottes, in France
Communists: the crafty always drag the masses with them by the nose of some popular
idea."[16] Exploitation is thus ripest where egoism is devalued, though Stirner suggests
elsewhere that the unconscious egoist has to disarm himself in order to be exploited.[17]
All this is quite obtuse, because if somebody says to you, "I believe we should be honest
egoists" because "the world is pretty much dog-eat-dog" there aren't too many people who would
think that's a contradiction, and not many would argue with the second proposition, or think it's
some violation of ethical behavior on the level of the child molester.
Paterson insists upon treating egoism as some sort of contest in which there is one winner and
everybody else loses -- in short of egoism as the classic Zero-Sum Game -- and he invents the
notion of an impartial referee to extract himself from the bog of this analysis. So literal-minded
is this approach that he objects to Stirner even saying, as he did, 'That which is right for you is
right', when he should have said according to our author, no more than 'That which is right for
me is right for you,' because after all there is "no question of equality" (NE, p. 268).
To argue that the author is "emasculating the concept of total egoism" which Der The Unique
One is supposed to embody, is really trying to force the author posthumously to autoemasculate
his own body of work. Since it is such an obvious ploy, we find it much more probable Stirner
knew quite well what he was saying and it was in the ballpark of internal consistency -- and that
Paterson is clueless. So it is that Stirner comes off more as Clint Eastwood and Paterson as the
Parson Bippoe.
What is actually emasculated is rather an "absolute Organ"[18] because as Paterson is still
only interested in his absolutist frame of reference to the damnation of all others. How unfair
indeed the juxtaposition of what the author 'ought' to assert versus what is in the text!
Nor can Paterson fathom the idea of the union, or Verein, described in Der Einzige:

One would have thought that a conscious egoist looking for associates to 'utilize
and consume' would have given his fellow vampires a very wide berth, as being
far too devious and knowledgeable for his machiavellian purposes.... The obvious
'associates' for the egoist, therefore, are not his fellow egoists but precisely those
innocent and upright men of goodwill whose 'kindness, mercy and pity' Stirner
rashly repudiates (NE, p. 270).

Why indeed, he's saying here, should a wolf run in a pack when he can pick off so many little
lambs and not have to share them, or risk a tiff with another wolf in the pack? Paterson believes
the union of egoists would necessitate a Hobbesian war of all against all, and this is a standard
refrain among critics of egoist authors since the discussion began. Such as union would consist,
goes the argument, of open combat and suspicion, and of course the egoist cannot really take part
in any sort of community because none are equal to him, in communities others have rights and
those are not valid for this archetype of egoism.
He quotes Stirner, "'Community is an impossibility.... No other man is my equal for I regard
him, like all other beings, as my property" (NE, p. 272).
What is going on here is an author who has, to use Wittgenstein's phrase, allowed himself to
be bewitched by language and misled by a picture. The picture is of egoism. It's a false picture
because it's his own picture. Empirically the world has never been, in all of history, a place
where one can classify people and say these are the egoists over here, and over there, is the mass
of non-egoists.

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 47

I believe the texts show that for Stirner egoism is the operating system of consciousness
across cultures and centuries, like it or not. But why should egoism provoke such emotions? Let's
put the ball back in play and get beyond semantical pattycakes by asking what the alternative is
to egoism, then?
As a test, imagine yourself tomorrow working for a huge Japanese megafirm, and whether
you fancy yourself egoist or altruist or none of the above-ist, you find yourself singing the
company song, and bowing to the board of directors, and following the intricate and (to the
western secular mind) silly rules of hierarchy common to the Japanese way of doing business.
On the surface there is no egoism here, rather this is quite the opposite.
But if no one at the meeting believed that tomorrow this company would make their lives
better, if they rather were to think they would never see another paycheck or pay the kid's way to
college, or never advance their way towards more money or respect, then the room would be
empty echoing the rhetorical question, 'have all the egoists left the room?' It is at this level that
one has to apply the method, not at the level of appearance.
What then transpires in the allegedly non-egoistic associations that make up present-day
society if it is not egoistic? Pure altruism? Pure charity work? Is not the purpose of having an
economy to employ people and give them means to live? Or could it be that people are cashing
their paychecks only because they see other people doing so? Clearly if you have three billion
people in the world, of course they're not going to be discussing egoism, they're going to be
practicing it in one form or another.
The discussion is nonsense because the world is the conflict of egos, of persons as well as
institutions, cultures, and subcults. The point is still that society, in all its forms and
configurations, nevertheless is not the end but the means, the livelihood of people. We cannot
escape that we live in society, that doing so is far preferable to living in a foxhole in the ground,
but as soon as the topic of egoism comes up, people run for the exits trampling the popcorn.
We are doing philosophy and Stirner himself never suggested that societies should adopt
egoism as a national standard. If it did, it would certainly falsify and adulterate the whole idea,
because egoism on this model is something that can never be institutionalized. It will always
dissolve in the process. Relative to society, it appears destructive, in that it overcomes all
inhibitions and rationales that masquerade as rationality. Arguably though egoism is the builder
of society, and the clerics and the 'holy' are its parasites. But as soon as one addresses the issue of
the vices of religion, from the giant "real estate scam" of the Catholic Church (Lenny Bruce) to
its opposition to birth control and reproduction-free sensuality, the apologists of religion always
have marshalled their voices about their charities, unconditional love, and moral rectitude: they
have the moral sense indeed.

Stirner's rejection of community or 'Gemeinschaft' was quite specific. He describes it as


having been "the goal of history until now" (EO, p. 311).
Egoism is inherently in favor of dealing with current realities, and hostile to putting them off
because 'others know better' or for the sake of an afterlife. Egoism rightly understood is
antithetical to the vested interests and class society. Egoism is certainly to the advantage of les
misérables, because they have a need for it, a world to gain by it, and this theme runs throughout
Stirner's writings and in the great literature of the past century and a half.
The moralist who cloaks his egoism in morality and piety isn't Stirner's invention, unless
everyone from Nietzsche, Hugo, Zola, Dickens, D.H. Lawrence, B. Traven, Kafka, Hesse,

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 48

Sinclair Lewis, Raoul Vaneigem, all of these people would for starters have to be in on the
conspiracy. Stirner "ought" to

have said, 'There is no right, only might' [when] he often prefers to say, 'might is
right' -- although clearly if the term 'right' has a meaning distinct from that of the
term 'might', this statement is almost certainly false, while if the two terms have
the same meaning the statement is completely tautologous.

This is a twisted notion, since Stirner does not claim might and right are identical, but only
that power or might is the ground and origin of right. Thus 'right' is set straight and demystified:
it is a definition made by power, in this key passage:

Right collapses into its own nullity when it is swallowed up by might [Gewalt],
when one grasps what is meant by 'might precedes right'.... All right then explains
itself as privilege [Vorrecht], and privilege itself as power, as -- superior power
[Übermacht] (EO, p. 209).

This passage refutes Paterson's notion that 'rightful claim' and 'prior entitlement' or any such
language are for Stirner necessarily meaningless. Instead of placing the concepts of
reappropriation and property in the context of the debate over alienation [Entfremdung], Paterson
dives ever deeper into the bog: the nihilistic egoist's

activity of appropriation consists of a finite series of particular confiscations and


reinvestments, each of which is specifically designed to preserve and enhance that
fluid, finite totality which is simultaneously his 'property' and his extant, concrete
identity, his being-in-the-world; and this totality is distinctively preserved as a
totality-in-process-of-disintegration. The egoist's property is only insofar as it is a
continuous becoming, and it is a 'becoming' only insofar as it is continuously
becoming nothing (NE, pp. 281, 283).

Our metaphysician cannot help but be stymied by the subject of alienated Right, and so on,
and must dismiss the dialectic of 'own-ness', 'right', power, and so on, concluding that the true
egoist should just drop 'right' and 'wrong' from his vocabulary (NE, p. 328)! Thus is Stirner's
Bavarian feast turned English breakfast-in-process-of-disintegration.
Certainly Stirner wanted to show that naked power masquerades and mystifies itself as
legitimized 'right', leading to the institutions of privilege (which after all means 'private law').
Yet Stirner is not advocating privilege, but storming the bastions of privilege, and this has been
nibbling at our author's royal goat. The passage shows how ideas such as Right have come off
their moorings and acquired philosophical shape as fixed ideas:

The thought of Right is originally my thought, or has its origin in me. But when it
has sprung from me, when the 'word' is out, then it has 'become flesh', a fixed
idea. Now I no longer get rid of the thought -- however I turn, it stands before me.
Thus men have not become masters of this thought, 'Right', which they
themselves created. their creature has stampeded them. This is absolute Right, that
which is absolved or severed from me. Revering it as absolute, we cannot devour

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 49

it again, and it takes away our power of creation; the creature is more than the
creator, is now 'an und für sich' (EO, p. 205)

That Stirner was grounded in popular culture and that he and the Young Hegelians need not
be taken as plunged in metaphysics is shown in the following oft-quoted passage.

Where could one look without meeting victims of self-renunciation? Opposite me


there sits a girl who for maybe ten years now has been making bloody sacrifices
to her soul. Over the full form droops a deathly-tired head, and pale cheeks betray
the slow bleeding away of her youth. Poor child, how often the passions may have
beat against your heart, and the rich powers of youth have demanded their right!
When your head rolled in the soft pillows, how awakening nature quivered
through your limbs, blood swelled your veins, and fiery phastasies poured the
gleam of sensual desire [Wollust] in your eyes. Then appeared the ghost of the
soul and its bliss.

This then signals the arrival of the soul, the socially constructed womb of conditioned
behavior and internalized voice of authority, moral prescriptions, sensual restraint and the entire
chorus of self-doubt.

You were terrified, your hands folded themselves, your tormented eyes turned
their glance on high, you -- prayed. The storms of nature were hushed, a calm
slipped over the ocean of your appetites.... You fell asleep, to wake in the
morning to a new struggle and a new -- prayer. Now the habit of renunciation
cools the heat of your desires, and the roses of your youth grow pale in the --
anemia of your blessedness. The soul is saved, the body may perish! Oh Lais, oh
Ninon, how right you were to scorn this pale virtue! One free grisette against a
thousand virgins grown gray in their virtue (EO, p. 62)!

Conscious egoism is required because my ideas are not just verbal fictions, but embodied
mystifications as in the case of the Christian soul. Because we embody ideas and theories created
by others, before we live our life to the end and find out they are worthless, better shop around
and get experimental. Without such conscious egoism, argued Stirner, we are likely to be had by
one fixed idea upon another and never notice our self- estrangement. The decision to model
oneself on any theory, then, turns on an egoistic litmus test.
This is why Stirner has something to say when considered as educator. The whole issue is
self-possession or ownness, a method that dissolves 'uncanny' sacred worlds for inhabitable and
life-enhancing ones.
The image of Stirner by Paterson is, then, a caricature. The image of the egoist as a private
person, then as idiotes, then as solipsist, cut off and suppurating in his labyrinth of solitude and
penning notes from the underground, is familiar from much critique including Marx, Buber, and
Camus. Paterson's sources show only that his conservative moralizing is far from original. The
"metaphysical" Stirner, then, is a spook.[19]
Indeed the put-down of egoism based on isolation was addressed by the author to his critics in
1845:

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 50

What in the world does egoism have to do with isolation? Do I as ego become an
egoist when I run away from men? I may isolate or seclude myself, naturally, but
am not a hair more egoistic in so doing than another who remains among men and
rejoices in his association. More likely, I would isolate myself because I can find
no more enjoyment in society; if I remain among men, it is since they still have
much to offer me....
The 'exclusivity' of the egoist, which one would like to pass off as 'isolation,
detachment, seclusion' is on the contrary total participation in what is interesting
[emphasis added] by way of excluding the disinterested and uninteresting.

The author remarks that "the longest section of Stirner's book, the section on 'Mein Verkehr' -
- relating to intercourse with the world and the union of egoists -- may as well have been written
in vain" (KS, p. 375). Sic semper tyrannisaurus.

ENDNOTES to CHAPTER IV
1 Bierce, op. cit., pp. 166, 219 .

2 See the discussion of love and related matters in KS, pp. 262ff.

3 EO, p. 356.

4 See Helms, op. cit., p. 4.

5 See Holz, op. cit., p. 11.

6 An instance of the 'nothing-but' fallacy, which usually manages to be ad hominem as well.

7 See the discussion in EO, pp. 311ff. Paterson does not translate Subjekt as 'subject'.

8 Feuerbach, "Reply to Stirner", trans. F.M. Gordon, Philosophical Forum, 8, No. 2-3-4 (1978), p. 87. It is seldom
noticed that Feuerbach's reply probably demonstrated to Marx, who had just written the Feuerbachian "Paris
Manuscripts" and "The Holy Family" -- that Feuerbach, despite his humanism, had been doing theology and was
still at it.

9 EO, p. 40. 'Negative' perceptivity is still discouraged in education because questioning any type of authority is still
going to rankle those who do not know but imagine they do. No one is saying that questioning authority is an end in
itself, only that it's a necessary condition for any kind of education unless education is to mean life training as a
robot (from Karel Capek, "drudgery"). The fact that we always have to go face to face with prejudices, meanness,
fixed ideas and phony egoism is part of the meaning of egoism, and also what makes it a fun contact sport.

10 EO, p. 40. Clearly that which lies behind the sham of hypocrisy include nothing that is not human, all-too-human.
Religion is an institution which often mediates the 'evil that men do' as much as the good they also do.

11 J.C.H. Wu, trans., Tao Te Ching (New York: St. John's University Press, 1961) p. 55.

12 EO, p. 330: this association works only in translation, as Stirner used Gattung and Exemplar.

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 51

13 EO, p. 248. Perhaps this was God's purpose as Reason has developed as "a book of laws, all enacted against
egoism" (p. 331).

14 See the discussion in KS, p. 345.

15 KS, p. 344. Clearly Stirner considered the charge insipid and our author gives us little reason to think
otherwise.

16 KS, p. 405. See also EO, p. 55.

17 See EO, p 315: "The poor are to blame for there being rich men." But also p. 321: the enjoyment of life must take
upon itself to "crush spiritual and secular poverty, eradicate the ideal and the want of daily bread."

18 See the discussion in KS, p. 385.

19 Authoritarians, emphasizing rationality, are inclined to identify the 'ship' with the bridge, i.e. the command
structure, hence the moralizing Queeg-style. Stirner's philosophy spans the bridge and the black crew in the stoke-
holds, to borrow from B. Traven (who was familiar with Stirner in Germany, had his own insurrectionary newsletter
"The Brickburner" during the Munich uprising and carried out this influence in an original direction in Das
Totenschiff, translated as The Death Ship -- an egoistic rant or proletarian Moby Dick -- and his Jungle novels.

CHAPTER V

REQUIEM & SCHERZO FOR SOLIPSIST

T.O.C.

No one has more enemies in the world than the man who is honest,
proud, and sensitive, with an inclination to leave persons and things
as they are instead of taking them for what they are not.
Chamfort[1]
I have argued above that the attempt by Paterson to saddle Der Einzige with a metaphysics of
his own fancy is a buffoonish ploy to distract from more central issues. Egoism for Stirner is,
however, grounded in a quite original analysis for his day of thinking, thoughts, and
epistemology of everyday life.
Egoism, nihilism, and liberation all have to do with mindsets, which far from existing only in
thought take human shape and become human flesh. Since for most philosophers the question of
what is thinking is fundamental, I do not wish to exclude Stirner from philosophy as being only a
social critic and educator. It seems to me his focus is epistemological or metapsychological more
than metaphysical.
We can now tie up some loose ends from previous chapters. The final chapter of The
Nihilistic Egoist, "Philosophy as Play", addresses the issue of thinking. Certainly egoism is
intimately tied in with how we think, as opposed to what we think in any instance, and while I
have sworn not to impose universality on Stirner, nevertheless I believe his place is that of a

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 52

modern thinker in tune with some of the most creative minds of the 19th century.
Nor should one think we have separated from the religious world view to the point all these
issues are irrelevant, because even if technology has advanced dramatically, the operating
systems for the mind are still present interactively and incorporate the archaic as many centuries
of programming and reprogramming persist embodied in our cultural experience.
Stirner jumps into the archaeology of thinking when he states that the wisdom and acumen of
the Ancients already lay

as far from the spirit and spirituality of the Christian world as earth from
Heaven....
[The spiritual man's] life is occupation with the spiritual, that is to say -- with
thinking. The rest does not bother him; he will busy himself with the spiritual
anyhow he can and will, in devotion, in contemplation or in philosophic
cognition. He is forever thinking and so Descartes, who had at last seen this,
could propose his Cogito. My thinking is my being or life.

Poor Peter Schlemihl, who had lost his shadow, is "the portrait of the man who has become
Spirit -- for the Spirit's body is shadowless." With the ancients, however, it was very different:

It must not be supposed that the ancients were without thoughts.... Rather, they
had their thoughts about everything concerning the world, man, the gods and
such, and showed themselves keenly active in bringing all this to their
consciousness. Yet they did not know 'Thought' as such (EO, pp. 20-21).

However, long historical analysis is not Stirner's point and he brings it immediately to the
present, to the question of action because the ethical crisis of what we should then do now is
always grounded in what and how we think and in what order.
Christian thinking was the negation of the relatively unspiritual ancients' thinking and so
Stirner presents a negation of this negation. The Christian kingdom of thoughts
[Gedankensreich] culminated in "that inwardness in which all the world's lights are put out", and
the inner man, identifying himself as his head and heart, is exalted.

This dominion of thoughts awaits its deliverance, awaits like the Sphinx the
cryptogram of Œdipos, that it may at last enter unto its death. I am the annihilator
[Vernichter] of its continued duration, for in the creator's realm it no longer
fashions a realm of its own...but rather is a creature of my creative
thoughtlessness [Gedankenlösigkeit]. Only simultaneously with the congealed
thinking world can Christendom, Christianity, and religion itself perish....

In the case of free thinking and free science, egoist control is again asserted, since these
concepts are human and have no power over us, they should be seen as property, as means to an
end, as institutions they should be our servants, not the inverse. The "deranging" [Verrückung] of
the world is to be avoided through the restorative demolitions of egoism.
And while much of this discussion is awkward outside of the debates of the Young Hegelians
and what they considered vital, there may yet be some merit for education in rethinking thinking
along these lines.

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 53

Totally different from this free-thinking is own-thinking, my thinking which does


not guide me but is guided by me, and continued and broken off at my pleasure.
And so the distinction of this from free-thinking is similar to that of ownness, in
regard to sensuality, which I satisfy in accord with my liking, versus free unruly
sensuality, to which I succumb (EO, pp. 338-339)

The difference with handed-down values and ideas, versus those we appropriate and recreate
ourselves, is seen in anxiety levels between what has been "imparted" to us rather than "aroused"
in us. Clearly this sensual or erotic approach is a critique of educational regimentation, parallel to
later critics like Nietzsche or Hesse, and a refusal of authoritarianism.

Who is there who has never noticed that our entire education has the object of
producing feelings in us, imparting them to us, instead of leaving their production
to us come what may....
Our equipment consists of 'elevated feelings, exalted thoughts, inspiring
maxims, eternal principles', and such. The young are rushed through school to
learn the old song, and when they have learned it by heart they are pronounced of
age -- they are of age, that is, once they can twitter like the old (EO, pp. 65-66).

Naturally all this makes more sense directed at a repressive, authoritarian structure while
education in our time has gone the opposite way, toward remissiveness if not permissiveness.
Without conscious egoism and 'ownness', one dogma is likely to be replaced by another:

If I were a dogmatist I should place at the top a dogma, a thought, idea or


principle, 'systematize' this into a system or structure of thought.... But I am the
champion neither of a thought nor of thinking; for I, from whom I start, am not a
thought nor do I consist in thinking. Against me, the unnameable, the realm of
thoughts, thinking and mind is shattered.

The critic like Bruno Bauer, he continues, wishes to

break up thoughts by thinking. But I say that only thoughtlessness really saves me
from thoughts. It is this and not thinking, or I as the unthinkable, inconceivable
[Unbegreifliche] that frees me from possessedness (EO, pp. 147-148).

The humanism of Feuerbach, Bauer and Marx is seen as a riptide of stagnant idealism:

All that I do, think, express and manifest, is conditioned by what I am. The Jew
can will one thing and present himself that way, and the same for the Christian. If
you could change over into a Jew or Christian, you would bring out what is
Jewish or Christian; but it isn't possible since in the most rigorous conduct you
still remain an egoist, a sinner against that concept...

The point being, of course Jew or Hindu or Eskimo, to identify someone is how often in the
course of history a tactic of fanaticism, to enslave or annihilate people? Even if my flag is
Jewish, Stirner insists with this key passage showing the democratic nature of egoism here:

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 54

You are indeed more than a Jew, more than a Christian, but you are also more
than a human being. Those are all ideas, but you are corporeal [Du aber bist
leibhaftig].... Let it be the case that Shmuel is ever so Jewish, a Jew and nothing
but a Jew he can never be, just because he is this Jew (EO, pp. 126-127).

How much more proof is required of Der Einzige as a ringing refusal of fascism and ethnic
hatred? If this is a stripping away of human dignity, how so when it confers upon every man and
woman an unsurrenderable ground of respect and refuses to negotiate the value of the singular
human being? The answer is easy: it is the clerics objecting because Stirner is bestowing this
dignity without permission, without authority, without casuistry, without the need for a priestly
class and social hierarchy. He is making the declaration of the rights of mankind to act on their
own and disobey god, whether as Church, State, the Party, the Press, the Clan, or the Cave Bear.
When one defines human beings as such and such, one does not give unto them anything that
is not theirs, one is rather closer to amputating their humanity by trying to warrant or justify their
right to exist within the definitions provided. Such a warrant implies a permission, an ideological
permit. Tyranny springs from the view that there are god's children over here, sinners over there;
obedient lambs here, disobedient brats there, responsible citizens here, unruly students or
colonists there, us in our here, them in their there. In celebrating mortality and transitoriness,
Stirner is of course proceeding against the entire Platonic, religious tradition. Life is explosive,
egoistic, anarchic, and often breaks traditions and expectations, and breaks the rules, or we
wouldn't be here.
Equality too, can be a rallying cry for freedom in a revolutionary tableau or an oppression
depending on circumstances, and so Stirner urged the other Young Hegelians or left Hegelians to
rethink their enthusiasms for ideas of the time, and question the authority of their radical and
revolutionary ideas so these should not be invert clones of reactionary and repressive forms such
as State, the Church, and bourgeois society.

Let us renounce every hypocrisy of community [Gemeinschaft] and recognize that


if we are equal as men, we are not equal because we are not Men. We are equal
only in thought, ...not as we actually and bodily are. I am I and you are I, but I am
not this thought-of I.... I am man and you are man, but 'Man' is just a thought, a
generality. Neither you nor I are speakable [sagbar], we are unutterable
[unaußprechlich] since only thoughts are sayable and consist in speaking (EO, p.
311).

The passage above clearly rejects anything to do with solipsism, which is a straw man and
disguised accusation of witchcraft. So thoughtlessness, far from hooliganism, has another
meaning entirely because freedom from thoughts and thinking is unusual coming from within
Western philosophy. The theme of the above passage may resound more towards other cultures
with nondiscursive descriptions of the boundless, like Buddhism, Taoism, or even the pagan
preSocratics. As silence gives birth to music and music returns to silence, as space is inseparable
from matter and vice versa, creativity requires liberation from the created, privacy from 'the
'parental' texts:

I want to be full of thoughts, yet at the same time be thoughtless and preserve this
state for myself, instead of freedom of thought.

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 55

If it is a question of making myself understood and communicating, then of course I can make
use only of human means.... And really I have thoughts only as man. as I myself, I am at the
same time thoughtless. Whoever cannot get rid of a thought...is a bondsman of language, this
human institution, this treasury of human thoughts. Language or 'the Word' tyrannizes us the
most, since it brings us up against an entire army of fixed ideas.
Self-observation, says Stirner, demonstrates that in the activity of reflection we find ourselves
thoughtless and speechless, and surprisingly here, not in the midst of Toastmasters, is freedom
from language the same as freedom to think, and only here "do you succeed in putting language
to use as your property."[2]

What a man is, he makes out of things. 'As you look at the world, so it looks back
at you'... One does perceive correctly when one makes of things what one will (by
'things we mean here objects such as God, our fellow man, etc.). And so things
and looking at them does not come first, but I do, my will [Willens] does. One
will bring thoughts out of things, will discover Reason in the world, will have
holiness therein...
Perceiving the world first as will and only thence as representation, judgment
is also "the creature of my will", and therefore egoistically one remembers the
source of the representation, so that "all predicates of objects are my statements,
judgments, creatures (EO, pp. 336-337).

Egoistic appropriation, then, dissolves the nexus of alienation or estrangement between


creator and artifact. Religions are the creation of men, human institutions that deserve no further
empathy, and if they "grow over my head" the egoist has given himself the right to cut them back
down to size.

Otherwise I should fall victim to the stability principle, the proper lifeline of
religion, which deals in 'untouchable sanctuaries' and 'eternal truths' -- and thus a
'holiness', depriving you of what is yours.

Absolute thinking is thus thinking that "forgets it is my thinking, that I think and that it has its
being through me. But as I, again I swallow up what is mine, am its master, and it is only my
opinion [Meinung] which I can at any time change, annihilate, take back into myself and
consume."[3]. Here we have a lusty declaration of the pleasure principle set as ruler of the
metaphysical and epistemological domain as will. This is a glorification of becoming over being,
what Nietzsche would later describe as the "Unschuld des Werdens": willing and doing and
desire presuppose the existing subject and have no own-being apart from the subject's
conditional existence.
In any case one has to "know how to put everything out of mind," if only to "be able to sleep."
The torments of mind, thoughts, and spirit are broken whenever the egoist decides:

A shake does me the service of the most careful thinking, a stretch of the limbs
shakes off tortuous thoughts. A leap in the air tosses the incubus of the religious
world from my chest, a jubilant shout throws off enduring burdens. But the stark
significance of a thoughtless shout of joy could not be acknowledged during the
long night of Thought and Faith (EO, pp. 334, 148).

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 56

What then is the meaning of the phrase Der Einzige? In the 1845 reply to Kuno Fischer -- the
last time the familiar Stirner is heard from -- we find a reiteration that it is only a phrase "with no
thought-content"; it is "only a name" and names not the one it names. Indeed, "only if nothing is
stated about you and you are merely named, are you acknowledged as you [als Du]."

Der Einzige expresses nothing: it is a name only and says that you are you....
Thereby you are without predicates, and at the same time undetermined
[bestimmungslos], vocationless, lawless, and so on....
You, the unique! What thought-content is there here? Whoever would derive
from uniqueness, as from a concept, a specific content, and who intends thereby
to express your nature -- such a person would only prove that he believes in
phrases....The 'unique' should be the last, dying expression from you and me, it
should be the expression that collapses in its own meaning; a statement that is no
more, a mute statement (KS, pp. 348-350).

One can only witness and not predict if a given man (or culture) is to make the creative leap,
thus "showing others the way."[4]
"It stands with this as with any other piece of work, which you can give up when the humor
for it wears off," Stirner remarked, unaware his easy switch from mind to body would so soon be
judged a fetter of immobility.
At last, however Paterson sees that even metaphysics and epistemology have been dethroned
by this dialectic, and he labels this finally as "irrationalism" of the "most blatantly cynical"
variety. The egoist is in it for the pleasure, for "such aesthetic relish as he may derive from
contemplating the conceptual artifact which is its end-product" (NE, p. 294). Where Stirner had
suggested "chewing" up concepts and spitting them out, a decidedly oral metaphor, Paterson
takes it the other way, but aptly, Stirner could remind him that "there is a mighty difference
whether I make myself the starting point or the end" (EO, p. 328).
Stirner, complains Paterson, has no idea "what it is to work with a sense of profound
intellectual responsibility": how, he asks, does one deal with important moral and metaphysical
problems when such a person takes "no pains to bring coherence and intelligibility into his
system", and "prefers to escape with a 'stretch of the limbs' whenever the "intellectual problems
generated by his statements threaten to become vexatious" (NE, pp. 295, 298)?
Presumably no don of philosophy would allow his profound ruminations to be distracted by
suppressed loins, no true thinker would or could switch off his Metaphysichesgedankenshaben
for the sake of playing his electric guitar and jumping in the air like Peter Townshend. No
indeed.

Could there be however a chance to do in Stirner by means of the simplest of blunt objects,
the tautology?

In Der Einzige Stirner celebrates frivolity, irresponsibility, scepticism, and


irreverence towards all things, and he does not seek to exempt himself from the
eruption of absurdity over which he presides.... In reducing all things to absurdity,
perhaps he implicitly submits his own reductive activity this 'reduction to
absurdity'.

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 57

Paterson thinks "he has in effect destroyed any claims to general validity, or even to general
interest, which his metaphysical system might otherwise have enjoyed" (NE, pp. 298-299). This
indeed is tossing the bathtub out with the bathwater. Stirner universality of the kind Paterson
imagines is required for metaphysics, therefore nothing is left. Quite so.
Paterson has just re-enacted the lucubrations of extremely serious discussions of the kind
lampooned by Stirner and Nietzsche, and so to keep his boat afloat, he has resorted to contortions
worthy of the late Benny Hill. In sacred matters, superficial giggling is always tolerated, as is
moralistic laughter (Die Deutsche Ideologie and Atlas Shrugged come to mind), but nihilistic,
'wrecking' laughter, roaring laughter at such buffoonery, is forbidden to the cleric in our mind-
made churches and courts. If the idea of a philosophy of play connotes dancing and skipping
through the rubble of the Bastille, or Huizinga's reminder that "true play knows no
propaganda,"[5] this is not the kind of play Paterson has in mind.
It's all a frivolous whim, perhaps. He provides the analogy of a child in class 'playing with his
pencil' (when not engaged in Stirnerian self-abuse). Or

he may be playing with his pencil in the distinctive way which produces a
'doodle'" to play with snow may be to build a snowman; to play with a meccano
set is to build a model bridge or tower. The complex game which Stirner is
playing with and for himself is essentially creative in this sense. It is the private
game of an artist whose artistry expresses itself in the form of an imaginative and
grandiloquent self-portrait...: the whole project, however, having been originally
undertaken from the motives of self-gratification and self-release (NE, pp. 301-
302).

There you go: it's all a boyish thing, just Stirner having himself off a bit. Nothing for
philosophers to worry about. After all, philosophy is a very serious matter! Therefore the final
spin cycle of this whole wash of knickers is that Stirner's "personal re-creation" of the nihilistic
truth of existentialism is "no more than a form of personal recreation" (NE, p. 307).

What is Stirner's significance for our time, according to Paterson's concluding remarks?
"After a hundred and twenty years", he announces -- describing Der Einzige as if it were Mein
Kampf -- "Stirner's voice rings no less urgently, and the grim solution which he describes
certainly retains its power to fascinate and to dismay." As a literary phenomenon, Der Einzige

clearly belongs to the nihilistic literature of the 19th century: the notes its strikes
are clearly part of that despairing and satanic chord we find in so many 19th
century novelists, dramatists, poets, and philosophers....

What did those mentioned have in common? They were obsessed

with the destructive (including the self-destructive), the sinister, and the morally
perverted was one aspect of their intense preoccupation with the experience of
Nothingness, of the emptiness and meaninglessness of all things (NE, p. 13).

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 58

But then how dangerous and satanic can an act of personal recreation really be? The
formidable string-section of "Sade, Leopardi, Poe, Schopenhauer, Ibsen, von Hartmann,
Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Swinburne, Rimbaud, Huysmans, Strindberg, and Nietzsche" seems
added as a flourish. To his credit Paterson denounces the view that Stirner was an architect of
terrorism:

Der Einzige is the most purely personal, the most individualistic of books...., in
no way a programme for active revolutionaries, but essentially a poem of
metaphysical disenchantment for the cynical and introspective solitary; and thus
Stirner's affinities are essentially with the Baudelaires and the Rimbauds rather
than with the Nechayevs and the Seyss-Inquarts (NE, p. 314).

This is well taken since in Germany Stirner is still identified with the hysteria of fascism,
primarily by Marxists, of course, as we can see by reading Helms. But a model of Stirner that
depicts a metaphysical masturbator and wallflower seems to be jumping off the other side of the
Wigand pier.
We have seen that Stirner presents a method for dismantling the heavy artillery of any
authoritarian ideology, intercepting strategies of domination before they become universal. The
Verein was an idea launched as an alternative to communism against the sacred secular State
apparatus as "an enemy and murderer of ownness, as the union is the son and co-worker of it"[6].
The Verein tramples on the Parteiprinzip equally subscribed to by reactionaries and
communists.[7] But instead the Patersonian Stirner provides us with a trivial anti- tyranny
platform: that Stalin , Hitler and company were all supremely "self-alienated" personalities.
It is easier certainly to talk about self-alienation, because by such patronizing social alienation
can be blown off and the opponent dehumanized. The classic retort of the reactionary is that the
whistleblower is mad, a witch, a jester, a subversive, or plain 'wrecker'. A society valuing what
Stirner valued would be, we are told, "on the brink of dissolution" and would "quickly fall to the
many enemies of democratic liberalism."
This raises the question of what sort of world we are living in now, if it's not based in egoism.
Why, egoists must certainly oppose free speech and all other forms of rationalism, must they
not? Alienation exists therefore in the Uncommitted, those pursuing their "private interests
without public conscience or social responsibility", i.e. among the plainly selfish.
He goes so far as to say, "the philosophy of the Unique One is profoundly indifferent to moral
and social issues." Now might he be referring to our current issues, like air piracy or hairdos of
TV stars? Saint Max, along with Alice in Wonderland, in the final analysis has for Paterson
nothing whatever to say on the subject, and this fact is very important: "If there's no meaning in
it," said Lewis Carroll's figure of the King, "that saves a world of trouble, you know, as we
needn't try to find any."[8]
Just when we thought Paterson would never stoop, with the Siamese Helmuts, to a detached,
spectator perspective, he informs us that Der Einzige should by all means be viewed clinically
because alienation is due to people of the same kind as Stirner! But, he adds, let us study Stirner
even so to avoid "that perilous condition" that is "rootlessness, solitude, destructiveness, and
inner sterility." Sin reappears too, although Stirner thought he had shown that sin is imaginary.[9]

To the religious believer,...Stirner's account ought to shed a grim light on the


nature and implications of 'sin', conceived as estrangement from God, from the

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 59

ground and goal of our being; for in his proud self-sufficiency, the Unique One is
the archetype of the sinful individual.
[Thus] to live as a truly radical atheist is to live the life of the nihilistic egoist,
to live in deliberately chosen estrangement from God and man. In The Unique
One Stirner has attempted to describe someone who has unflinchingly chosen to
live in this desolate dimension of total estrangement (NE, pp. 317-318)

When all else fails, then, Stirner is always a good subject for a sermon. Because he has cashed
in his rationalist chips at the end, Paterson's objectivity has gone the way of some earlier critics
of Der Einzige:

What religion calls the 'sinner', humanitarianism calls the 'egoist'. But to say it
again...is the 'egoist' -- in whom the humane have borne themselves a newfangled
devil -- anything more than a piece of nonsense? The egoist, before whom they
shudder, is as much a spook as the Devil is: he exists only as a shrill apparition
and phantasmic image in their brain. If they were not occupied in drifting back
and forth between the antediluvian opposites of good and evil,...then they would
not have needed to freshen up the hoary 'sinner', either, nor put a patch on an old
skirt. But they could do no other, for they hold it their task to be 'Men' (EO, p.
359).

ENDNOTES to CHAPTER V
1 Chamfort, Products of the Perfected Civilization, trans. W.S. Merwin (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984),
p. 157. Chamfort, who would have to be studied in any survey of egoism in the century prior to Stirner, made this
telling point about the nature of institutions: "Degrade themselves as they will, institutions (parliaments, academies,
assemblies) sustain themselves by sheer bulk, and no one can do anything against them. Dishonor and ridicule slide
off them like musket balls off the hide of a boar or crocodile (p. 148)."

2 KS, p. 413: "[I] have had to fight with a language wrecked by philosophers, abused by believers in the State,
religion, and sundry other causes, a language thus rendered capable of boundless conceptual chaos." John Carroll,
tying Stirner's nihilism into economics, makes an insightful point in his book (pp. 166-167): "Eating may be taken as
a paradigm for the consumption process: enjoyment is the flame which lives off the matter it destroys. Again, the
moment of rebirth is the moment of annihilation. Wasting is inherent in consuming, as is borne out by the German
language, in which verzehren means either 'to consume' or 'to waste'."

3 EO, pp. 336-340. Appropriation or Aneignung is in Hegelian terminology the cancellation of the object and its
recreation or redeployment with its context and sense changed and manipulated. In the process the alienating bond is
dissolved. Property or Eigentum in this context is what is taken. Of course it was the utopian philosopher Proudhon
who declared "all property is theft" and Stirner affirms that conception. All property in principle is up for grabs,
which isn't a reproach against society but the core of society. In this discussion Stirner makes utterly clear that there
is no question of solipsism and -- that he is an egalitarian egoist not in principle but in practice. He clearly sees no
contradiction in affirming that society is at the same time cooperation, and also dog-eat-dog. See esp. EO, pp. 305-
310.

4 See EO, esp. p. 141.

5 Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (Boston: Beacon, 1972), p. 211.

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 60

6 See the discussion in EO, p. 308.

7 "There is a difference whether my freedom or my ownness is limited by a society. If the former alone is the case, it
is a coalition [Vereinigung], an agreement, a union ; but if ruin is threatened to ownness, it is then a power unto
itself, a power above me, something unattainable, which I can indeed admire, adore, revere and respect but can
never master and consume -- therefore I resign myself before it."

8 "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", in Complete Works of Lewis Carroll (New York: Vintage, 1976), p. 127.
Stirner was aware of the disarray within his critics. See KS, p. 409: "I have often observed that [they] have, with
great intellectual acumen, gotten their target in their sights and have analyzed it -- but they don't know what to make
of Stirner, and they have all been carried away by the various consequences of their misunderstandings, into the
most genuine stupidities [Betisen]."

9 See EO, p. 359 esp. Nietzsche made a similar remark in Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft: "Although the shrewdest
judges of the witches and even the witches themselves were convinced of the guilt of witchery, this guilt
nevertheless did not exist. It is the same with all guilt" (§ 250, trans. Kaufmann).

CHAPTER VI

CAPRICCIO & FINALE


T.O.C.

In light of the above, there can be little doubt that Der Einzige's Stirner cannot be identified
with the figure presented in The Nihilistic Egoist: namely, with Paterson's whimsical,
metaphysical, infectious Stirner; his emasculating, erupting, inward, frivolous, devious, artificial,
motiveless, arbitrary, gratuitous Stirner; his rootless, cynical, solipsistic, sophisticated, desultory,
sinister, morally perverted, brutal, piratical Stirner; his vagrant, detached, spectatorial, rancorous,
promiscuous, rashly repudiating, mephistophelian, self-abusing Stirner; his disloyal, impugning,
solitary, disenchanted, essential, irrational, dissolving, estranged, absurd Stirner; his barren,
rapacious, serpentine, passionately self-displaying, evasive, self-gratifying, uncaring, annexing,
remote, insular, fickle Stirner; his tediously indifferent, doodling, destructive, rebounding,
factitious, callous, explosive Stirner; nor his truculent, turbulent, disembowelling, caressing,
abyss-dwelling, sub-arctic, and nocturnally leaping vampire Stirner. Much is asserted in the
course of this book, The Nihilistic Egoist, yet the feeling persists that some key points have
been missed --for starters, the lot.
Whether inadvertently or by intent, just such a hermeneutic travesty seems the deliberate
project of The Nihilistic Egoist. In blunt terms the book amounts to a befuddled sheaf of
accusations by one to whom Stirner and existential philosophy have been toujours haïssable.
There seems little apparent cause for a modern philosopher to contort into such embarrassing
positions, unless there really is something to the 150 year old book that hits the mark and
provokes to apostasy. In this sense periodic 'revivals' of Stirner may be likened to a return of the
repressed.
Not only are most of the objections raised by Paterson pre-answered in Stirner's text, but
Paterson's method is little different than the hunter gone sailing who, not having his sealegs and

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 61

afraid of the water, takes potshots through the hull at an imagined shark. [1]
There is a popular quip that goes, "just remember that you are unique -- just like everyone
else." Stirner seems not to be bothered by this and indeed revels in it, while making his pitch
within the energizing matrix of rebellion, comprising as it does disobedience, radical
questioning, active resistance, ludic enjoyment, and deconstruction of linguistic tank-traps. Why
do some people find it so odious to admit the world needs a little 'wrecking' in certain
departments? Intelligent destruction, as Kingsley Widmer once remarked, "is a rigorously
discriminating process."[2]
Like Nietzsche, Stirner was an ambiguous nihilist, or more correctly a nihilism of ambiguity,
not in the sense of irrationalism, but substituting 'appropriation' for rationalism, or placing the
world as will in the horse's seat pulling the world as representation. Still, the broad coalition to
disarm his book of its activist egoism for the pale copy of a shopkeeper's egoism is a strategem
to defuse the maieutic of Stirner as educator, and demands some accounting in today's
circumstances. The theme of Stirner's irrationality is familiar in the critiques of thinkers such as
Berdyaev,[3] Scheler,[4] Marx,[5] Camus,[6] Buber,[7] Helms,[8] and Holz.[9]
It would seem the minihysteria of Professor Paterson came from bogging down in an
impossible project. Paterson's merit may well be that he was profoundly agitated, enough to start
drawing a map of how the strange terrain looked, marking all sorts of 'wilde and dangerous
beestes' at its edges. However at the same time he has trivialized the matrix of Stirner's thought
into nothingness, analyzing it in a vacuum and coming up with a vacuum. This required ignoring
how Stirner paved the way for the egoist rants of later writers such as Nietzsche, Hesse and
others.[10]
Of course other broadsides against religion specifically, not requiring the egoism as such have
since Swift, Mark Twain and many more been conducted from the standpoints of agnosticism,
paganism, pantheism, or Bokononism,[11] though none has driven in the point that religion is a
"cult of Society". I have argued that there is no Stalinist atheism in Stirner, and he speaks highly
of Jesus Christ as insurgent, as would Nietzsche covering in more depth the same problematic
forty years later, and we may add as does anyone who looks skeptically at the institutionalization
(i.e., falsification) of Christ. Stirner also praises Catholicism for saving sensuality from
Protestant extinction.[12] Protestantism held authority itself as sacred and thus abolished the last
ties of religion to sensuality or allegiance to a mortal man (king, pope, etc.).[13] Thus Stirner
falls in line as a Hegelian, or using dialectic to the completion of Christianity by cancelling it:
"Along with worldly goods, all sacred goods are to be set aside as no longer valuable."[14]
The critique we find in Stirner is still an impassioned refusal of any model of man as a
homunculus, sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought. Indeed more adventurous explorers of
the spirit-body dichotomy have always been able to steer around the wreckage of the abandoned
deity. Dr. Alex Comfort explains that seekers

have from the Gnostics to Blake attributed [the rule-making activity] not to a God
but to a pseudo-God, the projected matter of everything Kant was told before the
age of five, in other words, Nobodaddy. It is a fantastic state we have reached
when since the middle of the last century ethicists seriously argued that without
belief in a legislating deity morality loses all rational sanction and must
founder.[15]

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 62

God may be harmless enough unstrung from His human institutions, an Oz figure who
frightens children and the dying with damnation, but the other face is that of the State, and the
State is a "web and plexus of dependence and attachment". The State [Staat] is the state of
society as it exists, probably more the established order of society and its interconnection, rather
than governments as such (separation of church and state was not yet a feature of European
society in Stirner's time).
The abolition of fear long inculcated by religion, then, is a radical dialogue of empowerment
enacted at the personal level, though the 'person' for Stirner is of course equally a fiction if taken
as substantial; it is rather just a way of pointing, a way of speaking.

You as 'unique' are so only together with what is 'your own'.... Our world and the
sacred world -- therein lies the difference between affirmative egoism and self-
denying, unconfessed, incognito, sneaking egoism (KS, pp. 354-355).

While some rightist libertarians have adopted Stirner in their pantheon of approved authors,
we should add here that the identification of egoistic 'property' with private property is a
caricature of Stirner of the kind broadcast by Helms and other Marxists: private property as an
institution resolves into state property. State and [Gesellschaftsprinzip] rise and fall together.[16]

Our societies and states are, without our making them, are united without our
uniting, are predestined and established, have their own independent standing, are
indissolubly established against us egoists. The present world struggle is, as one
says, directed against the 'established order' [das Bestehende]. Yet one is prone to
misunderstand this as if what is now established is to be exchanged for another
improved establishment. But war might be declared against the 'established' itself,
against the State (status), not as a particular State, or as the mere present condition
of the same, not to aim at another (such as a 'people's state'); rather, the aim is
towards men's union and uniting, this ever-flowing union of everything standing
(EO, p. 223).

From this creative nihilism, then, our mortgaged freedom will never be bestowed upon us but
must be taken at every moment: short of exercising rebellion to this degree, Simmel's "tragedy of
culture" will remain chronic. Explaining Entfremdung once again:

The power of the single man [Einzelnen][17] becomes permanent and a right,
only through others combining their might with his. Their delusion consists in
their believing that they cannot withdraw their might. The same phenomenon over
and over: might is separated from me and I cannot take back the power that I gave
to the possessor. One thus 'grants power of attorney', has given away his power,
has renounced thinking better of the deal (EO, p. 276).
When men arrive at losing respect for property, then everyone will have
property -- as all slaves become free men as soon as they no longer respect their
master as master. Unions [Vereine] will then multiply the wherewithal of
individuals and secure their assailed property as well (EO, pp. 276, 258).

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 63

None of this, of course, is a prescription for how to live, and does not provide a script for
what we should make of ourselves, only how that project is to be undertaken.
To be rid of something is to be free of it, and this is freedom in the negative sense, freedom
from. Freedom to, however, is the proper realm of egoism, as the creative nothingness [das
schaffendes Nichts]. Yet it is never that the egoist must consciously set out to do things for the
sake of himself as a kind of calculation. It is a false picture of egoism as one who sets out to be
selfish and cut a swath through people. Egoism is not a programme to be achieved, it is the
ground of human existence and of a proper orientation in the world. It is a tacit dimension of
bold action and self-affirmation with neither condescension nor supplication. Ownness "is my
entire being and existence, it is I myself. I am free from what I am rid of, and owner of what is in
my power."
The contrast is thus between self-determined freedom, self-caused movement, and what
Stirner called the "chartered" concept of freedom, which is a permission or some sort of writ
delivered in texts, by proclamation of some authority or other, that cannot pass the test of self-
origination.
The contrast is with theories of liberation promising freedom "as soon as", or "once" society
reaches a new theoretical phase, based on newly discovered "laws" of history, for example, as
communism promised to deliver freedom once society had achieved the dictatorship of the
proletariat, whence the state would wither away.

As to what shall happen once I have become free, the doctrine of freedom is silent
-- as our governments let the prisoner go, thrusting him out into abandonment,
once his sentence is up.
...The cry for freedom rings loudly all around. But does one know and feel just
what a granted or chartered freedom must mean? It is not recognized that in the
fullest sense of the word, all freedom is essentially -- self-liberation; that I can
have only so much freedom as I procure by my ownness. Of what use is it to
sheep that no one restricts their freedom of speech? They stick to bleating.

One cannot confer freedom because freedom is always taken and so freedom that is disbursed
or promised is likely to be a fraud, the selling of stock that does not belong to one.

Those who would still give you freedom are simply knaves who give more than
they have. For then you have not your own, but stolen wares.
...In their knavery they know well that dispensed freedom is no freedom at all,
since only the kind one takes for himself -- egoistic freedom -- rides with full
sails. Chartered freedom drops sails as soon as there comes a storm -- or calm: it
needs a light and moderate breeze.

This "knavery" is of course a definition of communism and its founders as well as of state
capitalism. At the climax of his emancipating nihilism, Stirner explains the "joy" that he brings
to men with this sword:

Even unfree, laid in a thousand fetters, I still am and I am not, as with freedom,
extant only in the future and in hope, but even as the most abject slave I am --
present.

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 64

Consider that well and decide if you will place on your banner 'freedom' or the
resolve of 'egoism' and 'ownness'. The former is and remains a longing, a
romantic plaint, a Christian hope for the otherworldliness and futurity. 'Ownness'
is an actuality, which of itself removes just as much unfreedom as obstructs you in
your course (EO, pp. 163, 167).

This passage was not surprisingly pilloried by Marx in Die Deutsche Ideologie as another
idealistic escape from the realities of collective action. The slave is basically deluding himself,
says Marx, if he believes that his egoism makes him free while he is objectively a slave. Fetters
are fetters. Changing one's consciousness changes nothing and is just a delusion, another fetter.
Only concrete action to overturn the state of slavery, consisting of collective action under a
common rallying call an ironclad discipline is likely to achieve revolution or even rebellion here.
Such an objection, while outside the scope of this essay, is one I am not prepared to reject
here without argument. But it may also be that as distinct and poles apart as these descriptions
were, they are not necessarily incompatible. For Marxism, a social revolution was required. It
was fomented and made a reality and has now been abandoned in Europe. But Stirner's does not
require a revolution and another priestly or nomenklatura class of people who "count". Of
course, few who read Marx's full diatribe against Stirner in that work are likely to come away
thinking it was made calmly and giving credit due, that it was spare of personal passion, rivalry
or competitiveness, much less snobbery and jealousy, even sheer malice in dismissing Stirner
before the audience of Young Hegelians and his own supporters.
If we did not live in a probabilistic and contingent world that resists us and forces scarcity
upon us, 'egoism' would be pointless as a rubric of education and activism; if we were handed
optimal conditions by God or society, 'ownness' would be an empty image. Instead, according to
Stirner, we live in a society which has

bound the egoist to the pillory, and fanatically sacrificed egoism to each and every
straw 'holiness' that has come along, from the domain of thinking and belief. We
do not live in an egoistic world, but rather in one lacking all but the most ragged
tatters of property, a world that is sacred through and through.

The world has, then, "long enough languished under the tyranny of thoughts, under the
terrorism of the Idea" (KS, pp. 363, 408). As he surveyed the society in which he found himself.
Stirner was not deluded about the road that lay ahead:

What is it that is called a 'fixed idea'? An idea that has subjected the man to
itself.... And is not all the stupid chatter of most of our newspapers the babbling of
fools who suffer from the fixed ideas of morality, legality, Christianity and such --
and who only appear to go about freely because the asylum in which they wander
takes in so wide a space? Touch the fixed idea of such a fool and you will at once
have to guard your back against the malice of these madmen [as they] stealthily
assault the one who disturbs their notion. They steal first his weapon from him,
then his freely given word, then plunge their nails into him from above.
Every day now reveals the cowardice and vindictiveness of these maniacs --
and the stupid populace cheers every insane step they take. One must read the

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 65

dailies of our era, and hear the Philistines talk, to get the terrifying impression that
one is shut up in a house of fools (EO, pp. 43-44).

Just as the founders of Christianity hatched their new world order, 'Spirit", with no concern at
all for the torment of future generations -- because it was 'their thing', their idea, not consulting
first those with opposing views, in short, out of egoism -- Stirner gives his own parable of the
sower:

Do I write out of love for man? No, I want to create an existence for my thoughts
in the world, and even if I foresaw that these thoughts would wreck your peace
and tranquillity, even if I saw bloody wars and the perishing of many generations
sprouting from this seed of thought -- I would nevertheless scatter it. Do what you
can and will with it, that is your concern and does not trouble me. You will
perhaps have only trouble, strife, and death from it; very few will draw joy from it
(EO, p. 296).

A paradox, coming from the apostle of Weltgenuß, but joy in radical finitude and the
accompanying dissolution seems, on this view, the only joy capable of vision, since it celebrates
not illusion but mortality.

"Stirner's maxim of 'get the value from yourself!' is a clever trick, born from impotence,"
complains Hans Helms, echoing Marx just a hundred pages into his massive exposé of
everything to do with Stirner. "On such a basis historical progress is just as definitely impossible
as the said-perfect Unique One's social emancipation."[18]
Here historical progress ostensibly pointed to a rationalist utopia where Marx may fish, work
in the fields, and raise cattle. On close inspection, though, the greenery camouflaged the tanks
and bulldozers of a heavy-armored, invulnerabilizing discourse of human liberation. The
difference between some playful tilling of dried-up ideals and a legitimized scorched-earth
policy, is evident here in Helms' materialist-aggressive complement to Paterson's defensive-
sentimental critique. In retrospect 'historical progress' and 'social emancipation' have gone the
way of all ideals, as shop manuals of human engineering.
The bankruptcy of bureaucratic statism is one lesson from the betrayal of the working class
revolution by Marxist fanatics, which established an ideological hierarchy and another 'cult of
society', never shrinking from criminal means as vicious as the strikebreakers of the avaricious
capitalist or segregationist governor. This is one way to view Stirner's critics and why another
interpretation is called for.
Still, archetypal 'egoism' remains a strong theme in the contemporary psyche and in pop
culture. The hero as nihilist, or the nihilistic anti-hero haunts our literary and cinematic
mindscapes as well as MTV. The warrior image of Stirner, like those of Nietzsche and the
pagans, can still affirm that "with a smile I lay my shield on the corpses of my thoughts and my
faith, and triumph with a grin when I am beaten. Such is the humor of the thing."[19]
Such an image, borrowing from Homer or the Bhagavad-Gita, is more edifying than
instructive. Still I have argued that consigning this brand of egoism to myth, fiction, phantasy or
metaphysical masturbation will not work: not just as Stirner's ideas have come to fruition, but
because he should get credit where it is due, and also because the book is still powerful.

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 66

My claim here is that rather as scholars trying to fill in Stirner's lacunae -- typical academic
interpretation, uncommitted, disinterested and [to coin a Stirnerism] disinteresting -- he can help
fill in some of ours. In this light a perspective on Stirner as educator is long overdue, and so I
have only tried to sketch an outline.
Against winds of anomie, overpopulation and the prospect of permanent recession, as many
feel we are devolving to a Lonely and underfunded Crowd as we approach century's end, some
willful and intelligent 'sharpening of the oppositions' seems called for.[20] In our time, though,
erosion of family, church, and state values as electronic substitutes have become available, may
have created a vacuum of values and a crisis not of repression but of "technarchy" or what
Herbert Marcuse used to call "repressive desublimation." Whether puritan, paranoid or remissive
(to paraphrase the title of John Carroll's excellent book) it seems that Stirner's philosophy of
education is far from outdated, and this adaptability I would argue is the perennial value of Der
Einzige.

The question 'What am I' yields at first "an abyss of unruly and lawless impulses,
desires, wishes, passions, -- a chaos without light or guiding star." A circumspect
glance inwards reveals that "we nowhere meet with such grievous arbitrariness,
such frightful violence, such stupid coercion, as here in the domain of our own
free will [Willkür] (EO, pp. 161, 336).

Creativity is unthinkable without negativity, sacrifice of the moribund and corrosive factors
that prevent a pursuit of life as enjoyment, creation, self-overcoming. Is society for the purpose
of enjoyment? Or is it for repression and warfare and ignoring the foul mistakes of the past? As
every society has its ruling castes, and its priesthoods, every society has its artists and egoists,
and the question of egoism is a question of participation and as he put it, 'getting the value out of
oneself', the idea Helms condemned as a trick and a dodge.
We might formulate Stirner's philosophy of rebellion to parody a famous Buddhist sutra:
'Because the I is a only a name, we use it to name the unnameable; because the I destroys all, we
speak of the creative I; Because there is no ego there is egoism.'
The spirit of Der Einzige may also be captured and its author reconsidered as educator in the
stanza of Walt Whitman's 1871 "Lessons":

There are who teach only the lessons of peace and safety;
But I teach lessons of war and death to those I love,
That they readily meet invasions, when they come.[21]

Surely philosophy and education are misemployed if only to sit on the fantail whittling
figurines, while the Captain Queegs or Ahabs command the course of history. The goal would be
full democratic participation in enjoying and remaking our circumstances rather than intellectual
taxidermy, all of which reduce live and challenging texts to academic crusts.
Nihilistic egoism in the case of Stirner emphasizes the experimental, the bold, and the
passionate way of life. If all "absolute values" are questioned or demolished by it, then still,
what's the problem? Why not embrace it? What century are we going to live in?
Surely, considering Stirner as educator, we are able to navigate humanity otherwise than as a
ship of fools, led by pallid élites, its creative and intelligence bodies sweating in the boiler

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 67

rooms, its children cast down in lifeboats as no more than, in Melville's phrase, 'unnecessary
duplicates'.

ENDNOTES to CHAPTER VI
1 EO, p. 216. In his more recent Values, Education and the Adult (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979),
Paterson is still defending civilization, armed with the clear definition of democracy as "the attempt to
institutionalize or give political form to the principle of rationality in the conduct of social relations" (p. 262). He
approvingly commends an approach to democratic education given by one F.D. Maurice: "instruction in Logic to
our working classes."
We read that "since the workers speak and think and reason" -- a generous admission -- "they are all logicians in
embryo: what they want in this, as in other cases, is to be taught what they are doing, to have their minds set in order
about their own operations." Just what the worker needs who has "been used to vagueness" (p. 280)! Less clear to
Paterson and Maurice may be the possibility that the workers know quite well what "their own operations" are all
about, and that the former pedants could learn from the latter primitives, for instance being told to get a job and do
some work rather than spouting nonsense for a living.
Small wonder the Grim Reaper, in Monty Python's classic film The Meaning of Life could not take any more
and though English himself exclaims, "You Englishmen...you're all so f***ing pompous!"
Stirner of course took a very dim view of educational constipation by calling its bluff, even to the dare that "voice
of God and conscience" are the "devil's work". The men of self-published "good will" are "the real seducers and
corrupters of youth, who busily sow the tares of self-contempt and reverence for God, who fill young hearts with
mud and young heads with stupidity" (EO, p. 162).

2 Kingsley Widmer, The Ways of Nihilism (Los Angeles: California State Colleges, 1979), p. 129.

3 See NE, p. 315. Paterson properly rejects Berdyaev's attempt to rehabilitate Stirner as advocating 'personalism' but
in a "distorted form", since by finding there themes ideas which "in other hands and in another context, could bear a
noble and lofty interpretation", Berdyaev may have been saying Stirner didn't come close enough to Berdyaev.
Clearly 'personalism' could be accused of being just another theory, the 'person' is a transcendent concept, a 'should'
or 'ought', as arbitrary a construct as 'Man', because "even the I is abstraction" (EO, p. 339). The pronouns of Der
Einzige and the verbs too may have initially skirted this misconception. To his critics Stirner replied that the
language terms he had developed were only tools.

4 In his classic Formalism in Ethics (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), Scheler's main bone to pick
with Stirner is the latter's alleged view that "the individualization of the person" must occur "by virtue of the lived
body alone." Indeed his "value-individualism" had "morally vindicated 'living it up' in terms of bodily drives." Here
again, self-enjoyment experiences the reductio to the level of self-playmating, a classic moralistic objection. Have
we become so desensitized that self-enjoyment, rather than the business of life overall, is no more significant than a
wild party? This is ironic as Marx had accused Stirner of being a weenie and a wallflower.
Scheler says that "theories of Stirner, Kant, and their successors [?] have at bottom the same deficiencies: the
disregard of spiritual individualism and the assumption that only the lived body individualizes the person." Separate
and unequal facilities, then for Spirit and Body in the Platonic and medieval tradition, then, should be continued.
Scheler goes on:
"Given its presuppositions, [Stirner's] type of egoism must come to forget precisely what it disregards [sic]:
namely the inner and outer powers of ordering and uniting human drives (which pertain to what is more or less
general in human nature according to universally valid norms of men or the state or a people, and which are
effective as consciousness of duty, as state or church authority, as mores, etc.) -- this is what creates the very
condition for the liberation of the true seat of individuality, i.e., the spiritual personality of an individual or a
people" [emphasis in original, pp. 513-515].
This exasperated rejoinder falls in the middle of an otherwise sober treatise. Stirner had remarked, "the thinker is
blind to the immediacy of things, and incapable of mastering them; he does not eat, does not drink, does not enjoy"
(EO, p. 339). In Scheler's case, this reminder is close to home: in Man and People, Ortega y Gasset pointed out that
Scheler had died from lack of sleep. We hope it was not over Stirner!

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 68

5 The reduction to idiocy carried out in "Sankt Max" -- by far the longest part of Die Deutsche Ideologie -- has
prototyped criticism since, from Dietzgen to Helms -Holz. The basic framework was prefigured in Moses Hess'
rejoinder, answered by Stirner in his 1845 Reply. It was Hess who came up with the 'Saint or Shopkeeper' angle.
"Sankt Max" is perhaps the apex of armor-plated critique. There are some lucid and telling points to be answered,
but it remains a cartoon rivalry too boorish to draw us into detailed review here.

6 Camus wrote that rebellion's most "profound logic is not the logic of destruction; it is the logic of creation" (HR p.
285). Still seeking out the sources of fascis m tends, even as this seminal work to become tedious and verge towards
scapegoating. Stirner aptly noted that "hate runs through entire races merely because the ancestors of one side
belonged to the Guelphs, the other to the Ghibellines" (EO, p. 292). The answer to the those who try to query Stirner
about Hitler is that the book is clear on the subject as it can be a century in advance, even presaging the issue of
ethnic stereotyping.

7 Buber's treatment of Stirner in his "Question to the Unique One" mainly silhouettes his own philosophy of
dialogue. We are not astonished to find Stirner admonished as omitting an "essential relation" between egoist and
other, since the other has no "primary existence". And we are back on the chain gang of essences, absolutes, and
holy relationships of MeWeThee and Thous. Screws loosening themselves on the deck of the ghostly galleon! Buber
insists we reserve the idea of a true relation in which "not only I but Thou can be said."
Feuerbach had argued the same thing, but Buber gets kind of sassy: Stirner, a "pathetic nominalis t and unmasker
of ideas" has no idea of "the reality of responsibility." He cannot, because "it can only be experienced when one is
not closed to the otherness, the ontic and primal otherness of the other." Further, where "no primary address and
claim can touch me, for everything is 'my property', responsibility is a phantom" (pp. 41, 45).
Okay, dad! This use of responsibility seems a bit much, and authority seems to be the real punch line. One can
imagine Stirner's reaction to this old wine in a new decanter, to the updated Schwärmerei of the consecrated Thou, to
the silly sentiment of Jacobi's nostrum of immediacy, "Herz! Liebe! Gott!" (pp. 211, 213).

8 In Helms' Ideologie, the bibliography alone runs over 100 pages. Every facet of Stirner's influence or presence,
every book, pamphlet or speech is noted and catalogued; on every page critical reason, through Helms, passes
judgment; court is set up in the bleachers of the morgue to interrogate every moment of the life of the Accused.
Published in 1966, just before the advent of the Baader-Meinhof gang, Ideologie is the Panopticon of all Stirneriana.
Helms' innovation over previous Marxian redactions, we read in the preface, is that Stirner is to be viewed not as
a prophet of the petty bourgeoisie, but as the prophet of the "middle classes" in general.
Since there is "no difficulty in producing a catalogue of parallel passages in Der Einzige and Mein Kampf" --
though Helms leaves this puzzle to the reader -- and even if Hitler cannot be shown to have heard the mere name of
Stirner, nevertheless the possibility "can no longer be excluded" that Hitler did receive a dose of Stirnereinfluß. In
any case Hitler also "had articulated a specifically middle-class ideology" and to Helms it is obvious that
"Stirnerianism and National Socialism are variant forms of the same fascistic Ungeist" (p. 5).
Mussolini himself, Helms is quick to add, was a redoubtable philosopher of the absurd and an authority on the
same concepts as Stirner: "He spoke out in Avanti! in 1914 of a 'marvelous but absurd construction. Even the
absurd can be marvelous. One has to think of Stirner's Einzigen'" (pp. 496-497). Il Duce had once referred to
Stirner! Quid est demonstrandum! and at what length and depth too!
Helms is thorough, alright, gathering under one investigative mandate such otherwise unconnected personalities
as Gary Cooper, Lou Salomé, Henry Ford, Krishnamurti, Barry Goldwater, Englebert Humperdinck, Artur
Rimbaud, John Wayne, General Westmoreland, and Ayn Rand. The latter's book For the New Intellectual
"resembles Stirner's ideology to a tee, translating it into modern jargon" (p. 360) -- a revelation that Rand would
have found annoying no doubt but which any informed reader finds insipid.
Why, isn't just the mention of 'egoism' enough? Off with their whiskers! We even have Helms' own description of
what Adolf Eichmann would have said to himself if he had read Der Einzige while alive (p. 150)!!
At the extremes of critical reason, paranoia triumphs over the will and the damnation of Faust is again on
Broadway. If this 600-page field day as one-man Bund is guaranteed by the listing of Helms' credentials on the back
cover, then he may well have had an insight into Eichmann that we cannot have. Die Ideologie der Anonymen
Gesellschaft is a work, then to be souvenired off like the other bits of the Berlin Wall.

9 Ibid. for Holz who joined in to address the "pure, metaphysical egoism" we are now used to: "This particular saint
Johann Kaspar Schmidt was a sort of sly tipster. One of course made light of him, but was deeply impressed by him

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 69

all the same, and embraced his principles completely. There are acquaintances that one does not gladly encounter
strolling under den Linden, but preferably in secluded places and back rooms. That the congregations of Stirnerians
in that time were not scanty, may be clarified from the fact that Marx and Engels deemed it necessary to destroy the
brain-phantoms of the Berlin prophet with bitter irony and polemic." Well, with Stirnerites under every bed, Marx
and Engels had no choice, did they? The phenomenon lingered their in the back rooms, finally to :"blossom into its
heyday as the foundation of National Socialism -- as has been shown in Hans Helms' exhaustive analysis..." (op. cit.,
p. 11).
This novel redoing of history, without the least shred of support but bearing the infinite innuendo of the Order of
Tar and Featherweight, is not something I am making up, but a clue to how stalinism and modern, hip Marxism
never got a clue to their "identity within opposition" with the Other. They recast themselves in iron as a totemic
class ideology, despite the tunic of historical materialism, now at last discredited.
In any totalitarian mindset, everything and anything is confirmation of the guilt of the Accused. The virtue of this
kind of interpretation is to neatly dispense with the ambiguities and paradoxes of intellectual life, as noted by Kafka,
who understood the ins and outs and the 'uncanniness' of the sacred, with uncanny accuracy (see his parable of "The
Rejection").
Propagandists have seized on Stirner over the decades, probably because he had the nerve to slap their fixed
ideological cosmologies right in the orbs especially chez Marxisme. Inadvertently, then Helms and Holz pay an
enormous compliment to Stirner's nihilism and egoism.

10 Hermann Hesse's definition of the "age of the feuilleton", i.e., trivialization through media, is boosted by
Paterson, who contrasts Stirner and other 19th century figures with no real effort. "Ibsen, certainly, and Mallarmé
almost certainly, were familiar with the ideas of Der Einzige" (NE, p. 313). No loss of detail is provided if we
replace Ibsen and Mallarmé here with Epsom and Marmelade. This illustrates the curious bent of critics noted so far,
Paterson only in the lead, to trivialize as well as expunge.

11 Commenting on a draft of this paper, Professor Sherwood Nelson remarked that "agnosticism would work as well
as atheism for Stirner: the chief thing is the refusal of absolutes."

12 For the insurgency of Christ, see EO, pp. 317-318. On the Jesuit abetting of egoism, pp. 90ff.

13 See the discussion in EO, pp. 90-92.

14 Ibid., p. 347.

15 Alex Comfort, I and That: Notes on the Biology of Religion (New York: Crown, 1979), p. 128.

16 See the discussion in EO, pp. 223, 305ff.

17 See EO, pp. 248-257. Stirner never refers to the 'individual' as his concept, but always der Einzelne or der
Einzige. Whether in armor-plated individualism, as with Ayn Rand, or more lightly equipped thinkers, the adoption
of individualism by laissez-faire ideologists owes little to Stirner, and has settled into another middle-class ideology
more as a response to post-1960s cults grounded in pop economic malaise or curmudgeonism than with philosophy
or education. As noted elsewhere, 'the individual', once hoisted to an ideal or transcendent concept, is for Stirner a
fiction and often a snare.

18 Helms, op. cit., pp. 108-109.

19 EO, p. 358. Hero images in Der Einzige is tangential, but we can note that millions of people who have never
heard of Stirner flock to spectacles of vicarious egoism, from talk shows to Clint Eastwood movies.

20 EO, p. 208. "As Jew and Christian, you are in too slight an opposition, and are contending only about religion, as
if it were the Emperor's beard, about a fiddlestick's end." Far from shunning confrontation, egoism is set to embrace
it in most circumstances.

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 70

21 Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass: Reader's Comprehensive Edition, ed. Harold Blodgett and Sculley Bradley
(New York: New York University Press, 1965), p. 614.

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EGOISM AND NIHILISM 72

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