World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Philosophy of Max Stirner


Philosophy of Max Stirner

Portrait of Stirner by philosophical rival Friedrich Engels.

The philosophy of Max Stirner is credited as a major influence in the development of nihilism, existentialism, post-modernism, and anarchism (especially of egoist anarchism, individualist anarchism, postanarchism, and post-left anarchy). Stirner's main philosophical work was The Ego and Its Own, also known as The Ego and His Own (Der Einzige und sein Eigentum in German, which translates as The Only and his Possessions).

Stirner's philosophy has been cited as an influence on both his contemporaries, most notably Karl Marx (who was strongly opposed to Stirner's views),[1] as well as subsequent thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche,[2] Enrico Arrigoni, Steven T. Byington, Benjamin R. Tucker, Emile Armand, Albert Camus,[3] and Saul Newman.


The Self

Stirner argues that the concept of the self is something impossible to fully comprehend; a so-called 'creative nothing' he described as an "end-point of language".

In order to understand this 'creative nothing', Stirner uses poetry and vivid imagery. The 'creative nothing' by its dialectical shortcomings creates the need for a description, for meaning.

Stirner elaborated this attempt to describe the indescribable in the essay "Stirner's Critics", written by Stirner in response to Feuerbach and others (in custom with the time, he refers to himself in the third person) :

The Ego and Its Own opens and closes with a quotation from Goethe that reads "I have taken up my cause without foundation", with the unstated next line of the poem being "…and all the world is mine". One of Stirner's central ideas is that in realizing the self is "nothing" one is said to "own the world", because as the book states in its last line: "all things are nothing to me" [Ibidem., p. 324].

Stirner describes this world-view, in brief, as "enjoyment", and he claims that the "nothingness" of the non-self is "unutterable" (p. 314) or "unnameable" (p. 132), "unspeakable" yet "a mere word" (p. 164; cf. Stirner's comments on the Skeptic concepts ataraxia and aphasia, p. 26).


Stirner has been broadly understood as a proponent of both psychological egoism and ethical egoism, although the latter position can be disputed, as there is no claim in Stirner's writing, in which one 'ought to' pursue one's own interest, and further claiming any 'ought' could be seen as a new 'fixed idea'. However, he may be understood as a rational egoist in the sense that he considered it irrational not to act in one's self-interest. How this self-interest is defined, however, is necessarily subjective, allowing both selfish and altruistic normative claims to be included. Further, rationality as an end in and of itself is another 'fixed idea'.

Individual self-realization rests on each individual's desire to fulfill their egoism. The difference between an unwilling and a willing egoist, is that the former will be 'possessed' by an empty idea and believe that they are fulfilling a higher cause, but usually being unaware that they are only fulfilling their own desires to be happy or secure, and the latter, in contrast, will be a person that is able to freely choose its actions, fully aware that they are only fulfilling individual desires.

The contrast is also expressed in terms of the difference between the voluntary egoist being the possessor of his concepts as opposed to being possessed. Only when one realizes that all sacred truths such as law, Rights, morality, religion etc., are nothing other than artificial concepts, and not to be obeyed, can one act freely. For Stirner, to be free is to be both one's own "creature" (in the sense of 'creation') and one's own "creator" (dislocating the traditional role assigned to the gods). To Stirner power is the method of egoism. It is the only justified method of gaining 'property'.

Even love is explained as "consciously egoistic":

However, Stirner cautioned against any reification of the Egoist or subject:


Stirner proposes that most commonly accepted social institutions—including the notion of State, property as a right, natural rights in general, and the very notion of society—were mere illusions or ghosts in the mind, saying of society that "the individuals are its reality." Stirner wants to "abolish not only the state but also society as an institution responsible for its members."[5]

He advocated egoism and a form of amoralism, in which individuals would unite in 'unions of egoists' only when it was in their self-interest to do so. For him, property simply comes about through might: "Whoever knows how to take, to defend, the thing, to him belongs property." And, "What I have in my power, that is my own. So long as I assert myself as holder, I am the proprietor of the thing." He says, "I do not step shyly back from your property, but look upon it always as my property, in which I respect nothing. Pray do the like with what you call my property!"[6] Stirner considers the world and everything in it, including other persons, available to one's taking or use without moral constraint[7] —that rights do not exist in regard to objects and people at all. He sees no rationality in taking the interests of others into account unless doing so furthers one's self-interest, which he believes is the only legitimate reason for acting. He denies society as being an actual entity: "The conquerors form a society which one may imagine so great that it by degrees embraces all humanity; but so-called humanity too is as such only a thought (spook); the individuals are its reality". (The Ego and Its Own, Tucker ed., p. 329).

It should also be noted that Stirner, although an individualist anarchist in social philosophy never mentions markets and he did not believe it is a matter of moral right, but simply a matter of control. "I do not step shyly back from your property, but look upon it always as my property, in which I respect nothing. Pray do the like with what you call my property!"[6] Stirner never referred to markets and his philosophy on property causes problems for a market system, because according to proponents of markets property is not considered to be legitimate if taken by force. Stirner was opposed to communism, seeing it as a form of authority over the individual. He said in The Ego and Its Own:


Stirner has a concept of "egoistic property," in which he is referring to the absence of moral restrictions on how the individual uses everything in the world, including other people.[7] For Stirner, property come about through might: "Whoever knows how to take, to defend, the thing, to him belongs property." "What I have in my power, that is my own. So long as I assert myself as holder, I am the proprietor of the thing." He says, "I do not step shyly back from your property, but look upon it always as my property, in which I respect nothing. Pray do the like with what you call my property!".[6] This position on property is much different from the then prevalent form of individualist anarchism, which defended the inviolability of the private property that has been earned through labour.[9] However, American individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker rejected the natural rights philosophy and adopted Stirner's egoism in 1886, with several others joining with him. Since he was a radical anarchist, he preferred a political-economic social condition that was anti-statist, anti-capitalist, and anti-authoritarian completely void of authoritarian monopolies (whether they positioned themselves as property or sovereignty) which were the enemies of individual liberation. Stirner's egoist anarchism is all about freeing the individual from the domination of property monopolists such as monarchs, governments, or industrialists while at the same time, egoist anarchism positions itself against the anti-individualist nature of the traditional political Left. Stirner had no concrete dogma on the issue of property and simply urged individuals to stop being ruled by others regardless of the authorities' moral claims about political sovereignty or property rights.

Union of egoists

Stirner's idea of the "Union of Egoists", was first expounded in The Ego and Its Own. The Union is understood as a non-systematic association, which Stirner proposed in contradistinction to the state.[10] The Union is understood as a relation between egoists which is continually renewed by all parties' support through an act of will.[11] The Union requires that all parties participate out of a conscious egoism. If one party silently finds themselves to be suffering, but puts up and keeps the appearance, the union has degenerated into something else.[11] This union is not seen as an authority above a person's own will.


Stirner criticizes conventional notions of revolution, arguing that social movements aimed at overturning the state are tacitly statist because they are implicitly aimed at the establishment of a new state thereafter. To illustrate this argument, he compares his own social and moral role with that of Jesus Christ:

As Stirner specifies in a footnote (p. 280), he was here using the word insurgent "in its etymological sense"; thus, to rise above the religion and government of one's own times and to take control of ones life with no consideration of them, but not necessarily to overthrow them. This contrasts with the method of the revolutionary who brings about a change of conditions by displacing one government with another:

Stirner was writing about people liberating themselves from their own limits and rising above limiting social, political and ideological conditions, and for each to walk their own way. The passages quoted above are clearly incompatible with David Leopold's conclusion (in his introduction to the Cambridge University Press edition) that Stirner "...saw humankind as 'fretted in dark superstition' but denied that he sought their enlightenment and welfare" (Ibidem, p. xxxii). Stirner refused to describe himself as directly liberating others. But his stated purpose in these quotations seems to be to achieve the "enlightenment and welfare" of others by way of demonstration and "insurrection" as he defines it.


The passages quoted above show the few points of contact between Stirner's philosophy and early Christianity. It is merely Jesus as an "annihilator" of the established biases and preconceptions of Rome that Stirner can relate to. His reason for "citing" the cultural change sparked by Jesus, is that he wants the Christian ideologies of 19th Century Europe to collapse, much as the ideology of heathen Rome did before it (e.g., "[the Christian era] will end with the casting off of the ideal, with 'contempt for the spirit'", p. 320). As with the Classical Skeptics before him, Stirner's method of self-liberation is opposed to faith or belief; he envisions a life free from "dogmatic presuppositions" (p. 135, 309) or any "fixed standpoint" (p. 295). It is not merely Christian dogma that his thought repudiates, but also a wide variety of European atheist ideologies that are condemned as crypto-Christian for putting ideas in an equivalent role:

What Stirner proposes is not that concepts should rule people, but that people should rule concepts. The "nothingness" of all truth is rooted in the "nothingness" of the self, because the ego is the criterion of (dogmatic) truth. Again, Stirner seems closely comparable to the Skeptics in that his radical epistemology directs us to emphasise empirical experience (the "unmediated" relationship of mind as world, and world as mind) but leaves only a very limited validity to the category of "truth". When we regard the impressions of the senses with detachment, simply for what they are (e.g., neither good nor evil), we may still correctly assign truth to them.

In place of such systems of beliefs, Stirner presents a detached life of non-dogmatic, open-minded engagement with the world "as it is" (unpolluted by "faith" of any kind, Christian or humanist), coupled with the awareness that there is no soul, no personal essence of any kind, but that the individual's uniqueness consists solely in its "creative nothingness" prior to all concepts.

Hegel's possible influence

Scholars such as Karl Löwith and Lawrence Stepelevich have argued that Hegel was a major influence on The Ego and Its Own. Stepelevich argues, that while The Ego and Its Own evidently has an "un-Hegelian structure and tone to the work as a whole", as well as being fundamentally hostile to Hegel's conclusions about the self and the world, this does not mean that Hegel had no effect on Stirner.

To go beyond and against Hegel in true dialectical fashion is in some way continuing Hegel's project, and Stepelevich argues that this effort of Stirner's is, in fact a completion of Hegel's project . Stepelevich concludes his argument referring to Jean Hyppolite, who in summing up the intention of Hegel's Phenomenology, stated: "The history of the world is finished; all that is needed is for the specific individual to rediscover it in himself."

However, Widukind De Ridder has argued that scholars who take Stirner's references to Hegel and the Young Hegelians as expressions of his own alleged Hegelianism are highly mistaken. De Ridder argues that The Ego and Its Own is in part a carefully constructed parody of Hegelianism, deliberately exposing its outwornness as a system of thought, and that Stirner's notions of "ownness" and "egoism" were part of his radical criticism of the implicit teleology of Hegelian dialectics.[12]


Max Stirner was a philosopher whose "name appears with familiar regularity in historically-orientated surveys of anarchist thought as one of the earliest and best-known exponents of individualist anarchism."[13] In 1844, his The Ego and Its Own (Der Einzige und sein Eigentum which may literally be translated as The Unique Individual and His Property)[14] was published, which is considered to be "a founding text in the tradition of individualist anarchism."[13]


  1. ^ Marx reacted to Stirner with a voluminous polemics Saint Max, that he never published; cf. Karl Marx and Max Stirner.Nicholas Lobkowicz: In: Frederick J. Adelmann (ed.): Demythologizing Marxism: A Series Of Studies On Marxism. Boston: Boston College Chestnut Hill 1969
  2. ^ The possible influence on Nietzsche was a heavily disputed topic around 1900 and recently again. For a summary and a fresh view see Bernd A. Laska: Nietzsche's initial crisis (2002); See also
  3. ^ "Albert Camus devotes a section of The Rebel to Stirner.""The Egoism of Max Stirner" by Sidney Parker
  4. ^ Max Stirner - The Ego and Its Own
  5. ^ Heider, Ulrike. Anarchism: Left, Right and Green, San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1994, pp. 95-96
  6. ^ a b c Stirner, Max. The Ego and Its Own, p. 248
  7. ^ a b Moggach, Douglas. The New Hegelians. Cambridge University Press, 2006 p. 194
  8. ^ Max Stirner. Ego and Its Own. Rebel Press 1982. p. 257
  9. ^ Weir, David. Anarchy & Culture. University of Massachusetts Press. 1997. p. 146
  10. ^ Thomas, Paul (1985). Karl Marx and the Anarchists. London: Routledge/Kegan Paul. p. 142. ISBN . 
  11. ^ a b Nyberg, Svein Olav, "The union of egoists", Non Serviam (Oslo, Norway: Svein Olav Nyberg) 1: 13–14, OCLC 47758413, retrieved 1 September 2012 
  12. ^ De Ridder, Widukind, "Max Stirner, Hegel and the Young Hegelians: A reassessment". In: History of European Ideas, 2008, 285-297.
  13. ^ a b Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry for Max Stirner
  14. ^ Moggach, Douglas. The New Hegelians. Cambridge University Press. p. 177

See also

External links


  • Max Stirner in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, an extensive introduction to Stirner's philosophy
  • Max Stirner within LSR – a paraphilosophical project original texts, articles in several languages
  • Svein Olav Nybergs website on Max Stirner, with extensive links to texts and references
  • Max Stirner Project by H. Ibrahim Türkdogan
  • Non Serviam, Internet periodical dedicated to Stirner's ideas

Criticism and influence

  • Max Stirner, a durable dissident, 'How Marx and Nietzsche suppressed their colleague Max Stirner and why he has intellectually survived them'
  • Stirner Delighted in His Construction — "loves miracles, but can only perform a logical miracle," by Karl Marx
  • Nietzsche's initial crisis due to an encounter with Stirner's "The Ego", by Bernd A. Laska (2002)
  • Max Stirner As Hegelian, By Lawrence S. Stepelevich


  • Der Einzige und sein EigentumThe complete original text in German of
  • The complete English edition of "The Ego and his Own", in the translation of Steven T. Byington.
  • Recensenten Stirners / Stirner's Critics bilingual: full text in German / abridged text in English (trans. Frederick M. Gordon)
  • Stirner's Critics full English Translation
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.