I have deliberately refrained from using Game concepts and jargon in the following polemic because I want readers to draw their own connections between the concepts of the 1840s German tradition and their modern PUA-centric equivalents. There really is nothing new under the sun*
The greatest lecture I ever attended at university was given in the Politics faculty in 1994 and I was an interloper. I’d already signed up for all my elective modules that semester but I continued to peruse the course prospectus of each faculty to see if there was anything I fancied. I was hungry for knowledge, instinctively looking to feed my brain at that time of life when intelligence is most fluid.
- Rousseau and Marx
- An Introduction to Informal Logic
- Marx and the Young Hegelians
Aha, those sounded good. The latter was a ten-week series of lectures on the main names from Hegel through Feuerbach and ending in Marx. I knocked on the professor’s door and politely inquired if I may sit in on the lectures without registering. No problem, he said.
The first of the lecture series I got to was on Max Stirner, a mediocre gamma pedant whose one claim to fame was writing The Ego and his Own. But what a claim! Marx and Engels (rival gammas) were so triggered by this book that they devoted three hundred pages of their The German Ideology to an ankle-biting rebuttal that wouldn’t look out of place on a modern internet forum. Why so serious?
I sat in my chair at the back of the seminar room, notepad open (a paper one, this was 1994). In strode said professor with his tweed blazer, handkerchief, and foppish hair. Imagine those writer picture shoots for J R R Tolkien or Dennis Wheatley and you’re about right. He was rather dapper. He then launched into a masterful 45-minute monologue explaining Stirner. I really wish someone had recorded it. It was one-part academic exposition, one-part human psychology, one-part reading between the lines of the German Idealist’s petty rivalries, and ALL PARTS zero fucks given.
I dare say it was a pivotal moment in my intellectual life. I looked at this guy and thought “Wow, that’s what an academic should be like”. I only wish I could remember his name. Stirner was the perfect foil for this performance and I think diving into his theory will hit all my daygamer and red pill readers with a sweet jolt of head-nodding satisfaction.
Stirner began in the Left Hegelian meeting group obsessed with the Hegelian concept of “alienation”. Put crudely, it means to be separated from your true self and this separation creates dysfunction and unhappiness. Marx would later assert that the capitalist mode of production (think Fordism, production lines, and now office cubicles) created alienation. The Left Hegelians asserted religion is a form of alienation in which the believer projects his own desired qualities onto a transcendant deity. Man is not created in God’s image, but God is created in Man’s ideal image. To overcome this alienation, it is necessary to reappropriate the human essence and to realise these ideal God-like qualities are actually Man’s own.
Stirner wasn’t having any of that, considering it pompous humanism that elevates Man to a new quasi-Religion. The concept of human essence is merely an abstraction and thus cannot be a standard to measure actions. Like all those other big abstractions such as God, State, and Justice, the concept of Man is nothing more than “wheels in the head”. Stirner celebrated the primacy of the individual, which he called the Ego, and we know ourself as the mental point of origin
“It is not that the ego is all, but that the ego destroys all”
We are not bound by great abstractions to serve the phantasmic causes of God, State, Justice or Man. Our only duty is to our Ego. “For me you are nothing but – my food, even as I too am fed upon and turned to use by you. We have only one relation to each other, that of useableness, of utility, of use” The Ego is not the only reality (i.e. Stirner is not a solipsist) it is the only one that matters to us. The ego is unique. Each individual is entirely single and incomparable: “My flesh is not their flesh, my mind is not their mind”. This leads to an atomistic conception of the self – we are each a sovereign island in the large sea of the world, rather than links in a chain. Seeing as we are not chained to our fellow tribesmen nor to grand abstractions we are thus unfettered.
“What am I?…. An abyss of lawless and unregulated impulses, desires, wishes, passions, chaos without light or guiding star”.
The ego is corporeal, of and in the real physical world. The products of the intellect or ideas can have no independent existence (scholars will note all the Young Hegelians pushed to invert Hegel’s philosophical Idealism that posited the moving force of history is the non-corporeal Spirit). Stirner has so far broken down the “brotherhood of Man” type philosphers and insisted on reducing the unit of importance down to the sovereign individal. Not unlike classic Liberalism, without the tether of grand abstractions such as Liberty. How he builds it back up is interesting.
The Ego develops by becoming more aware of itself and other things as its property (again, very Hegelian if you replace “ego” with “spirit”). It can thus develop it’s ‘ownness’, its sense of self-possession. This means a progressive process of
unplugging untethering from the matrix grand abstractions in order to make itself the mental point of origin its own. The Ego is a unity acting from a self-seeking will: “I am everything to myself and I do everything on my account.” Stirner thus anticipated Freud in his stress on the force of the desires to influence the intellect, and Adler in his description of the will as the highest faculty of the ego.
It is in the nature of the Ego to follow its own interest. Pre-figuring both Darwin and Dawkins, Stirner posits that altruism is a complete illusion. The apparent altruist is really an unconscious, involuntary egoist. Even love is a type of egoism: I love because love makes me happy. Conscious egoism is preferable to egoism disguised as altruism since it allows the development of the will, which gives one the dignity of a free man.
There are no eternal moral truths or values to be discovered in nature: “Owner and creator of my right, I recognise no other source of right than – me, neither God nor the State nor nature nor even Man himself.” We don’t even have a duty to ourselves because that requires separating the Ego into both a higher and a base self. The conscious egoist must choose what pleases him as the sole good. Enjoyment of life is the ultimate aim. This is not the same as proposing a hedonistic pursuit of short-term pleasure. Rather, whatever you determine your source of fulfillment is legitimate. Those grand abstractions cannot tell you what to pursue nor can they incept into you mind viruses that will twist your goals towards false ideals.
The Ego has no more moral calling than does a flower. It he acts, it is because he wants to. He is his own mental point of origin. He puts himself first and foremost always. Natural law, social contract, historical rights, moral imperatives, religious law – these are all grand abstractions. “What you have the power to be you have the right to… I decide whether it is the right thing in me; there is no right outside me.” The conscious egoist is thus beyond good and evil (prefiguring Nietzsche). Such concepts are grand abstractions.
“Away, then, with every concern that is not altogether my concern! You think at least the ‘good cause’ must be my concern? What’s good, what’s bad? Why, I myself am my concern, and I am neither good nor bad. Neither has meaning for me…. Nothing is more to me than myself!”
Even Freedom does not trump your Ownness. Society and State can take away your freedom but your Ownness is always in your control.
“One becomes free from much, not from everything…. Freedom lives only in the realm of dreams! Ownness, on the contrary, is my whole being and existence, it is I myself. I am free from what I am rid of, owner of what I have in my power or what I control. My own I am at all times and under all circumstances, if I know to have myself and do not throw myself away on others…. I am my own only when I am master of myself”
A man retains his ownness when he does not give his power away to others.
Freedom is not the goal – to make it so is to make it sacred, to elevate it to a grand abstraction and to thus tether yourself to a limiting force. Metaphysically, it is to sink back into Idealism. Man is constantly tempted to huddle with his peers around the security of such warming grand abstractions. The Ego must resist the urge because he will thus trade his Ownness for an illusory freedom. Serving Freedom as a higher cause is no better than serving God, State, Justice or Man – it is to slavishly perform one’s duty at the expense of self. All philosophies that promote grand abstractions of freedom are promoting a particular freedom – a one-size-fits-all freedom to be writ large across society. Stirner rejects this as a contradiction: It is only possible to be free if one acts with self-awareness, self-determination and free will. As an individual.
“All freedom is essentially – self-liberation – that I can have only so much freedom as I procure for myself by my ownness.”
The Ego looks on everything in the world as a candidate for ownership: “I think it belongs to him who knows how to take it, or who does not let it be taken from him” but it’s never a big deal. The only truly valuable possession is one’s ownness and that can never be taken. Whether a man succeeds or fails in the battle to own other things, he can treat the result “smilingly” and “with humour”. He is Stoic in his acceptance that each man’s power is limited.
Stirner rejects both State and Society (grand abstractions that tether the Ego and have no real existence outside a mass delusion). The
matrix State has become a fixed idea that demands worship and tribute. It is utterly opposed to our individuality and interests. Its sole purpose is “to limit, tame, subordinate the individual – to make him subject to some generality or other…. it is an enemy and murderer of ownness.” There is no legitimate social contract. To claim the State has a legitimate right to rule and make law because it expresses the will of the sovereign (or the People) overlooks the fact that only the individual ego has a claim to sovereignty (again this blows close to classic liberalism and the constitutional republic).
“I am free in no State. No-one has any business to command my actions, to say what course I shall pursue and set up a code to govern it.” Society is a coercive association demaning each member think of the well-being of the whole. This well-being is another grand abstraction, beautifully captured by Ayn Rand in the trial of Hank Rearden in Atlas Shrugged:
Prosecutor: “Mr. Rearden, the law which you are denouncing is based on the highest principle – the principle of the public good.”
Rearden: “Who is the public? What does it hold as its good? There was a time when men believed that ‘the good’ was a concept to be defined by a code of moral values and that no man had the right to seek his good through the violation of the rights of another. If it is now believed that my fellow men may sacrifice me in any manner they please for the sake of whatever they deem to be their own good, if they believe that they may seize my property simply because they need it – well, so does any burglar. There is only this difference: the burglar does not ask me to sanction his act…. The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!”
What does Stirner suggest us to do?
“Why will you not take courage now to really make yourselves the central point and the main thing altogether?”
And if you disagree with Stirner and wish to argue he should agree with x social theory……… Who are you to tell him to tether himself to your grand abstraction? Who are you to lay claim to his ownness?**
* I’m working from Peter Marshall’s Demanding The Impossible for many of the quotes. He has a good chapter on Stirner.
** That’s a philosophical version of “GTFO”
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