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Philosophical Egoism: Anarchism, Angst, and Max Stirner

From the archives of The Memory Hole

Philosophical Egoism: Book Review

The following is a review from Freedom S.E. Parker sent to me of the titleThe Ego and His Own: Selections from Max Stirnerselected and introduced by John Carroll.

Anarchism, Angst, and Max Stirner

After many years of neglect the philosophy of Max Stirner is at last receiving attention in British academic circles. [This title and another, The Egoist Nihilist Max Stirner by R.W.K. Paterson] mark his public début into the world of professional savants and it will be very interesting to see what kind of reception this intellectual vagabond will get.
Mr. Carroll's choice of extracts is as good as one can expect another man's to be. He includes many of Stirner's most pungent passages which amply support his claim that "Stirner is the only writer to develop fully the implication of a total rejection of external authority. In his book the anarcho-egoist stands before us in full view." He also contributes a lengthy and valuable introductory essay and a number of informative footnotes.
So far, so good. The question remains, however, what is Max Stirner doing in a series called "Roots of the Right" which is described as "readings in fascist, racist, and elitist ideology"?
Mr. Carroll himself seems uneasy at having to justify the inclusion. He confesses that "in the end we have to admit that the case for including Stirner in the 'Roots of the Right' is not watertight" and that "to be fair to him, we accept that his work is categorically anti-authoritarian, that there is no suggestion of racism, and that he had nothing but contempt for German nationalism." He is also severely critical of Hans G. Helms' recent Marxist attempt to represent Stirner as "the first ideologist of the middle class and one of the precursors of fascism."
Nonetheless, Mr. Carroll claims that Stirner "presents himself as an important contributor to the growth of European fascism" and it is necessary to look at his reasons for making such a claim. Just what relationship, if any, has "the philosopher of the self" to the collectivist doctrine fascism which urges self-sacrifice and the subordination of the individual to the group ideal?
Mr. Carroll's case is a poor one. He gives no clearly delineated causal connection between Stirner's conscious egoism and the altruism of fascism. He can only suggest, for example, that Stirner's ideas had a direct influence on Mussolini and perhaps and indirect influence on Hitler. Since he admits that Hitler was probably ignorant of Stirner his conjectures about are too tenuous to consider.
Mussolini is a different matter. He wrote enthusiastically "why shouldn't Stirner become significant again" and praised individualism as late as 1919. But, as Mr. Carroll says, his "notorious exhibitionism made him less a passionate follower of ideas than an intellectual opportunist, freely swapping them to suit the cause of the moment.
True to form, once he was in authority, Mussolini dropped his sympathy for individualism like a hot potato. At the Fascist Party Congress of 1929 he declared that the individual only existed as part of the State and subordinate to its necessities [those darn egoists are slippery types, to be sure--ed.] And in his "The Political and Social Doctrines of Fascism" he wrote: "The foundation of Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State..." It would take a medieval schoolman or a Marxist theoretician to find any trace of Stirner in such statements as these.
The rest of Mr. Carroll's examples are little more than unsupported insinuations. For instance, when Stirner argues that it is not enough for the press to be free, that it must become his own, and concluded "writing is free only when it is my own, dictated to me by no power or authority, by no faith, no dread: the press must not be free--that is too little--it must be mine--ownness of the press or property in the press, that is what I will take"--Mr. Carroll notes that this is "an anticipation of...fascist attitudes to the press"! Such an assertion is frankly absurd. No fascist favours uncontrolled individual ownership of the press, nor believes in the freedom of the writer from authority.
Despite these unconvincing efforts to connect Stirner with fascism, this attractively-produced volume is a useful introduction to the unique world of "The Ego and His Own." The price, however, is extortionate and those who are willing to sample the original without preliminaries can still obtain a hard-backed edition for about the same money.

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