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Max Stirner: The Owner and His Property

From the archives of The Memory Hole

Philosophical Egoism: The Owner and His Property

The following is a passage from Part Second: I, section IV. The Owner, subsection B. My Intercourse of Max Stirner's, The Ego and His Own. It examines the nature of property and its relationship to the owner, and concludes that ownership of property occurs only with the unconditional taking and holding and falls away with the cessation of these activities. Private property in the final analysis is merely a legal fiction established by the State to secure its own unlimited dominion over both land and the people who dwell on it. “In the State there is no property, i.e. no property of the individual, but only State property. Only through the State have I what I have, as I am only through it what I am. My private property is only that which the State leaves to me of its, cutting off others from it (depriving them, making it private); it is State property.”

[The Owner and His Property]
by Max Stirner

     Proudhon (Weitling too) thinks he is telling the worst about property when he calls it theft (vol). Passing quite over the embarrassing question, what well-founded objection could be made against theft, we only ask: Is the concept “theft” at all possible unless one allows validity to the concept “property”? How can one steal if property is not already extant? What belongs to no one cannot be stolen; the water that one draws out of the sea he does not steal. Accordingly property is not theft, but a theft becomes possible only through property. Weitling has to come to this too, as he does regard everything as the property of all: if something is “the property of all,” then indeed the individual who appropriates it to himself steals.

     Private property lives by grace of the law. Only in the law has it its warrant—for possession is not yet property, it becomes “mine” only by assent of the law; it is not a fact, not un fait as Proudhon thinks, but a fiction, a thought. This is legal property, legitimate property, guarantied property. It is mine not through me but through the—law.

     Nevertheless, property is the expression for unlimited dominion over somewhat (thing, beast, man) which “I can judge and dispose of as seems good to me.” According to Roman law, indeed, jus utendi et abutendi re sua, quatenus juris ratio patitur, an exclusive and unlimited right; but property is conditioned by might. 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; if it gets away from me again, no matter by what power, e. g. through my recognition of a title of others to the thing—then the property is extinct. Thus property and possession coincide. It is not a right lying outside my might that legitimizes me, but solely my might: if I no longer have this, the thing vanishes away from me. When the Romans no longer had any might against the Germans, the world-empire of Rome belonged to the latter, and it would sound ridiculous to insist that the Romans had nevertheless remained properly the proprietors. Whoever knows how to take and to defend the thing, to him it belongs till it is again taken from him, as liberty belongs to him who takes it.—

     Only might decides about property, and, as the State (no matter whether State or well-to-do citizens or of ragamuffins or of men in the absolute) is the sole mighty one, it alone is proprietor; I, the unique, have nothing, and am only enfeoffed, am vassal and as such, servitor. Under the dominion of the State there is no property of mine.

     I want to raise the value of myself, the value of ownness, and should I cheapen property? No, as I was not respected hitherto because people, mankind, and a thousand other generalities were put higher, so property too has to this day not yet been recognized in its full value. Property too was only the property of a ghost, e. g. the people’s property; my whole existence “belonged to the fatherland”; I belonged to the fatherland, the people, the State, and therefore also everything that I called my own. It is demanded of States that they make away with pauperism. It seems to me this is asking that the State should cut off its own head and lay it at its feet; for so long as the State is the ego the individual ego must remain a poor devil, a non-ego. The State has an interest only in being itself rich; whether Michael is rich and Peter poor is alike to it; Peter might also be rich and Michael poor. It looks on indifferently as one grows poor and the other rich, unruffled by this alternation. As individuals they are really equal before its face; in this it is just: before it both of them are—nothing, as we “are altogether sinners before God”; on the other hand, it has a very great interest in this, that those individuals who make it their ego should have a part in its wealth; it makes them partakers in its property. Through property, with which it rewards the individuals, it tames them; but this remains its property, and every one has the usufruct of it only so long as he bears in himself the ego of the State, or is a “loyal member of society”; in the opposite case the property is confiscated, or made to melt away by vexatious lawsuits. The property, then, is and remains State property, not property of the ego. That the State does not arbitrarily deprive the individual of what he has from the State means simply that the State does not rob itself. He who is State-ego, i.e. a good citizen or subject, holds his fief undisturbed as such an ego, not as being an ego of his own. According to the code, property is what I call mine “by virtue of God and law.” But it is mine by virtue of God and law only so long as—the State has nothing against it.

     In expropriations, disarmaments, etc. (as, when the exchequer confiscates inheritances if the heirs do not put in an appearance early enough) how plainly the else-veiled principle that only the people, “the State,” is proprietor, while the individual is feoffee, strikes the eye!

     The State, I mean to say, cannot intend that anybody should for his own sake have property or actually be rich, nay, even well-to-do; it can acknowledge nothing, yield nothing, grant nothing to me as me. The State cannot check pauperism, because the poverty of possession is a poverty of me. He who is nothing but what chance or another—to wit, the State—makes out of him also has quite rightly nothing but what another gives him. And this other will give him only what he deserves, i.e. what he is worth by service. It is not he that realizes a value from himself; the State realizes a value from him.

     National economy busies itself much with this subject. It lies far out beyond the “national,” however, and goes beyond the concepts and horizon of the State, which knows only State property and can distribute nothing else. For this reason it binds the possessions of property to conditions—as it binds everything to them, e. g. marriage, allowing validity only to the marriage sanctioned by it, and wresting this out of my power. But property is my property only when I hold it unconditionally: only I, an unconditional ego, have property, enter a relation of love, carry on free trade.

     The State has no anxiety about me and mine, but about itself and its: I count for something to it only as its child, as “a son of the country”; as ego I am nothing at all for it. For the State’s understanding, what befalls me as ego is something accidental, my wealth as well as my impoverishment. But, if I with all that is mine am an accident in the State’s eyes, this proves that it cannot comprehend me: I go beyond its concepts, or, its understanding is too limited to comprehend me. Therefore it cannot do anything for me either.

     Pauperism is the valuelessness of me, the phenomenon that I cannot realize value from myself. For this reason State and pauperism are one and the same. The State does not let me come to my value, and continues in existence only through my valuelessness: it is forever intent on getting benefit from me, i.e. exploiting me, turning me to account, using me up, even if the use it gets from me consists only in my supplying a proles (proletariat); it wants me to be “its creature.”

     Pauperism can be removed only when I as ego realize value from myself, when I give my own self value, and make my price myself. I must rise in revolt to rise in the world.

     What I produce, flour, linen, or iron and coal, which I toilsomely win from the earth, is my work that I want to realize value from. But then I may long complain that I am not paid for my work according to its value: the payer will not listen to me, and the State likewise will maintain an apathetic attitude so long as it does not think it must “appease” me that I may not break out with my dreaded might. But this “appeasing” will be all, and, if it comes into my head to ask for more, the State turns against me with all the force of its lion-paws and eagle-claws: for it is the king of beasts, it is lion and eagle. If I refuse to be content with the price that it fixes for my ware and labor, if I rather aspire to determine the price of my ware myself, e. g., “to pay myself,” in the first place I come into a conflict with the buyers of the ware. If this were stilled by a mutual understanding, the State would not readily make objections; for how individuals get along with each other troubles it little, so long as therein they do not get in its way. Its damage and its danger begin only when they do not agree, but, in the absence of a settlement, take each other by the hair. The State cannot endure that man stand in a direct relation to man; it must step between as—mediator, must—intervene. What Christ was, what the saints, the Church were, the State has become—to wit, “mediator.” It tears man from man to put itself between them as “spirit.” The laborers who ask for higher pay are treated as criminals as soon as they want to compel it. What are they to do? Without compulsion they don’t get it, and in compulsion the State sees a self-help, a determination of price by the ego, a genuine, free realization of value from his property, which it cannot admit of. What then are the laborers to do? Look to themselves and ask nothing about the State? — —

     But, as is the situation with regard to my material work, so it is with my intellectual too. The State allows me to realize value from all my thoughts and to find customers for them (I do realize value from them, e. g. in the very fact that they bring me honor from the listeners, etc.); but only so long as my thoughts are—its thoughts. If, on the other hand, I harbor thoughts that it cannot approve (i.e. make its own), then it does not allow me at all to realize value from them, to bring them into exchange into commerce. My thoughts are free only if they are granted to me by the State’s grace, i.e. if they are the State’s thoughts. It lets me philosophize freely only so far as I approve myself a “philosopher of State”; against the State I must not philosophize, gladly as it tolerates my helping it out of its “deficiencies,” “furthering” it.—Therefore, as I may behave only as an ego most graciously permitted by the State, provided with its testimonial of legitimacy and police pass, so too it is not granted me to realize value from what is mine, unless this proves to be its, which I hold as fief from it. My ways must be its ways, else it distrains me; my thoughts its thoughts, else it stops my mouth.

     The State has nothing to be more afraid of than the value of me, and nothing must it more carefully guard against than every occasion that offers itself to me for realizing value from myself. I am the deadly enemy of the State, which always hovers between the alternatives, it or I. Therefore it strictly insists not only on not letting me have a standing, but also on keeping down what is mine. In the State there is no property, i.e. no property of the individual, but only State property. Only through the State have I what I have, as I am only through it what I am. My private property is only that which the State leaves to me of its, cutting off others from it (depriving them, making it private); it is State property.

     But, in opposition to the State, I feel more and more clearly that there is still left me a great might, the might over myself, i.e. over everything that pertains only to me and that exists only in being my own.

     What do I do if my ways are no longer its ways, my thoughts no longer its thoughts? I look to myself, and ask nothing about it! In my thoughts, which I get sanctioned by no assent, grant, or grace, I have my real property, a property with which I can trade. For as mine they are my creatures, and I am in a position to give them away in return for other thoughts: I give them up and take in exchange for them others, which then are my new purchased property.

     What then is my property? Nothing but what is in my power! To what property am I entitled? To every property to which I—empower myself. I give myself the right of property in taking property to myself, or giving myself the proprietor’s power, full power, empowerment.

     Everything over which I have might that cannot be torn from me remains my property; well, then let might decide about property, and I will expect everything from my might! Alien might, might that I leave to another, makes me an owned slave: then let my own might make me an owner. Let me then withdraw the might that I have conceded to others out of ignorance regarding the strength of my own might! Let me say to myself, what my might reaches to is my property; and let me claim as property everything that I feel myself strong enough to attain, and let me extend my actual property as far as I entitle, i.e.—empower, myself to take.

     Here egoism, selfishness, must decide; not the principle of love, not love-motives like mercy, gentleness, good-nature, or even justice and equity (for justitia too is a phenomenon of—love, a product of love): love knows only sacrifices and demands “self-sacrifice.”

     Egoism does not think of sacrificing anything, giving away anything that it wants; it simply decides, what I want I must have and will procure.

     All attempts to enact rational laws about property have put out from the bay of love into a desolate sea of regulations. Even Socialism and Communism cannot be excepted from this. Every one is to be provided with adequate means, for which it is little to the point whether one socialistically finds them still in a personal property, or communistically draws them from the community of goods. The individual’s mind in this remains the same; it remains a mind of dependence. The distributing board of equity lets me have only what the sense of equity, its loving care for all, prescribes. For me, the individual, there lies no less of a check in collective wealth than in that of individual others; neither that is mine, nor this: whether the wealth belongs to the collectivity, which confers part of it on me, or to individual possessors, is for me the same constraint, as I cannot decide about either of the two. On the contrary, Communism, by the abolition of all personal property, only presses me back still more into dependence on another, viz., on the generality or collectivity; and, loudly as it always attacks the “State,” what it intends is itself again a State, a status, a condition hindering my free movement, a sovereign power over me. Communism rightly revolts against the pressure that I experience from individual proprietors; but still more horrible is the might that it puts in the hands of the collectivity.

     Egoism takes another way to root out the non-possessing rabble. It does not say: Wait for what the board of equity will—bestow on you in the name of the collectivity (for such bestowal took place in “States” from the most ancient times, each receiving “according to his desert,” and therefore according to the measure in which each was able to deserve it, to acquire it by service), but: Take hold, and take what you require! With this the war of all against all is declared. I alone decide what I will have.

     “Now, that is truly no new wisdom, for self-seekers have acted so at all times!” Not at all necessary either that the thing be new, if only consciousness of it is present. But this latter will not be able to claim great age, unless perhaps one counts in the Egyptian and Spartan law; for how little current it is appears even from the stricture above, which speaks with contempt of “self-seekers.” One is to know just this, that the procedure of taking hold is not contemptible, but manifests the pure deed of the egoist at one with himself.

     Only when I expect neither from individuals nor from a collectivity what I can give to myself, only then do I slip out of the snares of—love; the rabble ceases to be rabble only when it takes hold. Only the dread of taking hold, and the corresponding punishment thereof, makes it a rabble. Only that taking hold is sin, crime—only this dogma creates a rabble. For the fact that the rabble remains what it is, it (because it allows validity to that dogma) is to blame as well as, more especially, those who “self-seekingly” (to give them back their favorite word) demand that the dogma be respected. In short, the lack of consciousness of that “new wisdom,” the old consciousness of sin, alone bears the blame.

     If men reach the point of losing respect for property, every one will have property, as all slaves become free men as soon as they no longer respect the master as master. Unions will then, in this matter too, multiply the individual’s means and secure his assailed property.

     According to the Communists’ opinion the commune should be proprietor. On the contrary, I am proprietor, and I only come to an understanding with others about my property. If the commune does not do what suits me, I rise against it and defend my property. I am proprietor, but property is not sacred. I should be merely possessor? No, hitherto one was only possessor, secured in the possession of a parcel by leaving others also in possession of a parcel; but now everything belongs to me, I am proprietor of everything that I require and can get possession of. If it is said socialistically, society gives me what I require—then the egoist says, I take what I require. If the Communists conduct themselves as ragamuffins, the egoist behaves as proprietor.

     All swan-fraternities, and attempts at making the rabble happy, that spring from the principle of love, must miscarry. Only from egoism can the rabble get help, and this help it must give to itself and—will give to itself. If it does not let itself be coerced into fear, it is a power. “People would lose all respect if one did not coerce them into fear,” says bugbear Law in Der gestiefelte Kater.

     Property, therefore, should not and cannot be abolished; it must rather be torn from ghostly hands and become my property; then the erroneous consciousness, that I cannot entitle myself to as much as I require, will vanish.—

     “But what cannot man require!” Well, whoever requires much, and understands how to get it, has at all times helped himself to it, as Napoleon did with the Continent and France with Algiers. Hence the exact point is that the respectful “rabble” should learn at last to help itself to what it requires. If it reaches out too far for you, why, then defend yourselves. You have no need at all to good-heartedly—bestow anything on it; and, when it learns to know itself, it—or rather: whoever of the rabble learns to know himself, he—casts off the rabble-quality in refusing your alms with thanks. But it remains ridiculous that you declare the rabble “sinful and criminal” if it is not pleased to live from your favors because it can do something in its own favor. Your bestowals cheat it and put it off. Defend your property, then you will be strong; if, on the other hand, you want to retain your ability to bestow, and perhaps actually have the more political rights the more alms (poor-rates) you can give, this will work just as long as the recipients let you work it.

     In short, the property question cannot be solved so amicably as the Socialists, yes, even the Communists, dream. It is solved only by the war of all against all. The poor become free and proprietors only when they—rise. Bestow ever so much on them, they will still always want more; for they want nothing less than that at last—nothing more be bestowed.

     It will be asked, but how then will it be when the have- nots take heart? Of what sort is the settlement to be? One might as well ask that I cast a child’s nativity. What a slave will do as soon as he has broken his fetters, one must—await.

     In Kaiser’s pamphlet, worthless for lack of form as well as substance (“Die Persönlichkeit des Eigentümers in Bezug auf den Socialismus und Communismus,” etc.), he hopes from the State that it will bring about a leveling of property. Always the State! Herr Papa! As the Church was proclaimed and looked upon as the “mother” of believers, so the State has altogether the face of the provident father.

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