Max Stirner

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Stirner, Max



Max Stirner (the pseudonym of Johann Caspar Schmidt), German philosopher and writer, was born in 1806 in Bayreuth and died in 1856 in Berlin. He studied theology and philology at the universities of Berlin, Erlangen, and Königsberg. After a period spent teaching in secondary schools in Berlin, he became a free-lance writer. His principal source of income was translating, and he was imprisoned several times for debt.

One of the more prominent left-wing Young Hegelians in Berlin, Stirner contributed, with Marx and other young bourgeois radicals, to the Rheinische Zeitung, the journal of the advanced wing of the industrial and banking circles in the Rhineland. Like most Young Hegelians, he wrote there and elsewhere on all kinds of subjects: lengthy reviews of Eugène Sue's Mystères de Paris and Bruno Bauer's Posaune des jüngsten Gerichts; articles entitled “Das unwahre Princip unserer Erziehung oder der Humanismus und Realismus” (1842a), “Kunst and Religion” (1842b), and “Einiges Vorläfige vom Liebesstaat” (1843).

Stirner's major work, Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum, was published in 1844. The book made a strong impression on the German intelligentsia and was widely read and reviewed. Moses Hess, an early German socialist, and Ludwig Feuerbach, the philosopher, wrote critical reviews of the book. Marx and Engels devoted many pages of Die deutsche Ideologic to a refutation of Stirner's ideas. In 1852 his two-volume Geschichte der Reaction appeared but made little impression. His translations of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and J. B. Say's Cours complet d'économie politique pratique, however, were used for many years.

Stirner's political and philosophical viewpoint was opposed to feudalism, bourgeois liberalism, German idealism as represented by Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, and communism. He hated the state and abhorred all social conventions. Holding the individual to be the focal point and center of the world, he asserted that the feelings and thinking of the individual determine the whole scale of social values and that there is nothing objective outside the individual, or the ego. “Humanity” is nothing but an unreal, metaphysical abstraction. Since the individual who creates the world through his imagination and will is the only reality, the world belongs to the individual; the world becomes his possession. Just as Marx said that he had stood Hegel on his head, Stirner might vvell have said that he had done the same to Fichte, by turning Fichte's idealistic allgemeines Ich into a materialistic, concrete ego.

Although Proudhon was attracted to Stirner's petty bourgeois radicalism, and Friedrich Nietzsche to Stirner's upper bourgeois attitude of individualizing all moral values, the greatest influence exerted by Stirner was upon anarchism, many years after his death. The actual extent of this influence is a matter of dispute. While the claim of his follower, John Henry Mackay, that he was the father of anarchism, is not quite justified—since by 1845 Bakunin had to a large extent developed his anarchistic ideas, if not his system of theories—Max Nettlau, in his Der Vorfrühling der Anarchic (1925), calls Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum “the best known and easiest to come by book of older anarchism.” Georgii Valentinovich Plekhanov also included Stirner among the early anarchists. Max Adler, however, disagreed, arguing that “if . . . [anarchism] ... is considered only as a definite political trend within the socialist labor movement as it has existed since Bakunin and Kropotkin, then Stirner was as far from anarchism as was Saint-Simon, Fourier, or Marx” (1934, p. 393). Since twentieth-century anarchists, rightly or wrongly, do look upon Stirner as one of their ideological forebears and often quote him, he must be regarded as at least one of the progenitors of modern anarchism.

There is, of course, no doubt that Stirner developed many ideas which cannot in any sense be considered anarchistic. His political individualism, for example, was so extreme that it excluded the possibility that either the will and feelings of masses and classes or collective action by the masses toward a common aim might constitute an original and primary factor of social development. On the other hand, his extreme antistatism, coupled with an attitude which the young Engels once ridiculed with the slogan “Á bas aussi les lois,” has always been one of the fundamental tenets of anarchism.

Little attention has been paid to Stirner's literary and political journalistic work, despite all the efforts of Mackay and others to publicize it. His translations have been replaced by better ones, or are forgotten, and his history of political reaction is not mentioned any more. Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum remains a book which philosophers read, even though few incorporate any of its ideas into their philosophical systems; but the political theoreticians of anarchism often claim that their systems are at least partly derived from Stirner.

JÜrgen Kuczynski

[For the historical context of Stirner's work, see the biography ofHegel; for discussion of the subsequent development of Stirner's ideas, seeAnarchism.]


(1842a) 1914 Das unwahre Princip unserer Erziehung oder der Humanismus und Realismus. Pages 237-257 in Max Stirner's kleinere Schriften und seine Entgegnungen auf die Kritik seines Werkes: Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum, aus den Jahren 1842-1848. 2d ed. Edited by John H. Mackay. Treptow bei Berlin: Zack. → First published in Nos. 100, 102, 104, and 109, of the Rheinische Zeitung.

(1842b) 1914 Kunst und Religion. Pages 258-268 in Max Stirner's kleinere Schriften und seine Entgegnungen auf die Kritik seines Werkes: Der Einzige und sein Eigentum, aus den Jahren 1842-1848. 2d ed. Edited by John H. Mackay. Treptow bei Berlin: Zack. → First published in No. 165 of the Rheinische Zeitung.

(1843) 1914 Einiges Vorlaeufige vom Liebesstaat. Pages 269-277 in Max Stirner's kleinere Schriften und seine Entgegnungen auf die Kritik seines Werkes: Der Einzige und sein Eigentum, aus den Jahren 1842-1848. 2d ed. Edited by John H. Mackay. Treptow bei Berlin: Zack. → First published in the Berliner Monatsschrift under the pseudonym Ludwig Buhl.

(1844) 1963 The Ego and His Own: The Case of the Individual Against Authority. With an introduction by J. L. Walker. New York: Libertarian Book Club. → First published as Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum.

1852 Die Geschichte der Reaction. 2 vols. Berlin: Allgemeine Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt.

Max Stirner's kleinere Schriften und seine Entgegnungen auf die Kritik seines Werkes: Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum, aus den Jahren 1842-1848. 2d ed. Edited by John H. Mackay. Treptow bei Berlin: Zack, 1914.


Adler, Max 1934 Max Stirner. Volume 14, pages 393394 in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan.

Arvon, Henri 1954 Aux sources de Vexistentialisme: Max Stirner. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Basch, Victor (1904) 1928 L'individualisme anarchiste: Max Stirner. 2d ed. Paris: Alean.

Borowogo, A. 1925 Stirner i Dostojewskii. Moscow: No publisher given.

Eltzbacher, Paul (1900) 1960 Anarchism: Exponents of the Anarchist Philosophy. London: Freedom Press; New York: Libertarian Book Club. → First published as Der Anarchismus.

Engert, Horst 1911 Das historische Denken Max Stirners. Leipzig: Wigand.

Helms, Hans G. 1966 Die Ideologic der anonymen Gesellschaft: Max Stirners “Einziger” und der Fortschritt des demokratischen Selbstbewusstseins vom Vormarz bis zur Bundesrepublik. Cologne: Du Mont Schauberg.

Jensen, Albert 1916 Max Stirner: Den anarkistiska individualismens djärvaste apostel, hans liv och åskådning. Revolutionens Förkämpar, Vol. 6. Stockholm: Holmström.

Kurchinskii, Mikhail A. (1920) 1923 Der Apostel des Egoismus: Max Stirner und seine Philosophic der Anarchie. Berlin: Prager. → First published in Russian.

Mackay, John Henry (1898) 1910 Max Stirner: Sein Leben und sein Werk. Treptow bei Berlin: Zack.

Mautz, Kurt A. 1936 Die Philosophic Max Stirners im Gegensatz zum Hegelschen Idealismus. Berlin: Junker & Dünnhaupt.

Nettlau, Max 1925 Der Vorfrühling der Anarchic: Ihre historische Entwicklung von den Anfdngen bis zum Jahre 1864. Berlin: Kater.

Schellwien, Robert 1892 Max Stirner und Friedrich Nietzsche: Erscheinungen des modernen Geistes und das Wesen des Menschen. Leipzig: Pfeffer.

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Max Stirner

The German philosopher Max Stirner (1806-1856) had considerable international influence as the out standing German "theoretician of anarchism."

Max Stirner, whose real name was Johann Caspar Schmidt, was born on Oct. 25, 1806, in Bayreuth. After studying theology and philology in Berlin, Erlangen, and Königsberg, he returned to Berlin, where he spent practically the rest of his life. He taught at a private girls' school until he married a wealthy woman whose money he used partly to write his magnum opus, Der Einzige und sein Eigentum (1844; The Ego and His Own), and partly to speculate in the milk business. The latter activity resulted in his imprisonment for unpaid debts, and his wife became disillusioned with him and left him. He died from the bite of a poisonous fly on June 26, 1856.

Stirner's philosophy maintained that only the individual counted: He was the center of the world, and his thoughts and feelings determined the scale of social and, specifically, moral values. Outside the individual nothing existed but the creation of the individual. Stirner's philosophy represents probably the acme of subjectivism in the history of philosophy of the Western world.

Stirner was against all social conventions and demanded the abolition of the state. He opposed all the philosophies of his time that were known to him, including German idealism, French materialism, British empiricism, and international socialism (communism).

A great number of brilliant thinkers admired him, from Ivan Turgenev and Fyodor Dostoevsky to George Bernard Shaw and André Gide. A great number of brilliant thinkers fought him, the most famous among them Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx.

After Stirner's death his name was lost among those of a lot of minor figures, but in the 1890s he became well known again through the efforts of John Henry Mackay. A Stirner renaissance set in. It was not that his philosophy became popular but that Mackay resurrected him in the form of a father of modern anarchy. In fact, however, Stirner never was politically active as an anarchist. Yet his writings became not only part but a standard element of anarchist teaching. If Marx said that philosophers ought not only to interpret the world but to change it, one can say of Stirner that while he was alive he tried to "interpret away" the world and after his death he came to inspire those who wanted to change it partly by blowing it up and partly by dissolving it into millions of small social units.

Further Reading

No book has been published in English dealing extensively with Stirner. Some information can be found in Paul Eltzbacher, Anarchism: Seven Exponents of the Anarchist Philosophy (1908; rev. ed. 1970); George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (1962); and Irving L. Horowitz, The Anarchists (1964). □