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The Ego and His Own: The Case of the Individual Against Authority (Dover Books on Western Philosophy) Paperback – December 16, 2005
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Max Stirner (born Johan Kaspar Schmidt) is one of the more interesting figures in 19th century political thought. The turgid prose of his one major work, "The Ego and His Own," stretches for several hundred pages and can be a formidable barrier to the reader. Stirner posits something like a war of each against all as the proper way of life and the proper way of allocating scarce resources. This competition with others is natural and ubiquitous. Stirner says: ". . .the egoistic man, who deals with things and thoughts according to his heart's pleasure. . .sets his personal interest above everything."
One major obstacle in the way of an individual's egoism is the existence of "spook notions" and coercive agencies, such as the state. "Spook notions" are concepts viewed as superior to the individual, largely due to dominant values of a society inculcated into the individual; these concepts subsequently become reified. Among examples that he adduces: truth, right, chastity, the law, the good cause, the state, mankind, love, duty, obligation. In each case, people will come to accept these concepts as absolutes and then subordinate their own behavior to these reifications. Stirner contends, to the contrary, that humans should not allow themselves to become subjects to such "spook notions." Stirner argues that most people prostrate themselves before such "spook notions." As a result, so Stirner asserts, such people are possessed, just as surely as madmen may be possessed by their delusions.
If cut adrift from reified moorings, what next? Stirner asserts that one should be guided by one's self-interest, however one might define this. This self-interest, though, should not become superior to the individual, must not be rigidified into a reification. One should leave ends as open questions--remaining, always, the final judge of the ends' utility, since one, in Stirner's view, owns these ends. If one choose to believe in God and follow that deity's word, good. But one must continually recall that this is a matter of choice and that decision may be revoked at any time. The egoist "never takes trouble about a thing for the sake of the thing, but for his sake: the thing must serve him."
The ego and its own are intimately related. One's own can be other people, property, or ideas. The only things that are sacred are those which one declares as "sacred." One keeps all ends open and leaves the option of ultimate rejection of those values. The individual alone, of course, may be deficient in power to accomplish all that he or she would wish. Thus, one would find it expedient to form unions with others. As a result, one becomes strengthened and may do things that were previously beyond one's individual power. It is a union of convenience, based upon the extent to which individuals in the union can benefit from one another. This society, this union of egoists as Stirner describes it, is itself based upon egoism. Stirner says that: "Therefore we two, the State and I, are enemies. I, the egoist, have not at heart the welfare of this 'human society.' I sacrifice nothing to it, I only utilize it; but to be able to utilize it completely I transform it rather into my own property and my creature; that is, I annihilate it and form in its place the Union of Egoists."
Most readers will reject Stirner's perspective, which departs from much of Western philosophical tradition. However, his ideas are thought-provoking and challenge us to look at sociality and ourselves in a very different way. Whether or not one might agree with him, these effects, in and of themselves, make this an interesting work to peruse. Being challenged can be very positive.
Even though this book was written when Nietzsche was a child, Stirner goes far beyond anything Nietzsche could dream of. This may be the most underrated book in history. People are only now beginning to appreciate it.
The Ego And His Own destroys the foundations for the authority of the modern Secular State. The most important thing to remember when reading is Stirner never used the word "ego" himself. When he speaks of the "I" he means his non-reified, uniquely lived experience.
He brilliantly makes the case that one's interests are their own, and can only be their own regardless of what religious or secular authoritarians (including modern day Leftists like Noam Chomsky & Micheal Albert) say.
This book will go over most people's heads, but for those who can appreciate it, it is worth far more than its weight in gold.