- Series: Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought
- Hardcover: 432 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (June 30, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521450160
- ISBN-13: 978-0521450164
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,544,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Stirner: The Ego and its Own (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)
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The Ego and Its Own is a challenging book to read and understand, a fact which is obvious from the many misperceptions, misconceptions, ideology-driven mischaracterizations, childish oversimplifications, and outright folly to be found in many of the reviews here and in the painfully biased (and thus especially deplorable) Introduction to this particular edition itself [one is humorously reminded of Stirner`s own allusion to the Inca Atahualpa, p. 297 and note 284, p. 373, and of Nietzsche's famous aphorism: "Never Forget!- The higher we soar the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly."] -- Skip the startlingly superficial Intro and spare yourself 22 pages of pseudo-erudite drivel, unless you wish to be befuddled by mind-numbing nonsense and misdirection right from the start: whoever wrote it understood nothing of The Ego and Its Own (see the PS below)]. --- One reviewer (at least) asserts that it is internally inconsistent and self-contradictory. Not true. Stirner is beautifully direct and logical, and in the end, I found nothing of the kind. It is easy, however, to be mislead by Stirner's style and "flow" into apparent contradictions, by too simplistic reading, as is nicely described in the "Publisher's Preface" to the original Byington (English) translation (available on Project Gutenberg, e.g.): "When controverting a view opposite to his own, he [Stirner] seldom distinguishes with sufficient clearness his statement of his own view from his re-statement of the antagonistic view. As a result, the reader is plunged into deeper and deeper mystification, until something suddenly reveals the cause of his misunderstanding, after which he must go back and read again. I therefore put him on his guard." ... Indeed, Stirner faithfully presents the opposing view just as it has been presented by its proponent(s), so that it too sounds like it is coming from the author. Much of this is platitudinous in ways that we ourselves are very used to hearing, so that we cruise right on into it before we know it, especially since the writing flows all too smoothly from one to the other, often without a noticeable transition.
Stirner's writing is lively and entertaining and one often smiles, enjoys, even laughs at his subtle (and not so subtle) irony. His frequent use of hyperbole (to shock, impress, and "capture" the reader?) adds zest to the writing, but the young or over-simplistic "literal" reader may be mislead by Stirner's (often powerful) figurative sense, leading to absurd conclusions. Stirner's fine, and often "dripping", sarcasm is another opportunity for misinterpretation by the simple-minded reader. For example (p. 268), in discussing "Truth", Stirner employs an interjection of a type familiar to all (except perhaps the very young): "in God's name serve the truth!" But in his subtlety Stirner intends it not as the familiar interjection, but in its explicit literal sense and as a play on words ... drip, drip, drip.
Finally, Stirner's use of (German) word-root relationships to illuminate his meaning, and flag the original sense of words that have become equivocal in their multiple meanings, is often untranslatable. Leopold's marvelous editing `flags' important cases, but they still require extra reader effort. For example (p. 291): "Possibility [moglichkeit] and reality [wirklichkeit] always coincide. One can do nothing that one does not, as one does nothing that one cannot." ... Which is illuminated by looking up the relevant infinitives [mogen = be fond of, want] and [wirken = work, take effect]. ... In this quote, Stirner is also after the verbal "sleight-of-hand" employed by his antagonists via equivocation: [`is possible' (now, future) = `(can be, can become)' = `can be (now, future)' = `is able to be (now, future)' = is (now, future) ; VS. `can be if and when ...'] and [`can do' = `is able to do' = does ; NOT `is able to do if ...']
In short, to the serious reader who really wants to understand The Ego and Its Own , the forewarning here is: when you find yourself confused or perplexed, amid apparent internal inconsistency, etc., as you occasionally will, stop and suspect first an unnoticed transition from Stirner's own thought to a recitation of the view(s) of others; then, be on the lookout for hyperbole, irony, sarcasm, and finally "de-equivocation". But above all, be confident and assured in this: once you sort it out and understand, you will know it, and will find more pleasure in the writing and a perfect unity and consistency in Stirner's thought.
Another reviewer detects a note of racism where there is none, others label Stirner simply as an "anarchist" (which is a particularly amusing absurdity), deride his ideas as ridiculous (Marx and many others spilled great quantities of ink laboring unsuccessfully to rebut Stirner's direct and forceful attack; really think they took all that trouble to deflect the ridiculous?) or impossible (in this regard, one might keep in mind the original major American Indian cultures, the Iroquois, Sioux, Navajo, Pueblo, etc., as close (governmental) correlates to Stirner's voluntary "unions"), etc. ... do not be put off by such unsupported negative assertions and ideological-biased reactions: they reflect their writers' biases and bugbears and shortcomings, not Stirner's.
One reviewer refers to an alleged repetitiveness (as do others, and even the book's Intro) and advises lopping off the last 100 pages or so. DON'T !!!! The so-called "repetitiveness" is necessary to fully define and elucidate Stirner's meaning, and to bind a plethora of interesting and illuminating insights and criticisms together into a coherent "Kantian" unity... and the final 1/3 of the text is where Stirner's wit is at its best, where his writing is at its most profound, and where he ties everything neatly together. Indeed, the final 20 pages of The Ego and Its Own, beginning with the paragraph "The `question of our time' ... ", are the sweetest and most sublime of all ... but do require considerable pondering on the part of the reader (and naturally this is where the poor Intro "gets it" not at all). The amusing thing here is that those who complain most about repetitiveness display the least grasp of The Ego and Its Own. ..... [Note added: As a matter of fact, I highly recommend rereading "First Part: Man" over again (at least up to Section 3: The free) after having finished The Ego and Its Own. Armed as you then will be, you may find it a considerable pleasure (as I did) to be able to savor it, keeping the "forest" in focus amid all the eye-catching "trees", and yet still be dazzled by a few especially beautiful trees to which you did not assign their full glory before.]
READ the book, and it may change your life for the better:
"Max Stirner's The Ego and Its Own has been called `the most revolutionary [book] ever written' "? Really?? To the extent that this characterization is true, it merely underscores the great sickness of Western (and Eastern) civilization, since The Ego and Its Own is accurately, and probably best, characterized as: The Greatest Vindication and Portrait of Individualism and the Individual ever written.
There is really nothing outrageous in Stirner's thought, nor "bizarre", "extreme", "eccentric", "incendiary", "antisocial", nor any of the other pejorative adjectives which abound in the simple-minded reviews here (and elsewhere), except perhaps when viewed from the ideological perspective of a (badly-stung) extreme liberalism, socialism, communism, humanism, etc. ... and the socialistic saccharin speak which seems to be the common fare nowadays ... all of which aim at the utter subordination and destruction of the individual and individualism in favor of some collective, as do the great Eastern philosophies, as well. Want to be merely a `particle" of humanity, like a single cell in your body? Want to be merely a nameless member of the herd? A faceless member of the hive? A fungible commodity? NO? Then Stirner and The Ego and Its Own may help you become a real, open, unique, individual person ... and proud of it, celebrating it, and being happier and confident and morally secure in leading a REAL life ... Your OWN life ... your ONE life.
Stirner merely (but graphically) exposes the real nature of the individual which, in reality, we all are, and which has been systemically veiled, hidden, condemned, tortured and buried in the dungeons of an absurd `social conscience' for the last 2000 years or so. This insidious psychological sickness ... wherein all affect to wear the absurd, but socially-required, mask of not valuing oneself, of valuing others above oneself, of living primarily for others rather than primarily for oneself, and of being motivated by utmost concern for others rather than for oneself ... distorts and disfigures to the extent that people find it necessary, in their internalized guilt for being what they really are, to justify their actions by constantly denying and excusing their rightful, rational, reality-based, self-serving individual motivations by contrived rationalizations of how they are really justified in serving themselves because they are really doing it for "others". This debilitating sickness doubtless causes much of the psychological problems in our modern civilization ... it leaves (virtually) every individual immersed in constant guilt and conflict and self-denial simply for following his real, natural, morally-justified, self-ish desires. Ever wonder why we all seem to identify with those lovable rogues and outlaws who throw off the yoke of conformity and flamboyantly pursue their own wants and ends? We envy them, we want to be like them, to the degree that we can simply throw away the mask and our fetters and pursue our dreams honestly and openly and forcefully. Because WE WANT TO! Why can't we? Because we have all "bought" a sick moral philosophy that is contrary to our nature and to Nature itself. A morality that preaches the nonsense that we should value others above ourselves. That we should not look out for ourselves. Absurd on the face of it, but many here have and will defend it. But REAL morality lies in honestly pursuing one's own interests and objectives, for one' s own benefit, and, just like Adam Smith's "invisible hand" in economics, this is what proves beneficial to all. Everyone who is successful needs to "give back" to society? Really?? The successful already "give back" to society. They provide that which others need and want badly enough to be willing to pay for it, their work or products or whatever. Their success "pays back" in and of and through itself, automatically. The unsuccessful don't "give back", they drain society. They "give back" only when they manage to succeed in producing or providing something of value to others, in which case they do so by succeeding for themselves. Learn this lesson, internalize it, and it will empower you. And you won't need an absurdity like a "life coach" to comfort and encourage and support you, and to reassure you that what you are doing is really OK.
Read the book. You will be glad you did ... I miss it already ... So I just ordered Mackay's bio of Stirner.
>> PS (re the "critical Introduction" to the book) : The most astonishing part of this volume is its shallow, badly warped Introduction. I would call it sophomoric, but I do not wish to insult Cambridge U. sophs; really, it reads like maybe a 9th grade book report, showing only a childishly superficial reading, taking everything to be drop-dead literally meant ... written with say a philosophical dictionary at hand, with which to scatter-in some disconnected, beside-the-point references and prattle. Riddled with absurd characterizations, pseudo-erudite gibberish, mind-numbing disinformation, and repeated doses of pejorative innuendo, it is difficult to imagine how anyone could so badly botch the job, except by conscious intent [see in this regard B.A. Laska's online essay Max Stirner, a durable dissident (just search on it)], ... intentionally trying to portray The Ego and Its Own (undeservedly) as "bizarre". A few examples follow (a few, of many).
Stirner, it is stated, has a "conception of language and rationality as human creations that have come to bind and restrict their creators" and "a conception of truth as constituting a privileged domain lying beyond the individual", and that it is his "radical assertion of the relativity of rationality, truth, and language, that grounds Stirner's bizarre prose". Yet it is these statements, and especially their combination, which are themselves utterly off-base and bizarre, because none of them is true and nothing could be further from Stirner's message -- which is simply the primacy of the individual, that the individual should never create, grant, or cede anything the (unquestionable) power to rule over him --- in the sense of being a "given", unaccountable to and unassailable by the power of his own individual mind and abilities. In fact, considering the three statements in order : Stirner clearly indicates that language is criticized simply as the vehicle through which idees fixes beset us, just as computer viruses infect computers using, guess what?, computer languages; Stirner's main message can be simply put as: NO concept should be granted "a privileged domain lying beyond the individual" (as were being claimed for the "speculative" philosophical "truths" being generated ad nauseum at the time by others), in fact the individual should (and all real individuals do) reserve for themselves the "right" to (always provisionally) decide what they will and will not regard as true (even if it is only the de facto "right" to decide to accept the judgment of some "authority", or some religious denomination or splinter group) ... AND never to "exalt" any thing by exempting it from reevaluation via this ever-present prerogative; and remember, the Left Hegelians claimed (unquestionable) "rationality" and "truth" for the social doctrines they claimed to have "discovered", much as today we see the Left "Gorians" claiming the same pedigree for anthropogenic Global Warming (despite all evidence and facts to the contrary).
Next up is "Despite its appearance as an inchoate melange of aphorisms and word plays ..." Really?? To whom? Apparently to a mind unable to grasp the simplest threads of reason and metaphor, a mind capable of writing: "the individual in the modern world, in imagining both the world and her corporeal self as the merest semblance, is, for Stirner, literally possessed." And worse. It is this Introduction that is an inchoate melange, of out-of-context distortions and misleading equivocations. Brilliant and engaging, matchless antecedent and herald of giants to come, you will find in The Ego and Its Own the seeds of Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Rand, and others: none of them so powerful and certain as is Stirner.
It is stated that "he inserts `episodically' a racial (and racist) analogue of the historical account" ... but there is nothing racist to be found in The Ego and Its Own. It is doubtless true, however, that were Stirner writing today, he would be happily parodying the ample follies of today's modern and rampant Left idee fixe, the Ecclesia Diversatis and its associated industry.
Stirner's development is also heavily criticized as "not good history" and "derived" and "derivative" ... yet the point of The Ego and Its Own is obviously NOT to produce another detailed historical development, but rather to parody the (Left) Hegelians' lengthy and convoluted historical-social (socialistic) developments [Mackay, e.g., (aptly) dubbed Stirner "this great destroyer of the empty phrase"] and advance instead a direct assertion of our innate individuality and inescapable individualism.
And on and on goes the Intro, filled with ludicrously "lowbrow" caricatures of Stirner's actual positions (of his so-called `endorsement' of crime, his "selfish" idea of (non) love, his anathema relative to "modern juridical notions of property", his putative "rejection" of "the institution of promising", etc.; even the tired old rubric of (possible!) "non" pluralism is dragged into the mix), lengthy obfuscations, and only occasionally with a grudgingly-written semi-accurate statement. Nothing of the central Stirnerian message which unites, clarifies, and invigorates The Ego and Its Own is to be found ... evidently the theme of The Ego and Its Own was entirely overlooked by the writers of this lamentable "critical introduction" ... "Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought is now firmly established as the major student textbook series in political theory" ... Really?? Then can you say "infra dig" (and NOT the hokey Cambridge definition!) ?? ... and recall a couple of apparently relevant Kantian quotes?:
"[That it can not be taught] is also the reason why the power of judgment is the specific [feature] of so-called mother wit, for whose lack no school can compensate. For although the school can offer to a limited understanding -- and engraft in it, as it were -- an abundance of rules borrowed from the insight of others, yet the ability to employ these rules correctly must belong to the learner himself; and in the absence of such a natural gift no rule that one may prescribe to him for this aim is safe from misuse." ... and ... "A lack in power of judgment is in fact what we call stupidity, and for such a handicap there is no remedy. A dull or limited mind, if lacking only in the proper degree of understanding and in what concepts of understanding it owns, can indeed be equipped through learning, even to the point of erudition. Yet commonly such minds tend to be wanting also in power of judgment (i.e., lacking in the secunda Petri). Hence there is nothing unusual in meeting very learned men who, in using their science, frequently reveal this lack, which can never be improved."
I just ordered a new copy, because my old is muddled with too many margin notes and the cover has fallen apart. If you add only one more book to your collection, you'll be happy it was this one.
An excellent book for anyone interested in the philosophy of anarchy (if that isn't an oxymoron) or in the precursors of Nietzsche. Although it's apparently unlikely Nietzsche ever read this book (first published in 1844, the year of his birth), it's obvious he must have been familiar with its theme, the over-riding importance of the individual as opposed to any abstract idea or physical collective.
Quite how far Stirner believed in his own thesis is difficult to say - which further adds to the inherent interest of the book.
The translation dates from 1907, and is difficult to fault. The notes by the editor, David Leopold, are succinct and relevant. Perhaps he could be persuaded to translate Stirner's biography, which currently only exists in German.