- 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: 20 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,923,259 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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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.
For Stirner, and contrary to Hegel, the self-development of mind is not some emergent Overmind, exemplified in the sociopolitical stages of a collectively 'conscious' history,' but the dialectical ego, which is prior to conceptualization and in a ruthlessly critical relation to reality described only as a process of meaning-dissolution. The essence, if you will, of ego is dissolution - overcoming, cutting off, setting above (or below): valuing, and in so doing, annihilating the objective in the pure subjectivity of prioritizing the activity of the ego. This is not a new metaphysics, a giving of the ego an ontological status and reality apart from its dynamic material reality or the ability to realize its activity in 'power.' In the activity of the ego qua destroyer of everything hypostatized and set above it without merit or its approval, and in the collapse of the objective distinction between a now-despiritualized ego and its Other, it is the end of metaphysics. I am no longer a split essence, fractured into 'true' and false' man, below an exalted Humanity whose essentialism supposes an epistemic, ethical and metaphysical struggle through the sucking mire from what I am not toward what I ought to be. After all, with the collapse of the idealism which fractures me and the hypostasis which subjects me, I am now only what I am, and I am no idea of collective man. I do not have to resurrect the alienation of cleaving toward Spirit as a limited being by spending eternity trying to become the impossible universal, Man, itself. There is nothing alien from me but that which I dissolve and consume: no God for which to try futilely to become Godly, nor a Humanity for which to try futilely to become an ego-less, perfectly rational Everyman, or to become collective Humanity itself. The towers of God and Humanity crumble along with a metaphysics that is no longer possible.
There is, then, for Stirner, a collapse into nihilism. The dialectical ego annihilates reality rather than participates in its historical Spirit to realize itself. How can it do and be other than itself? It appropriates, consumes. Nihilism is not only actual, but necessarily entailed. Stirner's critical jumping-off point is a nihilistic 'phenomenon' - the 'creative nothing' of the ego, R.W.K. Paterson's 'will of rapacious frivolity,' synthesizing interest, purposes and dissolution into a dialectically comprehensive 'essential vacuity,' a self-dissolving subjective intentionality whose dynamic force realizes itself on the level of pre-conceptual experience and action in the world. This cannot be called an ethic. Without hypostatized ideals and values, ethics is not possible. The belief in nothing does not entail that 'nothing' is a 'something' in the positivist sense. It is a prioritization of the will - in egoist terms, 'power' - over its creations (the valued). The egoist's I is something that creates and consumes to realize itself; values are the nothing of the realized will. One does not create values, one enjoys them. It is in enjoyment that value's 'objectivity' is pushed away, made secondary to the enjoyment. This, and not Camus's 'drunken universal destruction,' is nihilism. I do not 'believe in myself,' for I act upon my beliefs for enjoyment. I am prior to belief, prior to value and thus prior to ethical criticism: by the rules of ethics, only values can be criticized. Nihilism entails the end of ethics.
What now stands between the ego and its own? In the void, between I and my interest, there is only power. I am that of which I am capable. The other is nothing to me. But, I have needs and wants: in the non-ethical sense hitherto framed, I need the other. I need a Union of Egoists. The first glance here resembles a reversion to statism, the reincarnation of hypostatized values in the form of a state to which I am subject, substituting the State apparatus for egoistic exploitation under the auspices of the same domination modes. This could not be further from the 'truth.' My interests can be realized provisionally without eternal subjection in the mere recognition of contract. Contract arises between egoists in the same way that values are created and dissolved by the ego, and contracts can be satisfied, resulting in no reason for further honor. I can exploit other egos, who can, in turn, exploit me, but by the nature of the dissolving ego, they cannot enslave me. My power enables me to resist, should they try. If they succeed, so much for me: I will not be around to feel the pain and shame of subjection. If I succeed, so much the better for me - and so the dialectical waltz of master and slave goes. But a thoughtful appraisal of how one goes about realizing ends ought to make the egoist see that this dependency is dissolved for good and all in the Union - there results a freedom from subjection in the peaceful libertarian exploitation of the ego. My interests will no longer be subject to the whims of either an inimical State or a fickle human mass (the latter the revolutionaries of so many master-destroying historical stages). This is not a truth to be exalted. It dissolves with the realization of interests, when no more value is to be drawn. This is the end of the State.
At philosophy's funeral, what is to come? The mourners are uncomfortable in their place alongside the tomb. Stirner's goal is not to answer this question, but to reveal the inevitable result of what has come before (shades of Hegel's 'owl of Minerva'). You cannot be told the truth. Neither is it 'out there in the world.' You have only to read The Ego and Its Own to decide whether philosophy has faked its death or whether you're to laugh alongside Camus's blind alley-dwelling Stirner. For the issue is not whether the abyss exists, but, as Stirner would agree, how to live within it, without the amplified misery of its false trappings.
Byington's translation is superlative. The notes are extensive and provide ALL the necessary cultural/historical data you could need for reading this. Individualism never hurt so good.
"Instead of a Book by a Man Too Busy to Write One: A Fragmentary Exposition of Philosophical Anarchism"
by Benjamin Ricketson Tucker