Dr. J. L. Walker wrote in his Introduction to the 1907 English translation of Max Stirner’s “The Ego and His Own”:
We owe to Dr. Eduard von Hartmann the unquestionable service which he
rendered by directing attention to this book in his “Philosophie des Unbewußten,”
the first edition of which was published in 1869, and in other writings. I do not
begrudge Dr. von Hartmann the liberty of criticism which he used; and I think
the admirers of Stirner’s teaching must quite appreciate one thing which Von
Hartmann did at a much later date. In “Der Eigene” of August 10, 1896, there
appeared a letter written by him and giving, among other things, certain data from
which to judge that, when Friedrich Nietzsche wrote his later essays, Nietzsche
was not ignorant of Stirner’s book.
Von Hartmann wishes that Stirner had gone on and developed his principle.
Von Hartmann suggests that you and I are really the same spirit, looking out
through two pairs of eyes. Then, one may reply, I need not concern myself about
you, for in myself I have — us; and at that rate Von Hartmann is merely accusing
himself of inconsistency: for, when Stirner wrote this book, Von Hartmann’s
spirit was writing it; and it is just the pity that Von Hartmann in his present form
does not indorse what he said in the form of Stirner, — that Stirner was different
from any other man; that his ego was not Fichte’s transcendental generality, but “this transitory ego of flesh and blood.” It is not as a generality that you and I differ,
but as a couple of facts which are not to be reasoned into one. “I” is somewise
Hartmann, and thus Hartmann is “I”; but I am not Hartmann, and Hartmann is
not — I. Neither am I the “I” of Stirner; only Stirner himself was Stirner’s “I.” Note
how comparatively indifferent a matter it is with Stirner that one is an ego, but
how all-important it is that one be a self-conscious ego, — a self-conscious, self-willed
Here is the section of Von Hartmann’s “Philosophy of the Unconscious” that treats of Stirner:
Extremely instructive in this reference is
” Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum,” by Max Stirner, a book that nobody
interested in practical philosophy should leave unread.
This book subjects all ideals having an influence on practice
to a destructive criticism, and shows them to be idols
that only possess power over the Ego so far as the latter
concedes such to them in its self-mistaking weakness. It
cleverly and piquantly demolishes with forcible reasons
the ideal aims of political, social, and humanitarian Liberalism; and shows how the Ego alone can be the smiling
heir of all these ideals thus reduced to impotent nothings.
If these considerations only had the purpose of confirming
the theoretical position that I can as little step out
of the frame of my self-hood as out of my skin, nothing
need be added ; but as Stirner professes to have found
in the Idea of the Ego the absolute standpoint for action,
he either falls into the same error that he had combated
in the case of the other ideals, such as Honour, Freedom,
Right, &c., and places himself at the mercy of another
enthralling idea, whose absolute sovereignty he recognises,
not however for this or that reason, but blindly and
instinctively, or he conceives the Ego not as idea but as
reality, and with no other result than the perfectly empty
and meaningless tautology that I can will only my own
will, think only my own thoughts, and that only my own
thoughts can become motives of my willing a fact as
undeniable by his opponents as by himself. If, however,
and only in that case has his conclusions any sense, he
means that we ought to acknowledge the IDEA of the Ego
as the only governing one, and to admit all other ideals
only so far as they have a value for the former, he
should first have examined the idea of the Ego. He
would then before all have found that, as all the other
ideals are the cues of instincts in pursuit of special ends,
so the Ego is the cue of a universal instinct, egoism,
that is related to the special instincts somewhat as a
season to a day ticket, of which many special instincts
are only derivatives in particular cases, and with which,
therefore, we can get along tolerably well after all other
instincts have been banished, which even, on the contrary,
is never entirely to be dispensed with as long as we live.
Thus it is certainly more pardonable to accord an unconditional
sovereignty to this instinct than to any other ;
but although in the abstract the error is the same in the
two cases, the consequences are far worse in the exclusive
homage paid to egoism. Other instincts, namely, if they
are only sufficiently strong, can frequently be pacified,
although commonly only with sacrifice of happiness on
the whole, which makes them unprofitable ; but egoism
is, according to our former inquiries, never to be satisfied,
because it always procures an excess of pain.
This perception, that from the point of view of the ego
or the individual the denial of the will or forsaking of
the world and renunciation of life is the only rational
course, Stirner entirely misses. It is, however, an infallible
specific for an over-balanced egoism. Whoever
has once realised the preponderating pain that every
individual must endure, with or without knowledge, in his
life, will soon contemn and scorn the standpoint of the
self-preserving and would-be enjoying in a word, self-affirming
ego. He who has come to hold lightly his
egoism and his ego will hardly insist upon the same as
the absolute pivot on which everything must turn, will
rate personal sacrifice less highly than usual, will less
reluctantly accept the result of an investigation which
exhibits the Ego as a mere phenomenon of a Being that
for all individuals is one and the same.
Contempt of the world and life is the easiest path to
self-denial ; only by this path has a morality of self-denial,
like the Christian and Buddhist, been historically possible.
In these fruits which it bears for facilitating the infinitely
difficult self-renunciation lies the immense and hardly to
be sufficiently estimated ethical value of Pessimism.
But lastly, had Stirner approached the direct philoso
phical investigation of the Idea of the Ego, he would have
seen that this idea is just as unsubstantial and brain-created
a phantom (cp.
” Das Ding an Sich,” sect, iii ,
transcendental^ Subject”), as, for instance, the Idea of
honour or of right, and that the only being which answers
to the idea of the inner cause of my activity is
something non- individual, the Only Unconscious, which
therefore answers just as well to Peter’s idea of his ego
as Paul’s idea of his ego. On this deepest of all bases rests
only the esoteric ethics of Buddhism, not the Christian ethics.
If one has firmly and thoughtfully made this cognition his
own, that one and the same Being feels my and thy pain,
my and thy pleasure, only accidentally through the intervention
of different brains, then is the exclusive egoism
radically broken, that is only shaken, though deeply shaken,
by contempt of the world and of life ; then is the standpoint
of Stirner finally overcome, to which one must at
some time have entirely given adhesion in order to feel the
greatness of the advance ; then first is Egoism sublated as
a moment in the consciousness of forming a link in the
world-process, in which it finds its necessary and relatively,
i.e., to a certain degree, authorised place.
In this connection, here is a telling passage from Stirner’s “The Ego and His Own”:
The child was realistic, taken up with the things of this world, till little by little
he succeeded in getting at what was back of these very things; the youth was idealistic, inspired by thoughts, till he worked his way up to where he became
the man, the egoistic man, who deals with things and thoughts according to his
heart’s pleasure, and sets his personal interest above everything. Finally, the old
man? When I become one, there will still be time enough to speak of that.
Stirner, unfortunately, never lived to be an old man, but died from an insect bite when he was 49 years of age, and wrote nothing significant after his magnum opus, which was published when he was 38 years of age. Ernst Juenger, on the other hand, who lived to be 102 and who remained an “admirer of Stirner’s teaching,” at least until 1977 when he wrote Eumeswil at about age 82, and at least until age 90 when the interviews published in The Details of Time were recorded (even though these interviews are tinctured with Christianity), and presumably until the end of his life (even though he converted to the Roman Catholic Church a year before his death) in 1998, wrote in 1951 (when he was about 56):
The great experience of the forest consists of the encounter with the Ego, with the self, with the inviolate core and essence that sustains the temporal and individual appearance. This encounter, so decisive for the conquest of health and for the victory over fear, is also supreme in its moral value. It leads to the primal basis of all social intercourse, to the man whose example defines individuality. In this sphere we will encounter not only community but also identity. This is the symbolic meaning of the embrace: the Ego recognizes itself in the other human being in the saying, ”This is you.” The other can be the beloved, the sufferer, or the helpless victim. In giving help, the Ego helps its own immortal essence and confirms the basic ethical order of the universe.
But I must say that while I agree with Hartmann that Stirner himself did not closely examine the idea of the ego itself, I don’t agree that Stirner professed to have found in the idea of the ego an absolute standpoint for action. Rather, I think Hartmann was closer to the mark when he supposed that Stirner conceived the ego not as an idea but as reality, while Hartmann missed the mark in supposing that all this conception resulted in was tautology. Tautology, in any event, is underrated, as all definition ultimately amounts to tautology.
Stirner only cleared the way. It is left to us to enquire, as Ramana Maharshi recommended, “Who am I?” I suspect the answer is not quite Fichte’s (or Hartmann’s?) transcendental generality, nor what Stirner did refer to (albeit only briefly) as transitory and finite and mortal.