I’ve had this post in the draft folder for a few days, intending it as a response to John Regan’s comment on my last post quoting Max Stirner. John wrote:
I never cared much for Nietzsche, but the similarity of Stirner (with whom I am not at all familiar up to this point) is pretty striking.
I’m a bit wary of unanswerable claims that everything is self-interest or egoism, unanswerable because the define away all objections. Seems a bit facile.
I just haven’t felt up to attempting to express any original thoughts here lately. The tank’s been dry. Rather, I’ve instead been reading, among others, Schopenhauer, George Borrow, the Icelandic Sagas, William Morris, Thoreau, Rimbaud, Hamann, Fichte, Clarence Darrow. That’s probably too much reading. I need a break from that, too. I need to follow Thoreau’s advice and spend a lot more time walking, preferably in the woods. During the summer before law school I quit my job working for Brinks in Milwaukee and spent two months hiking the Appalachian Trail, from Maine to Massachusetts. It was a good time.
It’s no secret, judging from most of my posts over the past year, that lately I’ve been fascinated by both the writings and the life of Ernst Juenger. I’ve long since read everything he’s written that’s been translated into English, but I’ve also found in him a trustworthy guide insofar as I’ve followed up by reading the many influences and models he cited in his writings. His decision, which so far as I know he never explained in writing, to convert to the Roman Catholic Church a year before his death at age 102, caps with mystery a life that was otherwise in many ways an open book. I too converted to the Roman Catholic Church, but at the age of 18 or 19, and my sincere belief that I might have a vocation to the priesthood (obviously proved mistaken in subsequent years) was the reason I gave to the United States Naval Academy for resigning. (My other and more certain reason, which I for the most part kept to myself, was that I no longer wanted to be a “cogwheel in the war machine of a godless State,” and hence I have no regrets about my decision to resign.) I not only did not become a priest, but eventually became an apostate.
Frankly, in my opinion it would be a lot easier to be a Catholic for a couple years, and I presume particularly at the end of one’s days, than it is to be so for a lifetime. I had an interesting career in the Catholic Church. I met on several occasions Bishop Williamson, then of the Society of St. Pius X. I spent several years actively involved with the lay organization founded by Fr. Marcial Maciel, a favorite of Pope St. John Paul II. Those who are interested can Google Bishop Williamson and Fr. Maciel, and get a feel for why I feel, rightly or wrongly, not too bad about my apostasy.
I can’t help connecting in my mind Juenger’s conversion, and reception of the sacraments, with his own account in his diaries from WWII of the execution of a deserter he was required to supervise while a German officer in occupied Paris. Juenger himself, while still a teen, a couple years before WWI, had run off and joined the French Foreign Legion, and then promptly deserted. I wonder whether he considered this irony while he was supervising this other young deserter’s execution, and considered whether he himself should desert — become a “forest fleer” — for the second time in his life, come what may.
I was first led to read Stirner, albeit sparsely, through my readings in anarchist theory. It was Stirner who then first led me to read Juenger, who in turn caused me to return to Stirner and to see in him what Juenger saw.
I read some Ayn Rand in high school, like many other lost souls at that age. It had its ordinary effect, but I quickly came to see the error of my ways when I read The Brothers Karamazov during my first year as an enlisted man in the Navy, while stationed on the USS Kitty Hawk while it was drydocked in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. So in a very real sense I was thereby inoculated against making the same mistake twice a couple decades later, even though Stirner is far deeper than Rand.
Toward the end of his life, about three years before he died, Juenger singled out for special mention three primary influences on the disposition of his life, and surprisingly none of them were Stirner: “Rimbaud as a writer; Schopenhauer as a thinker; Hamann as a magician.”
Stirner, unlike Ayn Rand, was no apostle of selfishness, and not really even an “egoist,” though he seemed to get off on tweaking the sensibilities of his contemporaries by shamelessly appropriating the word. How much value did Stirner really place on the “ego,” when the closest he came to defining it was to call himself “nothing,” albeit “the creative nothing,” and when his view of life was not that it was to be anxiously gained or saved, but used up / enjoyed / consumed / squandered. Rather, I view Stirner as representing the sweet spot between Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, which perhaps Nietzsche himself represented in his early approval, in The Birth of Tragedy, of Greek “serenity” or “cheerfulness.”
This post was originally intended to do nothing but make that point, through another lengthy quotation of Juenger, with which I’ll conclude:
Words that are to be intensified by the suffix -ism reveal a special demand, a volitional tendency, often hostility a priori. The motion becomes tumultuous at the expense of the substance. These are words for sectarians, for people who have read only one book, for those who “pledge allegiance to their flag and are unconditionally committed to their cause” – in short, for traveling salesmen and peddlers of commonplaces. A conversation with someone who introduces himself as a realist usually comes to a vexatious end. He has a limited notion of the thing, just as the idealist does of the idea or the egoist of the self. Freedom is labeled. This also holds for the anarchist’s relationship to anarchy.
. . .
The rebukes against him [Stirner] concentrated – nor could it be otherwise – in the reproach of egoism, a concept with which Stirner himself never fully came to terms. Still, he annexed it, often replacing Einziger (Only One) with Eigner (owner, proprietor). The owner does not fight for power, he recognizes it as his own, his property. He owns up to it, appropriates it, makes it his own. This process can be nonviolent, especially as a strengthening of the self-awareness.
. . .
What had touched me so deeply? Stirner’s arrow grazed the point at which I suspected the presence of the anarch. The dissimilarity presupposes a very subtle distinction, and, I believe, Vigo is the only person in Eumeswil who could make it. After all, he instantly caught the difference between owner and egoist. It is the same as the difference between anarch and anarchist. These concepts appear to be identical, but are radically different.
. . .
To draw an important demarcation, we had envisaged a comparison between the Only One and the Superman. It would make little difference whether, as Mackay assumes, Nietzsche, Old Gunpowderhead, was acquainted with Stirner’s work – ideas float in the air. Originality lies in rendering them – in the strength of the tackling and shaping.
First of all: The Superman recognizes the world as the will to power; “there is nothing else.” Even art is a will to power. The Superman joins in the rivalries of the world while the Only One is content to watch the spectacle. He does not strive for power; he dashes neither after nor ahead of it, because he possesses it and enjoys it in his self-awareness. This recalls Far Eastern empires of images.
Naturally, because of external circumstances, power can fall into the hands of the Only One as well as the anarch. But power is burdensome for the Only One. Periander, tyrant of Corinth, “inherited it like a disease” from his father. Incidentally, it strikes me that certain features of Periander and also Tiberius, especially in their good times, are to be found in our Condor, though in the effete and ahistorical framework of Eumeswil. I have already said that the anarch and the monarch have a polar resemblance; basically, each contains both.
Secondly: the famous “God is dead.” By then, Old Gunpowderhead was forcing an open door. A universal awareness was unveiled. That explains the sensation he caused. The Only One, on the other hand: “God … is none of my business.” That leaves all doors open: the Only One can depose or impose God or let the matter rest – whichever he likes. He can show him the door or “form an association” with him. As with the Silesian mystic, “God cannot be without me.” Like the Biblical Jacob, the Only One can wrestle for power until dawn. That alone is the message in the history of God’s redemption plan.