the ego is the way
God is love. Love is what is human in man and what is inhuman is the loveless egoist. - Stirner
What is one of the major issues with a secular society? That every enthusiasm is a religion. See CrossFit, Crypto, Yoga, Meditation…
So who was Max Stirner? In short, he was an Egoist, which means that he considered self-interest to be the root cause of an individual's every action, even when he or she is apparently doing magnanimous actions.
Ergo: "I am everything to myself and I do everything on my account. Even love is an example of selfishness, “because love makes me happy, I love because loving is natural to me, because it pleases me." Stirner seems to take a line of thought that originated with the Pagan philosophers and extrapolated it to encompass his personal ideology. Rather than one choosing something purely for the “good", one is operating in a manner that satisfies ones desires, and in the end that is the best possible choice for the individual. Of course there are nuances to this assertion; especially at the societal level. But, if everyone is operating in the like manner a Nash Equilibrium is reached and the best possible outcomes occur at scale.
Stirner urged others to follow him and "take courage now to really make yourselves the central point and the main thing altogether." As for other people, he sees them as a means for self-enjoyment, a self-enjoyment which is mutual: "For me you are nothing but my food, even as I am fed upon and turned to use by you. We have only one relation to each other, that of usableness, of utility, of use." Is this too on the nose for you? Let it go, this is the way. What was Ryan Holiday talking about? The ego is not the enemy, the enemy is the denial of how people actually operate in the wild. Thus putting oneself at a disadvantage in the complex adaptive landscape that is life.
For Stirner, all individuals are unique - “My flesh is not their flesh, my mind is not their mind," and should reject any attempts to restrict or deny their uniqueness. "To be looked upon as a mere part, part of society, the individual cannot bear -- because he is more; his uniqueness puts from it this limited conception." This is the way of The West, in The West we are all special. There is no communal shame, just personal guilt. Why feel guilt yourself when you can self empower? Both are reflective, one weakens the spirit while the other strengthens.
Individuals, in order to maximize their uniqueness, must become aware of the real reasons for their actions. Again this is an empowering pivot for many. Put another way, they must become CONSCIOUS, not unconscious, egoists. An unconscious, or involuntary, egoist is one "who is always looking after his own and yet does not count himself as the highest being, who serves only himself and at the same time always thinks he is serving a higher being, who knows nothing higher than himself and yet is infatuated about something higher."
By putting oneself above all else, one can become the person they are intended to be. The Aristolean idea of arete. One is not a static being, rather one is constantly becoming. Becoming more excellent or more unpleasant. In contrast, egoists are aware that they act purely out of self-interest, and if they support a higher being, it is not because it is a noble thought, but because it will benefit themselves. The model one uses is always important, mimeses drives many things one does. If ones model is someone unattainable then the path towards excellence is never ending. Jesus, Buddha, Socrates etc. If the model is attainable or not that commendable then one is left unfulfilled. This happens to the low aiming narcissist and the Jonesing neighbor. Model oneself against the best and one can become the best version of oneself.
Stirner himself, however, has no time for "higher beings." Indeed, with the aim of concerning himself purely with his own interests, he attacks all "higher beings," regarding them as a variety of what he calls "spooks," or ideas to which individuals sacrifice themselves and by which they are dominated. Among the "spooks" Stirner attacks are such notable aspects of capitalist life as private property, the division of labor, the state, religion, and society itself. Now you can see why anarchists and libertarians read Stirner.
For the egoist, private property is a spook which "lives by the grace of law. . . [and] becomes 'mine' only by effect of the law". In other words, private property exists purely "through the protection of the State, through the State's grace." Recognizing its need for state protection, Stirner is also aware that "it need not make any difference to the 'good citizens' who protects them and their principles, whether an absolute King or a constitutional one, a republic, if only they are protected. And what is their principle, whose protector they always 'love'?. . . interesting-bearing possession. . .labouring capital. . ."
Stirner was correct, as long as a regime supports capitalist interests, the good citizens will support it. This assertion may seem foreign to some in The West, but until relatively recently, property was protected by violence, rather than law. Sound laws that are upheld through strong institutions are what has let capitalism grow and thrive. It is when the institutions begin to breakdown that one sees the inadequacy of the laws and thus reverts to violent means. A man prefers his head to his vacation home. Guillotines are powerful symbols.
Stirner sees that not only does private property require state protection, it also leads to exploitation and oppression. As he points out, private property's "principle" is "labour certainly, yet little or none at all of one's own, but labour of capital and of the subject labourers." In addition, Stirner attacks the division of labor resulting from private property for its deadening effects on the ego and individuality of the worker. Wait is this Marxism? Not quite. However, it is the exploitation of labor which is the basis of the state, for the state "rests on the slavery of labour. If labour becomes free, the State is lost." Without surplus value to feed off, a state could not exist. Wage slaves seems to be the right label for modern workers. The degrees of freedom one thinks they have vs what they actually have is staggeringly different.
For Stirner, the state is the greatest threat to his individuality: "I am free in no State." This is because the state claims to be sovereign over a given area, while, for Stirner, only the ego can be sovereign over itself and that which it uses: "I am my own only when I am master of myself." Therefore Stirner urges insurrection against all forms of authority and disrespect for property. A reading of The Leviathan shows what the conception of the nanny state would look like pre modern technology, now The State has overarching power to peer into ones life, modernity is a panopticon - make sure not to J-walk. For"if man reaches the point of losing respect for property, everyone will have property, as all slaves become free men as soon as they no longer respect the master as master." And in order for labor to become free, all must have "property." "The poor become free and proprietors only when they rise." Don’t fall for the allure of the recent narrative shift of the “Big Reset”, one would rather own than rent. Propaganda is powerful, one needs to arm oneself with a mind that is capable of identifying what increases ones ability to survive vs what decreases ones ability to survive. It’s not always easy to discern what will increase ones success in the moment, this is why tradition and ritual are important to preserve as reminders of what has done well in the past.
Stirner recognizes the importance of self-liberation and the way that authority often exists purely through its acceptance by the governed. As he argues, ". . . no thing is sacred of itself, but my declaring it sacred, by my declaration, my judgement, my bending the knee; in short, by my conscience." It is from this worship of what society deems "sacred" that individuals must liberate themselves in order to discover their true selves. And, significantly, part of this process of liberation involves the destruction of hierarchy.
For Stirner, "Hierarchy is domination of thoughts, domination of mind!," and this means that we are "kept down by those who are supported by thoughts", i.e. by our own willingness to not question authority and the sources of that authority, such as private property and the state. Do we have thoughts or do thoughts have us?
For those, like modern-day "libertarian" capitalists, who regard "profit" as the key to "selfishness," Stirner has nothing but contempt. Because "greed" is just one part of the ego, and to spend one's life pursuing only that part is to deny all other parts. Stirner called such pursuit "self-sacrificing," or a "one-sided, unopened, narrow egoism," which leads to the ego being possessed by one aspect of itself. For "he who ventures everything else for one thing, one object, one will, one passion. . . is ruled by a passion to which he brings the rest as sacrifices." For the true egoist, capitalists are "self-sacrificing" in this sense, because they are driven only by profit. In the end, their behavior is just another form of self-denial, as the worship of money leads them to slight other aspects of themselves such as empathy and critical thought. If one is myopic in ones pursuits then one will never truly reach their full potential. To lead a good life one needs to be well rounded - pursue various aims and reach excel in wealth, health, and happiness.
A society based on such "egoism" ends up undermining the egos which inhabit it, deadening one's own and other people's individuality and so reducing the vast potential "utility" of others to oneself. In addition, the drive for profit is not even based on self-interest, it is forced upon the individual by the workings of the market and results in labor "claim[ing] all our time and toil," leaving no time for the individual "to take comfort in himself as the unique." The West works more hours and days than any time in history and what do modern Westerners have to show for it? Wider waistlines and insurmountable debt.
For Stirner, "Labor has an egoistic character; the laborer is the egoist".
Stirner also turns his analysis to socialism and communism, and his critique is as powerful as the one he directs against capitalism. This barrage, for some, gives his work an appearance of being pro-capitalist, however it is not that easy to discern. Stirner may have viewed as the lesser of the evils. Stirner did attack socialism, but he attacked state socialism, not libertarian socialism, which did not really exist at that time. He also indicated why moralistic (or altruistic) socialism is doomed to failure, and laid the foundations of the theory that socialism will work only on the basis of egoism.
Stirner correctly pointed out that much of what is called socialism was nothing but warmed up liberalism, and as such ignores the individual: "Whom does the liberal look upon as his equal? Man! . . ., In other words, he sees in you, not you, but the species." A socialism that ignores the individual consigns itself to being state capitalism, nothing more. "Socialists" of this school forget that "society" is made up of individuals and that it is individuals who work, think, love, play and enjoy themselves. Thus: "that society is no ego at all, which could give, bestow, or grant, but an instrument or means, from which we may derive benefit. . . of this the socialists do not think, because they -- as liberals -- are imprisoned in the religious principle and zealously aspire after -- a sacred society, such as the State was hitherto."
Stirner's egoism is purely descriptive and is an attempt to surpass the very idea of ought itself. To try to fit Stirner into the contemporary mindset misses the point. Stirner argues that individuals are impossible to fully comprehend. All mere concepts of the self will always be inadequate to fully describe the nature of ones experience. Stirner has been broadly understood as descriptive of both psychological egoism and rational egoism.
Thusly, this self-interest is necessarily subjective, allowing both selfish and altruistic normative claims to be included, although he wrote that "my selfishness is not opposed to love [...] nor is it an enemy of sacrifice, nor of self-denial".
Stirner "did not prescribe what was and was not in a person's self-interest. He did not say you should act in certain ways because he preferred it, he did not redefine selfishness to allow most of bourgeois morality to remain intact. Rather he urged the individual to think for themselves and seek their own path. Not for Stirner the grim 'egoism' of 'selfishly' living a life determined by some guru and which only that authority figure would approve of. True egoism is not parroting what Stirner wrote and agreeing with everything he expounded. The egoist is self empowered and wise enough to make up his own mind.
Individual self-realization rests on each individual's desire to fulfill their egoism. In short, ones full potential. Think of each person as someone who contains both potential and kinetic energy. There is much to be unlocked if one truly focuses on excellence. The difference between an unwilling and a willing egoist is that the former will be possessed by an "empty idea" and believe that they are fulfilling a higher cause, but usually being unaware that they are only fulfilling their own desires to be happy or secure. This is the embodiment of the modern man - the Hegelian Last Man. Both Stirner and Neithche view this type of person as both foolish and weak. In contrast, the latter will be a person that is able to freely choose his actions, fully aware that they are only fulfilling individual desires as stated by Stirner. This philosophy is not unique to Stirner, it is also seen in certain elements of Buddhism, Stoicism, and Epicureanism.
Sacred things exist only for the egoist who does not acknowledge himself, the involuntary egoist, in short, for the egoist who would like not to be an egoist, and combats his egoism, but at the same time demeans himself only for the sake of "being exalted", and therefore of gratifying his egoism. Because he would like to cease to be an egoist, he looks about in heaven and earth, in the physical and the immaterial for higher beings to serve and sacrifice himself to; but, however much he shakes and disciplines himself, in the end he does all for his own sake, this account is that of the involuntary egoist.
As you are each instant, you are your own creature in this very 'creature' you do not wish to lose yourself, the creator. You are yourself a higher being than you are, and surpass yourself. Just this, as an involuntary egoist, you fail to recognize; and therefore the 'higher essence' is to you – an alien essence. Alienness is a criterion of the "sacred". Self examination and the embrace of oneself is needed to become a voluntary egoist. It is not a passive endeavor, one is mindful of each moment and each thought.
The comparison is also expressed in terms of the difference between the voluntary egoist being the possessor of his concepts as opposed to being possessed. Memes and ideas are powerful, the question is, does one have ideas or do ideas have the person? Only when one realizes that all sacred truths such as law, rights, morality, religion and so on are nothing other than ersatz concepts can one act freely.
For Stirner, to be free is to be both one's own "creature" (in the sense of creation or becoming) and one's own "creator" (dislocating the traditional role assigned to the gods). When viewed from this angle it could be inferred that Stirner is a narcissist, but when an egoist embraces narcissism one becomes the best version of oneself possible. The limits of ones becoming is tethered to how high one regards oneself. To Stirner, POWER is the method of egoism, it is the only justified method of gaining property in the philosophical sense.
Stirner rejects the claim of "modern-day 'libertarian' capitalists, who regard 'profit' as the key to 'selfishness'" and argue that Stirner "has nothing but contempt" for it because "'greed' is just one part of the ego, and to spend one's life pursuing only that part is to deny all other parts. Stirner called such pursuit 'self-sacrificing,' or a 'one-sided, unopened, narrow egoism,' which leads to the ego being possessed by one aspect of itself".
Stirner states: "he who ventures everything else for one thing, one object, one will, one passion is ruled by a passion to which he brings the rest as sacrifices". Similarly, Stirner had nothing but contempt for those who defended property in terms of 'natural rights' and opposed theft and taxation with a passion because it violates said rights.
Stirner proposes that most commonly accepted social institutions—including the notion of state, property as a right, natural rights in general and the very notion of society—were mere illusions, "spooks" or ghosts in the mind. He advocated egoism and a form of amoralism in which individuals would unite in Unions of egoists only when it was in their self-interest to do so. For him, property simply comes about through might, saying: "Whoever knows how to take, to defend, the thing, to him belongs property. [...] What I have in my power, that is my own. So long as I assert myself as holder, I am the proprietor of the thing". He adds that "I do not step shyly back from your property, but look upon it always as my property, in which I respect nothing. Pray do the like with what you call my property!"
Stirner considers the world and everything in it, including other persons, available to one's taking or use without moral constraint and that rights do not exist in regard to objects and people at all. You can know see why he is more Hobbesian than most - men fear a violent death above all else. He sees no rationality in taking the interests of others into account unless doing so furthers one's self-interest, which he believes is the only legitimate reason for acting. He denies society as being an actual entity, calling society a "spook" and that "the individuals are its reality".
The man is distinguished from the youth by the fact that he takes the world as it is, instead of everywhere fancying it amiss and wanting to improve it, model it after his ideal; in him the view that one must deal with the world according to his interest, not according to his ideals, becomes confirmed.
Stirner's idea of the "union of egoists," his proposed alternative mode of organizing modern society. Stirner believes that as more and more people become egoists, conflict in society will decrease as each individual recognises the uniqueness of others, thus ensuring a suitable environment within which they can cooperate (or find "truces" in the "war of all against all"). These "truces" Stirner termed "Unions of Egoists." They are the means by which egoists could, firstly, "annihilate" the state, and secondly, destroy its creature, private property, since they would "multiply the individual's means and secure his assailed property."
The unions Stirner desires would be based on free agreement, being spontaneous and voluntary associations drawn together out of the mutual interests of those involved, who would "care best for their welfare if they unite with others." Makes one think of Tocqueville’s comments about how free association in the United States was a thing of beauty. The unions, unlike the state, exist to ensure what Stirner calls "intercourse," or "union" between individuals. To better understand the nature of these associations, which will replace the state, Stirner lists the relationships between friends, lovers, and children at play as examples.
These illustrate the kinds of relationships that maximise an individual's self-enjoyment, pleasure, freedom, and individuality, as well as ensuring that those involved sacrifice nothing while belonging to them. Such associations are based on mutuality and a free and spontaneous co-operation between equals. As Stirner puts it, "intercourse is mutuality, it is the action, the commercium, of individuals", and its aim is "pleasure" and "self-enjoyment."
"But is an association, wherein most members allow themselves to be lulled as regards their most natural and most obvious interests, actually an Egoist's association? Can they really be 'Egoists' who have banded together when one is a slave or a serf of the other?
Societies wherein the needs of some are satisfied at the expense of the rest, where, say, some may satisfy their need for rest thanks to the fact that the rest must work to the point of exhaustion, and can lead a life of ease because others live in misery and perish of hunger . . . [such a society or association] is more of a religious society [than a real Egoist's association]"
Given the holistic and egalitarian nature of the union of egoists, it can be seen that it shares little with the so-called free agreements of capitalism. The hierarchical structure of capitalist firms hardly produces associations in which the individual's experiences can be compared to those involved in friendship or play, nor do they involve equality. An essential aspect of the "union of egoists" for Stirner was such groups should be "owned" by their members, not the members by the group. That points to a libertarian form of organization within these unions. If you have no say in how a group functions then you can hardly be said to own it, can you?
Indeed, Stirner argues, "[a]s a unique individual you assert yourself alone in association, because the association does not own you, because you are the one who owns it" and "I have no wish to become a slave to my maxims, but would rather subject them to my ongoing criticism." Thus, Stirner's "union of egoists" cannot be compared to the employer-employee contract as the employees cannot be said to "own" the organization resulting from the contract. Only within a participatory association can "assert" yourself freely and subject your maxims, and association, to your "ongoing criticism" -- in capitalist contracts you can do both only with your bosses' permission.
And by the same token, capitalist contracts do not involve "leaving each other alone" (anarcho-capitalism). No boss will leave alone the workers in his factory, nor will a landowner leave alone a squatter on land he owns but does not use. This view logically leads to the idea of both workers' self-management and grassroots community control as those affected by an activity will take a direct interest in it and not let "respect" for "private" property allow them to be oppressed by others.
Egoism (self-interest) must lead to self-management and mutual aid (solidarity)
Stirner’s idea of property, that which is used by the ego, is an important concept for social anarchism, because it stresses that hierarchy develops when we let ideas and organizations own us rather than vice versa.
A free society must be organized in such a way to ensure the free and full development of individuality and maximise the pleasure to be gained from individual interaction and activity.
Lastly, Stirner indicates that mutual aid and equality are based not upon an abstract morality but upon self-interest, both for defence against hierarchy and for the pleasure of co-operative intercourse between unique individuals.
Stirner demonstrates brilliantly how abstractions and fixed ideas - "spooks'“ influence the very way one thinks, see oneself, and acts. He shows how hierarchy has its roots within ones own mind, in how one views the world. He offers a powerful defense of individuality in an authoritarian and alienated world, and places subjectivity at the center of any revolutionary project, where it belongs. Finally, he states that a free society must exist in the interests of all, and must be based upon the self-fulfillment, liberation and enjoyment of the individual. Nothing is more to me than myself.