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Western Philosophy
19th-century philosophy
Max Stirner, as portrayed by Friedrich Engels
Max Stirner, as portrayed by Friedrich Engels
Name: Johann Kaspar Schmidt
Birth: October 25, 1806 (Bayreuth, Bavaria)
Death: June 26, 1856 (Berlin, Prussia)
School/tradition: Categorised historically as a Young Hegelian. Precursor to Existentialism, individualist feminism, Nihilism, Post-Modernism, Post-structuralism.
Main interests
Ethics, Politics, Property, Value theory
Notable ideas
Influences Influenced
Hegel,[1] Adam Smith |
Frank Brand, Steven T. Byington, Freidrich Engels, Dora Marsden, Karl Marx, Saul Newman, Friedrich Nietzsche, Benjamin R. Tucker

Johann Kaspar Schmidt (October 25, 1806 – June 26, 1856), better known as Max Stirner (the nom de plume he adopted from a schoolyard nickname he had acquired as a child because of his high brow [Stirn]), German philosopher, who ranks as one of the literary grandfathers of nihilism, existentialism, post-modernism and anarchism, especially of individualist anarchism. Stirner's main work is The Ego and Its Own, also known as The Ego and His Own (Der Einzige und sein Eigentum in German, which translates literally as The Individual and his Property). This work was first published in 1844 in Leipzig, and has since appeared in numerous editions and translations.



Max Stirner's birthplace in Bayreuth

Stirner was born in Bayreuth, Bavaria, on October 25, 1806. What little is known of his life is mostly due to the Scottish born German writer John Henry Mackay, who wrote a biography of Stirner (Max Stirner - sein Leben und sein Werk), published in German in 1898. An English translation was published in 2005.

Stirner was an only child to Albert Christian Heinrich Schmidt (1769-1807), a flute maker, and Sophia Elenora Reinlein (1778-1839) a Lutheran. Just six months after he was born his father died of Tuberculosis on the 19th of April 1807 at the age of 37.[2] In 1809 his mother remarried to Heinrich Ballerstedt a Pharmacist and settled in Kulm (now Chełmno in Poland).

When Stirner turned 20, he moved to Berlin to attend university,[3] where he studied Philology, Philosophy and Theology. He attended the lectures of Hegel, who was to become a source of inspiration for his thinking.[4] (Hegel's influence on Stirner's thinking is debatable, and is discussed in more detail below.)

While in Berlin in 1841, Stirner participated in discussions with a group of young philosophers called "The Free" (Die Freien), and whom historians have subsequently categorized as the so-called Young Hegelians. Some of the best known names in 19th century literature and philosophy were members of this discussion group, including Bruno Bauer, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Arnold Ruge. For a lively account of Die Freien see "Red Room and White Beer" by Robert Hellman.

While some of the Young Hegelians were eager subscribers to Hegel's dialectical method, and attempted to apply dialectical approaches to Hegel's conclusions, the left wing members of the Young Hegelians broke with Hegel. Feuerbach and Bauer led this charge.

Frequently the debates would take place at Hippel's, a Weinstube (wine bar) in Friedrichstraße, attended by, amongst others, the young Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, at that time still adherents of Feuerbach. Stirner met Engels many times, Engels even recalled that they were "great friends (Duzbrüder)"[5] but it is still unclear whether Marx and Stirner ever met. It does not appear that Stirner contributed much to the discussions but was a faithful member of the club and an attentive listener.[6]

Caricature by Friedrich Engels (1820 - 1895) of the meetings of "Die Freien"

The only portrait we have of Stirner consists of a cartoon by Engels, drawn forty years later from memory on the request of Stirner's biographer John Henry Mackay.

Stirner worked as a schoolteacher in an academy for young girls when he wrote his major work The Ego and Its Own, which in part is a polemic against both Hegel and some Young Hegelians including Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer, but also against communists such as Wilhelm Weitling and the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. He resigned from his teaching position in anticipation of the controversy arising from his major work's publication in October 1844.

Stirner married twice; his first wife was a household servant, who he fell in love with at an early age. Soon after their marriage, she died due to complications with pregnancy in 1838. In 1843 he married Marie Dähnhardt, an intellectual associated with Die Freien. They divorced in 1846. The Ego and Its Own was dedicated "to my sweetheart Marie Dähnhardt". Marie later converted to Catholicism and died in 1902 in London.

One of the most curious events in those times was that Stirner planned and financed (with his second wife's inheritance) an attempt by some Young Hegelians to own and operate a milk-shop on co-operative principles. This enterprise failed partly because the German dairy farmers were suspicious of these well-dressed intellectuals. The milk shop was also so well decorated that most of the potential customers felt too poorly dressed to buy their milk there.

After The Ego and Its Own, Stirner published German translations of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and Jean-Baptiste Say's Traite d'Economie Politique, to little financial gain. He also replied to his critics in a small work titled History of Reaction in 1852.

In 1856, Stirner died in Berlin from an infected insect bite. It is said that Bruno Bauer was the only Young Hegelian present at his funeral.


Stirner's main work is The Ego and Its Own (org. 'Der Einzige und sein Eigentum'), which appeared in Leipzig in 1844. A series of articles appeared shortly before this central work The False Principle of Our Education and Art and Religion which show the development of his philosophy. In The Ego and Its Own, Stirner launches a radical anti-authoritarian and individualist critique of contemporary Prussian society, and modern western society as such. He offers an approach to human existence which depicts the self as a creative non-entity, beyond language and reality. The book proclaims that all religions and ideologies rest on empty concepts. The same holds true for society's institutions, that claim authority over the individual, be it the state, legislation, the church, or the systems of education such as Universities.

Stirner's argument explores and extends the limits of Hegelian criticism, aiming his critique especially at those of his contemporaries, particularly Ludwig Feuerbach. And popular 'ideologies', including nationalism, statism, liberalism, socialism, communism and humanism.

In the time of spirits thoughts grew till they overtopped my head, whose offspring they yet were; they hovered about me and convulsed me like fever-phantasies — an awful power. The thoughts had become corporeal on their own account, were ghosts, e. g. God, Emperor, Pope, Fatherland, etc. If I destroy their corporeity, then I take them back into mine, and say: "I alone am corporeal." And now I take the world as what it is to me, as mine, as my property; I refer all to myself.

Max Stirner, The Ego and Its Own, p 15.


Stirner has been broadly understood as a proponent of both psychological egoism and ethical egoism, although the latter position can be disputed, as there is no claim in Stirner's writing, in which one 'ought to' pursue one's own interest, and further claiming any 'ought' could be seen as a new 'fixed idea'. However, he may be understood as a rational egoist in the sense that he considered it irrational not to act in one's self interest.

Individual self-realization rests on each individual's desire to fulfill his or her egoism. 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, and the latter, in contrast, will be a person that is able to freely choose its actions, fully aware that they are only fulfilling individual desires.

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 abases himself (combats his egoism), but at the same time abases 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 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... [on] this account I call him 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". [Ibidem, Cambridge edition, p. 37-8]

The contrast is also expressed in terms of the difference between the voluntary egoist being the possessor of his concepts as opposed to being possessed. Only when one realizes that all sacred truths such as law, right, morality, religion etc., are nothing other than artificial concepts, and not to be obeyed, can one act freely. For Stirner, to be free is to be both one's own "creature" (in the sense of 'creation') and one's own "creator" (dislocating the traditional role assigned to the gods). To Stirner power is the method of egoism. It is the only justified method of gaining 'property'.

Even love is explained as "consciously egoistic":

...[Love] cuts no better figure than any other passion [if] I obey [it] blindly. The ambitious man, who is carried away by ambition... has let this passion grow up into a despot against whom he abandons all power of dissolution; he has given up himself because he cannot dissolve himself, and consequently cannot absolve himself from the passion: he is possessed. - I love men, too, not merely individuals, but every one. But I love them with the consciousness of my egoism; I love them because love makes me happy, I love because loving is natural to me, it pleases me. I know no 'commandment of love'. I have a fellow-feeling with every feeling being, and their torment torments, their refreshment refreshes me too... [Ibidem, p. 258]


Stirner's claim that the state is an illegitimate institution has made him an influence upon the anarchist tradition, his thought is often seen as a form of individualist anarchism. Stirner however does not identify himself as an anarchist, and includes anarchists among the parties subject to his criticism. He put forth a unique model of self-empowerment and social change through "union activism" — although the definition and explanation of the latter is unique to Stirner, and does not resemble a standard doctrine of trade unionism. Some people see Ernst Jünger's revolutionary conservative concept of the anarch as a more faithful rendition of Stirner's thought.

The Self

Stirner's demolition of 'fixed ideas' and absolute concepts (named 'spooks' of contemporary philosophy) lead him to a concept of the self that is like a nameless void, something it is impossible to fully comprehend; a so-called 'creative nothing' from which mind and creativity will arise. This 'creative nothing' Stirner arrives at, through concentrating purely on the self and not external concepts, he later described as an 'end-point of language', meaning this is where all description comes to an end; it cannot be described.

.....The Unique One is the straightforward, sincere, plain-phrase. It is the end point of our phrase world, of this world in whose "beginning was the Word."

Max Stirner, Stirner's Critics

But this is also the place where all description begins, where the individual self can describe (and therefore create) the world in its own meaning. In order to understand this 'creative nothing', which Stirner strives so hard to argue for and explain, using poetry and vivid imagery to give meaning to his words - but helplessly cannot describe by words alone, it is worth bearing in mind his Hegelian origins. The 'creative nothing' by its dialectical shortcomings creates the need for a description, for meaning. You need the word 'nothing' to describe nothing, which means that you are attempting to describe something - therefore nothing is a linguistic paradox.

What Stirner says is a word, a thought, a concept; what he means is no word, no thought, no concept. What he says is not what is meant, and what he means is unsayable.

Max Stirner, Stirner's Critics

Stirner elaborated this attempt to describe the indescribable in the essay "Stirner's Critics", written by Stirner in response to Feuerbach and others (in custom with the time, he refers to himself in the third person) :

Stirner speaks of the Unique and says immediately: Names name you not. He articulates the word, so long as he calls it the Unique, but adds nonetheless that the Unique is only a name. He thus means something different from what he says, as perhaps someone who calls you Ludwig does not mean a Ludwig in general, but means You, for which he has no word. (...) It is the end point of our phrase world, of this world in whose "beginning was the Word."

Max Stirner, Stirner's Critics

The The Ego and Its Own opens and closes with a quotation from Goethe that reads "I have taken up my cause without foundation", with the unstated next line of the poem being "…and all the world is mine". One of Stirner's central ideas is that in realizing the self is "nothing" one is said to "own the world", because as the book states in its last line: "all things are nothing to me" [Ibidem., p. 324]. David Leopold (in his introduction to the Cambridge University Press Edition of The Ego and its own) expresses disbelief at what Stirner has to say about the nature of mind, world, and property. Both the belief in the self being "nothing" and that "the world is empty" have no similar Western precedent. But in Eastern Philosophy Theravada Buddhism has comparable aspects:

By bringing the essence into prominence one degrades the hitherto misapprehended appearance to a bare semblance, a deception. The essence of the world, so attractive and splendid, is for him who looks to the bottom of it — emptiness; emptiness is — world's essence (world's doings). [Ibidem, p. 40]

... [F]or 'being' is abstraction, as is even 'the I'. Only I am not abstraction alone: I am all in all, consequently, even abstraction or nothing: I am all and nothing; I am not a mere thought, but at the same time I am full of thoughts, a thought-world. [Ibidem, p. 300]

I say: liberate yourself as far as you can, and you have done your part; for it is not given to every one to break through all limits, or, more expressively, not to everyone is that a limit which is a limit for the rest. Consequently, do not tire yourself with toiling at the limits of others; enough if you tear down yours. [...] He who overturns one of his limits may have shown others the way and the means; the overturning of their limits remains their affair. [Ibidem, p. 127]

Stirner describes this world-view, in brief, as "enjoyment", and he claims that the "nothingness" of the non-self is "unutterable" (p. 314) or "unnameable" (p. 132), "unspeakable" yet "a mere word" (p. 164; cf. Stirner's comments on the Skeptic concepts ataraxia and aphasia, p. 26).

The Insurrectionist and Anti-Revolutionary

Stirner mocks revolution in the traditional sense, and ridicules social movements aimed at overturning the state as tacitly statist (i.e., aimed at the establishment of a new state thereafter). To illustrate this he compares his own social and moral role with that of Jesus Christ:

The time [in which Jesus lived] was politically so agitated that, as is said in the gospels, people thought they could not accuse the founder of Christianity more successfully than if they arraigned him for 'political intrigue', and yet the same gospels report that he was precisely the one who took the least part in these political doings. But why was he not a revolutionary, not a demagogue, as the Jews would gladly have seen him? [...] Because he expected no salvation from a change of conditions, and this whole business was indifferent to him. He was not a revolutionary, like Caesar, but an insurgent: not a state-overturner, but one who straightened himself up. [...] [Jesus] was not carrying on any liberal or political fight against the established authorities, but wanted to walk his own way, untroubled about, and undisturbed by, these authorities. [...] But, even though not a ringleader of popular mutiny, not a demagogue or revolutionary, he (and every one of the ancient Christians) was so much the more an insurgent who lifted himself above everything that seemed so sublime to the government and its opponents, and absolved himself from everything that they remained bound to [...]; precisely because he put from him the upsetting of the established, he was its deadly enemy and real annihilator... [Ibidem p. 280-1]

As Stirner specifies in a footnote (p. 280), he was here using the word insurgent "in its etymological sense"; thus, to rise above the religion and government of one's own times and to take control of ones life with no consideration of them, but not necessarily to overthrow them. This contrasts with the method of the revolutionary who brings about a change of conditions by displacing one government with another:

The revolution aimed at new arrangements; insurrection leads us no longer to let ourselves be arranged, but to arrange ourselves, and sets no glittering hopes on 'institutions'. It is not a fight against the established [...] it is only a working forth of me out of the established. [...] Now, as my object is not an overthrow of the established order but my elevation above it, my purpose and deed are not political or social but (as directed toward myself and my ownness alone) an egoistic purpose indeed. [Ibidem, p. 280]

Stirner was writing about people liberating themselves from their own limits and rising above limiting social, political and ideological conditions, and for each to walk their own way. The passages quoted above are clearly incompatible with David Leopold's conclusion (in his introduction to the Cambridge University Press edition) that Stirner "...saw humankind as 'fretted in dark superstition' but denied that he sought their enlightenment and welfare" (Ibidem, p. xxxii). Stirner refused to describe himself as directly liberating others. But his stated purpose in these quotations seems to be to achieve the "enlightenment and welfare" of others by way of demonstration and "insurrection" as he defines it.

Critique of Dogmatism

The passages quoted above show the few points of contact between Stirner's philosophy and early Christianity. It is merely Jesus as an "annihilator" of the established biases and preconceptions of Rome that Stirner can relate to. His reason for "citing" the cultural change sparked by Jesus, is that he wants the Christian ideologies of 19th Century Europe to collapse, much as the ideology of heathen Rome did before it (e.g., "[the Christian era] will end with the casting off of the ideal, with 'contempt for the spirit'", p. 320). As with the Classical Skeptics before him, Stirner's method of self-liberation is opposed to faith or belief; he envisions a life free from "dogmatic presuppositions" (p. 135, 309) or any "fixed standpoint" (p. 295). It is not merely Christian dogma that his thought repudiates, but also a wide variety of European atheist ideologies that are condemned as crypto-Christian for putting ideas in an equivalent role:

Among many transformations, the Holy Spirit became in time the 'absolute idea' [in Hegelian philosophy], which again in manifold refractions split into the different ideas of philanthropy, reasonableness, civic virtue, and so on. [...] Antiquity, at its close, had gained its ownership of the world only when it had broken the world's overpoweringness and 'divinity', recognised the world's powerlessness and 'vanity'. [...] [The philosophers of our time say] Concepts are to decide everywhere, concepts to regulate life, concepts to rule. This is the religious world [of our time], to which Hegel gave a systematic expression, bringing method into the nonsense and completing the conceptual precepts into a rounded, firmly-based dogmatic. Everything is sung according to concepts and the real man, I, am compelled to live according to these conceptual laws. [...] Liberalism simply replaced Christian concepts with humanist ones; human instead of divine, political instead of ecclesiastical, 'scientific' instead of doctrinal etc. [Ibidem, p. 87-8]

The thinker is distinguished from the believer only by believing much more than the latter, who, on his part, thinks of much less as signified by his faith (creed). The thinker has a thousand tenets of faith where the believer gets along with few; but the former brings coherence into his tenets, and take the coherence in turn for the scale to estimate their worth by. p. 304

What Stirner proposes is not that concepts should rule people, but that people should rule concepts. The "nothingness" of all truth is rooted in the "nothingness" of the self, because the ego is the criterion of (dogmatic) truth. Again, Stirner seems closely comparable to the Skeptics in that his radical epistemology directs us to emphasise empirical experience (the "unmediated" relationship of mind as world, and world as mind) but leaves only a very limited validity to the category of "truth". When we regard the impressions of the senses with detachment, simply for what they are (e.g., neither good nor evil), we may still correctly assign truth to them.

Christianity took away from the things of this world only their irresistibleness [...]. In like manner I raise myself above truths and their power: as I am above the sensual, so I am above the truth. Before me truths are as common and as indifferent as things; they do not carry me away, and do not inspire me with enthusiasm. There exists not even one truth, not right, not freedom, humanity, etc., that has stability before me, and to which I subject myself. [...] In words and truths [...] there is no salvation for me, as little as there is for the Christian in things and vanities. As the riches of this world do not make me happy, so neither do its truths. [...] Along with worldly goods, all sacred goods too must be put away as no longer valuable. (p. 307)

Truths are material, like vegetables and weeds; as to whether vegetable or weed, the decision lies in me. (p. 313)

In place of such systems of beliefs, Stirner presents a detached life of non-dogmatic, open-minded engagement with the world "as it is" (unpolluted by "faith" of any kind, Christian or humanist), coupled with the awareness that there is no soul, no personal essence of any kind, but that the individual's uniqueness consists solely in its "creative nothingness" prior to all concepts.

Hegel's Influence

Stirner's critique of Hegel shows a profound awareness of Hegel's work, and scholars such as Karl Löwith and Lawrence Stepelevich have argued that Hegel was a major influence on The Ego and Its Own[How to reference and link to summary or text] . Stirner employs some of the most important elements of Hegelian structure and many of Hegel's basic presuppositions to arrive at his conclusions[How to reference and link to summary or text] . Stepelevich argues, that while The Ego and its Own evidently has an "un-Hegelian structure and tone to the work as a whole", as well as being fundamentally hostile to Hegel's conclusions about the self and the world, this does not mean that Hegel had no effect on Stirner.

The main juncture leading from Hegel to Stirner is found [in The Phenomenology of the Spirit] at the termination of a phenomenological passage to absolute knowledge. Stirner's work is most clearly understood when it is taken to be the answer to the question, 'what role will consciousness play after it has traversed the series of shapes known as 'untrue' knowledge and has attained to absolute knowledge?

— Lawrence Stepelevich, 'Max Stirner as Hegelian, Journal of the History of Ideas, v.15, pp. 597-614 (1985).

To go beyond and against Hegel in true dialectical fashion is in some way continuing Hegel's project, and Stepelevich argues that this effort of Stirner's is, in fact a completion of Hegel's project[How to reference and link to summary or text] . Stepelevich concludes his argument referring to Jean Hyppolite, who in summing up the intention of Hegel's Phenomenology, stated: "The history of the world is finished; all that is needed is for the specific individual to rediscover it in himself."

Stirner as an Einziger took himself directly to be that 'specific individual' and then went on as a Hegelian to propose the practical consequence which would ultimately follow upon that theoretical rediscovery, the free play of self-consciousness among the objects of its own determination: "The idols exist through me; I need only refrain from creating them anew, then they exist no longer: 'higher powers' exist only through my exalting them and abasing myself.... My intercourse with the world consists in my enjoying it, and so consuming it for my self-enjoyment" (Ego, 319)

— Lawrence Stepelevich, 'Max Stirner as Hegelian'


Stirner's work did not go unnoticed among his contemporaries. Stirner's attacks on ideology, in particular Feuerbach's humanism, forced Feuerbach into print. Moses Hess (at that time close to Marx) and Szeliga (pseudonym of Franz Zychlin von Zychlinski, an adherent of Bruno Bauer) also replied to Stirner. Stirner answered the criticism in a German periodical, in the article Stirner's Critics (org. Recensenten Stirners, September 1845), which clarifies several points of interest to readers of the book - especially in relation to Feuerbach.

While The German Ideology so assured The Ego and Its Own a place of curious interest among Marxist readers, Marx's ridicule of Stirner has played a significant role in the subsequent marginalization of Stirner's work, in popular and academic discourse.


Stirner's philosophy has been almost completely ignored by professional philosophers. Characterized as disturbing and something that ought not even be mentioned in polite company, sometimes even considered a direct threat to civilization. It should be examined as briefly as possible and is then best forgotten. Edmund Husserl once warned a small audience about the "seducing power" of »Der Einzige« — but never mentioned it in his writing[1]. Most writers who read and were influenced by Stirner failed to make any references to him or The Ego and Its Own at all in their writing[How to reference and link to summary or text] . As the renowned art critic Herbert Read observed, Stirner's book has remained 'stuck in the gizzard' of Western culture since it first appeared.

Many thinkers have read, and been affected by The Ego and Its Own in their youth including Rudolf Steiner, Gustav Landauer, Carl Schmitt and Jürgen Habermas. But few openly admit any influence on their own thinking. Ernst Jünger's book Eumeswil, had the character of the "Anarch", based on Stirner's "Einzige."

Several other authors, philosophers and artists have cited, quoted or otherwise referred to Max Stirner. They include Albert Camus (In The Rebel), Benjamin Tucker, Dora Marsden, Georg Brandes, Rudolf Steiner, Robert Anton Wilson, Italian individualist anarchist Frank Brand, the notorious antiartist Marcel Duchamp, several writers of the situationist movement, and Max Ernst, who titled a 1925 painting L'unique et sa propriété. The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini read and was inspired by Stirner, and made several references to him in his newspaper articles, prior to rising to power.

Since its appearance in 1844, The Ego and Its Own has seen periodic revivals of popular, political and academic interest, based around widely divergent translations and interpretations — some psychological, others political in their emphasis. Today, many ideas associated with post-left anarchy criticism of ideology and uncompromising individualism - are clearly related to Stirner's. He has also been regarded as pioneering individualist feminism, since his objection to any absolute concept also clearly counts gender roles as 'spooks'. His ideas were also adopted by post-anarchism, with Saul Newman largely in agreement with many of Stirner's criticisms of classical anarchism, including his rejection of revolution and essentialism.

Marx and Engels

Engels commented on Stirner in poetry at the time of Die Freien:

Look at Stirner, look at him, the peaceful enemy of
all constraint.
For the moment, he is still drinking beer, soon he
will be drinking blood as though it were water.
When others cry savagely "down with the kings"
Stirner immediately supplements "down with the
laws also."
Stirner full of dignity proclaims; you bend your will
power and you dare to call yourselves free.
You become accustomed to slavery
Down with dogmatism, down with law."[7]

He once even recalled at how they were "great friends (Duzbrüder)".[8] In November 1844, Engels wrote a letter to Marx. He reported first on a visit to Moses Hess in Cologne, and then went on to note that during this visit Hess had given him a press copy of a new book by Max Stirner, Der Einzige und Sein Eigenthum.In his letter to Marx, Engels promised to send a copy of Der Einzige to him, for it certainly deserved their attention, as Stirner: "had obviously, among the 'Free Ones', the most talent, independence and diligence".[9] To begin with Engels was enthusiastic about the book, and expressed his opinions freely in letters to Marx:

But what is true in his principle, we, too, must accept. And what is true is that before we can be active in any cause we must make it our own, egoistic cause-and that in this sense, quite aside from any material expectations, we are communists in virtue of our egoism, that out of egoism we want to be human beings and not merely individuals."[10]

Later, Marx wrote a major criticism of Stirner's Work, co-authored with Engels, the number of pages Marx and Engels devote to attacking Stirner in (the unexpurgated text of) The German Ideology exceeds the total of Stirner's written works. As Isaiah Berlin has described it, Stirner "is pursued through five hundred pages of heavy-handed mockery and insult".[11] The book was written in 1845 - 1846, but not published until 1932. Marx's lengthy, ferocious polemic against Stirner has since been considered an important turning point in Marx's intellectual development from "idealism" to "materialism".

Stirner and post-structuralism

Saul Newman calls Stirner a proto-poststructuralist who on the one hand basically anticipated modern post-structuralists such as Foucault, Lacan, Deleuze, and Derrida, but on the other had already transcended them, thus providing what they were unable to: paving the ground for a "Non-Essentialist" critique of present liberal capitalist society. However, Stirner might have disagreed with the poststructuralist idea that as a product of systems, the self is a determination of external factors. For Stirner, the self cannot be a mere product of systems. There remains, for Stirner, a place deep within the self which language cannot explain and that social systems cannot destroy.

The Nietzsche Dispute

It has been argued that Nietzsche did read Stirner's book, yet even he did not mention Stirner anywhere in his work, his letters, or his papers [2]. As Nietzsche studied Friedrich Albert Lange's history of Materialism, where Stirner is mentioned in comparison to Schopenhauer, it is likely that he was at least aware of Stirner. One of Nietzsche's Biographers, Rudiger Safranski, states that Nietzsche had one of his students at Basel borrow Stirner's books from the University Library in 1874, and spoke favorably of them to the student and acquaintances afterwards.[12] Nietzsche's thinking sometimes resembles Stirner's to such a degree that Eduard von Hartmann called him a plagiarist. This seems too simple an explanation of what Nietzsche might have done with Stirner's ideas, if he was aware of them. Stirner's book had been in oblivion for half a century, and only after Nietzsche became well-known in the 1890s did Stirner become more well-known, although only as an awkward predecessor of Nietzsche. It has been suggested that Nietzsche - as with Marx's concept of historical materialism in 1845/46 - did not really plagiarize Stirner but instead "superseded" him by creating a philosophy.

Comments by Contemporaries

Twenty years after the appearance of Stirner's book, the author Friedrich Albert Lange wrote the following:

Stirner went so far in his notorious work, 'Der Einzige und Sein Eigenthum' (1845), as to reject all moral ideas. Everything that in any way, whether it be external force, belief, or mere idea, places itself above the individual and his caprice, Stirner rejects as a hateful limitation of himself. What a pity that to this book — the extremest that we know anywhere — a second positive part was not added. It would have been easier than in the case of Schelling's philosophy; for out of the unlimited Ego I can again beget every kind of Idealism as my will and my idea. Stirner lays so much stress upon the will, in fact, that it appears as the root force of human nature. It may remind us of Schopenhauer

History of Materialism, ii. 256


  1. The Encyclopedia of Philsosophy, volume 8, The Macmillan Company and The Free Press, New York 1967.
  2. Max Stirner: His Work and Life p.28
  3. Max Stirner: His Work and Life p.37
  4. The Encyclopedia of Philsosophy, volume 8, The Macmillan Company and The Free Press, New York 1967.
  5. Lawrence L Stepelevich, The revival of Max Stirner
  6. Gide Charles & Rist, Charles. A History of Economic Doctrines from the Time of the Physiocrats to the Present Day. Harrap 1956, p. 612 "Max Stirner, who was one of the most faithful members and a most attentive listener, although it does not seem that he contributed much to the discussion..."
  7. Henri Arvon, Aux sources de 1'existentialisme Max Stirner (Paris, 1954), p. 14
  8. Lawrence L Stepelevich, The revival of Max Stirner
  9. Lawrence L Stepelevich, The revival of Max Stirner
  10. Zwischen 18 and 25, pp. 237-238.
  11. I. Berlin, Karl Marx (New York, 1963), 143.
  12. Safranski, Rudiger. Nietzsche: a Philosophical Biography Granta Books, New York (2002), p.126-7.


Works by Stirner
  • Stirner, Max: Der Einzige und sein Eigentum (1845 [October 1844]). Stuttgart: Reclam-Verlag, 1972ff; engl. trans. The Ego and Its Own (1907), ed. David Leopold, Cambridge/ New York: CUP 1995
  • St[irner], M[ax]: "Recensenten Stirners" (Sept. 1845). In: Parerga, Kritiken, Repliken, Bernd A. Laska, ed., Nürnberg: LSR-Verlag, 1986; engl. trans. Stirner's Critics (abridged), see below
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