Category Archives: Jason McQuinn

John Clark’s Stirner: A critical review of Max Stirner’s Egoism (Part 1)

Review by Jason McQuinn

Max Stirner’s Egoism by John P. Clark (Freedom Press, London, 1976) 111 pages, $11.95 paper.

By now a whole generation of radicals, philosophers and casual readers has received at least part (and too often all) of its introduction to the startling vision of Max Stirner’s Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum through John Clark’s blindered eyes. Why is this? Clark’s slim book, Max Stirner’s Egoism(1), seems to have remained continuously in print since its publication by Freedom Press in 1976. It’s also written in a straightforward and fairly simple style, with at least a superficial tone of scholarly neutrality. As such, unlike most of the rest of the extensive secondary literature on Stirner, it has been both more easily available and significantly more accessible, especially to Stirner’s primary English-language readers amongst the broad libertarian milieu. Unfortunately, this has been no boon for those readers.

I first read Max Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own in 1971. I came to the book with few preconceptions. I had little knowledge of G.W.F. Hegel’s formidable philosophy, nor of the post-Hegelian milieu within which Stirner’s work gestated before appearing in the latter half of 1844.(2) But I did have the good fortune of familiarity with Paul Goodman’s implicitly phenomenological anarchism and the work of the early Gestalt therapists(3), as well as that of the Gestalt psychologists(4), along with the more phenomenological and dialectical of the Eastern philosophical traditions like Taoism, Chan and Zen Buddhism. Undoubtedly, this background greatly facilitated my sympathetic reading and intuitive understanding of Stirner’s text from another, quite different, time and place. What was then quite obvious to me in my initial reading of Stirner was, however, rather obviously – and apparently remains – opaque and obscure to those like John Clark who seem to have neither a familiarity with Hegelian philosophy in general nor an understanding of Hegel’s phenomenology in particular. Yet Hegel’s philosophy and, most importantly, his phenomenology are certainly crucial parts of the fertile ground from which Stirner’s insights spring. Without any understanding of this grounding his work can easily appear empty, abstract and incoherent, unless the reader is prepared in some other way – as was I – to appreciate its meaning.

Undoubtedly, there were many more readers of his work who would have been intellectually (and emotionally) prepared and ready to understand and assimilate Stirner’s uniquely profound insights at the time of its original publication than in the 165 years since that time. Then Hegel’s work was extremely well known and the post-Hegelian critics (including Stirner) were scandalously fashionable, while an increasing radicalism within philosophy (as well as in society) was in the air during the Vormärz years.(5) However, unfortunately, there was not enough time for much to be written and published on Stirner’s text before the revolutionary events of 1848, and especially the long reaction, resulted in the suppression and near disappearance of all public discussion until after Stirner was dead. All that is left now from that time are the criticisms from a few of Stirner’s major colleagues and adversaries (like Ludwig Feuerbach, Szeliga, Moses Hess, Bruno Bauer and Karl Marx), along with Stirner’s own lucid (but usually ignored) defense against the first three of these published criticisms, appearing in Wigands Vierteljahrsschrift as “Stirner’s Critics” (“Recensenten Stirners”) in September, 1845. (Unfortunately, Stirner never had a chance to see and dispense with the criticism from Marx and Engels in their sophomoric Die Deutsche Ideologie.(6))

The first great revival of Max Stirner’s work occurred in the midst of the growing popularity of Friedrich Nietzsche at the end of the 19th century, a time during which Stirner’s meager biography also appeared through the work of the poet John Henry Mackay. This resulted in the accelerated republication – and multiple translations – of Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum, along with the appearance of new commentaries on the text and comparisons with Nietzsche’s philosophy (with inevitable suggestions of Nietzsche’s likely plagiarism for reasons quite obvious to anyone familiar with both writers’ works). Unfortunately, this also resulted in tendencies to interpret Stirner’s work in terms derived from then contemporary understandings of Nietzsche’s work. However, then as now, interpreting Stirner in terms of anyone else’s work is always dangerous given the frequent antipathy with which it has been received by philosophers and scholars. With Nietzsche, as with most others who have encountered Stirner’s Einzige, the primary result of this contact was a desire to escape the implications of Stirner’s complete rejection of religion and philosophy, not any desire to embrace and take Stirner’s method and intent forward in any way.
The second revival of Stirner, still ongoing and beginning to gather more steam, began in the post World War II breakdown (and recomposition) of modernism with the growth and culmination of hyperindustrialism in the spectacular consumer capitalism of the latter half of the 20th century. By the mid-twentieth century all the alienating social forces which had helped lead to the creation of Stirner’s ingenious libertarian anti-philosophy a century before had become much more powerful and much more threatening, both for individuals and for the intersubjective and natural worlds in which we all live. As (mostly ineffective) attempts at resistance to these social forces(7) have multiplied and proliferated it was probably inevitable that an increasing number of aspiring rebels would eventually find Stirner’s work. With the decline and fall of Marxism as a socio-religious force leftist illusions no longer monopolize and recuperate their attentions. We can fully expect that Stirner’s insurrectionary egoism will become much more influential (and effective) worldwide as the early twenty-first century matures and the American empire crumbles to dust.

Mention of Stirner in most quarters these days is still greeted with disdainful bile whenever the almost inevitable attempts at evasion of discussion are unsuccessful. Among philosophers and social theorists (whose jobs largely depend upon their abilities to rationalize the institutions of enslavement and the self-alienation which greases their wheels) Stirner is demonized as a nihilist and anarchist with nothing to contribute to the advancement of philosophy, morality, civilization and empire (exactly!) – and who must therefore (by their alienating logic) be in favor of social isolation, anomie, immorality, random violence, terrorism and chaos at best. Among wanna-be leftist radicals and revolutionaries (whose confused identities depend upon their abilities to recuperate any genuine revolt back into reformed versions of those same institutions of enslavement) Stirner is held in even deeper contempt as the epitome of anarchism – the theorist of a mindless egoism of the masses which will short-circuit any attempts to mold them into the fodder of socio-political change engineered by the party under the leadership of the correct ideology of the day. And among most anarchists (currently nearly as confused, divided and demoralized as the explicitly political left, but not quite as efficient at recuperation, since it’s harder for anarchists to rationalize the moral importance of self-enslavement) Stirner is greeted with a special degree of hatred as the black sheep of an already marginalized family, who must be suppressed, disappeared or at least highly sanitized in order to prevent its even greater marginalization from the centers of political, economic and ideological legitimacy.

However, within this pregnant situation it has become clear that simple denunciations and ritual accusations (such as “petty bourgeois,” “individualist,” “fascist,” “heretic,” “traitor,” etc.) no longer work as well as they once did for Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao (or even an anarcho-commissar like Murray Bookchin) and their ilk. Nor, in an era of cell phones, internet connections and worldwide web communications, can the evasion and suppression of Stirner’s work conceivably continue much longer as an effective tactic … even in China. This leaves the (largely intentional) ideological mystifications and falsifications of Stirner’s work as the major remaining roadblock to an increasingly widespread and generalized understanding of Stirner’s subversive message(s). Which is where the inertial power of ideological texts like John Clark’s Max Stirner’s Egoism gain a strategic importance for those who maintain any interest in continuing Stirner’s heretofore effective quarantine from otherwise impressionable minds. Thus the relevance of examining these texts and exposing once and for all their real importance and effects. I begin with Clark’s book because it is almost single-handedly responsible for the (semi-effective) marginalization of Stirner’s work within the English-language anarchist milieu.(8) Without Clark’s book to fall back on as an at least apparently legitimate philosophical justification for ignoring Stirner there would be no other effective contemporary left-anarchist critique.(9) Nor, if Clark’s meager arguments are demolished, would there likely be anyone else creative enough to invent any new critique with any power.

Therefore, this will be the beginning of a series of critical reviews of the most important anti-Stirner ideological texts. I’ll probably continue in the future with an examination of R.W.K. Paterson’s bizarre, but readable and still somewhat influential, denunciation of Stirner in The Nihilist Egoist: Max Stirner. (1971) And, if I can force myself to look over the entire text of Karl Marx’s unabridged The German Ideology (1932) in detail, I’ll attack the task of demolishing that distasteful piece of unsuccessful agitprop. Not because anyone actually reads it (that is, the largest part of it dealing with Stirner), but simply because Stirner’s opponents (for one example, John Clark) continue to selectively recount or quote some of the few semi-plausible criticisms an immature, mostly clueless and semi-hysterical Marx could mobilize in this unreadable diatribe.

Aside from these few major critical commentaries (whose aim is clearly and universally dismissal of Stirner’s work) available in the English language, there have been hundreds of short commentaries, polemical essays, ideological diatribes and significant mentions of Stirner’s work in the secondary and tertiary literature.(10) Most notably contributing to the current revival of Stirner’s critiques – besides the multiple English-language editions of The Ego and Its Own now available – are the excellent essays of Lawrence Stepelevich like “Max Stirner as Hegelian”(11) and “Hegel and Stirner: Thesis and Antithesis,” Stepelevich’s collection, The Young Hegelians: An Anthology (1983), the Non-Serviam web site                    ( ), Bernd Laska’s amazing journal, Stirner Studieren (especially useful given his many English translations available on the web site ), and Douglas Moggach’s anthology titled The New Hegelians: Politics and Philosophy in the Hegelian School (2006), among others. I also intend to write an extended survey of the secondary and tertiary literature available in English in the future, where there are a great variety of viewpoints expressed, and much that can be learned.

John Clark’s ideology of the ego

The primary criticism of Max Stirner’s Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum made by philosophers, social theorists and, especially, leftists of every type is based on an alleged unsuitability of Stirner’s concept of the ego to occupy the center of his critiques. This has to be the first place to start to make any sense of the otherwise amazingly incoherent critical literature. The simple central strategy attempted, from Stirner’s original contemporary critics on to the present day, is to more or less openly switch some foreshortened concept of an ego in one form or another for the actual center of Stirner’s anti-philosophy, the incomparable, inconceivable Einzige. I can’t speak directly about all the German-language critics of the original German text, nor of all the critics using other languages than German or English. But it is clear that at least in the English-language literature (including all the available translations into English from other languages that I’ve encountered) this is universal. There may be some hedging, and sometimes a little concession to Stirner’s actual words pointing to der Einzige for some marginal purpose, but when any actual arguments are rolled out that are supposed to do damage to his project, they inevitably involve the shortcomings of various concepts of a generic ego, none of which Stirner ever actually employs. This is also where John Clark begins.

Of course, there has to be at least some tiny shred of seeming plausibility to this kind of blatant falsification of Stirner’s position in order for it to have been used as an effective strategy for so long. Any such minimal plausibility is primarily provided by (1) the centrality of egoism to Stirner’s own critiques and (2) the English-language title of the book, The Ego and Its Own.

The usually implicit argument of his critics is then that, if Stirner is an unrelenting egoist, he has to be proposing a philosophy of the ego, despite the lack of any textual evidence and despite the many protestations to the contrary he may make. Since Stirner actually never speaks about an “ego” using that particular word (the originally Latin “ego” is also used in German – just as in English, but it doesn’t appear once in Stirner’s text), the use of “ego” to describe Stirner’s position would seem to require at least some explanation. However, for any explanation of why Clark insists that Stirner is a philosopher of a generic ego, the reader will look in vain. It may then be argued that Stirner does speak of the ego by speaking of “I” and “the I” (translated from his use of the German “Ich” and “das Ich,” “dem Ich” or “des Ichs” throughout his text), assuming that one understands “ego” to always mean only “I,” as it originally did when introduced from the Latin into both English and German discourse. However, this would really be plausible only if Stirner were to speak extensively of “das Ich,” “dem Ich” and “des Ichs” in the presentation of his position, unless we are prepared to extend this sort of speculative, implicit argument to any and every philosopher or critic who has ever used the first person singular in her or his expositions. In fact, Stirner does refer to “das Ich” ( or “dem Ich” or “des Ichs”) a number of times in his text, however, when he does so he is most often saying “which I …” rather than “the I,” and in the few times Stirner actually does clearly use “das Ich” (or other similar constructions) to refer to “the I,” he is referring to it as a concept of the ego as abstraction toward which he is explicitly critical. Stirner goes to great lengths to make a very emphatic, consistent and clear distinction between “the I” (or ego) considered as a concept about which he is not speaking, and “der Einzige,” the nonconceptual actuality which is at the center of his critique. Stirner was well schooled in the Hegelian notion of determinate versus abstract concepts, and anyone who takes the time to actually read what he has written can see that Stirner is completely uninterested in the idea of an indeterminate, abstract “I” like that – as he mentions more than once – of the German philosopher Johann Gottleib Fichte.

In addition, readers should all be made aware that the English-language title of the book is not in any way a faithful reflection of its original German title. The actual title is, of course, Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum, which is much more accurately translated into English as “The Unique One and Its Property.” No mention of an ego there. Whereas “der Einzige,” or “the unique one,” is the center of Stirner’s critique. Inevitable reader confusion can only be prevented by a conscientious description of this problem. Any serious, competent commentary on Stirner’s English-language translation would have to mention this prominently. Conversely, any commentary, like Clark’s, which doesn’t mention this perpetrates a false image of Stirner’s text and there can be no excuse for this. Even worse is the deliberate conflation of “the ego” with the “der Einzige,” which has been both the prevalent historical practice of Stirner’s critics, as well as Clark’s central ideological modus operandi. This would be equivalent to (for one very comparable example) an author of a major commentary on Heidegger referring to every mention of “Dasein” (one of his central concepts, literally translated as “being there”) in the original text of Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) as simply “the ego,” which would be made that much worse if a major English translation were produced which also occasionally substituted “the ego” for “Dasein,” at the same time that its publisher arbitrarily decided to change the title translation to “Ego and Time.” In the case of Heidegger these actions would justly be called either an incompetent or fraudulent mistranslation and misreading. In the case of Stirner it is no less so. From this day on I challenge John Clark or anyone else to attempt to honestly and rationally justify this conflation of der Einzige with “the ego” before uttering such nonsense ever again. It cannot be done. This fraudulent conflation must stop.

The ego that Clark attributes to Stirner is, thus, really Clark’s ego. The fetish for this ego is entirely Clark’s fetish. The ideological conception of the ego of which Clark continually speaks is derived directly from Clark’s own ideology of the ego. Stirner never mentions any sort of generic ego in any positive light in his entire substantial text. Yet Clark alleges (explicitly or implicitly) that he does so literally hundreds of times in his relatively short text by constantly referring to “ego” on almost every page, sometimes a dozen or more times per page, as if it is the subject about which Stirner has actually written. To make this all even worse, despite the fact that Clark, from the very beginning of his book, alleges that Stirner is a philosopher of an ego – an ego which Stirner never actually anywhere advocates – Clark doesn’t even attempt to describe what this indeterminate, abstract concept of ego is supposed to be until well into the book. As, once again for example, with Heidegger, it would be incompetent or fraudulent to simply substitute “ego” for “Dasein” as if it was unproblematically what Heidegger meant by this term. But it would be even worse to, in addition, not specify what this “ego” even was until well into the text! And what complicates this type of extremely problematic approach even more, and what is left entirely unmentioned in Clark’s text are the additional confusions attendant upon the English translations of the works of Sigmund Freud, which have resulted in sowing even more misunderstandings about the possible meaning of “the ego” for Stirner. It reflects even further incompetence to refrain from mentioning that Max Stirner wrote well before Freud was ever born, and that Stirner’s texts should be properly read with exactly zero psychoanalytic overtones of meaning added to the (already entirely misleading) references to “ego” made by Clark. It is not uncommon for naive readers(12) to read Stirner as if his supposed “ego” concept is derived at least in part from Freud. No competent commentary on Stirner should allow this to go unchallenged.

Max Stirner as bogeyman

If no concept of the ego of any sort is at the center of Stirner’s anti-philosophy, then what is it that is at the center? What actually is der Einzige? What is it that Stirner’s critics do not want us to understand? And why are they so afraid of it?

John Clark mentions “der Einzige” exactly once in Max Stirner’s Egoism. And even there he does not explain that it can be translated into English as “the unique one,” and not as anything resembling “the ego.” Clark does occasionally refer to “the unique” or “the unique one” in a few other places in his text. But he never actually explains to readers that there is a connection between the title of Stirner’s text and this nonconceptual phenomenon. Once again we have to ask, as with the investigation of any other major philosophical text, what the proper attitude and procedure would be to begin to genuinely understand a central figure, around which that text is carefully constructed? Would we first jump to a conclusion, as in a hasty decision that again, for example, Heidegger’s “Dasein” isn’t all that important as a designation for what, after all, is just another “ego,” close enough to any other ego-concept in any other context that we don’t need any special word for it, despite whatever a philosopher like Heidegger might have to say about it? Of course not. We would instead carefully examine every use of “Dasein,” paying special attention to its employment in various contexts. We would look to all of Heidegger’s hints about where his creation and construction of the figure of Dasein had its roots. We would look at Heidegger’s past experiences, especially checking on what he had read, with whom he’d spoken, and possibly most importantly under whom he’d studied as a student. With Stirner we could not do less.

Why is it then that a long line of would-be critics of Stirner have not felt that any of this had any importance in his case? Why have Stirner’s critics been so universally impatient to reduce Stirner’s Einzige to their own quite different (and easily disposed of) concepts of “the ego.” We can point to several factors which contribute to the near-universal tendency of Stirner’s critics to simply ignore what he has actually said and done in his writing. In each case these critics construct (often bizarre) critiques of what are largely their own seemingly arbitrary speculations and fantasies about what they apparently believe Stirner should have said. Any careful survey of the massive amounts of critical secondary and tertiary literature around Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own will frequently find that the range of responses often tells us more about each of the critics themselves than about Stirner’s work. Stirner’s text has, in effect, been a Rorschach test for philosophers. And John Clark is, unfortunately, a rather typical example of this phenomenon.

First, there is the matter of Stirner’s informal, very accomplished, often humorous and witty style and tone, which can encourage naive readers to mistake the content of his major text as light reading or as a patchwork of rather aimless remarks, rather than as an elegantly expressed, highly complex and intricately interwoven tapestry which effortlessly subverts and overturns most of the major conventions of philosophy. As one of the most perceptive commentators on Stirner’s work, Lawrence Stepelevich, notes:

“[his] lesser writings reflect Stirner’s stylistic élan, an ease of expression seldom encountered in philosophic literature. The earliest remark upon his style, made by Marx’s one-time friend, Arnold Ruge, was that Stirner was responsible for ‘the first readable book in philosophy that Germany has produced.’ This early praise of Stirner’s skill has found its most recent echo in the words of R.W.K. Paterson: ‘Der Einzige is compulsively readable…. His style, direct, vivid, and economical, has a terseness and candour which cuts like a new knife through the turgid and obscure verbosities which characterized so much of the writing of his neo-Hegelian predecessors.”(13)

And, although most readers might see such “stylistic élan” as a boon, this would not likely be the response of Stirner’s critics. Rather, this would easily tend to be seen as an insulting challenge to the all but unreadable pretensions of the serious professors of theology and philosophy and political economy whose magnificently abstract theories and absurd pet fetishes alike were so swiftly, unceremoniously and elegantly dispatched by Stirner to oblivion.

Secondly, the extremely subversive content of Stirner’s critique simply has no peer in the history of philosophical critique. Instead, it approaches and often surpasses the intensity and scope of historical religious heresies which so often resulted in gruesome torture, executions or genocidal massacres for their proponents. When such heretical content is wedded to ease of expression, irrefutable logic, and the frequent use of ridicule and parody, it cannot but have alarmed, and more often been perceived as an existential threat by upholders of the Western philosophical tradition. Is it any wonder that, for one example, the other major English-language commentator on Stirner, R.W.K. Paterson, so frequently refers to Stirner with obvious revulsion in a wide array of distasteful terms, culminating in a revealing passage:

“To the religious believer, … Stirner’s account ought to shed a grim light on the nature and implications of ‘sin’, conceived as estrangement from God, from the ground and goal of our being; for in his proud self-sufficiency, the Unique One is the archetype of the sinful individual.
… to live as a truly radical atheist is to live the life of the nihilistic egoist, to live in deliberately chosen estrangement from God and man. In The Unique One Stirner has attempted to describe someone who has unflinchingly chosen to live in this desolate dimension of total estrangement.”(14)

However, far beyond these challenges of “stylistic élan” and extremely subversive or heretical content is the third, most threatening of Stirner’s challenges to every theology, philosophy and ideology of past, present and future civilizations. And this may, I believe, be seen as the central or key reason why Stirner is so uniformly misrepresented, maligned, and denounced by his critics. Stirner’s text can be read first and foremost as an immediately personal provocation, as a once and future ad hominem argument aimed at each individual’s self-alienations and directed toward each and every reader perceptive enough to understand to even a small degree what unrepentent mischief he is up to (though this is at the same time precisely not an argument ad unicem, not aimed at anyone as a unique, particular individual). When Stirner says things like “Man, your head is haunted; you have wheels in your head!” he is issuing a personal slap in the face to every theologian, philosopher and ideologist who reads his words. And, for any perceptive reader, his text is full of these ad hominem challenges, challenges which attack not the unique individual, but every fixed (false) identification that the reader brings with her or himself to his or her reading of Stirner’s words. It would not be unique in itself to see forceful, well-conceived, highly-irritating challenges to particular theological, philosophical or ideological systems. What results in Stirner’s position being so frequently denounced from every side is the unprecedented simplicity and scope of his critique – of every position not his own, but also even including his own if it were to ever become fixed or threaten to escape his powers to continually consume and destroy it.

As a result of these three, together very powerful, reasons for a near universal hostility to Stirner’s critique, we should not be surprised that he is persona non grata in the polite, civilized company of believers in gods, metaphysics, and social or political causes alike. We should not be surprised that for most of his critics Stirner is the ultimate bogeyman. Stirner’s Einzige is quickly identified with the devil of each of their sacred systems of reified thought, a devil whose unique, individual determinants are defined by each system according to its own standards of good and ultimate evil.

John Clark’s Rorschach test

John Clark wasn’t forced to write Max Stirner’s Egoism. One might assume from the information he reveals in his text(15) that he did so in order to at least partially settle a score with his old “individualist” self once he had acquired a new ideological identity as a “social anarchist.” We can assume from his own words that Clark at one time considered Stirner’s text to have something important in common with his previous individualism, whatever form that might have taken. In choosing to write a thesis (which resulted in his book) on Max Stirner, we can guess that Clark felt some need to overcome the influence it once had for either himself, or at least for some of those like himself who found confirmation for their individualism (now rejected by Clark) in Stirner’s book (if not, as we have already seen, in Stirner’s actual ideas). Here we have the likely original source of Clark’s personal motive for conflating Max Stirner’s entirely unique anti-philosophy of the particular concrete individual, der Einzige, with generic philosophies and ideologies of the individual or the ego. One might suppose that Clark was never all that interested in actually discovering the details and coherence of what Stirner had to say simply because, by the time Clark began writing about The Ego and Its Own, for him Stirner was already only one example among others of a general phenomenon that could be adequately treated as such. Only specific details would need to be adapted to account for Stirner’s excessive idiosyncracies and peculiarities, details which would make a thesis, and eventually a book, on Stirner a more significant project than one more ideological denunciation of a generic individualism and egoism already unfashionable in the academia he inhabited.

But Clark highly underestimated Stirner. So much so that Clark’s (thin) book-length attack on Stirner will only be really convincing to those who know little or nothing significant about Stirner’s actual text. This is partly because, not only does Clark substitute a generic concept of ego for Stirner’s Einzige, but every one of Clark’s major arguments against Stirner is obviously false if it is investigated to any significant extent. I don’t have the time or space to go into this in detail here, but I will do so elsewhere, in a longer and more complete version of this review, in the near future.(16) Part, but only part, of the reason why Clark is unable to pin down and successfully criticize Stirner’s arguments is that he himself has almost no understanding of what Stirner is doing, since Stirner is not in any way a philosopher who can be classed with any other historical “egoist” or “individualist” philosopher for purposes of understanding and criticizing his work. Clark simply hasn’t done the legwork necessary to tackle Stirner as a world-historical thinker. (This legwork would have to include, at a minimum, at least a brief investigation of the history of philosophy, along with an in-depth survey of German philosophy prior to Stirner’s writing. Clark evidences neither.) Another part of this reason is that Clark’s antagonisms toward egoism and individualism in general and Stirner in particular have left him blinded to the huge deficits of his own self-defined “social-anarchist” position, dependent as it is on naively unquestioned, naturalistic and metaphysically holistic ideological pillars. And a third part of this reason is that Clark spends almost all of his time simply sparring with himself, examining and attacking what are apparently versions of his own former positions in a game of solitaire in which Stirner’s text serves as a sort of pre-interpreted ideological foil (with no meaning of its own ever to be allowed), while Stirner himself serves as little more than an abstract place-marker for the generic “individualist” and “egoist.”

One by one, Clark goes after this place-marker with standardized, mechanical criticisms. One by one, Clark vastly misinterprets Stirner’s text, defeats his enemy only in his own mind, and moves on to the next distasteful task he has set himself in slaying his own past. Clark argues, amongst other ultimately indefensible points, that Stirner’s Einzige is no more than a generic ego (throughout the book); that Stirner metaphysically prioritizes the ego (p.15); that Stirner is not quite a “solipsist” (p.20); that Stirner “seems to revert to a Platonic psychology” (p.24); that Stirner “fails to give sufficient grounds” for his nominalism (p.27); that Stirner “accepts a kind of determinism” (p.28); that Stirner “seems to go beyond determinism to a sort of fatalism” (p.28); that “although [Stirner] … says that truth is subjectivity, what he means is that he thinks that subjectivity is more important than truth (p.30); that “as in other forms of mysticism, the Absolute is held to be beyond thought … The ego itself is the mystical absolute” (p.31); that Stirner “raises the ego to an independent reality contrary to its objective place in the course of nature” (pp.31-32); that what Stirner “means is not that others are merely objects of the ego, but that the ego should treat them as if they were” (p.33); that Stirner “does accept the independent [I read this as: naturalistic] existence of the external world” (p.34); that Stirner is a (self-contradictory) “psychological egoist” (chapter II); that Stirner is a (self-contradictory) “ethical egoist” (chapter III); that “Stirner’s error is his excessive faith in the benefits of universal self-interest” (p. 57); that Stirner “apparently shared some of [Adam Smith’s] presuppositions” [certainly, many fewer than Clark does] (p.57); that possibly “Stirner’s thought is the application of the underlying assumptions of capitalist economics to every area of human existence, and that his philosophy is the reductio ad absurdum of classical capitalism” (p.58); that “all one does is ultimately for the sake of the ego” (p.64); that Stirner’s “position … means that one cannot allow oneself to become deeply involved with either persons or things” (p.68); that Stirner “seems to have a preconceived idea of what an unprejudiced decision must be” (p.69); etc.

In addition, Clark frequently mentions and/or quotes others equally incomprehending of Stirner’s positions approvingly, including Feuerbach’s unsuccessful argument that Stirner’s “uniqueness” is “religious” and “a clear falsification of reality” [even the post-Hegelians couldn’t swallow this] (p.21); that there is a “close relation between an egoism like Stirner’s and an atomistic conception of the self” (p.21); that Herbert Read “admits that Marx was correct in his criticism and that ‘the unique one’ is a philosphical abstraction…” (p.22); that Eduard von Hartmann is correct to suggest that “Stirner attempts to put the ego in the position of an absolute” (p.28); that Shaw is correct to say “that Stirner would like to be a solipsist but is forced to reluctantly admit the existence of the world” (p.34); etc.

Clark is, at best, like one of the blind men and the elephant. He has a tenuous hold on one certain little part of Stirner’s critique, an undefined “egoism,” from which he attempts to deduce the whole of his thought and – more fundamentally – his attitude towards thought, despite the fact that he cannot even figure out what that “egoism” actually is! Clark’s monologue is pathetic as philosophy and even more wretched as critique.

  1.  The edition I read at that time was published by Dover and titled The Ego and His Own. The title of more recent editions has changed to a more accurate gender neutrality. Stirner’s “I” is not a gendered “I,” since its gender is not given, but constructed. The original German title was Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum, however the standard German spelling of the latter word has changed in the last century and a half (apparently sometime around 1900) to “Eigentum.”
  2. The publication date was 1845, but the book apparently appeared some time in the summer or fall of 1844, and had already been read by Friedrich Engels before December of that year, when he wrote about it to Karl Marx.
  3. See, for example, Frederick Perls, Paul Goodman and Ralph Hefferline’s groundbreaking text, Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality. (1951) The seminal theoretical portion of the book was written by Goodman, whose phenomenological anarchist attitude appears throughout his wide-ranging works. See also Frederick and Laura Perls’ earlier important text, Ego, Hunger and Aggression. (1947) This book seems almost always to be attributed solely to Frederick Perls, but it has been argued that Laura was just as much its author.
  4. See the work of Kurt Koffka, Wolfgang Köhler, Max Wertheimer and Kurt Lewin. Especially interesting are parts of Lewin’s Principles of Topological Psychology. (1936)
  5. The years before the March 1848 revolution in Germany, which in turn was part of the more generalized European upheavals at that time.
  6. According to Lawrence Stepelevich, even Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ extremely sympathetic biographer Franz Mehring, called their long-unpublished Die Deutsche Ideologie “an oddly schoolboyish polemic.” (“Feuerbach and the Young Hegelians,” published in Simon Critchley, A Companion to Continental Philosophy, p. 112.)
  7. These “social forces” are actually constellations of concrete decisions of individual women and men in their everyday lives to live in various forms of institutionalized enslavement. For Stirner the idea of society is one of the more obviously imaginary and ghostlike of the abstract rationalizations (reifications) though which people justify the self-alienation of their activities.
  8. Originally, when John Clark’s book first appeared in the late 1970s, I thought I would be able to talk to the author and help him understand the fundamental errors of his perspective on Stirner. In fact, I did get to meet him briefly in 1981 at an anarchist conference reception in Montréal, during which I was able to ask to speak to him about my phenomenological interpretation of Stirner’s work. However, he responded only that he was “finished” with Stirner and didn’t want to speak to me about either Stirner or his own book. Since that time I have brought up the subject a total of about three more times, as I recall. So far as I can tell, Clark has never changed his attitude. After my original lack of success with Clark, I planned to eventually travel to Berlin for a year in order to do some intense research and write a definitive book on the many misinterpretations of Stirner. However, almost thirty years later that has yet to happen, though I still plan to do this. In the meantime, many other projects and life changes intervened, including my editing and production of Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed for 25 years, and my editing and production of Alternative Press Review for many years as well. I ended up publishing a handful of intelligent, witty, often humorous, and always well-written pieces by John Clark in these magazines and consider John to be a friend (or, at least, a friendly acquaintance). However, I have decided at this point that my silence regarding his abominable Max Stirner’s Egoism has lasted much too long already. I won’t be surprised if John decides that I have crossed the line and made myself his enemy, but I hope instead that he understands the opportunity this review will open up for further understanding regarding Stirner for many, many people who otherwise might never realize what he has to say to us today.
  9. Although I’ve been considering doing this book review for years, my decision to proceed with it at this particular time was actually prompted by two recent events. The first was my recent failed attempt to elicit some real dialogue on Stirner with a prominent left anarchist and anthropologist, Brian Morris, whose fall-back position was to throw out-of-context Stirner quotes my way, while refusing to engage with me in any genuine way and, instead, referring to Clark’s book as if Clark was an authority on Stirner! This got me thinking about how much the ideologists of social anarchism rely on (their unreal image of) Clark’s book to repel any temptation to actually engage non-ideological anarchists in dialogue. But the final straw was my even more recent decision to pick up a copy of a fairly new book by Derek Robert Mitchell on Heidegger’s Philosophy and Theories of the Self. I’m not usually very interested in reading about the pretentious existential fascism of Heidegger (especially when it is presented uncritically), but I picked up this book for its unusual method, in part contrasting the positions of Stirner and Heidegger! Of course, I fully expected Stirner to be cast as the evil villain, but I thought a work of philosophy on Heidegger, also including chapters on Descartes, Hume, Kant, Sartre and R.D. Laing might also attempt to take Stirner seriously. However, I was completely surprised by the reversal of roles in which the clueless author cast Stirner as the most extreme of Cartesian dualists, while Heidegger was cast as a sage attempting to overcome the Cartesian tradition! If anything, the two roles should, of course, have been cast the other way, with Heidegger understood more correctly as continuing the Cartesian tradition in ameliorated form after Stirner had already left Cartesianism far behind him. Paterson’s and Clark’s books were cited by the author as “useful in elaborating and extrapolating Stirner’s work.”
  10. Just about every major figure in German philosophy and theology, along with many others throughout Continental European philosophy, and a scattering of those in other areas (most notably in North American and Japanese philosophy) in the last century and a half have been aware of Stirner’s work. Most have assiduously avoided any mention of it in their own work (sometimes – as with Nietzsche, Husserl or Adorno – betrayed by their comments to friends, colleagues or students). Of those who have mentioned him, the dominant theme is his lack of importance except as a footnote indicating the perils of egoism, individualism, nihilism, nominalism, atheism or anarchism (or some other highly unpopular “ism”). Less common, but not uncommon, is a theme of denunciation of Stirner’s alleged depravity, insanity, immorality, etc.
  11. Stepelevich, probably the most perceptive academic writer on Stirner in recent decades, includes a couple of possible put-downs of John Clark’s book on Stirner in this essay. In the first place, in an overview of the current English-language literature on Stirner Stepelevich doesn’t mention Clark’s book at all, while listing the “two major English commentators on Stirner as [R.W.K.] Paterson and David L. McLellan.” In the second place, Stepelevich suggests that “a lack of philosophic interest and insight” is “often evidenced even among ‘professional’ philosophers” (possibly suggesting an intention to include the unreferenced John Clark in this classification).
  12. With the consolidation of the modern mass-misinformation media networks, most English-language readers of Stirner’s book can only be classified as not only philosophically, but also culturally, naive in general. Noting this implies not so much any particular criticism of English-language readers (who are, after all usually far ahead of their television and video-game-limited counterparts in philosophical and cultural knowledge) as a criticism of the entire mass consumer-industrial-dominated culture of the times.
  13. Lawrence S. Stepelevich, “Hegel and Stirner: Thesis and Antithesis.”
  14. R.W.K. Paterson, The Nihilist Egoist: Max Stirner, 1971, pp. 317-318.
  15. “The perspective from which I criticize Stirner is, as will become apparent, a form of social anarchism. While I was once quite sympathetic to individualism, I am now convinced of the inadequacy of that position. Although this discussion deals in particular with Stirner’s own metaphysical and ethical egoism, and the resultant social theory, the points made here have, I believe, considerable relevance to many related forms of individualism and which depend on similar philosophical underpinnings.” (John P. Clark, Max Stirner’s Egoism, 1976, p. 9.)
  16. A longer, more complete version of this review will appear very soon in the upcoming (and long-overdue) C.A.L. Press anthology edited by myself, titled Post-Left Anarchy, to be published as soon as layout is completed.


An Interview with Jason McQuinn (1998)

On September 3, 1998 Mark B. interviewed Jason McQuinn in Columbia, Missouri for his booklet Passionate and Dangerous: Conversations with Midwestern Anti-Authoritarians and Anarchists, which included interviews with people in Chicago, St. Louis, Tennessee, Detroit, Columbia, Missouri and Bloomington, Indiana. A few copies of Passionate and Dangerous are still available directly from CAL Press for $3.00 postpaid in the US or $6.00 postpaid outside of the US.

Mark: You’ve been publishing Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed since 1980.

Jason: Yes.

Mark: What have been your goals in publishing Anarchy?  It started off as a small, sporadic publication. It’s grown quite considerably since 1980.

Jason: Originally, Anarchy was supposed to be a local newsletter, very practically oriented actually, for getting anarchist projects, or anarchist slants on projects distributed in the local Columbia community. Pretty early on it became quite obvious that people outside of Columbia were more interested in the newsletter. So the dynamics  of the newsletter changed to make us feel that a tabloid would be a more practical format, to reach the people we wanted to reach, and to give us the space to have longer articles which people outside Columbia were more interested in, and eventually a magazine format made more sense, because of interest around the world. At this point, hardly any copies are distributed in Columbia.

Mark: This was in spite of the fact that there was an anarchist grocery, an anarchist housing cooperative, Third Avenue.

Jason: We had a pretty tight anarchist community when the newsletter started, but that community has evaporated over the years. The magazine has thrived based on interest in other places. I think there’s only one place in town that distributes the magazine. We get almost no feedback in town. There’s very little interest in the state of Missouri itself. So the magazine is really a means of getting thoughts out to the East and West Coast, England and other places around the world.

Mark: I guess in the Midwest often there’s a lack of activists who are interested in radical ideas.

Jason: A lot of people who become interested in radical ideas and practice tend to move to the East or the West Coast. There are fewer people in the Midwest who are interested in those ideas, perhaps because a lack of exposure but partly because the culture is more conservative. There are a significant number of people who are involved in things, more than people realize. In 1975, there was an anarchist gathering outside of Columbia, and there were about 60 people who came.

Mark: Do you think that so much work was put into the newspaper that not enough time was put into reaching out to the community and getting other people involved?

Jason: We had a lot of projects going at various times, but it all depends on people who are interested in participating in and expanding those projects. When too many people leave and are no longer interested projects can’t be kept going.

Mark: A couple of years ago you started Alternative Press Review. What was your goal behind starting that publication?

Jason: The first issue came out in ’94, so it’s been more than a couple of years. There were three goals. One, the Utne Reader was becoming more and more popular, and it defined itself as “the best of Alternative Press.” Depending on how you define alternative press it could be true or a very big distortion. I found it to be a distortion. You never found anything from the most exciting or most experimental part of the alternative press in the Utne Reader. I wanted to get that part of the alternative press that was getting anarchistic ideas more well known out there. Also, I think it’s important to not just have political magazines out there that are only oriented towards reproducing a particular political ideology, and alienating all the people who are being inundated with that perspective, or only the narrow range of issues seen from that perspective.

Mark: So it’s not out of any fear of the term “anarchy” that you came up with the title.

Jason: It was in order to be able to be more creative, be less exclusive… It’s really not a magazine that focuses on political idea of anarchy, it’s a magazine that tries to encompass a wide range of libertarian ideas and impulses and let people get a taste of different perspectives that they normally wouldn’t come across in a single publication. The third reason that I started Alternative Press Review is that I was becoming a little bored with being limited by the content in Anarchy magazine. I wanted to be able to address wider issues and not have to always do it within the framework of a specifically anarchist magazine.

Mark: Have you been able to get it into a wider range of bookstores and libraries?

Jason: It kind of surprised me. I thought that Alternative Press Review would easily get into more places than Anarchy magazine. Two things happened: first, Anarchy magazine ended up getting into more places than I ever expected it to. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that Anarchy would be picked up by major bookstore chains like Barnes and Noble and Borders. Second: It’s been harder to get Alternative Press Review out to places Anarchy doesn’t get to. There’s probably only a differential of two thousand extra copies of Alternative Press Review that go out to bookstores that don’t take Anarchy.

Mark:  How many issues do you print of Alternative Press Review?

Jason:  I think 7,770 copies of the current issue. It’s been more and less than that in the past depending on relationships with the distributors. I expect that will hit 10,000 copies within a year from now given the improved access to distributors right now.

Mark: That’s pretty impressive for a magazine that’s only been around for four years, compared to Anarchy, which has been developing for 18 years now.

Jason: Well, with Anarchy, we never intended for it to be distributed nationally or internationally. And so it was a long time developing that. At  first we made no provision for subscriptions because we didn’t want to have subscriptions, but people kept demanding subscriptions from other states because they wouldn’t get a copy otherwise. So we started. It was a very gradual and reluctant thing to get into the extra work and finally doing distribution to bookstores and distributors. It was a situation where we got pushed into it. We weren’t looking for a national or international audience, the audience came to us. We weren’t interested in that at first. It took a long time for us to develop that interest and see what we could do with it.

Mark: What kind of anarchism would you say comes out of Anarchy and Alternative Press Review? Some people describe it as having  a tad bit of anarcho-situationism. You don’t have to use a label….

Jason: My personal perspective is anti-ideological. I have no great love of the word “anarchism.” I personally don’t like any kind of “ism” as a word for describing any kind of milieu that I would feel like being involved in. I feel that it’s much more important to have independent yet communal people who are capable of thinking on their own, acting on their own, while simultaneously thinking and acting with other people and not being dependent upon a particular ideological perspective.  

My personal perspective is anti-ideological. I have no great love of the word “anarchism.” I personally don’t like any kind of “ism” as a word for describing any kind of milieu that I would feel like being involved in. I feel that it’s much more important to have independent yet communal people who are capable of thinking on their own, acting on their own, while simultaneously thinking and acting with other people and not being dependent upon a particular ideological perspective.

So that’s my orientation. There’s a lot of influences on Anarchy magazine. Just because I have a certain perspective doesn’t mean that other perspectives don’t get published in it. I certainly don’t agree with everything that gets published in it. It wasn’t meant to be my magazine only. My personal perspective is fundamentally what would be termed Stirnerist or Stirnerite. Also I’ve been heavily influenced by Situationists seen from a Stirnerite perspective.

Mark: Could you elaborate?

Jason: Max Stirner had an extreme criticism of ideology, of moralism per se, and I think it’s a very important critique that people don’t get exposed to as much as I would like. It’s one of the driving forces behind my involvement in Anarchy magazine, to help more people understand what is destructive — self-destructive — about ideology and morality, about all the ideologies and moralities as well.

Mark: That’s interesting because some anarchists, the syndicalists, are thinking about workers. I don’t know if the concept of workers exists any more. Others think more of community organizing. You come from the perspective of ideologies and moralism and how it effects us….

Jason: I would dearly love to see more people who were capable of standing on their own  feet and not having their activities relying on morality and ideology which are abstractions that really enslave people on a certain level. I would really love to see a world where there were more people relating to other individuals who were relating to each other from a position of strength rather than having their thoughts and actions determined by abstract structures of thinking.

Mark: How would you extend that to for example, organizing , or a cooperative? Do you have any comments on people who say that the main thrust of anarchism should be organizing? Is that a contradiction or just two different perspectives on the same thing?

Jason:  I think most anarchists tend to be leftists to a large degree and they want to develop structures and organizations that have a certain image that’s different from the actual social relations of the people involved. I find that to be at the least off-putting, if not a very manipulative kind of process. I would like to see people organize themselves with other people without the idea that they are going to manipulate other people into joining an organization, without the idea that they want to radicalize people in some manipulative way or they want to win people to some kind of radical program. I think it’s much more important for people to be genuinely interested in joining other people as human beings to achieve common ends, and in doing so be transparent about what their motives are and renounce other attempts to politicize other people or manipulate other people into following an agenda that might not be in their own best interests. So I think there’s a minority in the anarchist milieu who feel similarly to me and who would like to try to extensively criticize this leftist organizing the constituencies to that kind of perspective.

Mark: So more honesty and humility than anything else.

Jason:  Honesty, transparency, none of this kind of image-building where it doesn’t matter what the organization really is, if only the image of the organization is good then people will join. I don’t like that idea at all. It’s too pervasive. Most groups are more concerned with the image they project than the work they’re doing. I’m for totally ignoring as much as possible the public relations image aspect of things. For instance, in Anarchy magazine, some people have been uncomfortable with some of the topics discussed, not because they shouldn’t be discussed, but people are afraid other people are going to get a “wrong idea” of what anarchy is, as if there is a completely “right idea,” and as though there should be an image of anarchy put forward that wouldn’t hurt people’s tender sensibilities.

Mark: We shouldn’t talk about our problems.

Jason: We shouldn’t talk about certain social problems because they’re too complex or it could lead to baiting by authoritarians, or critiques that shouldn’t be made because they’re likely to alienate people with a more narrow idea of what anarchy is. There’s all kinds of things that come into play. I think that if there’s going to be an anarchist milieu worth existing, it has to be open to all kinds of problems and situations and not be afraid of public criticism of the anarchist movement, the criticism that people who are anarchists are criminals, or terrorists, or whatever. I think the movement should be as honest as possible and appeal to non-anarchists who share similar ideas to what we have.

Mark: So how would you describe anarchism to the average person? What about a critique of power?

Jason: What I”m saying is that I don’t consider myself first and foremost an anarchist.  And there are lots of things anarchism means in different places and different contexts.  And I don’t want to defend in all contexts the term anarchism because I don’t particularly like it. I much prefer the idea of anarchy as a description of potentially a very desirable state of social existence, where there is no centralized power that determines what people do but rather an existence where people get together cooperatively to run their own lives and to fulfill their desires and projects.

Mark: What about power? Most anarchist say they are opposed to power, but what about the power called into question when you’re working with a group? Should a person who has more invested in the project have more power?

Jason: There are different definitions of power, and some anarchists think power should be abolished which is a difficult position to explain I guess. Some anarchists think that all power should be generalized and no one should have too much power over other people’s interests. My preference is to consider power as something that isn’t in itself undesirable; people should have power. I don’t like ideas that go along with the term “empowerment,” but you have certain powers with your body, powers of movement, speech, experience. I don’t think power should be a bad word, because then you limit what you can do severely.

Mark: So perhaps there’s two classes of power: power of authority and hierarchy, and power of speech and experience.

Jason: I think everyone should develop their powers as much as possible and at the same time realize that in a very important sense gaining too much power over others really impoverishes you more than it empowers you. You can start by looking at… oh, I won’t even get into that, it’s too philosophical (laughs). Anyway, anytime you have someone you want to manipulate there are certain things that you give up in that relationship. Being able to manipulate that person is much more dissatisfying than relating to that person as a fairly equal, autonomous human being within a common culture or community. You lose more than you gain, to my mind. The most important thing in Anarchy magazine and Alternative Press Review that I want to express is that insight, in all its forms. I want to encourage people to see what they’ve lost. We live in a culture where autonomy is laughed at and suppressed. The whole idea of people as equal, autonomous human beings making their own decisions and relating to other people without an external higher authority calling the shots. How beautiful, how exciting that could be to live in a world where people wanted to run their own lives. That dimension is almost entirely lacking. Most people are so depressed, so enslaved, so domesticated within the present system that they can’t see that possibility. Whenever it does show it’s face there are a whole number of pressures to stop people from doing that, including the media. Any substantial freedom is ridiculed as being impossible, or labeled as some sort of perversion, or libertinism. There’s hundreds of ways for the media to express their displeasure at the concept of people being free other than through the empty concept of voting.

Mark:  It sounds like your main emphasis is moralism and dealing with concepts of power, which is in a certain sense very personal. It almost sounds like you’re not interested in building alternatives…. But in our earlier discussion it sounds like you are actually balanced in thinking about the personal as well as the more societal, like “How can we build towards an anarchist society?”  I don’t want to get into these big, syrupy discussions of Bookchin.  People call it “Lifestylism.”

Jason: Not at all. The whole idea of “lifestylism” as Bookchin employs it is a way of sticking what most people would consider a bad label on to something that really doesn’t have much to do with the label itself. I’ve always been for combining personal and social perspective. Without the existence of any kind of personal freedom, there won’t be social freedom. Without an idea and a goal of social freedom, personal freedoms become highly inhibited and narrow. One free person in a society where millions of people are unfree is kind of an absurd notion. I don’t think that people when having a notion of an anarchist lifestyle… I really don’t know how to put this because it’s just not something anybody thinks of. People don’t go out and say “I want to be an anarcho-lifestylist, but I want to leave society the way it is.”  A few people might do that, but they don’t even consider it that way.  It’s because they don’t think about it that they limit themselves in that way. There are no lifestylists who go out and say “I’m an anarcho-lifestylist.”  It’s an absurd notion.

Mark: I guess it’s just that capital has its way of undermining opposition and selling commodities of empty rebellion.

Jason: Yeah, I mean, it makes sense to criticize people if they lose sight of an overall societal goal and all the implications that are involved in that and only consider an idea of anarchism that is limited to anarcho-consumerism or anarcho-lifestylism. The whole criticism of that is made from any kind of perspective that values a free society, not even primarily from a leftist positon, or a social ecology position. So it’s kind of at the least misleading to criticize Anarchy magazine as a “lifestylist magazine.”

Mark: Do you spend much time thinking about an anarchist economy, or a freer economy and how that might work?

Jason: No, because I think it’s a less important question than others, but I do think it’s an important question. The main thing in my mind is the ideas that people have about economy need to be subordinated to a fuller sense of society and social life and not be a determining factor in societal decisions the way it is now. The idea of economy has become so isolated, so deified, cut off from the rest of life, that people act like it’s a thing in itself rather than an important aspect of general social life. So people make decisions based on economy that hide the connections between what those decisions mean for the production of goods and services and also the whole rest of social life.  I think it’s more important for people to start with the perspective of “how do I want to live?” and “how people in general can be able live more freely?” in a different set of social relations than it is to consider what an anarchist economy per se should look like.

Mark: What do you think about the whole cooperative movement in which these little cooperatives are attempting to function and the members are equal? Obviously they’re still limited by being based in capitalism.

Jason: Basically as long as you’re talking about cooperatives that perform some kind of service that involves the transfer of money, they’re always going to be primarily capitalist enterprises and I think the most important thing to realize is you can’t escape that as long as you’re operating within a capitalist system and don’t act like that factor doesn’t exist. I think cooperatives are great for people to learn the skills of negotiating with other people, expressing their interests, listening to other people’s interests and working out common ground, perspectives, projects. It’s real important because people don’t have these skills and in most situations in society people assume that it’s impossible for people to work together. So, cooperatives are in part good on that level and I think people should organize cooperatives as many ways as they can in as many different spheres as they can to replace hierarchical institutions to give people an opportunity to develop their social skills and to give them a center, a sense of community. But it’s also extremely important to remember that cooperatives are not in themselves radical in a sense of undermining capitalism, unless they can consistently undermine capitalist social relations which means attacking the whole cash and commodity nexus. That’s so extremely unlikely as to almost be impossible because you almost have to have a society of anarchists before the understanding that would need to be involved and autonomy of action would be strong enough to overcome the pressures of capitalism. People should do what they can, utilize cooperatives as much as possible but always clearly recognize the limitations and realize a free society would not have cooperatives organized on a capitalist basis.

Mark: But your main thrust today is educational.

Jason: You mean with Anarchy magazine? Sure, as an anarchist project, if you call it education. I think it’s a matter of helping people communicate and helping people find resources in understanding society that they otherwise might not come across. In a sense the whole idea of education is a little bit manipulative. It sounds like you’re trying to indoctrinate people into a particular view that they don’t currently have. I see it differently and don’t use the term “education” because of that. I think it’s more helping people who have similar interests to explore and find out new information, new perspectives while I’m at the same time doing the same thing. I just happen to be putting a lot of the information together that people send me — that people express interest in and that I found previously by corresponding to or talking to other people — in a format that allows it to be distributed in a wider way than if I was just talking to people or sending them mail.

Mark: So now you been searching for a couple of people to help you and now you’ve found a couple of people, Chuck Munson…

Jason: Chuck Munson, and Tom Wheeler.

Mark: Chuck Munson and Tom Wheeler to help you with Alternative Press Review.

Jason: Alternative Press Review is going to move to the East coast and I’ll just be one member of a editorial and production collective that should allow the magazine to cover more ground in a better way. Having three confident people publishing a magazine is much better than having one person and all his/her limitations.

Max Stirner: the anarchist every ideologist loves to hate

by Jason McQuinn

"Max Stirner" - print by Cliff Harper
“Max Stirner” – print by Cliff Harper

Max Stirner (pseudonym for Johann Caspar Schmidt) is best known as an early European anarchist and as a central figure in the dissolution of the post-Hegelian philosophical milieu during the years leading up to the Prussian Revolution (and wider revolutionary events) of 1848. Born in 1806, he went to gymnasium (somewhat equivalent to U.S. high school) and universities in an education system dominated by Hegelianism, studying philosophy, philology and theology – at times in lectures from G.W.F. Hegel himself. After achieving only limited success in his university exams, Stirner taught at a girls’ gymnasium in Berlin by day while frequenting coffee houses and wine bars during his off hours. Here he began associating with die Freien (“the Free,” a group of Young Hegelians), often at Hippel’s wine bar on Friedrichstrasse, where he developed friendships with some of the major members of this rebellious intellectual circle like Bruno Bauer, Friedrich Engels (with whom he became duzbruder, addressed with the familiar “du”), and Arnold Ruge.

Stirner’s notoriety is almost entirely due to his masterwork, Der Einzige und sein Eigentum (literally, “The Unique One and Its Property”), which is usually translated into English under the misleading title of The Ego and Its Own. Although Stirner had written and published earlier essays and reviews, the appearance of this book in late 1844 came as a shock to both his comrades of die Freien and the larger liberal and radical sociocultural milieu in contemporary Prussia. Not only was his text far more radical than any other of the time (or, arguably, since), but it dealt devastating critical blows to Hegel’s philosophical system, the humanism of Ludwig Feuerbach, the critical criticism of Bruno Bauer, the communism of Wilhelm Weitling, the mutualist-anarchism of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and even the nascent Feuerbachian communism of Karl Marx. Following the immediate reactions to his text by Moses Hess, Feuerbach and Bauer, Stirner published a reply titled “Recensenten Stirners” (“Stirner’s Critics”) in 1846 to clarify their rather obvious misreadings. Once Engels’ initial enthusiasm for Stirner’s text had been disciplined by Marx he recruited Engels to write with him a monumentally incoherent polemic in response which, unfortunately, Stirner was never able to see, not least due to the unpublishability of Die Deutsche Ideologie, much later translated into English as The German Ideology. (Even after Marx became a god in the lands of the Communist gulags, commissars and secret police, allowing The German Ideology to finally appear in print as a textual equivalent to religious revelation, it almost always appears with the nearly unreadable bulk of the book dealing with Stirner expurgated.) Then as quickly and surprisingly as Stirner’s amazing text had appeared in 1844, it was overshadowed and eventually almost forgotten during the uprisings and confrontations of the 1848 revolutions, and the reaction which followed, only to be resurrected more than once in later decades up to the present day.

There had certainly been plenty of de facto anarchists before the European anarchist milieu began to arise at the end of the 1700s and the beginning of the 1800s – most notably throughout prehistory. However, Max Stirner was not only one of the first to elaborate a consistently anarchist theoretical orientation, he was also the most sophisticated and important anarchist critic of philosophy then and since. However, his influence both within and without the anarchist milieu has almost always been extremely controversial. Stirner’s descriptive, phenomenological egoism and absolute refusal of any and all forms of enslavement have been a perennial source of embarrassment for would-be anarchist moralists, ideologues and politicians of all persuasions (especially leftists, but also including individualists and others). By clearly and openly acknowledging that every unique individual always makes her or his own decisions and cannot avoid the choices of self-possession or self-alienation and enslavement presented at each moment, Stirner scandalously exposes every attempt not only by reactionaries, but by self-proclaimed radicals and “anarchists” to recuperate rebellion and channel it back into new forms of alienation and enslavement. In Der Einzige und sein Eigentum Stirner has harsh criticisms of moralists who attempt to legislate slavery through the imposition of compulsory morality, ideologists who attempt to justify submission to the political state and capitalist economy (or equivalent institutional forms), and politicians who ride herd on the rabble in an attempt to keep everyone in line. Throughout their history, Marxist ideologists, militarists and politicians have treated Stirner as the arch-anarchist. But amidst the anarchist milieu, from Proudhon to Bakunin, from Kropotkin to Faure, from Maksimoff to Arshinov, and especially amongst the rank-and-file ideologues of the anarcho-left throughout the twentieth century the words of Max Stirner have been anathema or worse!

Still, (and quite infuriatingly to the left-anarchist milieu) there has always been a minority of spirited radicals, including the undomesticated and undisciplined uncontrollables among the anarchists, who have heeded Stirner’s warnings and criticisms and refused to allow any words, doctrines or institutions to dominate them. As Stirner proclaimed, “Nothing is more to me than myself!” Which clearly implies, I am only free when I choose how to live my own life. Politicians, economists, ideologists, priests, philosophers, cops and every other con-man with or without official papers, plans and/or bombs and guns, get the fuck out of our lives! And that includes any fake “anarchists” who think they can pull the wool over our eyes!

(This short essay was written — at the request of the editors — for Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed double-issue #68/69 as a short introduction to Max Stirner in order to preface my much longer essay, Part I of “John Clark’s Stirner” — which itself appeared under the Anarchy editors’ preferred title of “John Clark’s Spook.” Unfortunately, although “Max Stirner: The anarchist every ideologist loves to hate” has been posted and reposted many times on the web, every other version begins with the Anarchy magazine editors’ mangled first line that appeared uncorrected in Anarchy magazine. The original, correct version appears here. If anyone who has posted this essay elsewhere happens on this site, can you please repost the original version of this essay!)


The Unique & Its Own Project

The Unique & Its Own Project

Long overdue is a revision of the original English translation of both the title and the text of Max Stirner’s masterwork Der Einzige und sein Eigentum. The original English translation by Steven T. Byington was published by Benjamin Tucker in 1907 with (as Tucker readily admitted) an erroneous title, The Ego and Its Own, that has ever after heavily and directly contributed to the extensive and continuing misinterpretation of Stirner’s work. In order to at long last begin to counter the egregious effects of this erroneous title — and the occasional inappropriate references to “the ego” in the text — the title and textual translations are being revised, and will be published with annotations and a new introduction by Jason McQuinn (CAL Press, projected date: December 2015) $19.95 paperback.

The new title, The Unique & Its Own, will preserve the poetic impulse of the original English-language title, while omitting the completely needlessly mystifying reference to a generic concept of “The Ego” in favor of the much more appropriate use of “The Unique,” referring to Stirner’s central — ultimately indefinable and non-conceptual — figure. For Stirner, “The Unique” can only name a person by pointing to her or him, but does not and cannot in any way conceptualize that person except in a manner that is completely empty of determinate conceptual content. Along with Wolfi Landstreicher’s new English translation-in-progress — that is planned to be published under probably the most accurate title translation as The Unique and Its Property — we hope that this revised Byington translation will help turn the historical tide of rampant misinterpretation of Max Stirner — at least regarding the central figure of his text.

The Unique & Its Own will include the revised & corrected English-language translation of Max Stirner’s Der Einzige und sein Eigentum, along with a new introduction by Jason McQuinn and a collection of Stirner’s most important secondary texts, all in one volume, along with a detailed index and appendices.
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Editor’s Introduction: Max Stirner in Context by Jason McQuinn (not yet available)
PART 1: MAN — II. Men of the Old Time and the New (not yet available)

Stirner’s Critics book project

Stirner’s Critics by Max Stirner

Translated by Wolfi Landstreicher with an introduction by Jason McQuinn (Published by CAL Press & LBC Books, December 2012) 128 pages. $12.00

Stirner’s Critics includes the first and only complete English-language translation of Max Stirner’s original replies to his major critics in both ”Stirner’s Critics” and “The Philosophical Reactionaries.”
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Stirner’s Critics full-size book cover

Introduction to Stirner’s Critics by Jason McQuinn

Translator’s Preface by Wolfi Landstreicher

“Stirner’s Critics” by Max Stirner, translated by Wolfi Landstreicher

“The Philosophical Reactionaries” by Max Stirner, translated by Wolfi Landstreicher

$12.00 Stirner’s Critics translated by Wolfi Landstreicher (paper)

ERRATA: Errors in original printing