Third, Stirner insists that the unique one is more than “man” or “humanity,” not less. Stirner says that it is certainly possible for individuals to be more than “man” or humanity, but it is impossible for them to be less. The fixed ideas of modernity promote a normalization, commonality, and homogeneity that reduces persons and their behavior to the lowest common intellectual and behavioral denominator.
The ideals of religion, philosophy, and science are not uplifting and do not inspire persons to be more than they are, happier than they are, smarter than they are, and more powerful than they are.
The contrary is true, they browbeat persons into aspiring to be less than they are. But the unique one resists the modernist reduction of persons to abstract categories . “Look upon yourself as more powerfu l than they give you out for, and you have more power; look upon yourself as more, and you have more.”
The unique one is not a tool or vessel of ideas or gods, and refuses to exist for the development of humanity, a nation, a social class, or a race. Instead, the unique one ” lives himself out, careless of how well or ill” ideologies, causes, or movements will fare as a consequence. Stirner taunts, “What, am I in the world to realize ideas?”Clearly not, at least, the unique one is not in the world to realize ideas or some idealized image of self.
Not until I am certain of myself, and no longer seeking for myself, am I really
my property; I have myself, therefore I use and enjoy myself. On the other
hand, I can never take comfort in myself as long as I think that I have still to
find my true self and that it must come to this, that not I but Christ or some
other spiritual, ghostly, self lives in me.
The unique one (a) owns his or her life, mind, body, and self; (b) rejects any external purpose, calling or destiny; (c) refuses to be an instrument for “higher powers” or “supreme beings”; and (d) knows and asserts self as unique. Stirner’s image of the unique individual who is defined by his or her chosen identity, which constitutes his or her property, may suggest the possibility of only very tenuous and precarious forms of social relationships.
What does Stirner say about the relationships between and among persons? Is there any basis for reconstructing the self-other relationship in his thought?
Stirner was not only very critical of ideologies such as humanism and institutionalized power relations such as the state, he was also critical of society. He believed that macrolevel concepts of a nation or society tend to impose constraining and depersonalizing beliefs and identities upon individuals. Society subjects individuals to a plethora of constraints that undermine the person’s free choice and, consequently, ownness and property. In concert with many other social theorists, Stirner thus posited a fundamental conflict and opposition between society and the individual. But unlike other theorists, Stirner saw no need to reconcile the two, or to resolve the contradiction in favor of society or a presumed reciprocity between society and the individual. I n the social contract theories of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a n d modernist sociological theories of George Herbert Mead, Charles Horton Cooley, and C. Wright Mills, the relationship between the individual and society is conceived a s a reciprocal exchange i n which both the person and society are allegedly able to force concessions from each other.
Thus, each gives and receives from the relationship. In the case of the classical political theorists, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, the social contract assumed a chaotic and violent state of nature in which individuals risked assault, theft, and death because of the absence of institutionalized coercion that is sufficiently powerful to prevent interpersonal violence and theft. The deal between the individual and the society is that the state protects the person from internal and external threats and the person submits to the power and authority of the state Of the three, only Locke attempted to create a social contract that maintained some semblance of individuality and protection of the individual from the state.
Hence, the right to life, liberty, and property. Hobbes’s notion of Leviathan and Rousseau’s notion of the General Will both subsume individuality, ownness, and property in the interest of political order and social welfare.
In the case of the classical sociological theorists, the fundamental social problem was also how to create and maintain social order. The early sociologists such as Auguste Comte and Emile Durkheim believed that order was the outcome of an authoritarian social system populated by compliant, malleable individuals who were not only subservient to the state but amenable to management by other social institutions and the values promoted by a scientific cult re.
The American symbolic interactionist thinkers, Mead, Cooley, and Mills, understood the social contract as the outcome of a more interactive, mutual relationship between the individual and society. In the theories of all three, society is envisioned as an entity that emerges from the interactions of individuals. Mead based his notion of the social contract on symbolic interaction and the creation, by interacting individuals, of socially significant symbols, which have shared meanings. Mind, self, and society emerge from agreements among individuals abou t the meaning of symbols and, thus, their intended behaviors. Cooley argued that the self and society are twinborn and arise together; society is a fluid entity that presumably shifts as new entrants participate in it.
Their contractual relations are as fluid but no less binding since they persist as shared “understandings.” For Mills, the sociological imagination is the understanding that there is a living and essential interconnection between the individual and the society, personal biography and social history. Mills, of course, became a Castroite.
The foundation of his authoritarian reconstruction of sociology is the placement of “society” on the same conceptual plane as the individuaJ .
In the case of each of these political and social theorists, the social contract is founded on the belief, or the metaphor, that a violent and meaningless presocial state of nature prompts individuals to contract with each other or social institutions to provide for order, structure, and meaning in their everyday lives. In opposition to all forms of social contract theory,
Stirner argues that the “state of nature” is not an egoistic bellum omnium contra amilia, but a structured, institutionalized, collectivized existence in which state, society, and culture predate the birth and interaction of the person. For Stirner, society is the state of nature. It is nonsense to speak o f a contract that n o one living ever agreed to. It is nonsense t o speak of the twinborn nature of the relationship between the individual and society, or the notion that language, meanings, and culture are negotiated among persons on an everyday basis. Individuals are not “born free” and subsequently enslaved by society. They are born into a society with preexisting and powerful institutional controls over language, thought, and behavior.
Human beings do not “enter” into society as an equal partner with interactions governed by contracts or norms of reciprocity. Regardless of the socio historical circumstances, the relationship between the individual and society is a struggle from the beginning over the ownership of the person’s life, self, liberty, and property. Stirner reframes the relationship between the individual and society as a conflict over ownership or ownness, and not as much over the constraints on the person’s liberty imposed by Leviathan or the General Will. Of course, individual liberty is constrained by society and all forms of social relationships, but the primary conflict is over the efforts by society to appropriate the individual’s “ownness” or property: Every society intends to appropriate the person’s body, mind, and self. Every society seeks the person’s subservience and the relinquishing of his or her ownness. Human existence is characterized by the struggle of the person, or the unique one, against the external appropriation of property.
Society also arises and evolves through the interaction of individuals, of course. But relationships become organizations. Institutions acquire coercive authority structures that enforce norms and roles. Society degenerates into a “fixidity” in which the voluntary union of individuals comes to a ” standstill.” Stirner differentiates between those social relationships or organizations that individuals are born into or coerced into, and those that they join consciously and willfully. This distinction clarifies that the egoist or the unique one is not the isolated, nihilistic misanthrope described by his harshest critics, including Marx, Paterson, and Lowith. In opposition to the type of social bond that is external and eternally constraining upon persons, Stirner identifies the “union of egoists,” whichmay constrain the liberty or negative freedom of individuals, but it is primarily characterized by ownness or the self-ownership of the individuals who belong to it. Society is preexisting and predetermining.
The union of egoists is the outcome of the work of its participants. It is their creation, product, and property. The union of egoists is Stirner’s concept of a willed, voluntary, for-itself social relationship that is continuously created and renewed by all who own and support it through acts of will.
The union of egoists implies that all parties participate in the organization through a conscious egoism, or a self-conscious self-determination.
Significantly, the most important relationship in this union of egoists is the relationship of the individual to self. Stirner argues that the dialectical egoist participating in a union of egoists dissolves society and all coercive relationships by interpreting self as the subject of all of his or her relationships with others. The relationship of the individual to self, participating in the union of egoists, is a “creative nothingness” in which the person creates and understands self as a subject, appropriating, and consuming both his or her life and relationships as property, for his or her own enjoyment.
I, the egoist, have not at heart the welfare of this “human society.” I sacrifice
nothing to it. I only utilize it; but to be able to utilize it completely I transform
it rather into my property and my creature; that is, I annihilate it, and form
in its place the union of egoists.
Stirner’s view of ownness, self-ownership, and the unique ego structure his understanding of social relationships, critique of society, and the countersociety or counterculture he suggests with the notion of the union o f egoists. What specifically characterizes the union of egoists i s not the “measure of liberty” it would offer, but the characteristic that its m embers would keep only themselves “before their eyes” and not view the organization as a “sovereign power” fulfilling some “higher purpose,” “sacred duty,” or “historical destiny.” The union of egoists is constituted by relationships that are owned by its participants as the property of unique individuals.
The union of egoists cannot be founded on ideas or principles that externalize the decisions and convictions of individuals. Instead, the union of egoists grounds alienation and reification to nothing. It “antiquates” society and all principles that promote social relationships or interaction not based on ownness.
Stirner contrasts relationships and organizations based on ideology, or abstract concepts such as justice, love, mercy, pity, and kindness, with the union of egoists based on ownness, enjoyment, and selfishness. Unlike other forms of property, he argues that the union of egoists demands reciprocity because desiderata and concessions can only be won and bought
from others in relationships founded on ownness, enjoyment, and selfinterest.
In the union of egoists, the person has some leverage over othersand can a ffect the outcomes of interaction. In other types of organizations, the person is at a disadvantage from the start. For example, how does the person obtain kindness, love, mercy, pity, or justice in an organization based on those principles? How does one obtain kindness or love, or any other form of desiderata that cannot exist on the basis of reciprocal exchange?
The production and exchange of kindness, love, or justice is entirely at the discretion of others. These are gifts that are p rov ided at the pleasure of others. In the case of love, mercy, or pity:
The affectionate one’s service can be had only by begging, be it by my lamentable
appearance, by my need of help, my misery, my suffering. What can
I offer him for his assistance? Nothing! I must accept it as a present.
It is only in the union of egoists that the individual has some control or
abil ity to affect the outcomes of others in the organiza tion. It is only
within the union of egoists that the needs of individuals can be met in a
reci procal, voluntary manner.
You bring into a union your whole power, you r competence, and make you rself
count; in a society you are employed, with your working power; in the
former you live egoistically, in the latter humanly, that is, religiously, as a
“member in the body of this Lord”; to a society you owe what you have, and
are in duty bound to it; . . . a union you utilize, and give it up undutifully and
unfaithfully when you see no way to use it further.
Unions of egoists are not more than the individuals who comprise them, they are only instruments that exist ” for you and through you .”
They are neither natural nor spiritual entities, but fields where individuals own and possess relationships, and make use of them to meet their needs, interests, and desires. “In short, the society is sacred, the union your own; the society consumes you, you consume the union.”
Stirner’s contrast of society and the union of egoists strikes at the heart of basic philosophical questions about the nature and purpose of social organization and culture. How are social organizations, which are characterized by the reciprocity that the classical theorists sought, created and what purposes do they serve? Are they created and maintained by living, acting individuals who benefit from their membership, or are they preexisting serving the interests of the reified organization or an elite within it?
Further, what sort of legitimacy do preexisting, reified organizations have?
What is the source of their legitimacy? Can they have any sort of legitimacy if they are not created, maintained, and transformed by living, acting persons who benefit from their membership? If society and culture are not created and maintained by their participants, and do not serve their needs and interests, what sort of loyalty and obedience can they legitimately claim? If society and social organizations are not reciprocal, as defined by the persons who inhabit them, can they claim any legitimacy?
Stirner’s concept of the union of egoists is primarily a critique of the fact and the ideology that society and social organizations are external and constraining entities that p lace individuals in a state of relative powerlessness and do not operate on the basis of reciprocity. For Stirner, the union of egoists is based in the idea that bonds and relationships are created at the pleasure of persons and exist to serve persons.
The union of egoists is a concept that Stirner uses to contrast an organization based on h i s concepts of ownness and property with those based on self-renunciation and dispossession. He uses the notion as a rallying cry to help repair or reconstruct the social relationships that modernity damaged .