Stirner challenges his readers to simply declare that people in despotic nations have rights, such as the Chinese, the Russians, and children in many cultures . The declaration evaporates. The declaration of rights in itself is meaningless, an illusion, a spook unless there is the power and practical activity to impose or realize them.
The stark fact of the matter to Stirner is that persons have the right to be what they have the power to be. They do not have the right to anything they cannot obtain. All rights are derived from the person’s abilities, power, and practical activities, not the divine and not nature. Persons are entitled to, or have a right to, everything that they have in their power. Foreign rights are imposed by mothers, or rights that the person has not given to self nor taken by self.
Stirner does not argue that “might makes right.” He argues that might precedes right. There is no right without might, much like ownness is a necessary precondition for freedom . “He who has power has right.”
There must be a deliberate and physical assertion of right for it to exist or to matter. It must be appropriated or taken by the person. The state declares and asserts foreign rights that may or may not free or nurture the individual. The rights asserted by the individual, regardless of their consequences, are at least assertions of rights that are owned by the person.
The absolutist state attempts to eradicate “my right,” or the rights and will asserted by the person. The absolutist state cannot accept any competing or alternative declaration and assertion of rights. The absolutist state claims that it alone has the prerogative and privilege to determine and enforce the distribution of desiderata, including right. The contest of rights exists only within the state’s policy process. Any contest over rights that exist outside the state is a direct threat to the power and legitimacy of the state. Therefore, the unique one or a union of egoists cannot demand any rights, nor can they recognize any rights.
The demand for rights or the demand for desiderata of any sort, is also a recognition of the right of the state to act as the sale arbiter of right and desiderata. It is an acquiescence to the state’s claim to the exclusive use of legitimate force. As the absolute arbiter of right, the state imposes a duty on persons to do nothing that conflicts with the interests and legitimacy of the state, and to do everything that supports the interests and legitimacy of the state.
Lordship and servitude are both essential components of the state. It is not enough that the state has a master, or a structure of power and an ideology that legitimates it. The state also needs servants, who create and maintain lordship through their submission. Stirner says that governments last only as long as there is a ruling will that is viewed as tantamount to the will of people.
The will of the lord is law, but what does the law amount to if no one obeys it? If obedience and submission ceased, lordship and the state would disappear. But the demand for rights is an important characteristic of servitude and, thus, an important act of submission to a powerful other.
Stirner uses two examples to aid his discussion of the centrality and transformation of rights in the modernist, absolutist state: the freedom of the press and economic competition, or free trade. Stirner argues that the bourgeoisie and political liberalism brought a conception of liberty in which individuals where not intended to be forced to perform the will of another. However, personal freedom also means “being only so free that no other person can dispose of mine, or that what I may or may not do does not depend on the personal decree of another.”40 But the personal freedom of modernity turns into its opposite, a dependence of persons on the granting of freedom or liberty by the law or the state. The liberty of the press is an example of the type of freedom elevated by political liberalism.
The notion of liberty of the press challenges only the coercion of “the censorship as that of personal willfulness, but otherwise showing itself extremely inclined and willing to tyrannize over the press by press laws.”
The “civic liberals” of modernity want freedom of the press for themselves and know that as “law-abiding” citizens, they will not be in conflict with the law. Liberalism has no problem with “liberal maUer, only lawful matter” being printed. If the personal liberty of the civic liberals is assured, it is difficult for those subjected to liberal ideology to see how “the most glaring unfreedom becomes dominant.” While political liberalism, the nascent form of advanced modernity, abolished intrusion by persons and groups into the right of the press to publish what it sees fit, it becomes “so much more submissive to the law. One is enthralled now in due legal form.”
Stirner argues that political liberalism is the last attempt at a creation of the liberty of the people, or of society. Political liberalism is a decaying dream of a state that protects individual liberty, a dream that individual liberty and an absolutist state can be reconciled. It is a dream that was superseded by socialism and humanism. The cry for “freedom of the press” is a contradictory, or halfway argument for liberty that subordinates the press to the state and its laws, and functions to reinforce the power of the state over the thoughts and behaviors of individuals.
To be consistent, advocacy for freedom of the press must also be advocacy for the freedom of the individual. Stirner initiates his argument by asking, what is the press to be liberated from? What is it to be rid of? Certainly freedom of the press implies freedom from a dependence and obligation to serve capital, the community, and the state. But it is “everyone’s affair “to seek their liberation from dependence and servitude.
When persons liberate themselves from such dependence and servitude generally, they have specifically freed themselves to compose, write, print, and distribute what is significant to them. What individuals compose, print, and distribute is their “own” and what they “will,” instead of being the result of constraints and dictates of some extemal power. The press can only become “free from” what individuals are “free from.” If persons liberate themselves from the law, the state, and the sacred, their published words also become free. A free press cannot exist in an environment in which persons are not free. As Stimer says, “the press does not become free from what I am not free from.”
The struggle for a free press must become part of the struggle for ownness and individual freedom.
If the press is free, then nothing is as important to its liberation as a challenge to every sort of constraint that could be put on it in the name of the law. If the press is free, that is, “owned” by individuals, they need no permission from the state for employing or consuming it. The press, including its contents, is the property of unique individuals from the moment nothing is more to them than themselves. From the moment individuals choose to own their thoughts and behaviors, the state and its laws cease to have authority over the press. The press is owned by persons as soon as persons are their own, as self-owned persons. Political liberalism intends nothing further than to liberate the press from personal and arbitrary interferences of the powerful, but freedom of the press really means that the press also has to be free from the laws and will of the state.
The clamor of political liberalism for freedom of the press is contradictory since the state, the one institution that can effectively constraint their liberty, is sacred even to them. Stirner argues that freedom of the press means that the press must become free from the state, or clear of the state and the press laws. If freedom of the press is a mere petition for permission to publish, it presupposes the state as the sole legitimate arbiter of behavior. It leaves the relationship between the state and the press untouched.
The press can expect only a present, permission, or charter. A petition for permission is something quite different from an rejection or insurrection against the authority and the power of the state to either constrain the press or to confer permission to publish.
Stirner assures his reader that he is not an opponent of the liberty of the press, but he asserts that it cannot happen if the vision is only for the state to grant permission to the press. The struggle for the freedom of the press is one component of the broader struggle for individual freedom and dignity which includes an insurrection against the ability of the state to intrude into the behaviors of persons and groups.
Stirner makes a similar argument in his analysis of economic competition.
When Stirner was writing The Ego and Its Own in the early 18405, the term “capitalism” was not used to describe the economic system that accompanied the rise of political liberalism. The terms “capital” and “capitalist” had been used prior to 1844 in the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the political philosophy of Proudhon, but it was not until the mid-1850s that “capitalism” was used to describe an economic system based on monetary exchange, the private ownership of property, and market-based competition. Marx and Engels did not use “capitalism” in The Communist Manifesto, which was first published in 1 848.
It was not until Marx published the first volume of Capital in 1867 that the term capitalism was used to describe an economic system .44 Although Stirner does not use the term “capitalism,” he describes the economic system he calls “free competition,” which would later be called free market or “la issez-faire capitalism.” He examines free competition from his dialectical egoist perspective. Since he is interested in the role of the state in social life, he poses the question, “is free com petition really free?” Or, in what sense is competition free?