THE NIHILISTIC EGOIST

NIHILISTIC EGOIST

 

 

 

 

We have seen how Paterson has assembled a new metaphysical heaven from props jettisoned by Stirner in dismantling the idea of the Sacred. After the question of suicide, it seems that only solipsism could be a deeper rung of Hell for egoism. Paterson realizes that this concept is one of the principal straw men stitched up by philosophers in their meanderings way back to the time of Pericles. His argument will show that Stirner both is and is not a solipsist.

 

     Not surprisingly for Thielicke, “freedom is identical with solipsism”, an idea confirmed perhaps by the image of solitary confinement. Most dungeons are, of course, where some men send other men, and it is no different here. “Of course, Stirner is not literally a ‘solipsist.'” How so not? A glance at his book Der Einzige confirms “many references to other ‘egos'”, whom he “addresses in the second person or with whom he apparently aligns himself in the first person plural” .

     Here Paterson is correct: the Other for Stirner is “indispensible, and Der Einzige in fact addresses various Dus:

 

    Neither divine nor human reason, but rather your and my temporally existing reason is real [wirklich], as and because you and I [Du und Ich] are real.

 

     But if he doesn’t literally consider himself THE Unique One, corporeally, this identity is rather “the metaphysical identity into which he ultimately projects himself.” Returning to themes of his previous discussion, the metaphysical solitude of Stirner in such a case would be not natural, but “an artificial solitude, deliberately contrived and consciously willed.” As for the book, it is a sublimation:

 

         Thus when Stirner speaks of ‘creating himself’, he is presumably referring to this project of creating his own identity as ‘The Unique One’ within the terms of his personal metaphysical system…[wherein] the historical Max Stirner is converted into the metaphysical ‘Unique One’; the fact of his personal remoteness and insularity is converted into the doctrine of The Unique One’s cosmic ‘uniqueness’; and so the actual solitude…is converted into the theoretical solipsism in and through ‘The Unique One’…. The solipsism…is a purely metaphysical solipsism.

 

     Was this like Ptolemy who was not an actual geocentrist, but a metaphysical geocentrist in his conscious hours? A disappointing solipsism, but also a parody of the Marxist line which explains that because Stirner was a frustrated petit-bourgeois intellectual, his oeuvre can be nothing but the theoretical apotheosis of “The Man on the Street” writ large as the “structural model of petit-bourgeois self-consciousness.     

 

     Paterson insists the egoist is a practicing solipsist to the extent that he goes about

 

    denying the subjectivity of others, by treating other persons as…natural phenomena to be studied and manipulated without regard to their existential claims as persons…by reducing others to the status of objects.”

 

In support of this scenario our author quotes a famous passage:

 

    For me, no one is a person to be respected…but solely, like other beings, an object [Gegenstand] for which I have an interest or else do not, an interesting or uninteresting object…a usable or unusable subject [Subjekt].

 

     Is this it? This is solipsism? Paterson offers a skit — based on the real-life ill-fated marriage of Stirner to the bohemian Marie DŠhnhart that was pilloried (surprise?) by Marx — to illustrate that “in themselves, for their own sakes, the needs and interests of others count for nothing in his eyes.”

 

     Suppose that, not for any ulterior reason, but since he enjoys her wit and admires her erudition, Max “would describe himself as ‘loving’ Marie”. This love, however, cannot be a love of Marie, in and for herself as a “loving and beloved subject”, since Max “precisely denies Marie’s own subjectivity. His love of her is not a love of the whole individual who is Marie, but a love of “certain objective qualities”, such as her cynical wit, or her ability to drink the other cafŽ Hegelians under the table.

     If, though, Max should tire of her cigar-smoking, or should her wit up and leave her, then his love for Marie would cease and she would become a useless object to him; he loves, in other words, only what happens to “gratify him.

 

     Alright, is he a skinhead, an adolescent, a selfish bastard who wrote THE self-help-thyself book on How to Be a Selfish Bastard — check the Metaphysical section of your bookshop — or what? One need only apply the classic reductio here to see the silliness of this exposition. What behavior would be proof of Max loving Marie as a “loving and beloved subject”? Devotion to her every whim? To her every fad of religious conversion? To supplicate her later in life when she got Religion? Then again, what’s in it for her? The question answers itself. It’s egoism all around: it’s a jungle, bunny.

 

     This is the old retread argument of egoism as amounting to selfishness. The problem with it is that selfish behavior of the everyday rank is arguably to do with a touchy, bloated, or sensitive (self-consciously weak) ego. That everyone has an ego has never been in doubt; whether they have the stuff to be egoists is quite another story and the whole point of Stirner writing his book. In addition, I am convinced Stirner’s analysis could be strengthened by distinguishing, as Freud was later to do, between the “me”, or socially conditioned self, and the active principle or “I”, and there is just no way that the “me” practices egoism. Stirner makes this point over and over though not in so many words. The socially constructed and conditioned “me” is the enemy of the ego as self-overcoming principle.

 

Nietzsche was later to make this point himself in his critique of habits versus egoism. If egoism was just a matter of pointing to habits, we’d all be egoists and the concept would be null. Rather habits are the opposite or even enemy of egoism and this goes for our personal consciousness and “free will.”

 

     If Marie requires an attitude of devotion and sacrifice and mystery a priori, I believe she may well not be right for Max, and she may be better of with, for example, a man of the cloth. All of this is meant to obfuscate the fact that Der Einzige is only discussing possessed versus self-possessed love, a topic in popular culture, cinema and art of widely diverse pedigree never acknowledged by Paterson, in order to present Stirner as a narcissistic delusional and invert paranoid (the egoist is after them, not the reverse).

 

    “I can with joy sacrifice to [the friend] numberless enjoyments, says Stirner. ‘I can deny myself numberless things for the enhancement of [his or her] her pleasure…but myself, my own self, I do not sacrifice but remain an egoist” and enjoy the person as the object of enjoyment, as an enjoyable subject:

         Selfish love is far distant from unselfish, mystical or romantic love…. Love becomes blind and crazy when a must takes it out of my power (infatuation), or romantic by a should entering into it…. Now the object no longer exists for me, but I for it.

 

     Paterson therefore summons the ogre of treating people as objects, and with this caricature, drops the matter. The Other is then nothing but “raw material” to be administered and duly exploited,” a relationship that is “purely technical” and “managerial”.

 

     “The egoist’s love for another is not accompanies by any sense of responsibility,” he complains. “Strictly speaking he does not care for the person whom he loves”. No, the

 

    ‘loved one’ is not a unique and irreplaceable object: how could he be, since it is his egoistic ‘lover’ who is himself The Unique One? For this reason the egoist always keeps himself aloof from the ‘loved one’, to whom he may give much, but to whom he will always refuse to give himself, unconditionally and in his entirety.

 

     Please — if it is maternal love that Paterson is bleating about here, why can’t he come right out with it? What is his problem in having lovers love the uniqueness of each other, and taking English leave only when the other has become boring, gotten religion, or become someone else? This is how people actually behave when it comes to love, as egoists.

 

     So what’s the problem? Many of us indeed would run for dear life from someone coming at us with all-encompassing, unconditional, ‘absolute’ love. The professor has, then, given us not a single reason against the view that Life is a Western or that Love is a Battlefield — just a lot of poodling on about how egoistic love is nothing but cruel and cavemanesque.

 

     This whole mess goes back at least to Feuerbach in his critique of Der Einzige:

 

    Only the species is in a position to both transcend religion and replace it. To have no religion is: to think only of oneself. To have religion is to think of another. And this religion is the one that alone remains, at least as long as there is not only a ‘unique’ man left on earth. For so long as we have just two, as man and wife, we still have religion. Two, difference, is the origin of religion — the Thou, God of the I, for the I not without the Thou. No Thou — no I

 

     Feuerbach here reproaches Stirner with the “complacent categories” the latter had attacked in Der Einzige and in “Stirner’s Critics”.First the inauthentic response is to deny the conditioned, contingent, mortal and arbitrary character of one’s actions and relations, and hoist those up somehow to the abstract level of invulnerable, sacrosanct Truth. Then one calls in the Choir for reinforcements.

 

     Practical solipsism, therefore, is the same as metaphysical solipsism, and the same as total atheism it is a straw man, a faketoid. Paterson is fixed upon absolutes and there is nothing he will take instead. Note that via such transubstantiated egoism, it is still egoism, just ‘holified’ and sprinkled with self-righteousness like the whole swath of The Nihilistic Egoist. For an egoist, the personal fight is never a jihad, and the impulsive fisticuffs that knocks over the cafŽ tables is never an inquisition or crusade for decency.

 

     The ball is really still in the other court. From the perspective of the Ideal, men are always too short or too long for the bed. Like Stephen Blackpool in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, people exist to be sacrificed as scapegoats, or caught in the crossfire of the fanatics of both sides. One need not scour the works of Dickens, Twain , Melville, Lawrence, or Ayn Rand to clinch this basic perception. Twain in fact in The Mysterious Stranger made many of Stirner’s points about those imbued with “the moral sense”. How much literature would be left if one subtracted stories about “honeyed speech and a lying heart, pompous words and beggarly thoughts”?According to one reading of the Tao-Te-Ching: “Failing virtue, man resorts to humanity; failing humanity, man resorts to morality.”

 

     Radical finitude, though, bids you “dissolve yourself as time dissolves all things.” Stirner maintained that all human worth and dignity flowed from uniqueness, singularity, and originality (all connoted by the term Einzigkeit). These qualities are antipodal to the abstract universality that reduces flesh and blood human beings to the status of a “chalk point” measured against the uncanny jealousy of spirits. Once the idea of the ‘species’ holds sway, men are reduced to “specimens.” The people with wheels in the head are always well down the slope of seeing the other not as unique, but — the example is Stirner’s — as merely a thief or prostitute or Jew, and as nothing but the same.

 

     Egoism is as antithetical to fascism and other collective hysteria as anything can be. Rather than egoists treating each other as puppets, the point is that this was the gravy train of religion, to tame humanity, to create a species of servants. The masters, of course, remain. Through egoism, on the other hand, men arrive “most easily at a mutual understanding.”

 

     “One always flatters oneself,” wrote Stirner, “that one speaks about ‘actual, individual’ men while one is talking about ‘Man’.”In the same way, one flatters oneself speaking of the sacred, when something far more pedestrian, bipedal and human, all-too-human is being advanced.

 

    The ‘sacred’ exists only for the egoist who does not acknowledge himself, for the involuntary egoist who…thinks he is serving a supreme being, who…is infatuated with something higher, in short for the egoist who would like not to be an egoist, and debases himself…. But however much he shudders and castigates himself, in the end he does it all for his own sake, and the odious egoism will not rub off him. For this reason I call him the involuntary egoist .

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