Stirner argues in The Ego and Its Own that Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer articulated the most advanced and clearest statements on the cultural and ideological characteristics of modernity, even though both were radical critics of Christianity and Hegelianism. Both Feuerbach and Bauer were principled philosophic rebels who sought to overthrow the domination of culture and philosophy by Christian theology. Both paid dearly for their radicalism. Bauer was incarcerated for his political activism.
Neither was able to retain a teaching position because of his atheism. Both sought to undermine the a lienation they believed was inherent in the Christian world view. As far as Stirner was concerned, however, Feuerbach and Bauer were thoroughly modernist men of the “new times.” They had merely created a new form of a lienation and reinforced the modernist “dominion of the mind.” The critique of modernity in The Ego and Its Own is a refutation of Feuerbach’s and Bauer’s view of alienation.
Stirner’s principal objection to modernity is that it subordinates life, nature, and the person to “the dominion of the mind.” To the ancients, the world was a realm of material, worldly things that were “given.” Nature and the corporeal individual were the unassailable truth, the dogma that held captive the thought and behavior of individuals. Antiquity was challenged by newer forms of thought, especially Christianity, that challenged the old forms in the guise of an incipient humanism that offered liberation and fulfillment through a synthesis of both the material and the spiritual.
The Protestant Reformation was a pivotal event in the evolution of modernity because it promised a “warm-hearted” humanism, a universal love of humanity, a consciousness of individual freedom and d ignity, and a “consciousness of itself and its covenant with people.”
But the “warmhearted” humanism of Protestantism negates the a ffection and warm heartedness for the corporeal person with “hide and hair.” It favors a “pure” theoretical love for humanity. The affection for individual persons is “treason” against the pure, theoretical love of humanity in Christianity and humanism. The “pure warm-hearted ness” of Protestantism, Christianity, humanism, is warm hearted toward nobody in particular, “it is only a theoretical interest, a concern for man as man, not as a person.” The individual, the person, the physical entity, is repulsive to humanism in all forms because it is not the abstraction: humanity.
What finally defined modernity after centuries of conflict among Christians, scientists, atheists, and humanists, is the “spirit,” the essence, the abstraction, the “ideal type.” Modernity is thus characterized by an “alienness” that counterposes the “spirit” or the realm of abstractions and essences against individuals who have a physical existence. The person is not the spirit and the spirit is not the person. Feuerbach and the humanists labored to liberate humans from the alienation of religious thought that sought the essence of humanity in the “other world.” Feuerbach believed that God is only the externalized human essence. He demanded that this externalized human essence be recognized as such and returned to “thisworld.” God is nothing more than “the human essence” reflected in an ideal form.
The task of philosophy for the humanists is to return this selfknowledge to human beings as a collectivity, which entails a revolutionary transformation of culture and ideology. Hu manism redefines “spirit” and challenges the Christian foundations of modern thought and society.
Feuerbach argues that modern thought must abandon theology and the philosophy of religion in favor of psychology and anthropology. It must recognize “anthropology as itself theology.” Anthropology, the study of humanity from a collective and historical perspective, is the means to “attain a true, self-satisfying identity of the divine and human being, the identity of the human being with itself.” Feuerbach says that the alternatives to his position can only be a “half measure – a thing o f the imagination – a perversion, a distortion.” All division o f the d ivine and the human, or separation of the divine and the human, must be abolished in favor of the “true identi ty” of human being, or the unity of the human nature with itself.” In Christianity, the most advanced form of thought in the modern period, faith in the divinity of Jesus binds peopl e to each other and is the basis of the person’s relationship to the external world. Feuerbach argues that once anthropology replaces theology as the prevailing explanation of human being, the role of faith in Christianity will be replaced by “love.”
There is a contradiction between faith and love that must be resolved in favor of love.
Whereas the Christian dictum states that “God is love,” the humanist says that “love is the supreme being.” Feuerbach argues that the Christians have it backwards: God is not love. Instead, love is God. For Feuerbach, “God,” or the subject in the Christian dictum, is “the darkness in which faith shrouds itself; the predicate is the light which first illuminates the intrinsically dark subject. The method of critical or speculative philosophy is merely to invert the subject and the predicate. If faith is the subject and love is the predicate,
Love does not alone fill my soul : I leave a place open for my uncharitableness
by thinking of God as a subject in distinction from the pred icate. It is therefore
inevitable that at one moment I lose the thought of love, at another the
thought of God.
The problem with Christian love, for Feuerbach, is that it is a “particular, limited love” that does not abolish the d istinction b etween “Christianity and heathenism.” Its “particularity is in contrad iction with the nature of love, an abnormal, loveless love.” Christian love is love mediated by God, the external supernatural being, and the social institutions erected to implement his word on earth. True love, however, needs no special title or authority, and it needs no external mediation. I t is the “un iversal law of intelligence and Nature; it is nothing else than the realization of the unity of the species through the medium of moral sentiment.”
The type of loveenvisioned in F euerbach’s humanism is presumably superior to faith because it is founded on the “unity of the species, the unity of intelligence on the nature of mankind.”Feuerbach and the Young Hegelians believed that the nature of God and faith is “nothing else than the nature o f man placed out of man, conceived a s external t o man.” Truth and human liberation are nothing else than the “reduction of the extra-human, supernatural, and antirational nature of God to the natural, immanent, inborn nature of man.”
Feuerbach’s humanism is an atheism that seeks (a) the abolition of God as a metaphysical or suprahuman entity, and (b) its replacement, or reconstruction, with the idea that humanity is God, the absolute, the supreme being. The supreme being is “humanity” expressed and interpreted in an ideal, essential, or spiritual form.
The Young Hegelians believed that Feuerbach made a significant theoretical advance over Hegelian thought and laid the philosophic groundwork for a revolutionary transformation of Europe that would eliminate alienation in culture, economics, and politics. Stirner dissented from the prevailing view of Feuerbach. Feuerbach does not d iscard religion. Instead, he clutches, in despair, at the “total substance of Christianity,” dragging it out of heaven to make humanity appear as God .
Feuerbach still yearns for the “other world” of rel igion. Unlike Christianity, he wants to bring it to earth. Stirner issues a challenge to the humanists by saying that it does not matter whether the ideal form of humanity is viewed externally as God or viewed internally as the “essence of man.” The person is neither God nor “man.” The person is neither some sort of supreme outward essence nor a supreme inward essence.
The person cannot be reduced to a n essence or to a species. Feuerbach has really created a falsedichotomy b ecause Christians tend to think of the supreme being in both kinds of “otherworldliness, the inward and outward.” The “Spirit of God” also ” dwells w ithin us,” according to the Christians. Like the “Spirit of God,” the essence of humanity, “dwells in heaven and dwells in us; we poor things are just its ‘dwelling,’ and force it to move to us bag and baggage, then we, its earthly apartments, will be badly overcrowded .”
What d ifference does it really make if Feuerbach humanizes the divine and mystifies the human by recreating the supreme being as an essence or spirit that dwells on earth? Human beings are just its “dwelling.” From the standpoint of the individual, the essence, ideal, or spirit i s not the person. It is different, something alien. While Feuerbach and the humanists intended to overthrow the domination of thought by theology, they succeeded only in creating a new theology and a new form of alienation.
By bringing the spirit down to earth, Feuerbach and the humanists managed to “spiritualize” the whole world, to make the physical and social worlds an “enigmatical ghost,” to make the world “uncanny” and haunted by spooks. With Christianity, the “word became flesh.” With Feuerbach’shumanism, the world became spiritualized, u ncanny, enchanted, haunted by essences and spirits. As humanity becomes spiritualized, it also becomes sacred . The sacred is always alien, uncanny, strange, and unfamiliar.
The essence of “Man” or humanity “reaches beyond every ind ividual.” It is not his or her essence. It is a general, universal, and higher essence. For the atheists and the humanists, humanity, the “highest essence,” is sacred.
Those who revere it become saints and whatever they do becomes saintly. Human action, in contradiction to Feuerbach’s intent, once again becomes mediated by an external, spiritual being: humanity or the ” essence of Man.” Love, which is the most sacred, saintly activity for the humanists when it is universal, becomes the new faith. Human thought and behavior are once again alienated and subordinated to an external, spiritual entity.
Stirner argues that modernist philosophy and science are the search for essences and foundations. The basic methodology of humanism is to search for the essence by first separating and d egra ding the ” misapprehended appearance” to a “bare semblance,” “a deception,” “empty appea rance,” or “deceitful appearance.” The concern of philosophy and science is not with the world of appearance but with the realm of essences.
Some of the essences derived from appearances are thought to be good. For Feuerbach, the essence of human feeling is “love” and the essence of human thought is “truth.” Other essences are labeled “bad.”
Regardless, the search for essences and the discarding of phenomenal appearance is the methodology of humanism or modern thought. The onesided search for essences subverts the realm of everyday life in which persons have a “this worldly,” material reality and interact with each other as physical beings. In everyday life, individuals are not essences to each other. But, in modernist systems of knowledge, they have a “higher essence” hidden within. Stimer argues that for the humanists, this “higher essence,” the truth of humanity, calls forth a mutual reverence if it is recognized as such. If the “higher essence” is not recognized, the mutual reverence is not forthcoming. Individuals a ppear as merely “perishable bodies” to each other.
When the “higher essence” is mutually recognized, persons do not actually recognize, respect, or revere each other, but only the “higher essence” that is hidden w ithin them .
In humanism, “Humanity” or “Man” is the truth w ithin persons. Their physical existence is a mere “mortal veil” that covers the truth and must be exposed as mere “deceitful semblance.” For Feu erbach, “Man” was a universal, a general truth, not a particu lar individual. For Marx, “class” was the universal, general truth . For race theorists and multiculturalists, “race” and “ethnicity” are universal, general truths. For sexists and feminists, “gender” is a universal, general truth. The individual in humanistthought is a mere vessel that carries the universa l in a physical, particular form.
The person, in his or her particularity, does not matter to humanismor modern thought. The individual, the particular, is subordinate to the essence. The thoughts and feelings that individuals have for themselves and each other – if they cherish self and other, find nourishment in self and other, satisfy the needs of self and other – is mere egoism, particularity.