THE METHOD AND CONTENT OF DIALECTICAL EGOISM
The point of departure of The Ego and Its Own is the dialectic Stirner formulates in his discussion of the differences between the ancients and the moderns, and the tensions within the ideology of advanced modernity. Stirner’s discussion of the characteristics of modernity and the transformation of thought within it constitute an entree to the central concept in Stirner’s analysis of modernity : ownness.
Stirner derives two other concepts from ownness that enable him to suggest the reconstruction of self and the self-other relationship as alternative forms of resistance to modernity : the unique one and the union of egoists.
Fixed ideas are threats to the individual’s internal and external wellbeing regardless of whether the analysis is focused on the concepts of “gods” and “heaven” found among the ancients, or “humanity” and “society” found among the moderns. The historical transformation from antiquity to modernity entails the ascendance of the “dominion of the mind” in which the concepts and methods of philosophy, science, and humanism began to dominate politics, culture, and the everyday interaction of people.
Stirner was unequivocal, but also overly optimistic in his judgment that humanism would likely be the last transformation of modernity, the last alienated philosophy: “Man is the last evil spook, the most deceptive or most intimate, the craftiest liar with honest mien, the father of lies.” L Stirner’s dialectical egoist critique of antiquity and modernity provides a vantage point from which all cultures and all historical periods can be challenged.
His primary interest is in developing an egoist challenge to moder-nity founded on the concept of ownness. The chapter examines Stimer’s notion of ownness and other concepts he derived to promote resistance to the politics and culture of modernity. The intent is to summarize the concepts of “ownness,” “the unique one,” and “the union of egoists” to complete a foundation for examining his influence upon and theoretical relationships with the writers discussed in subsequent chapters.
Stimer’s philosophy in The Ego and Its Own emerged as a “higher presupposition” from the conflict between the materialist thought of the Enlightenment thinkers and the idealism manifest in the writings of Hegel, Feuerbach, and the Young Hegelians. For Stimer, the key to individuality is the realization that interests and needs are as unique as persons.
The existence and identity of persons cannot be reduced to abstractions such as humanity and society without doing significant damage to the ability of individuals to think for themselves and to act on their own behalf.
Social institutions in the modern world function on the basis of reifications such as humanity and society. Thus, the state, culture, and society tend to militate against the self-enjoyment and self-fulfillment of the individual.
They also elevate obedience and conformism as primary social values. The central message of The Ego and Its Own is that it is up to the individual to discover and to fight for what and who she or he is. There are no moral absolutes or ideological reference points outside the reality and values chosen by the individual. Stirner’s concept of “ownness” or “property” is an oppositional concept that illuminates the nature of individual autonomy and encourages individuals to resist values, beliefs, and identities that the state, society, and culture attempt to impose on persons.
The person or “unique one” exists in opposition to the state and society precisely because of the ability to assert ownership over who they are, what they think, and how they behave. Stimer’s con cept of ownership or “ownness” has a clear relationship with the notions of individual freedom and autonomy, just as it entails elements of psychological and ethical egoism.
However, “ownness” cannot be reduced to any of these ideas. Certainly, Stirner’s concepts of freedom, identity, and reality are founded on the notion of “ownness,” which is rooted in Hegel’s notion of freedom as self-conscious self-determination.
The Ego and Its Own is a sharp attack on religion, political authority, and the philosophies of Stirner’s contemporaries who held socialist, communist, or humanist orientations. His attack on the systematic philosophies and religions prevailing during his life entails an opposition to moral absolutes and a rejection of abstract and generalized philosophies. The human individual is the center of his analysis. In rejecting all of the fixed ideas or artificial constructions of science, philosophy, and culture, Stirner identifies the elemental self or the “unique one.” He argues in The Ego and Its Own that we can have certain knowledge only of the unique individual. The uniqueness of the individ ual is the quality that each must cultivate to provide meaning for his or her life. The reality and value of all fixed ideas or generalized concepts, such as “God,” “humanity,” “man,” “class consciousness,” “social justice,” and “race awareness,” whether they are found in religion, philosophy, culture, or politics, must be rejected.
Politically and behaviorally, this means that the individual owes nothing, not obedience, not loyalty, nor resources, to external entities or concepts, including nations, states, classes, races, or ethnic groups. All religious, scientific, and cultural constructs that seek to impose or promote a commonness or collective identity, are false, constraining, and purposeless specters that lack a meaningful referent in the material world.
T he challenge of the “unique one” is to resist all efforts to create and impose such specters.
As a student of Hegel, Stirner was acutely aware of both the internal and external dimensions of human existence and freedom. He clearly understood the nature and importance of what Thomas Hobbes and Isaiah Berlin called “negative freedom,” a condition in which the individual is rid of external controls or where there is an absence of coercion. Berlin argues that the notion of “positive freedom,” which refers to the person’s access to desiderata, contributes significantly to human well-being.
Stirner is much more concerned with “ownness” or the notion that the person possesses the ability to obtain those things related to a fulfilling life, especially the ability to assert ownership over thought and behavior.
Berlin’s “positive freedom” is different from Stirner’s concept of “ownness.” “I am free of what I am rid of, owner of what I have in my power or what I control. I am at all times and under all circumstances, my own, if I know how to possess myself.”s Ownness surpasses both forms of freedom. Understanding ownness requires that freedom and ownness be differentiated and placed in opposition.
Stirner believed that freedom is usually an “ideal” or a “specter” in political discourse. It is a “hollow word” especially when people do not have the “might,” ability, or power to acquire what they want, to enjoy themselves, or to lead fulfilling lives. For Stirner, freedom, particularly its negative form, is usually equivalent to a “useless permission” conferred by an alien or external agent, such as the state or the collective. T he modern concept of freedom is rooted in Christian ethics: humans must be “free” to choose salvation; that is, they must be free of sin.
They must, therefore, be free to choose self-denial. They must be free to choose to be a servant of the righteous. F reedom is a “longing, romantic pliant, a Christian hope for un-earthliness and futurity.” Following Milton’s passionate defense of freedom in Areopagitica, freedom is the expression of the will of God, or a bargain with the Christian supreme being: freedom is granted
on the condition that persons use it as directed by the powerful other.
It provides an opportunity for a test of faith and self-renunciation.
The person passes the test through obeisance and acquiescence, and, in return, receives life everlasting and emancipation from the oppression of this life.Freedom entails similar deals or implied contracts between the citizen and the state in political liberalism, the worker and society in social liberalism, and the human being and culture in humane liberalism. In each case, the person must deny or renounce self as an individual with an ego and submit to an external abstraction. The modernist concept of freedom, rooted in Christianity and political libera lism, teaches only that persons must “get rid” of themselves.?
Freedom is something that the person cannot will or create without action and conviction on his or her part. If individuals only wish and aspire for freedom, it remains an ideal or a spook. In political life, where there is action beyond aspiration, freedom always comes down to a particular freedom which includes the intent to impose a new “dominion.” For the bourgeoisie, freedom was a rhetorical tool that helped the overthrow of monarchy and aristocracy and the imposition of political liberalism, or the constitutional democratic state. For the socialists and communists, freedom meant the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the dispossession of property, and the imposition of an authoritarian, collectivist regime.
For the humanists, freedom meant the destruction of religion, the deification of humanity and the elevation of speculative philosophy and science as the arbiters of truth and morality. “Freedom fighters” characteristically fight for a particular freedom and, consequently, for a new dominion, a new regime with new fixed ideas or reinterpretations of the old ones. Freedom fighters gladly take up freedom as a political rallying cry when it suits their cause, but are eager to let it go when it is inconvenient or contradicts their agenda. Freedom is ultimately conferred in a political process by the state, a political party, or a scientific doctrine. It is a condition that places the person in a state of dependence on a social organization.
Ownness is different. Ownness does not imply a lack of constraint. It is a type of action in which the person acquires and possesses ideas or objects as property. Most importantly they assert ownership over body, mind, and self.
Ownness is my whole being and existence, it is I myself . I am free of what I
am rid of, owner of what I have in my power or what I control. My own I am
at all times and under all circumstances, if I know how to have myself and
do not throw myself away on others .