OWNNESS AND MODERNITY:THE POLITICAL MEANING OF DIALECTICAL EGOISM III

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Stirner’s notion of ownness is both similar to and different from other concepts of individual freedom and self-determination in individualist, libertarian, and anarchist literature. Concepts of self-ownership are a recurrent theme in libertarian and anarchist theory especially, but none appear to approximate the form of appropriation that defines Stirner’s notion of ownness. For example, William Godwin is frequently cited as the first philosopher who deliberately articulated a systematic argument for anarchism, even though he did not call it that.

 

Godwin based his incipient form of communist anarchism, or “political justice,” on an ethical notion of independent or private judgment, in which persons must be free to choose morally correct behaviors. Paramount among these is the notion that individuals must serve an absolute, fixed moral code.

 

The nineteenthcentury American abolitionist philosopher and activist Stephen Pearl Andrews developed a concept he called the “sovereignty of the individual,” similar to Godwin’s notion of private judgment, which decried the intrusion of the state and society into the moral and political decisions of individuals. Robert Paul Wolff published a more recent study of ethics and politics that develops an argument for anarchism based on Kant’s notion of “moral autonomy.” Godwin, Andrews, and Wolff each derived an argument for a collectivist form of anarchism that was initially grounded in an idea about the right of persons to make political and ethical decisions for themselves.

 

A t the more individualist end of the libertarian and anarchist spectra, political theorists such as Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, and Robert Nozick, despite their many differences, also developed concepts that have some limited similarities with Stirner’s notion of ownness. Rand’s rational egoism was based on an ethical theory that defines selfishness as a virtue because it directly reinforces the efforts of human beings to use their minds to ensure their survival . Her egoist thought includes both a requirement that individuals have a right and an ethical obligation to make their own decisions and to live their own lives with minimal interference by the state.

 

Rothbard, a vehement opponent of Berlin’s notion of positive freedom, believed in both the negative concept of freedom and the idea that self-ownership was an absolute. Rothbard feared that any concession to the concept of positive freedom inevitably results in a role for the state to create the conditions necessary for the presumably loftier aspects of freedom Berlin discusses. But, Rothbard also believed that self-ownershipchism he espoused . In Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick a lso made the case for self-ownership as an ethical necessity and a precond ition for the minimal ist state he envisioned as a libertarian alternative to both anarchism and statism.

 

 

The collectivist and individualist interpretations of both anarchism and libertarianism that include concepts like moral autonomy, independent judgment, sovereignty of the individual, and self-ownership bear some similarity to Stirner’s notion of ownness because they all focus on autonomous decision-making and behavior that is not constrained by governmental or ideological dictates. However, there are at least two significant differences that help clarify the uniqueness of Stirner’s idea of ownness.

 

 

First, unlike Stimer, each of the anarchist and libertarian thinkers mentioned here envision persons making choices according to a method or framework that has an absolute existence external to the person. Although Godwin and Rand are light years apart in the economic and political systems they sought to impose on individuals and society, they are together on the point that ethical individuals make decisions according to a fixed set of postulates.

 

In Godwin’s case, ethical behavior serves the collectivist ideal of the greater good. In Rand’s case, ethical behavior is consistent with reason and the survival needs of “Man,” a concept that she uses with considerable felicity.

 

These are notions that Stirner ridiculed as fixed ideas when they appeared in the writings of his predecessors and contemporaries, including libertarians and anarchists such as Joseph-Pierre Proudhon and Peter Kropotkin both of whom appealed to the importance of morality to maintain social order and promote socialist ideals in a stateless society.

Second, none of these notions of moral autonomy or self-ownership seem to entail the same level of commitment, activity, or effort inherent in ownness. As Stirner discusses ownness, the reader feels the tension, exertion, struggle, and sacrifice of the person as ownership is asserted over body, mind, and self in opposition to society, polity, and deity. Ownness is sensual and mental, internal and external, subjective and objective, initself and for-itself. It is more than the disembodied, rational exercises revered by the anarchists and libertarians intended to discover political justice, natural law, rational ethics, and social consensus.

 

Ownness i s a form of conviction that has a visceral, active, willful undergirding involving the entire being of the person: body, mind, and self. It is a form of commitment that appears much more dangerous to self and other than moral autonomy or self-ownership because it assumes no consensus or rational fit with moral absolutes or the actions of powerful others. Ownness  offers no guaranteed solace, no terminus to conflict, oppression, sacrifice, or suffering. It is a concept that describes the behavior of persons, convinced of their uniqueness, seeking self-fulfillment in opposition to society, polity, and deity was important, if not absolutely necessary to the form of market.

 

 

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