For Stirner, Bauer’s Feldzüge was but the negative reflection of positive religion, and as such still dialectically linked to and dependent upon the religious consciousness.
This dependency upon the “Geist der offenbaren Religion” rendered him incapable of going beyond atheism, beyond religion. In short, what now had to be done, as Hegel had it, was to supercede the whole of religious consciousness. This is what Stirner intended.
If the end of Hegel’s Phenomenology can only be reached by overcoming its penultimate form, by going beyond the fixed religious consciousness of the “pious atheists”, then Stirner might be said to have advanced to “Absolute Wissen”. I would propose that Stirner’s thought is congruent with and reflective of this final state ofconsciousness which reaches beyond the “truths” of all previous shapes of consciousness, and has thereby superceded the fixed thoughts and definitions of all previous “Geistesgestalten”. At this point Stirner’s thought would reflect this final state by establishing itself beyond definition and fixed ideas – beyond the highest “truths” of the past. As noted earlier, Karl Löwith also understood Stirner’s work as “an ultimate logical consequence of Hegel’s historical system, which – allegorically displaced – it reproduces exactly”.
The question would then be just what does this “allegorisch entstellet” mean? I would propose that it is merely Löwith’s way of understanding Stirner’s philosophy as the Aufhebung and completion of Hegelianism itself.
This understanding suggested itself to Karl Marx, who wrote, that Hegel
“… defines the task of the new
philosophy … to supercede
[aufzuheben] ‘fixed and determinate
thoughts’ This, he ordains,
completes ‘the dialectic’, of the
Phenomenology… Stirner differs
,from Hegel in that he accomplishes
the same without dialectic.”
Stirner took himself at standing “at the boundary of a period”, and concurred with Hegel’s request that “The task nowadaysconsists … in freeing determinate thoughts from their fixity so as to give actuality to theuniversal…[Jetzt besteht darum die Arbeit … das Aufheben der festen bestimmten Gedanken des Allgemeine zu verwirklichenund zu begeisten].”In taking up this task, Stirner would press beyond the “pious atheism” and humanistic liberalism of such as Feuerbach and Bauer, beyond those whom Hegel described as “beautiful souls” [“die schöne Seele”]. These souls, fixed in the painful shape of a religious consciousness were unable to reconcile their inward ideals to the truths of the given world. For Hegel “This ‘beautiful soul’ … being conscious of this contradiction in its unreconciled immediacy, is disordered to the point of madness [zur Verrüktheit zerrütet]
In short, it is the mind of the frustrated revolutionary idealist and reformer, who, driven to seek an ideal “better world”, must nevertheless live in the actual world. It might begin in a benign idealism but if pursued, will lead to revolutionary terror and final madness. It is a mind of the adolescent grown old, unable to surmount its infatuation with “Ideals”
For Stirner the mind of the violent revolutionary and the mild humanist are one and the same, a mind which revealed itself in the grandiloquent declaration of Heinrich Heine, who “did not consider himself a disciple at all [of the Saint-Simonian Félicien David] but rather the servant of an idea:
“We seize upon no idea, rather the idea seizes us, and enslaves us, and drives us into the Arena, that we, as forced Gladiators, struggle for it [Wir ergreifen keine Idee, sondern die Idee ergreift uns, und knechtet uns, und peitscht uns in the Arena hinein, dass wir, wie gezwungene Gladiatoren, fürsie kämpfen].”
Stirner would term Heine insane, as one being possessed by a unquestionable truth, a “fixed idea”: “What is then a “fixed idea”? An idea that has subjected the man to itself. When you recognize, with regard to such a fixed idea, that it is a folly, you shut its slave up in an asylum.”
“Absolute Wissen”, as the conclusion of Hegel’s phenomenological Bildungsroman would not then be an “idea”, but rather a state of self-consciousness resting at the exhausted term of the dialectic which had generated definitions, “fixed ideas”. It was the end of the “love of wisdom” in the possession of its object. In 1853, less than a decade after he had given up his critical project, Bauer noted “The catastrophe of Metaphysics is undeniable. For the last twelve years it can be seen that philosophic writing has forever been closed and finished.”
Bauer understood that the narrative history of consciousness had concluded, and nothing more could be said – except the endless retrospective analysis of the academic “Old Hegelians”. Such exhaustive reflections upon past thought might bring to mind Foucault’s Archaeology, a view of the issue which leads directly to Gilles Deleuze, and his understanding of Stirner’s significance as “he who pushes the dialectic to its final consequences”.
In this termination of philosophy would be found the reasons for the inability to simply “define” Stirner’s philosophy. As the Protagonist of Hegel’s “voyage of discovery”, he has reached the end of the“Path of Doubt” which reaches beyond atheism. He might well be the first to state what was entailed in reaching that final knowledge. Absolute Knowing, being fully independent the constraint of a definingother, beyond the last form of relating to another, would be indefinable. In Stirner’s words:
“With the Unique One [Einzigen] the
Kingdom of Absolute Thoughts, of
thoughts which carry their own
meaning, their own content, comes to
an end… the Unique [Einzige] is the
highest, the most undeniable and
most revealing — phrase; it is the final
capstone of our world of phrases, of
this world, in which ‘the beginning
was the Word’.”
In the final paragraph of Der Einzige, Stirner concludes his own Phenomenology:
“In the unique one the owner himself
returns into his creative nothing, of
which he is born.” [“Im Einzigen
kehrt selbst der Eigner in seine
schöpferisches Nichts, zurück, aus
welchem er geboren wird.”]
In the final paragraph of the Phenomenology, Hegel concludes his narrative in a similar manner, a conclusion in which self-conscious Spirit, as
“absorbed in itself, it is sunk into the
night of its self-consciousness; but in
that night its vanished outer existence
is preserved, and this transformed
existence –the former one, but now
reborn of the Spirit’s knowledge – is
the new existence, a new world and a
new shape of spirit.”
For both Hegel and Stirner, the long and painful story of the travails of der Erfarung des Bewußtseins comes to a happy ending when consciousness recovers itself from out of its ideal worlds, from out of “der Nacht seines Selbtsbewusstseins” and enters into “eine neue Welt”, a world well beyond the dreams of the beautiful souls, and the “humane liberals.” As understood by Alexandre Kojève, Absolute Wissen is the term of the history of consciousness, the ending of philosophy, and so beyond the ideals of such entities as Bauer’s Mensch – or Nietzsche’s Übermensch. It would be the time of Nietzsche’s “Last Man’, the Man without any ideals beyond himself — the time of a Stirner.
But if this happy ending made the narrative of consciousness a comedy for Hegel and Stirner, it was a tragedy for Nietzsche. For him, the new world was theworld of the “Last Man”, and Stirner would surely qualify for that role. Stirner, being quite at home with himself, was set to enjoy himself in the here and now:
“My intercourse with the world
consists in my enjoying it, and so
consuming it for my self-enjoyment.
Intercourse is the enjoyment of the
world, and belongs to my — selfenjoyment.”
Unhappily Stirner’s defense of this selfaccepting consciousness, one fully aware and satisfied with itself, immediately drove such humane liberals as the socialist Moses Hess to label Stirner a “Beast of Prey” [“Raubtier”].From the beginning he has remained a diabolical “Nihilistic Egoist”,and always fair game for moralizing idealists.This notoriety would not surprise Stirner, who well understood that “Our Atheists are pious people” [“Unser Atheisten sind fromme Leute”].
However, in this self-satisfaction, this Autarkie of the free individual, Stirner’s goal would accord itself with what Hegel had set forth as his own thought as to how the phenomenological “voyage of discovery” would end. It would end at that moment when
“the separation of knowing and truth,
is overcome [der trenning des
Wissens und der Wahrheit is
überwinden]. Being is then absolutely
mediated; it is a substantial content
which is just as immediately the
property of the ‘I” [der ebenso
unmittelbar Eigentum des Ichs], it is
self-like or the Notion. With this the
Phenomenology of the Spirit is
Is it possible that Hegel’s “Eigentum des Ichs” anticipates Stirner’s “Einzige und sein Eigentum”? Perhaps.
Jean Hyppolite, in his study of the Phänomenologie understood that for Hegel, “The history of the world is finished; all that is needed is for the specific individual to rediscover it in himself”. Stirner rediscovered in himself that “specific individual”, the Einziger, and not in Bauer’s “new discovery” – the universal “Man”.