THE CLANDESTINE RECEPTION OF STIRNER’S ‘THE EGO’

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Given the widespread contempt for, and the still more prevalent ignorance regarding Stirner some pronouncements about him, voiced by prominent thinkers, are worth our attention. Ludwig Klages for instance, does not believe that Nietzsche knew of Stirner. Nevertheless in his study of Nietzsche, he was prompted to commemorate the author Stirner as a “sheer demoniacal dialectician.

 

” He concedes to him that his thinking, in comparison to Nietzsche’s, is “often more radical, less circumlocutory, analytically more exact”, and that he “gives ultimate conclusions, for the most part, with more conciseness.” Klages regards Stirner as that “antipode of Nietzsche, who in any case should be taken seriously.” Stirner, he says, is the reason why Nietzsche is of paramount importance, because “the day on which Stirner’s program becomes the will-guiding conviction of all, this alone would suffice for it to be the ‘doomsday’ of mankind.”

 

A philosopher of completely different intellectual background, the Marxist Hans Heinz Holz, expressed a quite similar view. He warned that “Stirner’s egoism, if practically realized, would lead to the self-destruction of mankind.” The ex-Marxist Leszek Kolakowski develops a similar apocalyptic vision when confronted by ‘The Ego’.

 

The “destruction of alienation”, that Stirner aims for, he says, amounts to “the return to authenticity”, and this would be “nothing else than the destruction of culture, the return to animality […] the return to the pre-human status.” Even Nietzsche appears, according to Kolakowski, “weak and inconsistent compared to him [Stirner].

 

” And Roberto Calasso, laureate of the “Premio Nietzsche” of 1989, writes: “From certain quarters is to be heard, that it goes without saying that a professional philosopher does not deal with such a matter as Stirner […] from the realm of culture Stirner still remains sequestered […] Stirner’s presence is particularly perceptible […] in authors who are completely silent about him or who talk about him in unpublished texts, which is to say, in Nietzsche and Marx.” Calasso too regards Stirner’s “Egoist” or rather “Owner” as an “artificial barbarian”, an “anthropological monster” etc.. ‘The Egoist’ is the “writing on the wall”, signalling the doom of occidental culture.

 

It is remarkable that these authors did not find Stirner worthy of any argumentative criticism, that their strong words about him were usually uttered in rather remote places, in an apparently casual or accidental way. The small selection of material reviewed above should be sufficient to substantiate the phenomenon of an obviously intensive — though nevertheless largely clandestine — Stirner reception. It articulates itself sotto voce, reckoning that the educated audience already knows what is meant when insinuations are voiced regarding Stirner’s demoniacal antagonism to culture and his absolutely malignant ideas.

 

In some authors who worked more carefully and were more disciplined, mention of Stirner looks like a (Freudian) slip. For example, Edmund Husserl does not name him in any of his texts, letters etc.; this, however, not on grounds that he did not know Stirner’s ideas or that he considered them insignificant. No, the intrinsic reason, which was passed down probably by accident, was that he wanted to protect his students (and perhaps himself?) against their “temptational power”.

 

Another case is that of Carl Schmitt, who was ready to disclose something of his secretive relationship to Stirner, kept since his youth, only after being detained in 1946 in a prison of the Allies (which he experienced as an existential affliction). Theodor Adorno once admitted to his inner circle that it was Stirner alone who had “let the cat out of the bag”. However, he took care to avoid arguing such ideas or even mentioning Stirner’s name.

 

 The never-revealed motivations of such partisans — whose clandestine number is difficult to estimate — are presumably similar to those of the apocalyptic visionaries mentioned above.

 

Other authors (for instance, from recent times, the aforementioned Ottmann and Safranski) display an attitude of soberness and superiority; nevertheless, opposite Stirner a puzzled ambivalence is noticeable in them, which they endeavor to overcome — and young Marx was the prototype for this — by deploying the previously discussed petit bourgeois thesis.

 

There can be no doubt regarding the absolute enmity felt by these thinkers towards Stirner. It is limited or obscured only insofar as they found it necessary to take care that it did not augment Stirner’s value in any way. This enmity is evinced much more frequently among philosophical authors than among theologians, but seldom does a member of either group allow himself to go so far as to phrase such unambiguous words as that early admirer of Nietzsche and professor of philosophy, Karl Joël. In his opus magnum Joël writes: ‘The Ego’ is the “most rampant heretic book a human hand has ever written”, and Stirner laid with it the foundation for a veritable “devil’s religion.”

 

 

 

Joël was forthright: “Stirner” is for many non-theological philosophers a code word for what theologians call “the devil”. This explains why they usually reveal the reasons for their absolute enmity — if they do so at all — only vaguely or inadvertently. It also reveals why establishing their reasons — to say nothing of justifying them — never enters their minds; their reasons for employing such defensive strategies, for their concealment, private remarks, repulsion and circumlocutions — accompanied when necessary by highly-developed theories adapted for popularity (again, Karl Marx sets the standard here) — are not given. Finally, it sheds light on why no one bothers to inquire regarding these reasons.

 

Hence, in my book, Ein dauerhafter Dissident (A Durable Dissident), I presented the authentic history of the impact of Stirner’s work — buried under a tangled mass of conventional secondary literature — as “a history of re(pulsion and de)ception”.

 

This history begins with Feuerbach, Bauer, Ruge and Marx, covers a considerable number of philosophers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and stretches up into our times as far as Jürgen Habermas. Whether or not Friedrich Nietzsche should also be included among these prominent names will have to be considered in the conclusion.

 

 

 

 

 

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