The broad interest in egoism and the notion of the “superman” in modernist literature and criticism in the early 1900s encouraged interest in, and conflated the thought of, otherwise divergent “individualist” writers and philosophers.
Perhaps the most noteworthy of the efforts to equate “egoists” and “supermen” was James Huneker’s study of Stendhal, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Ibsen, Nietzsche, and Stirner, entitled Egoists, A Book of Supermen.Huneker was an American music critic who was best known for his study of Chopin. He was also proficient in the study of literature and the arts. He was one of the first to analyze and comment on Ibsen, Wagner, Nietzsche, and Stimer in English.
He published a lengthy analysis of Stirner in the New York Times in April 1907, soon after Byington’s translation of The Ego and Its Own appeared. This early essay eventually stirred a discussion on the paper’s editorial page in 1 909 and became Huneker’s chapter on Stirner in Egoists. The 1907 article clearly states Huneker’s surprise at learning that Nietzsche, the poet and rhapsodist, had a forerunner in Stirner. Noting the stylistic differences, and Walker’s early admonition against any equation of Stirner and Nietzsche, Huneker nevertheless makes the first case in English, in the New York Times no less, for a relationship between the “prophet of egoism” and the “poet of egoism.”
Huneker’s article on Stirner and his book on egoists cemented the idea in public discourse in America and Great Britain that Nietzsche was influenced by Stirner. Huneker reports that in the 1 890s he began to understand “that Nietzsche used Stirner as a springboard, a point of departure.” It is in the chapter on Nietzsche in Egoists where Huneker is most direct about Nietzsche’s debt to Stirner. According to Huneker, Nietzsche was a philosopher who lacked “originality” and “was not one of the world’s great men.” His work has “the familiar ring of Max Stirner and his doctrine of the ego.” lO Moreover, Stirner must have “imitated Nietzsche in advance” l 1 and the “dyed-in-the-wool Nietzscheans” never acknowledge that their “master had read and digested Max Stirner’s anarchistic work, The Ego and Its Own .”
Although it had little effect on the reception of either Nietzsche or Stirner in Great Britain and America, the question about the relationship appeared initially two decades earlier in Germany just as Nietzsche’s writings were gaining renown. The arguments in favor of Stirner’s influence on Nietzsche were typically based on hearsay and circumstantial evidence. In 1 889, Eduard von Hartmann, the author of The Philosophy of the Unconscious ( 1 869), which discusses Stirner’s ideas, publicly accused Nietzsche of plagiarizing Stirner. Hartmann’s accusation was taken as significant evidence of Stirner’s influence because Nietzsche had written a hostile review of Hartmann’s book in the second of his Untimely Meditations.
Hartmann argues that Nietzsche must have known about Stirner since Nietzsche knew The Philosophy of the Unconscious intimately and focused his critique on the chapter that discusses Stirner. A similar accusation arose earlier in Nietzsche’s career that he must have known about The Ego and Its Own because it is discussed in Friedrich A . Lange’s 1866 book, The History of Materialism, another intellectual history that Nietzsche devoured in his youth. Lange’s survey of materialist thought is the same book that inspired John H enry Mackay to learn the facts of Stirner’s life and thought.
Some of Nietzsche’s friends also claimed that he knew about Stirner and, at a minimum, felt some affinity with the dialectical egoist. Nietzsche spent some time living with Franz and Ida Overbeck at different points during 1 880-1883. After Nietzsche’s death, Franz Overbeck confirmed the claim of Adolf Baumgartner, reported ly Nietzsche’s favorite student, that he borrowed The Ego and Its Own from the Basel University library on July 14, 1 874, “on Nietzsche’s warmest recommendations. ” lS Ida Overbeck also reported that Nietzsche once mentioned his appreciation of Stirner, but then retracted his statement fearing another accusation of plagiarism . “Forget it,” he told her. “I did not want to mention it at all.”
Further, there is circumstantial evidence that Nietzsche may have discussed Stirner with his early mentor, Richard Wagner, who was certainly familiar ith Stirner and knew the anarchist Michael Bakunin very well. Nietzsche was also friends with the conductor Hans von Bu low, Cosima Wagner’s first husband. Bulow was a great admirer of Stirner, probably knew him personally, and even worked with John Henry Mackay to place a memorial plaque at Stirner’s last residence in Berlin.
Nietzsche and von Bu low held long conversations in Basel in 1 872, exchanged gifts, and were friendly at least until 1 889. The suggestion is that Nietzsche learned about Stirner from one of his strongest supporters in the arts. There is also some newer research on the “relationship” between Stirner and Nietzsche that argues that Eduard Mushacke, the father o f one of Nietzsche’s school friends, had been a close friend of Stirner. Nietzsche apparently developed a friendship with the “old Mushacke.” The conversations between the two reportedly generated Nietzsche’s ” initial crisis” that led to his study of Arthur Schopenhauer and, presumably, an individualist turn informed by, or inspired by, Stirner.
Many anarchists a n d Stirnerites felt invested i n the controversy because, if Nietzsche was influenced by Stirner, the lack of acknowledgement amounts not only to the unfair marginalization of Stirner, but is also a backhanded vindication of his ideas. Even though Stirner himsel f is a minor figure in the history of philosophy, the argument goes, he had more influence through Nietzsche’s philosophy than previously thought. For their part, the Nietzscheans typically dispel any a rgument or evidence of an influence in order to maintain the i mage of their master’s originality. It is important to emphasize that Nietzsche does not quote, debate, nor reference Stirner anywhere in his books or letters. Moreover, the evidence of plagiarism is either nonexistent or extremely nebulous; the accusations of plagiarism and the assertions of influence a re based on perceived similarities
in ideas. Although the young Nietzsche wrote during a period in which Stirner’s work was largely ignored, it is hard to believe that he would knowingly appropriate Stirner’s work thinking that scholars would not discover any deception. Plagiarism is an extremely unfair accusation to level against Nietzsche since there is n o study that provides a side-by-side comparison of the ideas and passages that were supposedly appropriated from Stirner.