When William James said, ‘The axis of reality runs solely through the egotistic places — they are strung upon it like so many beads,’ he was close to Stirner’s position.
A recent re-appraisal of Nietzsche makes the same point: ‘He wishes to free men of the bad conscience about egoism induced by the old morality; to encourage them to undertake that “rigorous selfishness” which is the most fundamental condition of thriving life.’
A century ago, in advocating such a corrective egoism, Stirner fell victim to what Erich Fromm has called the ‘tabu on selfishness’ which pervades modern culture. And today, as the mills of the various Absolutes grind individuals exceeding small, we might well launch a frontal attack on that tabu, if we are to be more than faceless units grubbing for survival in mass social situations. Stirner’s formulations on ‘egoism’ afford us various clues with which to go into extensional battle.
In commenting upon the scientific revolution of which Einstein is commonly considered the leader, Korzybski points out that at the same time that ‘the universe of Newton’ became with Einstein ‘a universe,’ man himself was reoriented: ‘The man became a man, otherwise a “conceptual construction,” one among the infinity of possible ones.’
Stirner, in 1844, was perfectly aware of the revolutionary nature of this new emphasis:
Man with the great M is only an ideal, the species only something thought
of. To be a man is not to realize the ideal of Man, but to present oneself,
the individual. It is not how I realize the generally human that needs to be
my task, but how I satisfy myself. I am my species, am without norm, am
without law, without model, and the like.
Hence my wants too are unique, and my deeds; in short, everything about
me is unique. And it is only as this unique I that I take everything for my
own, as I set myself to work, and develop myself, only as this. I do not
develop man, nor as man, but, as I, I develop — myself.
This is the meaning of the — unique one.
Stirner was in agreement with Korzybski’s observation that on the threshold of every beginning — including that of positing a ‘unique one’ — ‘we must start with undefined terms which express silent, structural creeds or metaphysics.’13 When Stirner said, ‘I on my part start from a presupposition in presupposing myself,’ he was stating his metaphysics and suggesting its unspeakable nature. ‘They say of God, “Names name thee not.” That holds good of me: no concept expresses me, nothing that is designated as my essence exhausts me; they are only names.’
But if, in Stirner’s own words, his unique one is ‘unspeakable’ and ‘unutterable,’ how do we identify him? Stirner’s response is couched in terms that Korzybski himself might have used, while pointing silently to a thing on the objective level: Instead of attempting to describe in high-order abstractions ‘the conceptual question, “what is man?”,’ put ‘who’ in place of ‘what’; ‘with “who” it is no longer any question at all, but the answer is personally on hand at once in the asker: the question answers itself.’
This is Stirner’s ‘self-conscious egoism,’ the foundation beneath his ‘ownness,’ or ‘extensionality’1844. Just as Korzybski claims that in the ‘manhood of humanity’the individual will possess some of the semantic reactions of so-called‘genius,’ so Stirner claims that the exercise of ‘ownness’ will raise men above the ‘human’ (more abstract) level, will make ‘un men’ of them. Korzybski sees thisgreater integration as a step from the ‘animal’ to the ‘true’ (adult) man; Stirner, as proceeding from ‘man’ to ‘un-man’; their viewpoints are essentially the same.
But always conscious of abstracting, Stirner makes it clear that his un-man, as ‘self-conscious egoist,’ is not un-man on the level of a superman, or a ‘god,’ for this formulation he rejects. His ‘unique one’ is not a conscious aristocrat like that of Nietzsche, but if he should prove ‘superior’ (by some evaluation madeoutside himself), that superiority would be only the outgrowth of ‘ownness,’ of extensionality, if you will. This orientation is the basis for Stirner’s preference for the term ‘un-human’ instead of ‘human.’ The latter ‘is not my world. I never execute anything human in the abstract, but always my own things; i.e my human act is diverse from every other human act, and only by this diversity is it a real act belonging to me. The human in it is an abstraction, and, as such, spirit, i.e. abstracted essence.’
But the fact that ‘human’ is a higher-order abstraction does not mean that Stirner advocates dispensing with it and with other abstractions.
Abstractions and thoughts are simply more of his ‘properties,’ existing on different levels, and to be used for his unique purposes.