In showing that most of his contemporaries were ‘haunted’ by verbal and mystical sanctions, Stirner exposed himself to attack. His emphasis upon the things called ‘force,’ ‘might,’ and ‘power’ — as his tools, as ‘egoistic’ tools — only added to the number and bitterness of his critics.
His insight into the hypocrisy and delusions motivating most people, was considered evidence of a cynical and ‘inhuman’ man. If there were not an extensional idea in his entire work, a century’s misevaluation of it would still present a fascinating semantic study.
Criticism of Stirner is strewn with evidence of wholesale signal reactions and confusion of abstraction levels, despite Stirner’s efforts — unparalleled in his time — to anticipate and counteract just such confusion. His reception offers an object lesson to all those persons who are intent upon formulating non-aristotelian systems, and who are compelled therefore to deal with the life-situations among which are those named ‘force,’ ‘might,’ ‘power,’ etc.
The ethical agreement between Stirner and Bridgman is striking. Both men, in denying the sacredness of institutions, are simply demanding, in Bridgman’s words, that ‘society be so constructed that it serves the individual, not that the individual serve society.’
On this matter of force, Bridgman is in exact accord with Stirner: ‘The only compulsion that society can exert on me is the compulsion of superior and external force.’And Bridgman adds that he will have no part of the ‘conspiracy of silence . . . which attempts to shield my children from the realization that society must rest on a background of force.’Nor should we lose sight of the fact that the ‘altruist’ (an ‘involuntary’ egoist) assumes that he has the right to use force to gain his ‘altruistic’ ends.
Thus, every person is self-motivated, every person uses force, and, furthermore, the interests of individuals and groups making up society are not always the same.
What, then, is the individual to do? Having destroyed all institutions as absolutes, is he to resist all institutional dictums? No, say Bridgman and Stirner; that would be to replace absolutes with another absolute. Instead, sometimes we will resist authority, sometimes we will bow to it, but in the latter case we will be using institutions for our sakes, and in terms of concrete situations.
Our personal ‘force,’ then, is relative, conditional, and present in all of our life-situations, by our own formulation.
The problem becomes one of how to present these life-situations so as to obtain extensional results, without causing people to assume that the ‘forces,’ ‘mights,’ and ‘powers’ are invariably gross, brutish, barbaric acts — ‘physical’ in the oldfashioned sense. How to convey the fact that these terms are many-valued, and that the things they represent are ubiquitous? How to make palatable the fact that society is based upon conflicts as much as upon co-operations?
Why, for instance, should not people who study ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ understand that they are cultivating personal force, so as to wield personal power? and that for them, as judged by their subsequent actions, their developed ‘might’ is ‘right’? Why should they not face the fact that a raised eyebrow or a cleared throat may exercise a power of oppression more ruinous for other lives than a thousand trips to the woodshed? And why not emphasize the fact that extensionality, as well as Stirner’s ‘ownness,’ is one’s basic and most potent property? — one’s personal power?
A curious thing about Stirner’s reputation is the consistency with which his critics point out that here was a man who advocated using force, but who in reality lived a singularly mild and obscure life, thus negating everything he stood for in his writings. Because ‘ownness,’ for Stirner, did not call for a Napoleon like conquest of Europe, or for some other manifestation of ‘physical’ power then he was not a powerful man; he was purely theoretical and utopian, etc.
Nothing could be more untrue. From such facts of his life as are available, it seems probable that few men so completely lived their philosophy as Stirner did. He understood that personal ‘power’ can be turned to quiet self-conquest as well as to world conquest.
He makes it very clear, in fact, that he believes one of the consequences of ‘ownness’ to be the ability of the individual to live without subjugating others through the use of brute force. And, like Bridgman, Stirner insists that such an awareness of the nature of ‘force’ induces the self-conscious egoist to limit his use of it beyond the ability of the conventional ‘altruist’ to understand or to follow.
Stirner’s non-aristotelian formulations on the nature of self-motivation take on a fresh significance at a time when Harvard University has just announced an ‘anti-hate’ research center, to be headed by Pitirim A. Sorokin. The purpose of thisresearch is to increase the production of ‘love’ and to decrease the production of ‘hate’ in the world. The center will study the ‘great altruists of history . . . to find out how these altruists succeeded in becoming altruistic.’ And it will study ‘the most efficient techniques of transmutation of selfishness into unselfishness.’ The archaic assumptions present in such a program represent an emphasis, as Stirner’s viewpoint suggests, which might prove fatal to accomplishing the improvements in human relations which are the research center’s avowed purpose.
To presume an elementalistic ‘love-hate’ dichotomy is to perpetuate the misevaluations usually lumped together under each term in it. Stirner’s insights offer an effective antidote to such primitive misevaluations.