OWNNESS AND MODERNITY:THE POLITICAL MEANING OF DIALECTICAL EGOISM II

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Ownness differs from freedom in that it refers more to a relationship between the internal activity of the person and the external world. Ownness is not and cannot be reduced to a rhetorical tool or an external condition.

It is an active seizure or appropriation of thoughts, values, and objects as the “property” of the individual.

Stirner does not limit his concept of “property” to the narrow legal or economic meaning that it denotes today. While he offers a critique of the ty pe of property created by the acts of the bourgeois state, he is more concerned with property as it is created by the individual in interaction with self, others, and nature. Stirner key s off of the notion of property that Hegel develops in the Philosophy of Right.

 

For Hegel, property is an extension or objective manifestation of the person.

 

In Hegel’s political theory, the defense of private property is important because it is a necessary dimension of the person as an objective being.

An attack on private property is also an attack on individuality, personal identity, and the self.9 Stirner develops this notion in an egoistic direction by dismissing the hegemony of the legal definition of property and redefining property as the internal and external objects appropriated by the individual as meaningful, valuable, or what they are willing to accept about themselves and the world.

 

It is important to emphasize that Stirner does not consider property to be only material objects such as food, clothing, and shelter, but all forms of desiderata, including values, beliefs, relationships, and a sense of self.

 

T he assertion of ownership is dependent upon the person’s “might” or willingness and ability to appropriate desiderata. He is not referring to the assertion of ownership in a narrow legal sense, or “might” in the narrow political sense of coercion. He refers to every day, practical activities entail a variety of means, including but not limited to legal or political means. Ownness is a revelation of what a person really is. It refers to what the person really values and enjoy s, and what she or he is really willing to sacrifice. It is a commitment to learn about, enjoy, and fulfill oneself.

Ownness is what ultimately defines the person as a unique individual because it strips away everything that is superfluous, secondary, and tangential.

 

Property reveals every thing that is valuable and meaningful, as far as the person is concerned. Unlike freedom, ownness is a reality, not a dream, which challenges and destroy s the lack of freedom by eliminating the way s in which individuals create and contribute to their own subordination.

 

Ownness removes the obstacles to self-enjoyment and self fulfillment that persons blindly accept. It places them in a position to confront the obstacles imposed by others.

 

Stirner say s that individuals secure their own “freedom with regard to the world in the degree that I make the world my own; gain it and take possession of it for my self, by whatever might, by that of persuasion, of petition, of categorical demand.” Even the means persons use to assert ownership are important because they, too, “are determined by what I am.” There is an important relationship between freedom and ownness, but ownness is more significant since it makes freedom possible and meaningful. For Stirner, “the own-man is the free-born, the man free to begin with.” The person who asserts ownership over his or her life, body, values, and identity,

 

 

recognizes nothing but himself. He does not need to free himself first because

at the start he rejects everything outside himself because he prizes nothing

more than himself – because he starts from himself and comes to himself.

 

 

Ownness creates freedom. Ownness is the subject, freedom is the predicate. Ownness is the cause, freedom the effect. Ownness precedes freedom as both a value and fact. Ownness, not freedom, is the mover of human action and the creator of circumstances. Freedom is a condition created by ownness. Ownness is originality and genius. It creates new political, social, and cultural formations. Speaking of revolutionaries and rebels who fought for freedom and overthrew old forms of oppression, Stirner says “it was by this egoism, this ownness, that they got rid of the old world of gods and became free from it. Ownness created a new freedom; for ownness is the creator of everything.”

 

It is out of egoism, ownness, or a personal sense of welfare that people get rid of old worlds and become free from them. Individuals cannot be free of external constraints unless they are owners. They must appropriate or possess themselves, their aspirations, and their values.

 

Freedom matters only when is it achieved through the assertion and activity of the individual. It is significant or “complete” only when it occurs through the might, choice, will, and effort of the person. Freedom to Stirner is an accomplishment, not a right. It is appropriated, not conferred.

 

It is an outcome achieved by persons because they choose to acquire it through available means. “Emancipation” differs from “self-liberation” since the latter is actively created by the person, producing his or her own freedom. Stirner views emancipation as a limited or inauthentic form of liberation in which the person is “set free” by another agent, such as a government or political movement that “frees” slaves, workers, or citizens. As far as Stirner is concerned, emancipation is “freedom conferred.”

 

It is a false form of liberation because it is based on the ideas that self-renunciation and subordination to fixed ideas can produce l iberation.

 

Emancipation is a false form of liberation that suggests that persons can be free without having sought, chosen, willed, or struggled for freedom themselves. It suggests that freedom is merely an in-itself, external, objective condition that has no for-itself, active, subjective dimension.

Emancipation is a type of freedom that is d ependent upon the caprice of powerful other. Emancipation amounts to an argument that freedom is meaningful or significant without ownness.

Emancipation is opposed by self-liberation, a concept that is rooted in egoism and ownness, with the person searching what is useful to him or her as a thinking and sensual being. For Stirner, persons who are set freepolitically or culturally by external actors are really unfree people cloaked in the garment of freedom. Hence, emancipated Jews are nothing different, changed, or improved in themselves. They are only “relieved” as Jews. Emancipated or not, a Jew remains a Jew. That is, they are defined by an artificial cultural category. Persons who are not self-freed are only emancipated. They experience only the negative dimensions of freedom.

 

Similarly, the Protestant state can emancipate Catholics, but unless the individuals make themselves free, they remain simply Catholics. The democratic state can emancipate slaves, but unless slaves make themselves free, they remain only emancipated slaves. The socialist or communist state can emancipate workers, but unless they make themselves

free, they remain only workers in the garment of freedom.

The task of the unique one is to create freedom by “possessing self,” asserting uniqueness and independence from cultural constructs and societal constraints.

 

Stirner’s concept of ownness cannot be reduced to negative freedom. It cannot be reduced to “selfishness,” or to psychological or ethical egoism, even though he clearly believes that persons are by nature egoists. Human nature, egoism, is frequently thwarted by social, cultural, and political dynamics that promote or impose self-renunciation or self-sacrifice. Stirner’s thought is a dialectical egoism, or an egoism that is continually challenged and continually emergent through the interaction and conflict among self, other, culture, and society. Certainly, Stirner’s egoist or unique one looks to objects and to others to see if they are any use to him or her as a sensual being. Yet, the individual’s sensuality is not the entirety of his or her “ownness.”

 

The unique one is more than a sensual being. When the individual is “given up to sensuality,” she or he is not in his or her own, but is dominated by sensuality, comfort, and material objects.

The individual who follows his or her own sensuality exclusively, is not self-determining. The individual is in his or her “own” only when the “master of self,” or fully self-consciously self-determining. The person who owns self is not when mastered by sensuality or by anything else external to the person’s self-conscious self-determination. While Stirner’s concept of ownness is “selfish,” it cannot be equated with the narrow form of selfishness concerned with sensuality or the mere acquisition and use of material things.

 

The concept of ownness entails much more than sensuality or acquisition; in fact, forms of sensuality and acquisition may contradict “ownness” if the person pursues them purposelessly. The dictum that “greed is good” is clearly inconsistent with ownness in Stirner’s dialectical egoism.

 

“Ownness” has no alien, external standard . Stirner does not view it as a fixed idea like God or humanity. Its content cannot be fixed like the Ten Commandments. It is only intended to be a description of the act of ownership by the person. In sharp contrast to Ayn Rand, Stirner’s critique of modernity ridicules the notion that selfishness is a virtue since “virtue”conjures images of external and fixed strictures on individual thought and behavior.

 

Modernist politics, science, and the speculative philosophy of Hegel, Feuerbach, and the Young Hegelians elevated the species above the individual forcing an antagonism between the individual and the species. In the collectivist formulations of these philosophers, the individual can only lift self above his or her individuality, and not above scripture, law, and custom, or the “positive ordinances” of the species.

 

For Stirner, the species is nothing but an abstraction, a fixed idea to be dissolved by the owner or the egoist. Li fe means that individuals cannot remain what they are. They must continually strive to lift themselves above “their individuality,” or the facts of their existence at any one point in time and space. The cultural, political, and ideological strictures that elevate the species above the individual are, in fact, a form of death in that the individual’s innovation, creativity, and survival skills are subordinated to those of the species. The individual’s task is not to realize the “essence” of man, humanity, a race, or a culture, but to live as a self-conscious selfdetermining person, to own his or her life, mind, and self. The individual supersedes the species and, as such, is without norm, without law, and w ithout model. AIl social, cultural, and political categories, including racial and cultural identities, are abstractions irreducible to the material reality of the real, living individual.

 

The individual thinks and acts within a context that is both external and  constraining on individuals.

 

That such a society diminishes my l iberty offends me little. Why, I have to

let my liberty be limited by all sorts of powers and by everyone who is

stronger; indeed, by every fellow-man; were I the autocrat, I yet should not

enjoy absolute liberty. But ownness I will not have taken from me. And

o’t.”lnness is precisely \vhat every society has design!; un, precisely what is

to secure to its power.

 

 

 

He says that it is absurd to argue that there are no external forces that are more powerful than the might of the individual. What matters is the attitude and action that the person takes toward them. While religion, culture, and ideology teach and encourage individuals to reconcile and renounce themselves with the external world, Stirner declares that dialectical egoism is the enemy of every “higher power” or “supreme being.”

 

Ownness or self-conscious self-determination requires that the individual know self as unique. Every supreme being or higher essence above the individual undermines the individual’s ownness, might, and selfdetermination. As long as individuals believe and act on the notion that fixed ideas and “essences” are superior, external, and unalterably constraining on them, or that their task in life is to fulfill an external ideal, they are not egoists or owners. As individuals no longer serve any ideal, or any “higher essence” or “supreme being,” they no longer serve any

other person either, but become their own. Ownness refers to a commitment and effort on the part of the individual to behave on the basis of their choices. When individuals serve themselves in their sensuality and in their thoughts, they are owners or unique egoists.

 

 

 

 

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