THE SELF-OVERCOMING OF NIHILISM:FROM LIBERALISM TO EGOISM

KEIJJI

 

 

 

 

 

 

The curtain came down on ancient history when the world ceased to be seen as divine. The self as spirit became master of the world and conquered it as its own possession. There God appeared as theHoly: “Al l things have been delivered to me by my Father” (Matthew 11 :27) [po 941102] . Thus the self became master of the world but did not become master of its own ideal, since the spirit was sacralized as “Holy Spirit.” A Christian “without the world” could not yet become a person “without God.” If the battle during the ancient period had been waged against the world, the medieval Christian battle was fought against the self itself. The battleground shifted from outside the self to within it.

 

The wisdom of the ancients was a wisdom of the world, a philosophy; the wisdom of the “moderns” is a knowledge of God, a theology. Just as philosophy got around behind the world, so theology tries to get around behindmGod. The pagans completely disposed of the world, but now the problem is to dispose of the spirit. For almost two thousand years, Stimer says, we have striven to conquer the “spirit that is holy,” the “Holy Spirit.” However many times its holiness has been plucked off and trampled underfoot, the gigantic enemy continues to rise up anew, changing its shape and names.

 

As a prime example of this phenomenon Stimer, like Nietzsche, cites modern liberalism. He usually refers to modern liberals as “the Free Ones” [die Freien] in contrast to the “ancients” and “moderns” mentioned earlier. What they have in common is that they plan the social actualization of the standpoint of humanity, and try to negate the various ideals of previous religion and metaphysics as lies.

 

Stimer distinguishes three kinds of liberal thought: political, msocial, and humanitarian .

 

Political liberalism is the standpoint of the freedom of citizens .

The citizen class eliminated the absolute monarch and the privileged class;. No longer a class, they universalized themselves into a “nation”.

 

Under the constitutional state of liberalism, the people gain political freedom and equality as members of the state.

 

They regard this system as an actualization of their pure humanity and see anything extraneous to it as merely private or egoistic, adventitious, and therefore inhuman. For Stimer, what has happened is that tyranny of the law has replaced tyranny of the monarch: “All states are tyrannies . . . . I am the arch-enemy of the state and amsuspended in the alternative choice between the state and me.”

 

Political freedom is not my own freedom because my own will (Eigenwille) is negated. It is true that in the citizen state each citizen negates the will of the ruler, who had suppressed individual will up until then, and takes a stand on personal free wil l . But at the same time the citizen voluntarily suppresses individual will to seek an idealized actualization of the will and freedom of the self through the state.

 

This political freedom meansthat the polis becomes free and the concern (Sache) of the polis becomes my concern-but this means precisely that I am tied to the state from within myself.

 

In the citizen state, political equality was achieved but not equality of property. Thus in place of political liberalism, social liberalism- namely, communism-appears on the stage. In the same way that in political liberalism each person renounces the self’s immediate right to rule and transfers it to the state, thereby indirectly regaining the right to rule, everyone now has to renounce the property (Eigentum) of the self and transfer everything to the society, so that the people as a whole may recover the property that belongs to them.

 

According to communism, it is not that our dignity as human beings consists in an essential equality as children of the same state, as the bourgeoisie says; rather, our human dignity consists in our not existing for the sake of the state but for each other, so that each person exists essentially through others and for the sake of others.

 

All of us become workers for the others. Only in this way are all people equal and repaid in equal compensation. This is how Stirner sees communism. Just as his critique of democracy is directed at the state as the supreme ruler, so his critique of communism is directed at society as the supreme property owner.

That we become equal as members of the state and grant it the status of supreme ruler actually means that we become equal zeroes.

 

In the same way, when society is made the supreme property owner we become equally “tramps” (Lumpen). In the name of the interests of “humanity,” the individual is first deprived of the right to rule by the state, and then even the individual’s property is taken away by society. What is more, in communism we are for the first time equal only as workers, not as human beings or individual selves.

 

That the communist sees in you “humanity,” or a brother, is

only the “Sunday-side” of communism; from the perspective

of the weekday [he] never accepts you simply as a man, but

merely as a human worker or a working ma n. The liberal principle

can be found in the first aspect, but in the second the

unliberal is concealed.

 

 

The satisfaction that communism offers the spirit it takes away from the body by compelling one to work. Communism makes workers feel this compulsion as social duty and makes them think that being a worker and abandoning egoism is the essential thing. Just as “citizens” devote themselves to the state, so do “workers” obey the rule of society and serve it. But society is a tool that should ratherbe serving our interests . Insofar as socialists seek a sacred society, they are as shackled to religious principle as the liberals:

 

“Society, from which we receive everything, is the new master, a new ghost, a new ‘supreme being,’ which makes us bear the burden of ‘devotion and duty’ “.

Such is Stirner’s conclusion.

 

The third form of liberal thought is humanitarian liberalism, as represented by Bruno Bauer and his fol lowers . For Stirner, this form most thoroughly pursues the standpoint of “humanity” as the principle of liberalism, and is therefore the consummate form of liberalism.

 

With the individual as citizen in political liberalism and as worker in communism, human being is understood from the perspective of the fulfillment of desire . Even in the case of a worker who regards labor as a duty to society and works mutually for the sake of others, an egoistic interest, the fulfil lment of the materialistic desire of the self, lurks beneath the surface . It is the same with the citizen who regards devotion to the state as a duty. The attack of humanitarian liberalism is directed precisely at this point.

 

The humanitarian liberalist criticizes the socialist:

 

“As the citizen does with the state, so the worker makes use of society for his own egoistic purposes. After all, don’ t you still have an egoistic purpose-your own welfare?.

 

The humanitarian demands that human action be completely free of egoistic concern . Only there is true humanity found and true liberalism established. “Only humanity is dinterested; the egoist is always concerned with interests”.

 

Thus humanitarian liberalism tries to press the negation of private and egoistic concerns to the innermost heart. It is a critical liberalism that does not stop short with criticizing others, but goes on to criticize itself.

 

 

Whi le the politicians thought they had eliminated each individual’s

own will, self-will (Eigenwille), or willfulness, they did

not realize that this self-will found a safe refuge through property

(Eigentum) .

When socialists take away even property, they do not notice

that ownership secures its continuation within ownness

(Eigenheit).

 

 

No matter how much property is taken away, opinion (Meinung) in the heart remains mine (das Meinige), and to that extent ownership remains.Therefore, we must eliminate not only selfwill or private ownership but also private opinion.

 

Just as self-will is transferred to the state and private property

to the society, private opinion also is transferred to some

thing u niversal-namely, to ‘man’-and thereby becomes

general human opinion . . . . Just as self-will and property become

powerless, so must ownness [or egoism] in general become

powerless.

 

Humane liberalism demands that we abandon welfare-ism, voluntarily criticize all egoistic and “inhuman” things and attain “consciousness of self” as “humanity.” Further, with respect to labor, it demands that we understand it in a universal sense, as encompassing all of humankind in such a way that spirit reforms all material things. Labor for communism, in contrast, is merely “collective labor without spirit.”

 

Stirner says that with this kind of humanitarian liberalism, “the circle of liberalism is completed”. Liberalism in general recognizes in humanity and human freedom the principle of the good, and in all egoistic and private things the principle of evil. This standpoint is taken to the extreme in humanitarian liberalism in its attempt to eliminate egoistic and private concerns from the human heart. The critique that includes this self-criticism may be the best of the critical social theories, but for Stirner, it is precisely because of this that the contradiction inherent in liberalism in general appears most clearly in humanitarian liberalism.

 

For in spite of the elimination of self-will, private property, and private opinion, for the first time the unique individual who cannot be eliminated comes to light.

 

“Ownness”-the selfness of the self-is revealed. Critical liberalism tries through its “criticism” to eliminate from the individual everything private and everything that would exclude all others. But the ownness of the individual is immune to this purging. Indeed, the person is an individual precisely because he or she excludes from the self everything that is not self. In this sense we might say that the most unique person is the most exclusive.

 

This eliminates even the “criticism” that tries to exclude the very thing that excludes others (namely, one’s private affairs). As Stirner says: “It is precisely the sharpest critic who is hit hardest by the curse of his own principle.

 

The pursuit of freedom, once arrived at humanitarian liberalism, goes to the extreme of making humanity everything and the individual person nothing. We are deprived of everything and our Lumpen-condition is made complete.

 

A radical reversal now becomes possible:

 

 

If we want to attain the nature of ownness we must first decline

even to the most shabby, the most destitute conditionbecause we must remove and discard everything that is

foreign to the self.

 

 

The utmost Lumpen-condition is that of a naked man, stripped even of his tatters (Lumpen).

Therefore, when one removes and discards even one’s “humanity/’ true nakedness-the condition (EntblOssung) in which one is stripped of all that is alien to the selfappears.

 

The tramp escapes his condition by tearing off his rags.

 

Such is the standpoint of Stirner’s egoist. The egoist is the archenemy of all liberalism as well as of Christianity: to human beings he is inhuman; to God, a devil. Though repudiated by all forms of liberalism, the egoist goes through them one after another, eliminating from the self all ghosts and rafters of idees fixes. Finally, with the turn from the absolute destitution of the self, the egoist for the first time can truly say “I am I.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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