What a man is, he makes out of things. ‘As you look at the world, so it looks back at you’… One does perceive correctly when one makes of things what one will (by ‘things we mean here objects such as God, our fellow man, etc.). And so things and looking at them does not come first, but I do, my will [Willens] does. One will bring thoughts out of things, will discover Reason in the world, will have holiness therein…
Perceiving the world first as will and only thence as representation, judgment is also “the creature of my will”, and therefore egoistically one remembers the source of the representation, so that “all predicates of objects are my statements, judgments, creatures.
Egoistic appropriation, then, dissolves the nexus of alienation or estrangement between creator and artifact. Religions are the creation of men, human institutions that deserve no further empathy, and if they “grow over my head” the egoist has given himself the right to cut them back down to size.
Otherwise I should fall victim to the stability principle, the proper lifeline of religion, which deals in ‘untouchable sanctuaries’ and ‘eternal truths’ — and thus a ‘holiness’, depriving you of what is yours.
Absolute thinking is thus thinking that “forgets it is my thinking, that I think and that it has its being through me. But as I, again I swallow up what is mine, am its master, and it is only my opinion [Meinung] which I can at any time change, annihilate, take back into myself and consume.”.
Here we have a lusty declaration of the pleasure principle set as ruler of the metaphysical and epistemological domain as will. This is a glorification of becoming over being, what Nietzsche would later describe as the “Unschuld des Werdens”: willing and doing and desire presuppose the existing subject and have no own-being apart from the subject’s conditional existence.
In any case one has to “know how to put everything out of mind,” if only to “be able to sleep.” The torments of mind, thoughts, and spirit are broken whenever the egoist decides:
A shake does me the service of the most careful thinking, a stretch of the limbs shakes off tortuous thoughts. A leap in the air tosses the incubus of the religious world from my chest, a jubilant shout throws off enduring burdens. But the stark significance of a thoughtless shout of joy could not be acknowledged during the long night of Thought and Faith.
What then is the meaning of the phrase Der Einzige? In the 1845 reply to Kuno Fischer — the last time the familiar Stirner is heard from — we find a reiteration that it is only a phrase “with no thought-content”; it is “only a name” and names not the one it names. Indeed, “only if nothing is stated about you and you are merely named, are you acknowledged as you [als Du].”
Der Einzige expresses nothing: it is a name only and says that you are you…. Thereby you are without predicates, and at the same time undetermined [bestimmungslos], vocationless, lawless, and so on….
You, the unique! What thought-content is there here? Whoever would derive from uniqueness, as from a concept, a specific content, and who intends thereby to express your nature — such a person would only prove that he believes in phrases….The ‘unique’ should be the last, dying expression from you and me, it should be the expression that collapses in its own meaning; a statement that is no more, a mute statement.
One can only witness and not predict if a given man (or culture) is to make the creative leap, thus “showing others the way.”
“It stands with this as with any other piece of work, which you can give up when the humor for it wears off,” Stirner remarked, unaware his easy switch from mind to body would so soon be judged a fetter of immobility.
At last, however Paterson sees that even metaphysics and epistemology have been dethroned by this dialectic, and he labels this finally as “irrationalism” of the “most blatantly cynical” variety. The egoist is in it for the pleasure, for “such aesthetic relish as he may derive from contemplating the conceptual artifact which is its end-product” .
Where Stirner had suggested “chewing” up concepts and spitting them out, a decidedly oral metaphor, Paterson takes it the other way, but aptly, Stirner could remind him that “there is a mighty difference whether I make myself the starting point or the end”.
Stirner, complains Paterson, has no idea “what it is to work with a sense of profound intellectual responsibility”: how, he asks, does one deal with important moral and metaphysical problems when such a person takes “no pains to bring coherence and intelligibility into his system”, and “prefers to escape with a ‘stretch of the limbs’ whenever the “intellectual problems generated by his statements threaten to become vexatious”?
Presumably no don of philosophy would allow his profound ruminations to be distracted by suppressed loins, no true thinker would or could switch off his Metaphysichesgedankenshaben for the sake of playing his electric guitar and jumping in the air like Peter Townshend. No indeed.
Could there be however a chance to do in Stirner by means of the simplest of blunt objects, the tautology?
In Der Einzige Stirner celebrates frivolity, irresponsibility, scepticism, and irreverence towards all things, and he does not seek to exempt himself from the eruption of absurdity over which he presides…. In reducing all things to absurdity, perhaps he implicitly submits his own reductive activity this ‘reduction to absurdity’.
Paterson thinks “he has in effect destroyed any claims to general validity, or even to general interest, which his metaphysical system might otherwise have enjoyed”.
This indeed is tossing the bathtub out with the bathwater. Stirner universality of the kind Paterson imagines is required for metaphysics, therefore nothing is left. Quite so.
Paterson has just re-enacted the lucubrations of extremely serious discussions of the kind lampooned by Stirner and Nietzsche, and so to keep his boat afloat, he has resorted to contortions worthy of the late Benny Hill. In sacred matters, superficial giggling is always tolerated, as is moralistic laughter (Die Deutsche Ideologie and Atlas Shrugged come to mind), but nihilistic, ‘wrecking’ laughter, roaring laughter at such buffoonery, is forbidden to the cleric in our mind-made churches and courts. If the idea of a philosophy of play connotes dancing and skipping through the rubble of the Bastille, or Huizinga’s reminder that “true play knows no propaganda,” this is not the kind of play Paterson has in mind.
It’s all a frivolous whim, perhaps. He provides the analogy of a child in class ‘playing with his pencil’ (when not engaged in Stirnerian self-abuse). Or
he may be playing with his pencil in the distinctive way which produces a ‘doodle'” to play with snow may be to build a snowman; to play with a meccano set is to build a model bridge or tower. The complex game which Stirner is playing with and for himself is essentially creative in this sense. It is the private game of an artist whose artistry expresses itself in the form of an imaginative and grandiloquent self-portrait…: the whole project, however, having been originally undertaken from the motives of self-gratification and self-release.
There you go: it’s all a boyish thing, just Stirner having himself off a bit. Nothing for philosophers to worry about. After all, philosophy is a very serious matter! Therefore the final spin cycle of this whole wash of knickers is that Stirner’s “personal re-creation” of the nihilistic truth of existentialism is “no more than a form of personal recreation”.
What is Stirner’s significance for our time, according to Paterson’s concluding remarks? “After a hundred and twenty years”, he announces — describing Der Einzige as if it were Mein Kampf — “Stirner’s voice rings no less urgently, and the grim solution which he describes certainly retains its power to fascinate and to dismay.” As a literary phenomenon, Der Einzige
clearly belongs to the nihilistic literature of the 19th century: the notes its strikes are clearly part of that despairing and satanic chord we find in so many 19th century novelists, dramatists, poets, and philosophers….
What did those mentioned have in common? They were obsessed
with the destructive (including the self-destructive), the sinister, and the morally perverted was one aspect of their intense preoccupation with the experience of Nothingness, of the emptiness and meaninglessness of all things.
But then how dangerous and satanic can an act of personal recreation really be? The formidable string-section of “Sade, Leopardi, Poe, Schopenhauer, Ibsen, von Hartmann, Baudelaire, MallarmŽ, Swinburne, Rimbaud, Huysmans, Strindberg, and Nietzsche” seems added as a flourish. To his credit Paterson denounces the view that Stirner was an architect of terrorism:
Der Einzige is the most purely personal, the most individualistic of books…., in no way a programme for active revolutionaries, but essentially a poem of metaphysical disenchantment for the cynical and introspective solitary; and thus Stirner’s affinities are essentially with the Baudelaires and the Rimbauds rather than with the Nechayevs and the Seyss-Inquarts.
This is well taken since in Germany Stirner is still identified with the hysteria of fascism, primarily by Marxists, of course, as we can see by reading Helms. But a model of Stirner that depicts a metaphysical masturbator and wallflower seems to be jumping off the other side of the Wigand pier.
We have seen that Stirner presents a method for dismantling the heavy artillery of any authoritarian ideology, intercepting strategies of domination before they become universal. The Verein was an idea launched as an alternative to communism against the sacred secular State apparatus as “an enemy and murderer of ownness, as the union is the son and co-worker of it”. The Verein tramples on the Parteiprinzip equally subscribed to by reactionaries and communists.
But instead the Patersonian Stirner provides us with a trivial anti- tyranny platform: that Stalin , Hitler and company were all supremely “self-alienated” personalities.
It is easier certainly to talk about self-alienation, because by such patronizing social alienation can be blown off and the opponent dehumanized. The classic retort of the reactionary is that the whistleblower is mad, a witch, a jester, a subversive, or plain ‘wrecker’. A society valuing what Stirner valued would be, we are told, “on the brink of dissolution” and would “quickly fall to the many enemies of democratic liberalism.”
This raises the question of what sort of world we are living in now, if it’s not based in egoism. Why, egoists must certainly oppose free speech and all other forms of rationalism, must they not? Alienation exists therefore in the Uncommitted, those pursuing their “private interests without public conscience or social responsibility”, i.e. among the plainly selfish.
He goes so far as to say, “the philosophy of the Unique One is profoundly indifferent to moral and social issues.” Now might he be referring to our current issues, like air piracy or hairdos of TV stars? Saint Max, along with Alice in Wonderland, in the final analysis has for Paterson nothing whatever to say on the subject, and this fact is very important: “If there’s no meaning in it,” said Lewis Carroll’s figure of the King, “that saves a world of trouble, you know, as we needn’t try to find any.”
Just when we thought Paterson would never stoop, with the Siamese Helmuts, to a detached, spectator perspective, he informs us that Der Einzige should by all means be viewed clinically because alienation is due to people of the same kind as Stirner! But, he adds, let us study Stirner even so to avoid “that perilous condition” that is “rootlessness, solitude, destructiveness, and inner sterility.” Sin reappears too, although Stirner thought he had shown that sin is imaginary
To the religious believer,…Stirner’s account ought to shed a grim light on the nature and implications of ‘sin’, conceived as estrangement from God, from the ground and goal of our being; for in his proud self-sufficiency, the Unique One is the archetype of the sinful individual.
[Thus] to live as a truly radical atheist is to live the life of the nihilistic egoist, to live in deliberately chosen estrangement from God and man. In The Unique One Stirner has attempted to describe someone who has unflinchingly chosen to live in this desolate dimension of total estrangement
When all else fails, then, Stirner is always a good subject for a sermon. Because he has cashed in his rationalist chips at the end, Paterson’s objectivity has gone the way of some earlier critics of Der Einzige:
What religion calls the ‘sinner’, humanitarianism calls the ‘egoist’. But to say it again…is the ‘egoist’ — in whom the humane have borne themselves a newfangled devil — anything more than a piece of nonsense? The egoist, before whom they shudder, is as much a spook as the Devil is: he exists only as a shrill apparition and phantasmic image in their brain. If they were not occupied in drifting back and forth between the antediluvian opposites of good and evil,…then they would not have needed to freshen up the hoary ‘sinner’, either, nor put a patch on an old skirt. But they could do no other, for they hold it their task to be ‘Men’.