Published for the first time in 1845, Stirner’s work ‘The Unique and Its Property’ has influenced modern culture noticeably: from the philosophy of law to political, pedagogical and theological thinking. Disquieting, radical, not classifiable in official culture and thus for a long time ignored, ‘The unique and its property’ still retains its feature as a philosophical provocation. Stirner’s modernity and his existential nihilism bring to paradoxes the Enlightenment’s rationalism, opening the path for existential philosophy (Nietzsche, Heidegger, Jaspers).
Among western philosophers, Max Stirner is probably the one most forgotten. In the short periods of discrete success, he was mostly misunderstood. Indeed, similarly to Nietzsche, he was reconsidered for serving the Fascism and Nazism’ ideologies. In Stirner’s “Unique” many critics see the precursor of Nietzsche’s “Overman” [Übermensch] understood from a Nazi’s perspective; in the 20th century’s first decades, Fascism and National socialism considered Stirner and Nietzsche as their philosophers. But before being read as fascist, Stirner’s work was read as anarchic in the 19th century, judgment expressed from both Engels and Marx.
Stirner harshly criticizes any expression of human idealism. He radically refuses any conceptual dimension because this leads to the individual’s alienation from itself. From here Stirner’s thesis: for saving the individual’s singularity, it must be considered as unique. Being-unique is the fundamental precept for being-man, understood at its core as freedom. Being-unique is the individual’s ontological dimension and thus fundamentally its property. In this way, the title of Stirner’s work becomes obvious. The “and” which unites the unique’s dimensions with its property regards the ontological nature of the expression itself, this far from a simplistic political or social reading of it. The being-unique dimension implies the ontological horizon of being-in-revolt.
Stirner’s radical thought should not be disregarded as mean individualism. Being-unique as Being-in-revolt finds its way in the terms of association, which is different from society. Indeed, society is based on universal laws and thus alienating, given its nature as a fundamental juridical conception. On the other side, an association is an ontological concept that implies respect between men. Precisely, in the association, everyone is considered in its liberty as a being itself, in revolt. The other is another unique. Stirner could be considered an idealist, however, his text grounds its concreteness when questioning the laws which govern society. His implications are just apparently anarchic because Stirner does not want to end law but solely its dogmatic nature, which he calls with the typical expression of “sanctity”.
Stirner claims that universal dimensions represent “empty ghosts” and that God, among all universal dimensions, is the ghost par excellence. By result, if the spirit and its creations (including ideas and the same concept of God) are nothing but empty ghosts, it becomes obvious that just in the I (or Ego) the real dimension of the self can be found. These are the two poles of Stirner’s existential dialectic: the spirit, which is the horizon of empty phantoms, and the I, which is the horizon of the authentic self. The struggle against the ideal or holy dimension becomes a necessary fight for recovering the I ‘s existentialism, this lost in western philosophy’s metaphysics. In the perspective of sanctity, the I is always divided from its foundation, which is existence itself. In other words, the I is no longer my property.
Instead, if the infatuation for the object or the concept of holiness decades, the I regains its authentic place and its own property. Overcoming the sanctity of the objects or ideas, thus the dependence from them, does not just place the self in its authentic dimension, but it also brings light to the real dimension of truth. Refusing any ideal dimension is the only condition for the quest of the individual’s authenticity, as unique and property, being itself solely itself.
Stirner also focuses on the importance of education. While humanistic subjects lead to the creation of the authority, a solely scientific education (although based on real knowledge) is not enough for a full development and discovery of the person’s authentic self and the consequent horizons of truth and liberty. From Stirner’s point of view, real education does not take any object into consideration, but it is rather resolved by self-determination. Humanistic and scientific education are passed by a “personal” educative system: it is on its own will that the individual finally discovers itself and its personality. Just in these terms, it is possible to experience real freedom and authentic rights; in Stirner’s words: “Knowledge must die for coming back to the world as will and for creating the self, day after day, as a free person”. Education should aim at making men “creators” instead of “creatures”, the last just trained instead of educated with dignity. Because the creative moment is connected with the will’s motions, it becomes clear why Stirner insists on the necessity of overcoming the simple knowing with a meaningful wanting. He announces the necessary death of a “science without the will” and the birth of a “self-conscious will”. Overcoming knowing with wanting symbolizes the eternity of knowledge, because knowing revealed as will presents itself as a new existential form, becoming a personal act.
Consequently, man’s aim won’t be culture, but self-determination. Once the man starts to act for itself and its own liberty, it will be its own self-conscience to refuse ignorance. Stirner poses on the same level the dimensions of feeling for the self, self-conscience, and freedom. In this contest, this last becomes truly authentic, belonging to the man as a creator instead of the erudite subject. Stirner comes to the conclusion that the truth coincides with the revelation of the individual, this liberated from everything extraneous to itself. Moreover, it is “personal” education that will lead men to overcome fears, laws, respect for authority and enslavement, because “who lives in its fullness has no need to being any authority”. Freeing the man from any dogmatisms leads to the reign of freedom, truth, and equality, intended as the egoistic authentic self.
I hope you have enjoyed my writing on Stirner’s text ‘The Unique and Its Property’. My considerations have been helped by an excellent and informative introductory essay written by Giorgio Penzo.
As always, enjoy reading.
See you soon,