Thursday, 14 May 2009
The Divine Ego, or How I so Love Max Stirner
I happened to mention Der Einzige und sein Eigentum-The Ego and its Own-by Max Stirner, a nineteenth century German philosopher, in one of my discussion threads. I rather suspect that most people, not familiar with the subject, have never heard of Stirner, or, if they have, only through the bad-tempered response to his work by Marx and Engels in The Holy Family and The German Ideology.
But Stirner was an exciting and original thinker, who has contributed to some of the most innovative traditions in thought, including existentialism, nihilism and anarchism. So it might be worth recording a few impressions of his principle text, and why I believe it to be relevant to paganism, to the impulses behind paganism, to my particular form of paganism.
Stirner’s basic argument is that the institutions, concepts and structures one takes for granted, as ‘fixtures’ in one’s life, so to speak, in all of our lives, are simply illusions; things like the state, ideology, organised religion, even society itself are all ghosts, to use his term, intended to circumscribe each individual’s freedom and understanding of freedom.
What he calls for, in essence, is the deconstruction of all artificiality, in a move towards the full understanding that we, as individuals, are the only reality. Once understood the only possible basis for action is egoism, the defence and advancement of one’s own interests at all hazards. It is in this new amorality that true freedom is to be found. In the end Stirner says that his book is a ladder that, once climbed, should be thrown away. The blindfold has been removed from your mind; you are free.
Do I write out of love to men? No, I write because I want to procure for my thoughts an existence in the world; and, even if I foresaw that these thoughts would deprive you of your rest and your peace, even if I saw the bloodiest wars and the fall of many generations springing up from this seed of thought — I would nevertheless scatter it. Do with it what you will and can, that is your affair and does not trouble me. You will perhaps have only trouble, combat, and death from it, very few will draw joy from it.
If your weal lay at my heart, I should act as the church did in withholding the Bible from the laity, or Christian governments, which make it a sacred duty for themselves to 'protect the common people from bad books'. But not only not for your sake, not even for truth's sake either do I speak out what I think. No —
I sing as the bird sings
That on the bough alights;
The song that from me springs
Is pay that well requites
I sing because — I am a singer. But I use you for it because I — need ears
Yes, it is a form of intellectual anarchism, nihlism, if you prefer; but that is the true path to self-liberation and self-fulfillment. It is also, in my reading, the path to self-empowerment. :)