Friday, October 12, 2007

Review: The Ego and its Own

Stirner: The Ego and its Own by Max Stirner

I remember reading Stirner as a sort of radical libertarian (back in his time considered something of an anarchist), much more intelligent and interesting than libertarians of today, and as a result, he makes the flaws of libertarianism all the more clear. He's dismissive of ideologies, even of concepts like 'the people' or 'the working class,' calling them spooks. Shades of Maggie Thatcher saying that society doesn't exist, only individuals and maybe families (though Stirner wouldn't have liked the bitch any more than I).

But as much as Stirner rails against ideas and ideologies that rule the person rather than the other way around, and are non-existent abstractions (spooks) anyway, his ideas can be fall prey to his own criticism. For instance: "The labourers have the most enormous power in their hands, and, if they once became thoroughly conscious of it and used it, nothing would withstand them; they would only have to stop labour, regard the product of labour as theirs, and enjoy it." That's all well and good, and ironically a perfect example of a spook, a meaningless idea (when combined with Stirner's forceful individualism) with little relevance in the world. Being that humans are generally averse to a painful death, how except through organization around a unifying ideology will laborers realize their power? As individuals, they are nothing, and their labor has next to no value. Only as laborers, plural and organized, does the individual worker have any hope of emancipation.

That's not to say that there's nothing good or worthwhile here, quite the opposite. Check this out: "What is it, then, that is called a 'fixed idea'? An idea that has subjected the man to itself. When you recognize, with regard to such a fixed idea, that it is a folly, you shut its slave up in an asylum. ... Is not all the stupid chatter of most of our newspapers the babble of fools who suffer from the fixed idea of morality, legality, Christianity, and so forth, and only seem to go about free because the madhouse in which they walk takes in so broad a space? Touch the fixed idea of such a fool, and you will at once have to guard your back against the lunatic's stealthy malice. For these great lunatics ... assail by stealth him who touches their fixed idea. They first steal his weapon, steal free speech from him, and then they fall upon him with their nails."

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