Maurice Cranston on Max Stirner

1845-1945, 1946-Today, Book, Max Stirner, Trevor Blake / Wednesday, September 28th, 2016


Maurice Cranston (1920 – 1993) was an English philosopher. He was a conscientious objector as a young man and a supporter of Margret Thatcher as an adult. His books include Politics and Ethics, The New Left and Tomorrow We’ll Be Sober. L. A. Rollins quotes Cranston in The Myth of Natural Rights (Port Townsend: Loompanics 1983. Charleston: Nine-Banded Books 2008). In an unknown United Kingdom newspaper article dated 7-3-71, Cranston reviews The Ego and His Own.*

*–Technically the proper title of this book is Max Stirner: The Ego and His Own. It is an abridged/altered edition of Byington’s translation of Der Einzige, that also includes sections from some of Stirner’s other writings. -KIS


Self love

The Ego and His Own
by Max Stirner, edited by John Carroll Cape
£2.95 (59s)

The Ego and His Own is a classic of anarchist thought, written under the name of Max Stirner by a Bavarian schoolmaster, Johann Schmidt, who died in obscurity and debt at the age of fifty in 1856. Many of the shocking things which were later said by Nietzsche were first said by Stirner. But Stirner was never, like Nietzsche, a colourful personality, and he had no luck as a writer. He lived the dull, frustrated, regimented life of the German petite bourgeoisie: his writings were his protest, burning with passion for liberty and heroic self-assertion.

“God is dead,” cried Stirner, and he went on to plead for men to live like God. This plea took an unexpected form. God was above law, so Stirner argued that men should be above law. God sought to impose his will on all things, so men should do the same. To be God-like is not to submit and obey and put others before oneself. If I am to be like God, I must command and dominate and make my own will the law.

In politics, Stirner noted, all this meant abolishing both the Church and the State, and abandoning all creeds of social obligation, rights and duties. The ego must be free to perfect itself in its own way, and become as unique as possible. Stirner had no objection to war, but he did not expect his type of egoism to lead to endless conflict: indeed he thought a “union of egoists.” the most natural of human associations. He believed in rebellion, the individual act of violent protest, but not in revolution, the replacement of one régime with another. He thought all régimes were evil.

But he was an odd sort of anarchist. Other anarchists thought that if the state were abolished, men would be united by social sentiment and mutual aid. Stirner despised such utopian dreams of sweetness and light. His was a hard, fierce doctrine of the self. So it is not altogether sure that Stirner’s The Ego and His Own, which was last published in 1963 in an anarchist book club edition, should now appear in George Steiner’s “black” collection of the forerunners of fascism. Dr Steiner calls his series “The Roots of the Right” and suggests in a preface that there is a tradition of right-wing thought which has produced fascist-type ideology in the twentieth century.

Mr. John Carroll in his introduction to this volume expresses some doubts about describing Stirner as a forerunner of fascism, but then adds “in an age of mass politics… the choice to be apolitical is not available; in such an arena Stirner has by default Rightist tendencies.” But this book of Stirner’s is proof that fascism has at least some of its roots in an extremist left-wing tradition. Mussolini had a great admiration for Stirner. However, when Mussolini took up Stirner’s egoism, he rejected his anarchism: and it has remained for the New Left movements of our own day to revive Stirner’s ideas in their entirety. If his theories are essentially the fantasies of a petit bourgeois mind rather than the insights of a genuine philosopher, that does not diminish their appeal to readers whose predicaments and desires and limitations are the same as his.

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