A review of The Unique and Its Property from the blog Thus Spoke Me, used here with permission. The author uses twitter as The Independent Ego.
“I Have Based My Affair on Nothing” is the beginning and end quote of Max Stirner’s most famous book The Unique and Its Property (Most commonly referred to as The Ego and Its Own). This is a new translation edited by Wolfi Landstreicher that clears up common misconceptions and quotes that the interested layman was confused about while delving into egoism. It consists of 377 pages, “Introduction from the Translator,” “Stirner’s Introduction,” “Part 1: Humanity” and “Part 2. I,” with each part divided into many subsections. Many have tried to debunk this man by throwing slurs to downright lying about his position. Karl Marx was so mad about Stirner’s book he wrote a response much larger than all Stirner’s works combined, making Marx the sourpuss in this situation. You want to know the reason why Wolfi wanted the new translation? Well here’s his explanation
“When I first read The Ego and Its Own, I recognized that there was a great deal of humor, sarcasm, and satire throughout the book. I never understood how anyone could call Stimer “humorless” -yet certain critics (particularly those who wanted to present him as a precursor of the political right or some other sort of “supreme evil” in their eyes) accused him of precisely this. After translating Stirner’s Critics and “The Philosophical Reactionaries;’ I realized the extent of his mocking, sarcastic, and, at times, bawdy humor and the breadth of his wordplay. My play with these translations and talks with Jason McQuinn I clarified some of the flaws I had recognized in the existing English translation of Der Einzige und sein Eigentum, and the pleasure I find in the activity of translating moved me to take up the project.”
“I did not make this translation for academics, for institutional intellectuals who want to dissect this unflinching and playful critique of all fixed ideas as a mere text in order to maintain their career. I know some academics will make use of it for their own purposes in any case, and to the extent that they are doing this for their own enjoyment, I would expect nothing less. In turn, some of them may provide me with fodder for furthering my own egoistic purposes. But I will not cater to them. Because-to the extent that they accept their role within the institutional structure, i.e., to the extent that they are and act as academics-they are as distant from the “immense, reckless, shameless, conscienceless, proud crime” that willful self-creation and self-enjoyment require as any bureaucrat, any police officer, any other government employees,”
It seems apparent that most people forget that Stirner was using his book as a weapon for mockery rather than actual discussion. He was the court jester of society with the eloquence and simplicity of a Mockingbird. The fact that he is misinterpreted by so many people brings boundless joy for the egoist, it shows you that they can never tamper with it without making a fool of themselves. You don’t have to take my word for it, just ask people who hate Stirner, watch them as they try to debunk what he says while missing the point entirely. Wolfi goes on later to describe some of the ways Stirner was a “Wise Guy” of his time.
“Almost every scholar of Stirner, whether self-taught or university-trained, insists on referring to the author of The Unique… as a philosopher. I can’t recall Stirner ever referring to himself as such, and certainly, by the time he wrote his book, he had concluded that philosophy was a joke that its purveyors took far too seriously, buffoonery deserving only laughter. And to call the mocker of philosophy a philosopher is as absurd as calling the impious atheist a theologian.
“Philosophers pursue answers in the ultimate sense-universal answers. And so they are, indeed, lovers of wisdom. They conceive of wisdom as something objective, as something that exists in itself, beyond any individual, and so as something they have to pursue, rather than as their own property, their attribute, to use as they see fit. They are still attached to the idea of a “wisdom” that is greater than them, you or me. Stirner called them “pious atheists,” a particularly biting barb in a country where the most extreme Christians were known as “pietists.” So long as a person continues to pursue this external, supposedly universal wisdom, he may well be a wise man (whatever that means), but he will never be a wise guy. Stirner was a wise guy, because he recognized that there is no ultimate, universal wisdom to find; the philosopher’s goal is a pipe dream worthy only of mockery and laughter. And Stirner mocked and laughed often in the most delightfully crude ways in his writings. Unfortunately, both his critics and his disciples have largely missed the joke. And explaining a joke is never as much fun as playing the joke. Hence, Stirner’s increasing exasperation (still humorously and even savagely expressed) in Stirner’s Critics and “The Philosophical Reactionaries.”
Despite the tedium of explaining a joke, I will make the effort to do so to some extent, largely because some who have taken Stirner too literally and seriously have drawn the most ridiculous conclusions about him and those rebels who have found his writings useful in developing their own rebellious thought.
So, for all who wants a good laugh and a brandishing weapon that fights against your enemies, feel free to read Saint Max. He might just give you the answers that you’ve been looking for.