Placing Stirner among Nordau’s “Degenerates” due to his “might is right” philosophy…

1845-1945, Max Stirner, Ragnar Redbeard / Friday, May 24th, 2019

The following article is from the Australian newspaper Labor Call (Melbourne, Vic. : 1906 – 1953), from Thursday 12 May 1910, page 5. An English translation of Max Nordau’s book Degeneration was a bombshell and did a great deal to stifle the growing readership of Nietzsche in the Anglosphere. Nordau’s theory is this, in a nutshell:

In the fin-de-siècle disposition, in the tendencies of contemporary art and poetry, in the life and conduct of men who write mystic, symbolic and ‘decadent’ works and the attitude taken by their admirers in the tastes and aesthetic instincts of fashionable society, the confluence of two well-defined conditions of disease, with which he [the physician] is quite familiar, viz. degeneration and hysteria of which the minor stages are designated as neurasthenia.

Oscar Wilde, Henrik Ibsen, Richard Wagner and Friedrich Nietzsche are all examples of his theory of degeneration, and the essay below makes the case that our man Stirner should also have been targetted. Indeed, Nordau DOES mention Stirner, and here is the most substantive excerpt:

Nietzsche’s ‘individualism’ is an exact reproduction of Max Stirner, a crazy Hegelian, who fifty years ago exaggerated and involuntarily turned into ridicule the critical idealism of his master to the extent of monstrously inflating the importance—even the grossly empirical importance—of the ‘I’; whom, even in his own day, no one took seriously, and who since then had fallen into well-merited profound oblivion, from which at the present time a few anarchists and philosophical ‘fops’—for the hysteria of the time has created such beings—seek to disinter him.

Of interest is that the article draws attention to Stirner’s “might is right… the heretical law of UNmorality.” This philosophy was developed into a book by that name by Ragnar Redbeard. While Redbeard had not read Stirner when writing the book, there is an incredible overlap in the views presented in it, and some stark divergences.


Schmidt (Stirner) and his Egoistic Anarchism

I cannot remember whether Max Nordau has included Schmidt among the imaginative monstrosities of his “Degeneration;” but if ever a person earnt an epitaph from that atrabilious Philistine, that person was Johann Kaspar Schmidt, pseudonymously known as Max Stirner. Stirner—I shall henceforth call him Stirner—was the expounder of an Anarchism so harsh and intolerant to little men, that it seems the glum gaiety of a megalomaniac. In my opinion, there is nothing quite like it in all the categories of vain crazes and enormous fads, for Stirner’s Anarchism is Egoism militant; Egoism all Egoism—Egoism raging to turn titans out of tuck-pointers or supermen out of grooms.

Purely endemonistic in aim, this Egoism recognises nothing but the elevation of the individual by the might which is right. Turn we to Stirner’s truly remarkable book, “The Ego and His Own” (English translation), and we find a glorification of might, involving a rejection of all bourgeois omnipotence’s like the policeman on the corner—or The Policeman in The Clouds. Says Stirner with almost splenetic vigor: —

“What you have the might to be you have the right to be. I deduce all right and entitlement from myself; I am entitled to everything that I have might over. I am entitled to overthrow Zeus Jehovah, God, etc., if I can; if I cannot, then these gods will remain in the right and in the might as against me.”

In holding that might is right, Stirner not only sets up the lawless law of Will, but the heretical law of UNmorality. Things are to him neither “good” nor “bad,” for he ignores the arbitrary values of “good” and “bad.” Therein one might perceive an affinity with Nietzsche, the transvaluator of all values, and might suspect a philosophical relationship in this somewhat striking passage:—

“Away, then, with every business that is not altogether my business! You think, at least, the “good cause” must be my business? What good, what bad? Why, I myself am my business, and I am neither good nor bad. Neither has meaning for me. What is divine is God’s business, what is human “Man’s.” My business is neither what is divine nor what is human, it is not what is true, good, right, free, etc., but only what is mine; and it is no general business, but it is—unique, as I am unique. Nothing is more to me than myself.”

The inevitable conclusion of Stirner’s teaching is, of course, an abrogation of the legal institutions of the State, law, and property, and the substitution in their stead of a “union of conscious egoists.” But in “union of egoists,” one scents a hint of paradoxical altruism, until one comes to consider that altruism itself might be a paradox. In the bald collectivism of every herd, for instance, one might behold the noble sense of helping others; but when one remarks that the instinct of collectivism might be the instinct of self-preservation, one might be beholding the utilitarian sense of helping oneself. Hence Stirner seems to have some biological basis for the proposed union of egoists, and, in fact, convinces one that he has some practical basis, when, in answer to critics, he cites familiar examples of egoistic unions. Children at play is a particular example of his, and it requires no ostentatious show of reasoning to assure one that their union for pleasure is for the pleasure of the unit. Take again a couple in the drawing-room when the lights are low, and note that a personal felicity is the underlying motive of their mutual embraces.. But, after all, Stirner’s union” has no place for the orthodox sentimentalities of friendship, comradeship, good will, and so forth. On the contrary, he plainly points out that his union is a selfish agreement, only, so far as it increases the power of his implacable ego. If I can exploit my fellowmen, then in Stirner’s own words:—

“I am likely to come to an understanding and unite myself with them, in order to strengthen my power by the agreement, and to do more by joint force than individual force could accomplish. In this joinder I see nothing at all else than a multiplication of my strength, and only so long as it is my multiplied strength do I retain it.”

But union involves another idea—the idea of a State in the germ, and, since an agreement suggests obedience to as extent, and. therefore, law to an extent, one might wonder vaguely whether Stirner absolutely renounces the State and law in their entirety. Union, moreover, might also become a union for mutual defence, as well as for individual power, and, since defence ipso facto argues the defensible, what should be more defensible than the institution of property? Stirner, indeed, implies a union for defence of the property, acquired, be it noted, by his amiable law of force majeure:—

“Property, therefore, should not and cannot be done away with; rather, It must be torn from ghostly hands and become my property; then will the erroneous consciousness that I cannot entitle myself to as much as I want vanish—’But what cannot a man want?’ Well, he who wants much, and knows how to get it, has in all times taken it to him, as Napoleon did the continent, and the French Algeria. Therefore, the only point is that the respectful ‘lower classes’ should, at length, learn to take to themselves what they want. If they reach their hands too far for you, why defend yourselves.”

Altogether Stirner’s book is an original contribution to the literature of rebellion, and, as an intellectual recreation, is a change from leaderettes on obstetric evils, or from the gusty farce of a Kiplingesque, ode. True, it is not a respectable book, but no revolutionist ever writes a respectable book. Yet, if one cannot applaud it, one would be cheap to despise it. In philosophical value, it appears to be not inferior to anything that Nietzsche ever conceived, though it lack the literary lightning of the later Teuton.

Also Stirner’s faith is not a respectable faith. It is a creed more suited to the needs of “free spirits” than to the frugal necessities of law-abiding, modern men. It is a creed that abjures weakness for strength, pessimism for optimism, and preaches hope just as surely as Nietzsche preached it with the dramatic promise of his UEBERMENSCH. For that reason Stirner is worth a little attentive exploration, although I fear that he never will become a popular idol. Still, unpopularity should add a subtler distinction to his name. For nobody who is anybody is popular!