Biography | Stirner

Max Stirner is the pseudonym of Johann Kaspar Schmidt (1806-1856). He was born in Bayreuth October 25th 1806, son of the lower-middle-class couple Albert Christian Heinrich Schmidt and his wife Sophia Eleonora. The year after, his father died, and in 1809 his mother remarried with the pharmacist Ballerstedt and moved to Kulm in western Prussia. In 1819 Stirner went to Bayreuth to attend the prestigious Gymnasium, living with an aunt. In 1826 he went to the University of Berlin to study philosophy under Schleiermacher, Marheineke and Hegel. He continued his studies at the University of Erlangen in 1829, and moved to the University of Königsberg in 1829, returned to Berlin in 1832 and completed his studies there in 1834.

In January 1835 Stirner’s mother was committed as insane to Die Charitè hospital in Berlin. April the same year, delayed by illness, Stirner took his oral exams in the subjects he intended to teach, but was, however, only awarded a conditional facultas docendi and was rejected as Gymnasiallehrer by the Royal Brandenburg Commission for Schools. In 1837 Stirner married Agnes Klara Kunigunde Butz, the daughter of his landlady. Later the same year his stepfather died. In 1838 Agnes died giving birth to a still-born child. In 1839 Stirner got a position teaching literature at a respectable girls’ school in Berlin.

In 1841 Stirner joined Die Freien (The Free), a group of left Hegelians gathering at Hippel’s Weinstube. It was in this group he met Marie Dähnhardt, who was later to become his second wife. In 1842 Stirner published, aside from various journalistic articles, Das unwahre Prinzip unserer Erziehung (The False Principle of our Education) and Kunst und Religion (Art and Religion) in der Rheinische Zeitung, two pieces where we clearly can see the direction Stirner’s thought. In 1843 he married Marie Dähnhardt. At the end of 1844 Stirner’s magnum opus Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum (The Individual and His Own) was published by Otto Wigand; copies were rapidly distributed to bookstores to avoid the censorship, and the book was dated 1845.

Stirner left his teaching job in 1844. He then tried investing Marie Dähnhardt’s inherited fortune in commercial enterprise, but failed and ended up in financial hardship. Marie left him in 1846. In the time after the publication of The Ego and Its Own Stirner wrote two essays in reply to his critics that serve to illuminate his philosophy well. These were Recensenten Stirner’s (Stirner’s Critics), a reply to Feuerbach, Szeliga and Hess, in Wigand’s Vierteljahrschrift in 1845, and Die Philosophischen Reaktionaere (The philosophically reactionary), a reply to Kuno Fischer, under the name “G. Edward” in the fifth volume of Wigands Epigonen in 1847.

Stirner was the first to translate Adam Smiths The Wealth of Nations into German. This translation was published in 1847. Stirner’s last book was a Geschichte der Reaktion (History of the Reaction) published in 1852.

It has been claimed that Stirner lived in poverty towards the end of his life, constantly fleeing from his creditors. He spent two periods in debtors’ prison (5–26 March 1853, and 1 January–4 February 1854) in Berlin. It has been suggested, however, that he managed his maternal inheritance rather well towards the end of his life, affording him a decent though not affluent lifestyle. His social life included visits to the salon of Baroness von der Golz, where he is said to have aired “radical opinions”.

In May 1856 contracted a fever as he was stung by a winged insect. The 25th of June 1856, Stirner died.