Benjamin R. Tucker has published the first English translation of “Der Einzige und sein Eigentum,” written in 1845 by the ingenuous German thinker Kaspar Schmidt under the pseudonym of Max Stirner. The book has been translated by Steven T. Byington, assisted by Emma Heller Schumm and George Schumm. Mr. Tucker, however, informs us in his Preface to the book that “the responsibility for special errors and imperfections” properly rests on his shoulders. He is therefore also responsible for the Introduction by the late Dr. J. L. Walker, whose narrow-minded conception of Stirner is suggestive of Individualistic idolatry.

Stirner said: “Ich hab’ mein’ Sach’ auf Nichts gestellt.” (“I have set my cause on naught.”)[1] It seems that the Individualist Anarchists have set their cause on Stirner. Already they have sent money to Bayreuth and Berlin, for the purpose of having the customary memorial tables nailed to the places of Stirner’s birth and death. Like the devout pilgrims wending their way Bayreuth-wards, lost in awed admiration of the musical genius of Richard Wagner, so will the Stirner worshipers soon begin to infest Bayreuth and incidentally cause a raise in the hotel charges. The publishers of Baedeker will do well to take note of this prophecy, that the attention of the traveling mob be called to the Stirner shrines.

A harmless bourgeois cult. Involuntarily I am reminded of another theoretic Individualist Anarchist, P. J. Proudhon, who wrote after the Paris February Revolution: “Willy-nilly, we must now resign ourselves to be Philistines.”

Possibly Dr. J. L. Walker had in mind such resignation when he contemptuously referred in his Introduction to Stirner’s book to the “so-called revolutionary movement” of 1848. We regret that the learned doctor is dead; perhaps we could have successfully demonstrated to him that this revolution — in so far as it was aggressively active — proved of the greatest benefit to at least one country, sweeping away, as it did, most of the remnants of feudalism in Prussia. It were not the revolutionists who compromised the revolution and caused the reaction; the responsibility for the latter rests rather on the champions of passive resistance, á la Tucker and Mackay.

Walker did not scruple to insinuate that Nietzsche had read Stirner and possibly stolen his ideas in order to bedeck himself with them; he had omitted, however, to mention Stirner. Why? That the world might not discover the plagiarism. The disciple Walker proves himself not a little obsessed by the god-like attributes of his master, as he suspiciously exclaims: “Nietzsche cites scores or hundreds of authors. Had he read everything, and not read Stirner?”

Good psychologic reasons stamp this imputation as unworthy of credence.

Nietzsche is reflected in his works as the veriest fanatic of truthfulness with regard to himself. Sincerity and frankness are his passion — not in the sense of wishing to “justify” himself before others: he would have scorned that, as Stirner would — it is his inner tenderness and purity which imperatively impel him to be truthful with himself. With more justice than any of his literary contemporaries could Nietzsche say of himself: “Ich wohne in meinem eignen Haus,” [2] and what reason had he to plagiarize? Was he in need of stolen ideas — he, whose very abundance of ideas proved fatal to him?

Add to this the fact that the further and higher Nietzsche went on his heroic road, the more alone he felt himself. Not alone like the misanthrope, but as one who, overflowing with wealth, would vain make wonderful gifts, but finds no ears to hear, no hands capable to take.

How terribly he suffered through his mental isolation is evidenced by numerous places in his works. He searched the past and the present for harmonious accords, for ideas and sentiments congenial to his nature. How ardently he reveres Richard Wagner and how deep his grief to find their ways so far apart! In his latter works Nietzsche became the most uncompromising opponent of Schopenhaur’s philosophy; yet that did not prevent his paying sincere tribute to the thinker Schopenhaur, as when he exclaims:

“Seht ihn euch an —
Niemandem war er untertan.”[3]

Were Nietzsche acquainted with Stirner’s book, he would have joyfully paid it — we may justly assume — the tribute of appreciative recognition, as he did in the case of Stendhal and Dostoyevsky, in whom he saw kindred spirits. Of the latter Nietzsche says that he had learned more psychology from him than from all the textbooks extant. That surely does not look like studied concealment of his literary sources.

In my estimation there is no great intellectual kinship between Stirner and Nietzsche. True, both are fighting for the liberation of individuality. Both proclaim the right of the individual to unlimited development, as against all “holiness,” all sacrosanct pretensions of self-denial, all Christian and moral Puritanism; yet how different is Nietzsche’s Individualism from that of Stirner!

The Individualism of Stirner is fenced in. On the inside stalks the all-too-abstract I, who is like unto an individual as seen under X-rays. “Don’t disturb my circle!” cries this I to the people outside the fence. It is a somewhat stilted I. Karl Marx parodied Stirner’s Einzigkeit by saying that it first saw the light in the narrow little Berlin street, the Kupfergraben. That was malicious. In truth, however, it cannot be denied that Stirner’s Individualism is not free from a certain stiffness and rigidity. The Individualism of Nietzsche, on the other hand, is an exulting slogan, a jubilant war-cry; more, it joyfully embraces humanity and the whole world, absorbs them, and, thus enriched, in turn penetrates life with elementary force.

But why contrast these two great personalities? Let us rather repeat with M. Messer — who wrote an essay on Stirner — Goethe’s saying with regard to himself and Schiller: “Seid froh, dass ihr solche zwei Kerle habt.”[4]

That the champions of pure-and-simple Individualism can be as captious and petty towards other individualities as the average moralist is proven by the extremely tactless remark in Tucker’s Preface about Stirner’s sweetheart, Marie Daehnhard. Stirner dedicated his book to her; for that he must now be censored by Mackay-Tucker in the following manner:

Mackay’s investigations have brought to light that Marie Daehnhardt had nothing whatever in common with Stirner, and so was unworthy of the honor conferred upon her. She was no Eigene. I therefore reproduce the dedication merely in the interest of historical accuracy.”

No doubt Tucker is firmly convinced that Individualism and Einzigkeit are synonymous with Tuckerism. FOrtunately, it’s a mistake.

Max Stirner and Marie Daehnhardt surely knew better what they had in common at the time of the dedication than Tucker-Mackay knows now.

But we must not take the matter too seriously. Stirner belongs to those whom even their admirers and literary executors cannot kill off. Mr. Traubel and the Conservator have not as yet succeeded in disgusting me with Walt Whitman; neither can the Individualists Anarchists succeed in robbing me of Stirner.

A great fault of the translation is the failure to describe the contemporary intellectual atmosphere of Germany in Stirner’s time. The American reader is left in total ignorance as to the conditions and personalities against which the ideas of Stirner were directed. This is, moreover, dishonest — undesignedly so, no doubt — with regard to the Communists. Stirner’s controversy was specifically with Wilhelm Weitling — who, by the way, is probably quite unknown to most American readers; it were therefore no more than common honesty to state that the Communism of Weitling bears but a mere external resemblance to modern Communism as expounded, among others, by Kropotkin and Reclus. Modern Communism has ceased to be a mere invention, to be forced upon society; it is rather a Weltanschauung founded on biology, psychology and economy.

The English edition of “The Ego and his Own” impresses one with the fact that the translator spared no pains to give an adequate and complete work; unfortunately, he has not quite succeeded. It is a case of too much philology and too little intuitive perception. Stirner himself is partly responsible for this, because in spite of his rebellion against all spooks, he is past master in playing with abstractions.

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May 13 2012 16:43


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