Max Stirner

The German philosopher Max Stirner (1806-1856) had considerable international influence as the out standing German "theoretician of anarchism."

Max Stirner, whose real name was Johann Caspar Schmidt, was born on Oct. 25, 1806, in Bayreuth. After studying theology and philology in Berlin, Erlangen, and Königsberg, he returned to Berlin, where he spent practically the rest of his life. He taught at a private girls' school until he married a wealthy woman whose money he used partly to write his magnum opus, Der Einzige und sein Eigentum (1844; The Ego and His Own), and partly to speculate in the milk business. The latter activity resulted in his imprisonment for unpaid debts, and his wife became disillusioned with him and left him. He died from the bite of a poisonous fly on June 26, 1856.

Stirner's philosophy maintained that only the individual counted: He was the center of the world, and his thoughts and feelings determined the scale of social and, specifically, moral values. Outside the individual nothing existed but the creation of the individual. Stirner's philosophy represents probably the acme of subjectivism in the history of philosophy of the Western world.

Stirner was against all social conventions and demanded the abolition of the state. He opposed all the philosophies of his time that were known to him, including German idealism, French materialism, British empiricism, and international socialism (communism).

A great number of brilliant thinkers admired him, from Ivan Turgenev and Fyodor Dostoevsky to George Bernard Shaw and André Gide. A great number of brilliant thinkers fought him, the most famous among them Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx.

After Stirner's death his name was lost among those of a lot of minor figures, but in the 1890s he became well known again through the efforts of John Henry Mackay. A Stirner renaissance set in. It was not that his philosophy became popular but that Mackay resurrected him in the form of a father of modern anarchy. In fact, however, Stirner never was politically active as an anarchist. Yet his writings became not only part but a standard element of anarchist teaching. If Marx said that philosophers ought not only to interpret the world but to change it, one can say of Stirner that while he was alive he tried to "interpret away" the world and after his death he came to inspire those who wanted to change it partly by blowing it up and partly by dissolving it into millions of small social units.


Further Reading on Max Stirner

No book has been published in English dealing extensively with Stirner. Some information can be found in Paul Eltzbacher, Anarchism: Seven Exponents of the Anarchist Philosophy (1908; rev. ed. 1970); George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (1962); and Irving L. Horowitz, The Anarchists (1964).