Ink of paper. Close up of a locked spice box. Own work. October 2022.

Some excerpts from The Unique and Its Property by Max Stirner

The science fiction to German philosophy pipeline strikes again

by AK Krajewska

I recently finished The Star Fraction and The Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod, two science fiction novels that are full of direct references to all kinds of socialist, communist, and anarchist ideas. As in, not only are people living, for example, in some kind of anarchist society as in Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed or Iain Banks' Culture novels, but they directly discuss specific schools of thought and thinkers. One of the thinkers directly alluded to was Max Stirner and his ideas of egoist anarchism.

I had heard of Max Stirner, and of his book, variously translated as The Ego and His Own, The Ego and Its Own, and most recently, The Unique and Its Property, mostly from assholes. Since most of the people who were really into him seemed like jerks and the earliest title made me roll my eyes a bit, I hadn't bothered. But seeing egoist anarchism discussed more in The Stone Canal raised my curiosity. This isn't the first time reading science fiction led me to investigate some weirdo philosophers. Dhalgren and Too Like the Lightning got me to read De Sade. The Thing Itself led me to Kant (I'm still working my way through The Critique of Pure Reason).

So I got my hands on a 2017 translation by Apio Ludd and have been reading it. I'm about a third of the way through and don't have much to say about it yet, however, I would like to share some passages I particularly liked.

On the police and what they do for the bourgeois vs the workers:

The state pays well so that its “good bourgeois citizens,” the possessors, can pay badly without danger; through good pay, it secures for itself its servants, from which it forms a protecting power, a “police” (to the police belong soldiers, officials of all kinds, i.e., of justice, education, etc.—in short, the whole “machinery of state”) for the “good bourgeois citizens,” and the “good bourgeois citizens” gladly pay high taxes to it in order to pay so much lower wages to their workers.

But the class of workers, because they are unprotected in what they essentially are (since they don’t enjoy state protection as workers, but as subjects of the state they have a share in the enjoyment of the police, a so-called legal protection), remains a hostile power against this state, this state of possessors, this “bourgeois monarchy.” Its principle, work, is not recognized according to its value; it is exploited, a spoil of war[130] of the possessors, the enemy. -- The Unique and Its Property, 1.3.1 Political Liberalism

On the relationship between workers' power and the nation state:

The workers have the most enormous power in their hands, and if one day they became truly aware of it and used it, then nothing could resist them; they would only have to stop work and look upon the products of work as their own and enjoy them. This is the meaning of the labor unrest that is looming here and there.

The state is founded on the—slavery of labor. If labor becomes free, the state is lost. -- The Unique and Its Property, 1.3.1 Political Liberalism

On the role of chance in supposedly merit-based success:

Competition, in which bourgeois or political life solely operates, is a game of chance through and through, from stock market speculation all the way down to applications for official positions, the hunt for customers, the job search, the pursuit of promotions and decorations, the rummaging of the haggling junkman, etc. If one succeeds in pushing out and outbidding his rivals, then the “lucky throw” is made; because it must already be taken as a stroke of luck that the winner feels himself gifted with an ability, even if cultivated with the most careful diligence, against which the others don’t know how to rise, so that—none more gifted are found. And now those who pursue their daily lives in the midst of these changing fortunes without doing badly from it are seized with the most moral indignation when their own principle appears in its most naked form and “wreaks misfortune” as—a game of chance. The game of chance is just too clear, too unveiled a competition, and, like any definite nakedness, offends the honorable sense of shame. -- The Unique and Its Property, 1.3.2 Social Liberalism

On the progressive nature of liberation (this one feels like it might be a direct allusion to Hegel?):

The people of the future will yet win many freedoms that we don’t even miss. -- The Unique and Its Property, 1.3.3 Humane Liberalism

On what it means to be unique:

Now I don’t think of myself as anything special, but as unique. Without a doubt, I am similar to others; however, this holds good only for comparison or reflection; in fact, I am incomparable, unique. My flesh is not their flesh, my mind is not their mind. If you bring them under the generalities “flesh, mind,” those are your thoughts, which have nothing to do with my flesh, my mind, and can least of all put out a “call” to what is mine. -- The Unique and Its Property, 1.3.3 Humane Liberalism

On continuous self-creation:

I do not assume myself, because in each moment I am really setting up or creating myself for the first time, and am only I, not by being assumed, but by being set up, and again set up only in the moment when I set myself up; i.e., I am creator and creature in one. -- The Unique and Its Property, 1.3.4. Postscript

On the relationship between being free and having power:

My freedom becomes complete only when it is my—power; but by this I cease to be merely a free person and become an own person. [...] You long for freedom? You fools! If you took power, then freedom would come of itself. See, one who has power stands above the law. How does this view taste to you, you “law-abiding” people? But you have no taste!" The Unique and Its Property, 2.1 Ownness

I'm sure I'll have more to say when I finish the book.