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Johann Kaspar Schmidt (October 25, 1806June 26, 1856), better known as Max Stirner (the nom de plume he adopted from a schoolyard nickname he had acquired as a child because of his high brow, in German 'Stirn'), was a German philosopher, who ranks as one of the literary fathers of nihilism, existentialism, post-modernism and anarchism, especially of individualist anarchism. Stirner's main work is The Ego and Its Own, also known as The Ego and His Own (Der Einzige und sein Eigentum in German, which translates literally as The Only One and his Property). This work was first published in 1844 in Leipzigmarker, and has since appeared in numerous editions and translations.


Max Stirner's birthplace in Bayreuth
Stirner was born in Bayreuthmarker, Bavariamarker. What little is known of his life is mostly due to the Scottishmarker born Germanmarker writer John Henry Mackay, who wrote a biography of Stirner (Max Stirner - sein Leben und sein Werk), published in German in 1898 (enlarged 1910, 1914), and translated into English in 2005.

Stirner was the only child of Albert Christian Heinrich Schmidt (1769–1807) and Sophia Elenora Reinlein (1778–1839). His father died of tuberculosis on the April 19, 1807 at the age of 37. In 1809 his mother remarried to Heinrich Ballerstedt, a pharmacist, and settled in West Prussian Kulm (now Chełmnomarker, Polandmarker).

When Stirner turned 20, he attended the University of Berlinmarker, where he studied Philology, Philosophy and Theology. He attended the lectures of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who was to become a source of inspiration for his thinking. While in Berlinmarker in 1841, Stirner participated in discussions with a group of young philosophers called "Die Freien" ("The Free"), and whom historians have subsequently categorized as the Young Hegelians. Some of the best known names in 19th century literature and philosophy were members of this discussion group, including Bruno Bauer, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach, and Arnold Ruge. While some of the Young Hegelians were eager subscribers to Hegel's dialectical method, and attempted to apply dialectical approaches to Hegel's conclusions, the left wing members of the group broke with Hegel. Feuerbach and Bauer led this charge.

Frequently the debates would take place at Hippel's, a wine bar in Friedrichstraßemarker, attended by, among others, the young Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, at that time still adherents of Feuerbach. Stirner met Engels many times and Engels even recalled that they were "great friends", but it is still unclear whether Marx and Stirner ever met. It does not appear that Stirner contributed much to the discussions but was a faithful member of the club and an attentive listener.
The most-often reproduced portrait of Stirner is a cartoon by Engels, drawn 40 years later from memory on the request of Stirner's biographer, John Henry Mackay.

Stirner worked as a schoolteacher in a gymnasium for young girls owned by Madame Gropius when he wrote his major work, The Ego and Its Own, which in part is a polemic against the leading Young Hegelians Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer, but also against communists such as Wilhelm Weitling and the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. He resigned from his teaching position in anticipation of the controversy arising from his major work's publication in October 1844.

Stirner married twice; his first wife was a household servant, with whom he fell in love at an early age. Soon after their marriage, she died due to complications with pregnancy in 1838. In 1843 he married Marie Dähnhardt, an intellectual associated with Die Freien. They divorced in 1846. The Ego and Its Own was dedicated "to my sweetheart Marie Dähnhardt". Marie later converted to Catholicism and died in 1902 in Londonmarker. Stirner planned and financed (with Marie's inheritance) an attempt by some Young Hegelians to own and operate a milk-shop on co-operative principles. This enterprise failed partly because the dairy farmers were suspicious of these well-dressed intellectuals. The milk shop was also so well decorated that most of the potential customers felt too poorly dressed to buy their milk there.

After The Ego and Its Own, Stirner wrote Stirner's Critics and translated Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and Jean-Baptiste Say's Traite d'Economie Politique into German, to little financial gain. He also wrote a compilation of texts titled History of Reaction in 1852. Stirner died in 1856 in Berlin from an infected insect bite; it is said that Bruno Bauer was the only Young Hegelian present at his funeral, which was held at the Friedhof II der Sophiengemeinde Berlinmarker.


Stirner's claim that the state is an illegitimate institution has made him an influence upon the anarchist tradition; his thought is often seen as a form of individualist anarchism. Stirner however does not identify himself as an anarchist, and includes anarchists among the parties subject to his criticism.

Stirner mocks revolution in the traditional sense as tacitly statist. David Leopold's conclusion (in his introduction to the Cambridge University Press edition) is that Stirner "...saw humankind as 'fretted in dark superstition' but denied that he sought their enlightenment and welfare" (Ibidem, p. xxxii).

As with the Classical Skeptics, Stirner's method of self-liberation is opposed to faith or belief; life is free from "dogmatic presuppositions" or any "fixed standpoint". It is not merely Christian dogma but also a variety of European atheist ideologies that are condemned as crypto-Christian for putting ideas in an equivalent role.

What Stirner proposes is not that concepts should rule people, but that people should rule concepts. The denial of absolute truth is rooted in Stirner's the "nothingness" of the self. Stirner presents a detached life of non-dogmatic, open-minded engagement with the world "as it is" (unpolluted by "faith", Christian or humanist), coupled with the awareness that there is no soul, no personal essence of any kind.

Hegel's influence

Scholars such as Karl Löwith and Lawrence Stepelevich have argued that Hegel was a major influence on The Ego and Its Own. Stepelevich argues that while The Ego and its Own evidently has an "un-Hegelian structure and tone to the work as a whole", as well as being fundamentally hostile to Hegel's conclusions about the self and the world, this does not mean that Hegel had no effect on Stirner.

To go beyond and against Hegel in true dialectical fashion is in some way continuing Hegel's project, and Stepelevich argues that this effort of Stirner's is, in fact, a completion of Hegel's project . Stepelevich concludes his argument referring to Jean Hyppolite, who in summing up the intention of Hegel's Phenomenology, stated: "The history of the world is finished; all that is needed is for the specific individual to rediscover it in himself."


The False Principle of our Education

In 1842 Das unwahre Prinzip unserer Erziehung (The False Principle of our Education) or Humanism and Realism, was published in Rheinische Zeitung, which was edited by Marx at the time. Written as a reaction to Otto Friedrich Theodor Heinsius' treatise Humanism vs. Realism. Stirner explains that education in either the classical humanist method or the practical realist method still lacks true value. Education is fulfilled in aiding the individual in becoming an individual.

Art and Religion

Art and Religion was also Published in Rheinische Zeitung in 1842 while Marx was editor. It addresses Bauer and his publication against Hegel called Hegel's doctrine of religion and art judged from the standpoint of faith.

The Ego and Its Own

Stirner's main work is The Ego and Its Own (org. 'Der Einzige und sein Eigentum'), which appeared in Leipzigmarker in 1844. In The Ego and Its Own, Stirner launches a radical anti-authoritarian and individualist critique of contemporary Prussian society, and modern western society as such. He offers an approach to human existence which depicts the self as a creative non-entity, beyond language and reality.

The book proclaims that all religions and ideologies rest on empty concepts. The same holds true for society's institutions, that claim authority over the individual, be it the state, legislation, the church, or the systems of education such as Universities.

Stirner's argument explores and extends the limits of Hegelian criticism, aiming his critique especially at those of his contemporaries, particularly Ludwig Feuerbach. And popular ideologies, including nationalism, statism, liberalism, socialism, communism and humanism.

Stirner's Critics

Recensenten Stirners (Stirner's Critics) was published in September 1845 in Wigands Vierteljahrsschrift. It is a response to three critical reviews of The Ego and its Own by Moses Hess in Die letzten Philosophen (The Last Philosophers), by a certain „Szeliga“ in an article in the journal Norddeutsche Blätter, and by Feuerbach anonymously in an article called Über 'Das Wesen des Christentums' in Beziehung auf Stirners 'Der Einzige und sein Eigentum' (On 'The Essence of Christianity' in Relation to Stirner's 'The Ego and its Own' ) in Wigands Vierteljahrsschrift.

History of Reaction

Geschichte der Reaction (History of Reaction) was published in two volumes in 1851 by Allgemeine Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt and immediately banned in Austria. It was written in the context of the recent 1848 revolutions in German states and is mainly a collection of the works of others selected and translated by Stirner. The introduction and some additional passages were Stirner's work. Edmund Burke and Auguste Comte are quoted to show two opposing views of revolution.

Critical reception

Stirner's work did not go unnoticed among his contemporaries. Stirner's attacks on ideology — in particular Feuerbach's humanism — forced Feuerbach into print. Moses Hess (at that time close to Marx) and Szeliga (pseudonym of Franz Zychlin von Zychlinski, an adherent of Bruno Bauer) also replied to Stirner. Stirner answered the criticism in a German periodical, in the article Stirner's Critics (org. Recensenten Stirners, September 1845), which clarifies several points of interest to readers of the book—especially in relation to Feuerbach.

While The German Ideology so assured The Ego and Its Own a place of curious interest among Marxist readers, Marx's ridicule of Stirner has played a significant role in the subsequent marginalization of Stirner's work, in popular and academic discourse.


While Der Einzige was a critical success and attracted much reaction from famous philosophers after publication, it was out of print and the notoriety it had provoked had faded many years before Stirner's death. Stirner had a destructive impact on left-Hegelianism, though his philosophy was a significant influence on Marx and his magnum opus became a founding text of individualist anarchism. Edmund Husserl once warned a small audience about the "seducing power" of Der Einzige, but never mentioned it in his writing. As the art critic and Stirner admirer Herbert Read observed, the book has remained "stuck in the gizzard" of Western culture since it first appeared.

Many thinkers have read, and been affected by The Ego and Its Own in their youth including Rudolf Steiner, Gustav Landauer, Victor Serge, Carl Schmitt and Jürgen Habermas. Few openly admit any influence on their own thinking. Ernst Jünger's book Eumeswil, had the character of the "Anarch", based on Stirner's "Einzige." Several other authors, philosophers and artists have cited, quoted or otherwise referred to Max Stirner. They include Albert Camus in The Rebel (the section on Stirner is omitted from the majority of English editions including Penguin's) , Benjamin Tucker, James Huneker,Dora Marsden, Renzo Novatore, Emma Goldman, Georg Brandes, John Cowper Powys, Martin Buber,,Sidney Hook, Robert Anton Wilson, Italian individualist anarchist Frank Brand, Russian-Americanmarker philosopher Ayn Rand, the notorious antiartist Marcel Duchamp, several writers of the Situationist International, and Max Ernst, who titled a 1925 painting L'unique et sa propriété. Years before rising to power, Benito Mussolini was inspired by Stirner, and made several references to him in his newspaper articles. The similarities in style between The Ego and Its Ownand Oscar Wilde's The Soul of Man Under Socialism have caused some historians to speculate that Wilde (who could readGerman) was familiar with the book.

Since its appearance in 1844, The Ego and Its Own has seen periodic revivals of popular, political and academic interest, based around widely divergent translations and interpretations — some psychological, others political in their emphasis. Today, many ideas associated with post-left anarchy's criticism of ideology and uncompromising individualism are clearly related to Stirner's. He has also been regarded as pioneering individualist feminism, since his objection to any absolute concept also clearly counts gender roles as "spooks". His ideas were also adopted by post-anarchism, with Saul Newman largely in agreement with many of Stirner's criticisms of classical anarchism, including his rejection of revolution and essentialism.

Marx and Engels

Engels commented on Stirner in poetry at the time of Die Freien:

He once even recalled at how they were "great friends (Duzbrüder)". In November 1844, Engels wrote a letter to Marx. He reported first on a visit to Moses Hess in Cologne, and then went on to note that during this visit Hess had given him a press copy of a new book by Max Stirner, Der Einzige und Sein Eigenthum. In his letter to Marx, Engels promised to send a copy of Der Einzige to him, for it certainly deserved their attention, as Stirner: "had obviously, among the 'Free Ones', the most talent, independence and diligence". To begin with Engels was enthusiastic about the book, and expressed his opinions freely in letters to Marx:

Later, Marx and Engels wrote a major criticism of Stirner's work. The number of pages Marx and Engels devote to attacking Stirner in (the unexpurgated text of) The German Ideology exceeds the total of Stirner's written works. As Isaiah Berlin has described it, Stirner "is pursued through five hundred pages of heavy-handed mockery and insult". The book was written in 1845–1846, but not published until 1932. Marx's lengthy, ferocious polemic against Stirner has since been considered an important turning point in Marx's intellectual development from idealism to materialism.

Stirner and post-structuralism

Saul Newman calls Stirner a proto-poststructuralist who on the one hand had essentially anticipated modern post-structuralists such as Foucault, Lacan, Deleuze, and Derrida, but on the other had already transcended them, thus providing what they were unable to: a ground for a non-essentialist critique of present liberal capitalist society. This is particularly evident in Stirner's identification of the self with a "creative nothing", a thing that cannot be bound by ideology, inaccessible to representation in language.

Possible influence on Nietzsche

The ideas of Max Stirner and Friedrich Nietzsche have often been compared, and many authors have discussed apparent similarities in their writings, sometimes raising the question of influence. In Germany, during the early years of Nietzsche's emergence as a well-known figure, the only thinker discussed in connection with his ideas more often than Stirner was Schopenhauer. It is certain that Nietzsche read about Stirner's most important book The Ego and Its Own (Der Einzige und sein Eigentum), which was mentioned in Lange's History of Materialism and Eduard von Hartmann's Philosophy of the Unconscious, both of which Nietzsche knew well. However, there is no indication that he actually read it, as no mention of Stirner is known to exist anywhere in Nietzsche's publications, papers or correspondence. Recently a biographical discovery made it probable that Nietzsche had encountered Stirner's ideas before he read Hartmann and Lange, in October 1865, when he met with Eduard Mushacke, an old friend of Stirner's during the 1840s.

And yet as soon as Nietzsche's work began to reach a wider audience the question of whether or not he owed a debt of influence to Stirner was raised. As early as 1891 (while Nietzsche was still alive, though incapacitated by mental illness) Eduard von Hartmann went so far as to suggest that he had plagiarized Stirner. By the turn of the century the belief that Nietzsche had been influenced by Stirner was so widespread that it became something of a commonplace, at least in Germany, prompting one observer to note in 1907 "Stirner's influence in modern Germany has assumed astonishing proportions, and moves in general parallel with that of Nietzsche. The two thinkers are regarded as exponents of essentially the same philosophy."

Nevertheless, from the very beginning of what was characterized as "great debate" regarding Stirner's possible positive influence on Nietzsche, serious problems with the idea were noted. By the middle of the 20th century, if Stirner was mentioned at all in works on Nietzsche, the idea of influence was often dismissed outright or abandoned as unanswerable.

But the idea that Nietzsche was influenced in some way by Stirner continues to attract a significant minority, perhaps because it seems necessary to explain in some reasonable fashion the often-noted (though arguably superficial) similarities in their writings. In any case, the most significant problems with the theory of possible Stirner influence on Nietzsche are not limited to the difficulty in establishing whether the one man knew of or read the other. They also consist in establishing precisely how and why Stirner in particular might have been a meaningful influence on a man as widely read as Nietzsche.

Rudolf Steiner

The individualist-anarchist orientation of Rudolf Steiner's early philosophy – before he turned to theosophy around 1900 – has strong parallels to, and was admittedly influenced by Stirner's conception of the ego, for which Steiner claimed to have provided a philosophical foundation.


Stirner´s philosophy is important in anarchism. Usually Stirner within anarchism is associated with individualist anarchism but he found admiration in mainstream social anarchists such as anarcha-feminists Emma Goldman and Federica Montseny (both also admired Friedrich Nietzsche). As such in european individualist anarchism he influenced its main proponents after him such as Emile Armand, Han Ryner, Renzo Novatore, John Henry Mackay, Miguel Giménez Igualada and Lev Chernyi.

In american individualist anarchism he found adherence in Benjamin Tucker and his magazine Liberty while these abandoned natural rights positions for egoism. "Several periodicals were undoubtedly influenced by Liberty's presentation of egoism. They included: I published by C.L. Swartz, edited by W.E. Gordak and J.W. Lloyd (all associates of Liberty); The Ego and The Egoist, both of which were edited by Edward H. Fulton. Among the egoist papers that Tucker followed were the German Der Eigene, edited by Adolf Brand, and The Eagle and The Serpent, issued from London. The latter, the most prominent English-language egoist journal, was published from 1898 to 1900 with the subtitle “A Journal of Egoistic Philosophy and Sociology”". Other american egoist anarchists around the early 20th century include James L. Walker, George Schumm and John Beverley Robinson, Steven T. Byington and E.H. Fulton.

In the United Kingdom Herbert Read was influenced by Stirner. Later in the 1960s Daniel Guerin in Anarchism: From Theory to Practice says that Stirner "rehabilitated the individual at a time when the philosophical field was dominated by Hegelian anti-individualism and most reformers in the social field had been led by the misdeeds of bourgeois egotism to stress its opposite" and pointed to "the boldness and scope of his thought." In the seventies an american situationist collective called For Ourselves published a book called The Right To Be Greedy: Theses On The Practical Necessity Of Demanding Everything in which they advocate a "communist egoism" basing themselves on Stirner.

Later in the USA emerged the tendency of post-left anarchy which was influenced profundly by Stirner in aspects such as the critique of ideology. Jason McQuinn says that "when I (and other anti-ideological anarchists) criticize ideology, it is always from a specifically critical, anarchist perspective rooted in both the skeptical, individualist-anarchist philosophy of Max Stirner. Also Bob Black and Feral Faun/Wolfi Landstreicher strongly adhere to stirnerist egoism. In the hybrid of post-structuralism and Anarchism called post-anarchism Saul Newman has written a lot on Stirner and his similarities to post-structuralism. Insurrectionary anarchism also has an important relationship with Stirner as can be seen in the work of Wolfi Landstreicher and Alfredo Bonanno who has also written on him in works such as Max Stirner and "Max Stirner und der Anarchismus"

Comments by contemporaries

Twenty years after the appearance of Stirner's book, the author Friedrich Albert Lange wrote the following:

Some people think that, in a sense, a "second positive part" was soon to be added, though not by Stirner, but by Friedrich Nietzsche. The relationship between Nietzsche and Stirner seems to be much more complicated. According to George J. Stack's Lange and Nietzsche, Nietzsche read Lange's History of Materialism "again and again" and was therefore very familiar with the passage regarding Stirner.


See also


  • Stirner, Max: Der Einzige und sein Eigentum (1845 [October 1844]). Stuttgart: Reclam-Verlag, 1972ff; engl. trans. The Ego and Its Own (1907), ed. David Leopold, Cambridge/ New York: CUP 1995
  • Stirner, Max: "Recensenten Stirners" (Sept. 1845). In: Parerga, Kritiken, Repliken, Bernd A. Laska, ed., Nürnberg: LSR-Verlag, 1986; engl. trans. Stirner's Critics (abridged), see below
  • Stack, George J., Lange and Nietzsche, Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1983, ISBN 3-11-00866-5

Further reading

  • Max Stirners 'Der Einzige und sein Eigentum' im Spiegel der zeitgenössischen deutschen Kritik. Eine Textauswahl (1844-1856). Hg. Kurt W. Fleming. Leipzig: Verlag Max-Stirner-Archiv 2001
  • Arvon, Henri, Aux Sources de l'existentialisme, Paris: P.U.F. 1954
  • De Ridder, Widukind, "Max Stirner, Hegel and the Young Hegelians: A reassessment". In: History of European Ideas, 2008, 285-297.
  • Essbach, Wolfgang, Gegenzüge. Der Materialismus des Selbst. Eine Studie über die Kontroverse zwischen Max Stirner und Karl Marx. Frankfurt: Materialis 1982
  • Helms, Hans G, Die Ideologie der anonymen Gesellschaft. Max Stirner ‘Einziger’ und der Fortschritt des demokratischen Selbstbewusstseins vom Vormärz bis zur Bundesrepublik, Köln: Du Mont Schauberg, 1966
  • Koch, Andrew M., “Max Stirner: The Last Hegelian or the First Poststructuralist”. In: Anarchist Studies, vol. 5 (1997) pp. 95–108
  • Laska, Bernd A., Ein dauerhafter Dissident. Eine Wirkungsgeschichte des Einzigen, Nürnberg: LSR-Verlag 1996 ( TOC, index)
  • Laska, Bernd A., Ein heimlicher Hit. Editionsgeschichte des „Einzigen“. Nürnberg: LSR-Verlag 1994 ( abstract)
  • Marshall, Peter H. "Max Stirner" in "Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism "(London: HarperCollins, 1992).
  • Newman, Saul, Power and Politics in Poststructural Thought. London and New York: Routledge 2005
  • Stepelevich, Lawrence S., Max Stirner As Hegelian. In: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 46, nr. 4, pp. 597–614
  • Stepelevich, Lawrence S., Ein Menschenleben. Hegel and Stirner”. In: Moggach, Douglas (ed.): The New Hegelians. Philosophy and Politics in the Hegelian School. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006, pp. 166–176
  • Paterson, R.W.K., The Nihilistic Egoist: Max Stirner, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1971

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