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Max Stirner - Biography

Max Stirner (1806-1856) was born in Bayreuth, Bavaria. He was originally known as Johann Kaspar Schmidt. His classmates at the Altsprachliche Gymnasium gave him the nickname Stirner because of his high forehead. In 1845, Max Stirner’s major work Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum (The Ego and Its Own) was published. In this book, Max Stirner argued that each right and sanction arises from the individual. Stirner used his philosophy to explore individualistic anarchism. At the University of Berlin, the University of Erlangen and the University of Konigsber, Max Stirner pursued his undergraduate degree. During this period, Stirner was in the audience for Hegel’s lectures on religion, history of philosophy and philosophy of subjective spirit. In the last years of his education, Max Stirner was required to take care of his mother (who though sick would outlive her son.) Stirner’s family obligations would distract from his academic obligations, and he would barely meet the requirements to become a teacher. His employment was intermittent, including a year and a half of teaching Latin in an unpaid capacity.

In some ways Max Stirner was known for being a rejecter of religion, morality, authority. Before his arrival on the scene perhaps only Ludwig Feuerbach had rejected so much (and then not with so much vigor.)

The personal life of Max Stirner would be marked by such tragedies. During the period that he was employed as an unpaid Latin teacher, he and Agnes Butz became husband and wife. Butz would later die in childbirth. However, it is rumored that after seeing his wife completely nude could never touch her, Max Stirner refused to touch her. Stirner’s second wife, Marie Dähnhardt, would claim that their marriage had been more of cohabitation than a legitimate love match.

Eventually, a private girl’s school hired Max Stirner. His reputation as a literature and history instructor grew over the course of five years. However, it was also during this period that Max Stirner became a habitué of the Berlin art and intellectual scene. In 1841, Stirner found an intellectual refuge Hippel’s Weinstube located on Friedrichstrasse. Here he found a loose community of free thinkers lead by Bruno Bauer. This loose association of intellectuals gave themselves the name Die Frien. Their meetings were known for being loud and sometimes physically violent. Stirner’s personality in this world contrasted much from the polite instructor his students had grown to respect. In the wine bar and the intellectual community at larger, Max Stirner became known for his bellicose urge to argue and for his opposition to religion and moderation.

Stirner began writing for the Leipziger Allgemeine Zeitung and Rheinische Zeitung. His early journalism did not make much impact on his reputation. However in 1842, Max Stirner penned the article “The False Principle of Our Education” in which he explored pedagogy. Throughout his forays into journalism, he made references to his book Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum. It seems however that many of his colleagues did not believe that he was actually writing this book. Ultimately, Stirner’s book was finished and published by Otto Wigand from Leipzig.

In the year of publication 1846 (although copies seem to have been available in 1845), Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum was acclaimed. The inscription (I have founded my affair on nother) at the beigning of Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum comes from Goethe’s poem “Vanitas! Vanitatum Vanitas.” Stirner saw this poem as a a precursor for his own philosophy. But before its publication, Max Stirner quit his teaching position. His second wife’s inheritance allowed Max Stirner the financial security to leave his position. He would exhaust most of his wife’s inheritance, and she would leave by the end of the year and eventually she would join a Catholic religious community in England.

Max Stirner continued to write short articles and would publish a section of History of Reaction in 1852. However, Stirner was unable to gain financial security during this time. He changed residences frequently in order to avoid his creditors. Stirner was unable to avoid being imprisoned for his debts in both 1853 and 1854. Two years later, Max Stirner died of an infection from an insect sting.

In some way, the final years of Max Stirner’s life can be enlightened by his writings on poverty. Stirner identifies the functions of “pauperism” with those of the “state.” Perhaps this presages his own dynamic between the financial ruin and incarceration he endured.

Pauperism is the valuelessness of me, the phenomenon that I cannot realize value from myself. For this reason State and pauperism are one and the same.[Pg 336] The State does not let me come to my value, and continues in existence only through my valuelessness: it is forever intent on getting benefit from me, i. e. exploiting me, turning me to account, using me up, even if the use it gets from me consists only in my supplying a proles (prolétariat); it wants me to be "its creature."

Max Stirner is known for his writing but also his translations of foreign economists including Jean-Baptiste Say and Adam Smith. Stirner left an indelible mark on the German and Russian schools of anarchism. It is also believed that Max Stirner had an impact on the philosophies of Karl Marx.

Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum possesses an argumentation that turns on wordplay. In looking at making connections between concepts, Max Stirner turns to the use of words that are related by etymology and not always denotation. The writing itself is also describes as exaggerated and aphoristic. Stirner’s writing style suggests that he is trying to startle the reader.

In his refusal to engage in traditional forms of dialogue, Max Stirner attempts to undermine the oppressive structures of reason and language. Stirner’s word play can see in the following passage:

It is more than ragamuffinhood, however, when I throw away Man too because I feel that he too is alien to me and that I can make no pretensions on that basis. This is no longer mere ragamuffinhood: because even the last rag has fallen off, here stands real nakedness, denudation of everything alien. The ragamuffin has stripped off ragamuffinhood itself, and therewith has ceased, to be what he was, a ragamuffin.
I am no longer a ragamuffin, but have been one.

In addition to the word play, Max Stirner reveals a sense of the relationship between self and economics that manifests throughout his magnum opus.

Max Stirner defines property through a series of questions and answers in which he says “Nothing but that which is in my power: to what property am I entitled? to any to which I entitle myself. I myself give myself the right to property by taking property.” He maintains that existence is a struggle and each individual should have only what they can acquire for themselves.

Part of Stirner’s philosophic project is to overturn the supremacy of contemporary culture. He attacks the religious thought and oppression of social institutions of the contemporary world. In his attack on religion, Max Stirner took Christianity to task in a way similar to Nietzsche in which Stirner claims that the urge of Christianity is contrary to human nature. Stirner perhaps finds religion important because it makes itself and the oppression it causes seem ridiculous. This line of Stirner’s thought is illustrated in Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum. Stirner discusses how religion in general, but Christiantiy specifically, causes man agony since religion is inherently against nature and “self-contradictory.” He continues to express the belief that the struggle against religion will lead to freedom since the ridiculousness of religion will become obvious.

His works include Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum, Geschichte der Reaction: Die Vorlaufer der Reaction, Die moderne Reaction.



Max Stirner was a German Philosopher. (1806 - 1856)