Birthday: October 25, 1806
Died At Age: 49
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Also Known As: Johann Kaspar Schmidt
Born Country: Germany
Born in: Bayreuth, Germany
Famous as: Philosopher
Spouse/Ex-: Agnes Burtz (m. 1837–1838), Marie Dähnhardt (m. 1843–1846)
Died on: June 26, 1856
place of death: Berlin, Germany
education: Humboldt University of Berlin
Who was Max Stirner?
Johann Kaspar Schmidt, popularly as Max Stirner, was a German philosopher and author who is remembered for his controversial book 'The Ego and Its Own'. He is often considered the father of concepts like nihilism, existentialism, individualist anarchism, postmodernism, and psychoanalytic theory. He was a member of an intellectual group 'Die Freien', where he was introduced to several philosophers and thinkers of the century. In his book, he challenged the expectations of the contemporary civilization. He criticized concepts like religion, state, and oppressive institutions that governed the lives of people. He advocated individual autonomy and the idea of "egoism." His book made a significant impact on several readers and thinkers like Rudolf Steiner, Gustav Landauer, Carl Schmitt, and Jürgen Habermas. It had an immediate and damaging impact on the left-Hegelian movement and was essential in the intellectual development of Karl Marx. It immensely influenced the political tradition of individualist anarchism. The ideas of post-left anarchy and unwavering faith in individualism were derived from Stirner's thoughts. He is often regarded as a predecessor to Nietzsche.
Childhood & Early Life
Max Stirner was born as Johann Kaspar Schmidt on October 25, 1806, in Bayreuth, Bavaria.
His parents were Albert Christian Heinrich Schmidt and Sophia Elenora Reinlein. He was an only child. His father suffered from tuberculosis and passed away at the young age of 37.
In 1809, his mother remarried a pharmacist named Heinrich Ballerstedt, and they moved to West Prussian Kulm (modern-day Chełmno, Poland).
He enrolled in the University of Berlin when he was twenty and studied theology, philosophy, and philology. He was particularly keen to attend lectures by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who significantly influenced his thinking and ideas.
He was inspired by Hegel's lectures on the philosophy of religion, subjective spirit, and the history of philosophy. He later attended the University of Erlangen in the same period as Ludwig Feuerbach.
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After university, Max Stirner obtained a teaching certificate and returned to Berlin, but was unable to secure a full-time teaching position under the Prussian government.
In 1841, while he was still in Berlin, he began associating with a group of young philosophers and philosophy enthusiasts called 'Die Freien' (The Free Ones), now regarded as Young Hegelians.
The best-known philosophers of the 19th century like Karl Marx, Bruno Bauer, Friedrich Engels, and Arnold Ruge were associated with his group. Feuerbach was not a part of 'Die Freien,' even though he was involved in Young Hegelians’ discussions.
Feuerbach and Bauer broke from the Hegelian group and did not accept the dialectical methods applied by Hegel and other Young Hegelians.
Hippel's, a popular wine bar in Friedrichstraße, was a social hub of the Hegelians and was frequented by Marx and Engels, who were both followers of Feuerbach at the time. Stirner and Engels were well acquainted. Engels even mentioned they were "great friends," but it is uncertain if Marx and Stirner ever met.
It is assumed that Max Stirner was more of a listener than a contributor during the discourses, but was a loyal member of the group. There are no images of Stirner available except the most simple cartoon illustration made by Engels forty years later at the behest of biographer Mackay.
Apart from the cartoon illustration, the only other first-hand image of Stirner is a group sketch of Die Freien at Hippel's.
He was working as a teacher in a school for young girls owned by Madame Gropius when his masterpiece 'The Ego and Its Own' was published. In 1844, he resigned from the school as he anticipated controversy after the publication.
His work was a critical analysis of Feuerbach and Bauer, and it was also against communists like Wilhelm Weitling and the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.
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Max Stirner has been broadly referred to as an adherent of psychological egoism and ethical egoism even though he had never mentioned that one 'ought' to act according to one's own interest. However, he was a proponent of individualism and thought it was irrational not to pursue one's self-interest and thus can be regarded as a rational egoist.
He stated that individual self-realization relied on a person's desire to fulfill their egoism. He differentiated between the "willing" and "unwilling" egoists. He said that the unwilling egoist was unaware of the fact they were eventually fulfilling their desires by trying to be exalted or looking for a higher cause.
On the other hand, a willing egoist would be aware that they are only pursuing their desires and therefore make choices freely.
Stirner also believed that concepts of law, morality, and religion were only artificial constructs and should not be followed. Only then one could be truly free as one's own "creature" (in the sense of creation) and "creator" (removing the role assigned to gods).
The Ego and Its Own
Max Stirner's major work "'he Ego and Its Own" was published in October 1844. In his book, Stirner critiques the authoritarian system of the Prussian government and the entire modern western society.
He advocated a different approach to human existence and believed that he was "the unique one," a "creative nothing," that no language could ever adequately express or describe.
He rejected the concept and ideologies of religion and considered them empty and baseless. He also held the same opinion about societal institutions that claimed authority over an individual like the state, the church, legislation, and universities.
He explored his arguments in depth and aimed his critique at his contemporaries like Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer. It was a polemic against ideologies like liberalism and humanism (which he considered parallel to the concept of religion, with “Man” or humanity as supreme beings), nationalism, capitalism, statism, socialism, and communism.
Family & Personal Life
Max Stirner was twice married. His first wife was Agnes Burtz, who was the daughter of his landlady. They married on December 12, 1837. However, their marriage ended prematurely as she died the following year due to pregnancy-related complications.
In 1843, he married Marie Dähnhardt, whom he had met when he was associated with Die Freien. However, they were divorced in three years in 1846. His dedication page of ‘The Ego and Its Own’ reads "to my sweetheart Marie Dähnhardt." She later converted to Catholicism and died in 1902 in London.
Stirner passed away on June 26, 1856, at the age of forty-nine in Berlin, Prussia. He died of an insect bite that got infected. His funeral was held at Friedhof II der Sophiengemeinde Berlin. It is said that among the Hegelians, only Bruno Bauer attended his funeral.