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Max Stirner

Johann Kaspar Schmidt (October 25, 1806 - June 26, 1856), better known as Max Stirner (the nom de plume he adopted from a schoolyard nickname he had been given as a child because of his high brow (Stirn)) was a philosopher and is considered one of the literary grandfathers of anarchism and existentialism, especially of individualist anarchism, despite his explicit denials that he held any such position in his philosophy, further stating that if he must be identified with some ideology (some "-ism") let it be egoism (Stirner clearly embraced both psychological egoism and ethical egoism) — the antithesis of all ideologies and social causes, as he conceived of it.

Table of contents
1 Biography
2 Philosophy
3 Train of Influence
4 External Links


Max Stirner as portrayed by Friedrich Engels.

Stirner was a German schoolteacher employed in a Berlin academy for young girls when he wrote The Ego and Its Own (Der Einzige und sein Eigentum), although he resigned this position in anticipation of the controversy he expected with its publication. Stirner was associated with the Young Hegelians who clustered around Arnold Ruge and Bruno Bauer, and was present at some of the same debates as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. One of the few portraits we have of Stirner is a cartoon by Engels. However, as Stirner's writing makes abundantly clear, he had little or no political or philosophical common-ground with his contemporaries, and his reported silence at all of these debates seems to indicate that he had little interest in disputing their positions. The feeling was not mutual, and Marx wrote a histrionic indictment of Stirner spanning several hundred pages (in the original, unexpurgated text) of his book The German Ideology, co-authored with Engels. Nevertheless, there is some biographical evidence that Stirner could co-operate with these friends, despite their political differences.

Stirner had two marriages; his first wife died due to complications in pregnancy, and the second abandoned him just prior to the publication of The Ego and Its Own. The heartfelt dedication to her on the first edition's title page served also as a plea for her return.

In one of most curious events in the history of 19th century philosophy, Stirner planned and financed (with his wife's inheritance) a short-lived attempt of the Young Hegelians to own and operate a milk-shop on co-operative principles. This enterprise failed because the German dairy farmers were suspicious of these well-dressed intellectuals with their confusing talk about profit-sharing and other high-minded ideals. Meanwhile, the milk shop itself was so ostentatiously decorated that most of the customers felt they were too poorly dressed buy their milk there.

In 1856, he died from an infected insect bite. The only publication of Stirner's to appear after The Ego and Its Own was his German translation of Adam Smith's economic theories.


Detailed discussion of Stirner's philosophy may be found under the rubric of his one book, The Ego and Its Own -- although the development of his philosophy may be charted through a series of articles that appeared shortly before this central work (On Education being of particular interest).

The publication of The Ego and Its Own was accompanied by a flurry of popular, political and academic interest. Over the course of the next hundred-and-fifty years, the text has seen periodic revivals of interest based around widely divergent interpretations -- some psychological, others political in their emphasis -- and has been subject to some rather revisionist "translation" to suit various political movements. The book proclaims that all religions and ideologies are based on superstition and explicitly include nationalism, statism, liberalism, socialism, communism and humanism in this set of superstitions.

Marx's lengthy, ferocious polemic against Stirner assured The Ego and Its Own a place of permanent interest among Marxist readers. Communists have considered Marx's critique of Stirner a turning point in his intellectual development from "Idealism" to "Materialism".

At present, Stirner remains at the centre of a diffuse but highly charged debate spanning Europe; ample secondary literature can be found in German, Italian, French, and Spanish, although English sources are fewer, and tend to reflect either anarchist or existentialist interpretations.

Train of Influence

Max Stirner has been cited, quoted or otherwise referred to by several authors, ideologists and philosophers. Among them are:

External Links