THE SELF VERSUS HIGHER CAUSES:FROM CHRISTIANITY TO HUMANISM

wuwejoUnder Christianity, the spirit assumed the role of master once held by the world. Dogmatic truths and values reigned over Christian Europe, until these were subverted by a process similar to what had occurred in the ancient world.

In the century before the Reformation, just as the Sophists had intellectually undermined customary morality, so too did Christians assert a freedom of the intellect from religious dogmas, while retaining Christian mores. As Stirner puts it, “If only the heart remains Christian-minded, the understanding may go right on taking its pleasure.” [p.30.]

Here Stirner seems to have in mind the Italian courtiers and Machiavellian princes who, while keeping the form of Christian mores, nonetheless rationalized utterly un-Christian systems of thought and practice. There was no thought of ridding oneself of Christianity, but only of freeing one’s mind from dogmatic norms. Luther’s disputations were but the most recent in a long line of daringly bold subversions of orthodoxy.

Stirner’s account of Renaissance humanism requires some qualification. It is hardly the case that all, or even most, of the prominent humanists were trying to subvert orthodoxy. Many, most notably Petrarch, were actually trying to protect the ancient faith against perceived scholastic distortions, much as the Greek Orthodox were suspicious of any philosophical theology that had no analogue in the Fathers. There was no intent to diminish the supremacy of spiritual truths, and faith, in most cases, was sincere and devout. It would be anachronistic to make Christian humanism a step toward secularism, for in fact it moved away from the latter, as did Protestantism.

Stirner, like most nineteenth-century intellectuals, is committed to a deterministic model of history, proceeding in phases of development, as it was already believed that such mechanistic determinism was the standard of science. We should not be surprised that he and other Left Hegelians espoused an evolutionary historical materialism well before Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859). After all, Darwin’s formulation of evolutionary theory was itself informed by culturally prevalent ideas about human development.

Stirner gives the Reformation the role of Socrates, purifying the heart of Christian contents, until it has “nothing but empty warm-heartedness… the quite general love of men, the love of Man, the consciousness of freedom…”. [p.31.] Committed to historical materialism, Stirner presumes that the appearance of Christian liberalism was a necessary consequence of the Reformation. In fact, it was far from the Reformers’ intent to diminish the Christian content of their hearts. As Hitler astutely remarked in Mein Kampf, the Reformation was a disaster for the Church precisely because it took hold of many of her strongest and most devout members, as contrasted with the AustrianKulturkampf, which took only the lukewarm. [ch.3.] The Age of Reformation was marked by an increase in religious fervor, which continued into the early seventeenth century.

It is true that later developments toward Christian deism and secular liberalism were facilitated by the Protestants’ lack of a coherent authority principle, resulting in further theological fractures and the assertion of state independence from the Church. This does not, however, mean that the Reformation as such began a determinate process of de-Christianizing Europe. Similar developments arose in Catholic countries among men who had little exposure to Protestant ideas and writings.

Still, we may retain Stirner’s general point by taking late 17th/ early 18th-century liberal Christianity as our starting point. Here we truly find men who retained Christian mores, while lacking religious fervor or any strong belief in the supernatural. It is at this time that we find the first attempts to reduce Christianity to the mere love of men, or the principle of reciprocity, i.e., the “Golden Rule,” which had previously been considered only a minor saying of Jesus.

It is also at this time that many thinkers take interest in the “rights of man” and a more cosmopolitan view of ethics and politics. Stirner accuses those with this disinterested warm-heartedness of loving “Man” in the abstract, but not actual men. Like some more traditional Christians, this newer breed loves only the “spirit” of man, but not a man in his concrete individuality, which he rejects with all “egoism”, privilege or partiality.

We may see many examples of this hypocrisy in our own day. There are countless liberals who profess their love of “mankind”, yet do not hesitate to vilify “bigots”, “fanatics,” “the greedy,” and other broadly defined bogeymen who, all tallied, constitute the vast majority of actually existing people. What then, is left of this “mankind” supposedly loved? It is clear that, in such cases, the object of affection is primarily an abstraction, and individuals are loved only to the extent that they conform to the abstraction.

The coldness of the “warm-hearted” liberal Christian toward individual men proves to Stirner “that the spirit is—a lie,” [p.32.] for those who love the spirit love nothing actual.

Historical Pessimism

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Historical pessimism is inspired by a retrospective ideal, an historic or even prehistoric ideal whose nostalgia haunts the thinker disgusted with the present. Two names can be put forward in this regard: de Gobineau and Nietzsche.

Count de Gobineau judges current civilization in the light of an ethnic type that is distant, almost prehistoric, or at least so little historical that it would be disappointing to write its history: the Aryan type. Nevertheless, Count de Gobineau thinks he can follow it throughout its evolution, its transformations and its deviations. “I compared,” he says, “ races among themselves. I chose one from among them that I saw as the best and I wrote ‘The History of the Persians’ in order to show, by the example of the Aryan nation the most isolated from its relatives, how powerless differences in climate, environment and circumstances are in changing or inhibiting the genius of a race.” His “Discourse on the Inequality of Races” traces the long vicissitudes and the irremediable degeneration of this type of superior humanity as a result of the mixing of bloods that adulterated it. “Ottar Jarl” tells of the ancestry of a Scandinavian hero of the ancient Nordic race from which Gobineau claimed to descend. The novel “The Pleiades” presents a few survivors of the noble Aryan race lost in the midst of unworthy contemporaries, but who don’t renounce the fight in this degraded milieu, succeeding in making their presence felt.

What are the moral and intellectual traits that constitute the Gobinien superman? These traits can be found in “The History of the Persians,” the “Discourse on the Inequality of Races,” in “Ottar Jarl” and “The Pleaides.” Gobineau places judgment in the first rank of the qualities that constitute the superior man. What he values in intelligence is not imagination, but judgment. Judgment is the superior characteristic of the Aryan. The Aryan is above all a man of judgment and action. For de Gobineau the true role of intelligence can only be that of a guide to action. The goal of intelligence is not to meditate, to build poems in the air, to withdraw into itself and to think for thinking’s sake. The role of intelligence is to see clearly and dictate actions. It should not be forgotten that de Gobineau is the descendant of a line of warriors, of politicians, of diplomats and a diplomat himself. His heredity, his traditions, his experience, his trade all led him to esteem above all else the qualities that constitute a man of action, a leader of men. Continue reading

Selfhood Terminates Blind Man’s Bluff

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G. B. Kelly appears to hit near the mark on egoism versus altruism. Both are facts, but the completely self-conscious egoist becomes such only at the end of a process, and after that he owns and enjoys his own powers so completely that he will not permit an idea to become his master. Such egoism produces acts which the altruist may mistake for altruistic acts, but the self-conscious egoist treats ideas as his property, takes them apart and examines them at his pleasure, and sees that they serve his purpose and do not make him their servant.

The child is physically dependent. The youth becomes subject to the power of ideas. Pre-Christian society, wrestling with physical powers, corresponds to childhood in the individual. Christianity, rationalism, humanitarianism, communism, moralism,—idealism, in a word,— correspond to the enthusiastic dreams of youth. In that stage egoism is scorned, though it persists without general acknowledgment except as alleged baseness. To the humanitarian idealist it is the substitute for Devil, as Humanity is the substitute for God. The individual who finally becomes conscious of himself is, just as he is, a universe, — humanity itself. He then knows that he has been dreaming about a something which is, after all, himself.

He is incomparable. The process of thought that brings him to recognize himself can nevermore be continued as a process in which himself would be only a factor, for he is a greater fact than his ideas. Henceforth ideas are simply his possession. True views are useful, but any alleged sacred Truth is romanticism, or rant. When he does an act which to others may look un-egoistic, it is nevertheless to be tested by this: Is it genuinely the will of the doer,—his good pleasure? Then it is purely egoistic. The egoist who has become self-conscious knows what he wills, and does just as he wills so far as he can. He interests himself in any pursuit or neglects any without a thought that he is fulfilling or slighting any calling or mission or duty, or doing right or wrong. All such words are impertinent. Nothing is sacred or above him. He recognizes forces, and does the best he can to make himself master of what he wants.

The mental processes of selfhood are not those of justifying any conduct, as with the idealist, or seeking what will conform to a standard or serve a cause; but thought becomes an instrument to determine what course will procure what is desired. Are the means the best adjustable to the end? They are adopted. Justification is a piece of superstitious nonsense. Having found the pearl of great price,— come to a recognition of self,—we never throw it away. We give away what we like to give away, because we like. We may give life itself. But to the last we do our own will.

Right and wrong, crime and virtue, are simply people’s ideas, of no consequence to the egoist except as such ideas make fanatics and dangerous people or make serviceable subjects. No one is a self-conscious egoist, to whom wrong in natural society means more than imprudence. The egoist, as an irrepressible, conscienceless criminal, is the coming force, who will destroy all existing institutions. Mark what is called criminal. It is always some action which is the retort to the egoistic pretension of a man or of an institution. It will make a great difference when many egoists become, fully self-conscious and not ashamed of being conscienceless egoists.

Language is now Christian; so the egoist has no very appropriate means of expression. His will and pleasure is not, however, a cause, or matter to be pleaded and granted. Of course he will take unbridled liberty. Think of our language when its common expressions are such that people are asked to assume the propriety of men’s wearing bridles! And they do wear them. A few self-conscious egoists, such as popes, kings, presidents, legislators, judges, and generals, rule the world because other people are in confusion, as unconscious egoists fearing their own nature and believing they ought to obey ideas.

Tak Kak (James L. Walker)

(This short, but Luciferian, essay on egoism as a theoretical weapon originally appeared in Liberty, number 83, July 3, 1886.)

POSTERITY: THE NEW SUPERSTITION

9f6dee0c6a09bd65624bc2eaa3a60f50The latest decoy set up by the indestructible god of illusions is Posterity. Man has been invited to live for various motives. Once it was for the glory of God; Comte proposed as a motive the glory of man; now we are invited to live for the glory of Posterity. Nietzsche called Posterity the Overman; Socialists call it “the rising generation.” No one has thought of the glory of living for the sake of living, of eating, fighting, reproducing merely because they give pleasure. Always there are devil-gods that call for sacrifices; always there is the bogey-word that demands obeisance and tribute of all our actions. Nothing must exist for itself. Each thing must exist for the sake of some other thing. The perfume in a rose is legitimate only if there is a human nostril somewhere to be intoxicated; and the perfume of our acts and thoughts is a “moral” or “right” perfume only if it gives pleasure to the nostrils of God, Church, Common Good, or Posterity.

Man has not yet become a good animal. He suffers from ideals, as he once suffered from superstitions. An ideal is a superstition in court clothes. It makes very little difference whether you believe that an east-wind blowing down the chimney on a moonlight night will ring you good luck or that an act that gives you pleasure in the doing is “right” if it benefits Posterity and wrong if it doesn’t.

The East worships its ancestors; the West worships Posterity. The East lies prone on its belly offering its tributes to ghosts; the West bows its head in adoration to the ghosts not yet born. When an Oriental worships the soul of a bit of wood, we call him superstitious; when the Westerner worships certain letters of his alphabet which spell “God” or “Church” or “Morality” or “Posterity,” we call it the Ideal. And a smile steals over the furrowed brow of wisdom, and Momus reels in glee. Ancestor-worship is the old superstition; posterity-worship the new superstition. The “gods of our fathers” are become the gods of our children. The old bottles are filled with the new wine, but the old labels have never been taken off. We still march under mottoes and tramp to Ultima Thule to the raging tom-toms beaten by priests and idealists. Still we signal a host of imaginary beings with the gaudily-colored pocket-handkerchiefs of our latest trumpery abstraction. Continue reading

Breaking Free of Thought: Egoism

agfIt is not through thought, but by the ineffable ego that one may break free of thought. The egoist does not free himself from thought only to enslave himself to some external thing (as does the superstitious pagan or the sensual hedonist), but he pursues the real interest of the self, which is autonomy, and “its own”. That is to say, the self’s real interest is to belong to oneself, to be one’s own master, and not to be the slave of another person, nor of an idea, appetite or thing.

Stirner’s egoist rejects morality in the sense of fixed rules of behavior. Although he rejects moral obligation, he nonetheless may value things as good or bad. Things are “good” insofar as they enhance “ownness”; “bad” insofar as they detract from it. Some commentators consider that these definitions of good and bad suffice to distinguish Stirner’s views from ethical nihilism. Yet these notions of “good” and “bad” are purely equivocal with any ethical concept. Stirner expressly denies that there is any moral obligation (i.e., “ought” or “ought not”) to which he is bound. His ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are mere synonyms for autonomy and its negation. Yet Stirnerian autonomy is not nomological, as he denies that we should even create principles or rules of behavior for ourselves to follow. Indeed, by his thorough repudiation of principles and concepts as guidelines for behavior, Stirner certainly intends to express as nihilistic an ethical view as the limitations of language will permit. If the term ‘nihilist’ has ever had a referent, it was surely Max Stirner.

As evidence that he is in earnest, Stirner expressly repudiates even those minimal principles to which modern iconoclasts cling, namely truth and love. We have no duty or obligation to “truth”. I may lie or break promises when I judge this to be in my interest. I may love another person as long as “love makes me happy”; when it no longer gratifies me, I have no duty to love. All other values are subordinate to my interest. Continue reading

The Stages of Life

nmmIn his introduction, Stirner remarked that the self creates itself out of nothing, and so has a claim to be a divine “all in all”. To substantiate this assertion, he gives an account of how an individual develops himself. This discussion will also serve as a model of historical human development, in which many men analogously free themselves from enslavement to what is alien to their self-interest.

From the moment when he catches sight of the light of the world a man seeks to find out himself and get hold of himself out of its confusion… But everything that comes in contact with the child defends itself in turn against his attacks, and asserts its own persistence. [p.9.]

Stirner is not claiming that newborns are self-conscious, but that they are self-assertive. The “selfishness” of infants is well attested; they are concerned only with their immediately perceived wants, and have little perception of what is remote from these wants. They react according to whether their wants are satisfied or frustrated. They soon learn that there are many other things in the world that assert themselves against selfish wants.

Accordingly, because each thing cares for itself and at the same time comes into constant collision with other things, the combat of self-assertion is unavoidable.

Victory or defeat — between the two alternatives the fate of the combat wavers. The victor becomes the lord, the vanquished one the subject: the former exercises supremacy and “rights of supremacy,” the latter fulfils in awe and deference the “duties of a subject.” [p.9]

We may see here a prefiguring of Nietzsche’s “will to power” and master-slave morality. Stirner does not explore these notions in the same depth as Nietzsche, though he does affirm an essential antagonism of interests between master and slave, or “the victor” and “the vanquished.” Continue reading

Reciprocity and predation in everyday life:Modernity and the politics of egoism

DSC01847Although Walker and Tucker had a respectful professional relationship and viewed ethical issues similarly, there were significant differences between the two regarding the foundations of political and economic life.

Both considered themselves egoistic or individualistic anarchists. Both considered themselves to be prolabor and anticapital. Both were advocates of free competition and private property. Unlike Tucker, Walker was a thorough, consistent opponent of natural right philosophy and he was highly critical of the notion of equal liberty as antithetical to the intellectual foundation of egoism and, hence, anarchism. Walker assailed the notion of right not only in The Philosophy of Egoism, but in several articles, letters, and rejoinders published in Liberty. Tucker was not among his frequent antagonists.

Walker frequently had lengthy exchanges on the notion of rights with John F. and Gertrude B. Kelly, both of whom wrote independently in Liberty.

The Kellys advocated for an individualist anarchism grounded in a natural rights philosophy that was unapologetic about promoting equal liberty to all humans by virtue of the fact that they are humans. The Kellys repeatedly attacked Walker for his refusal to acknowledge that the internal enforcement of moral codes through the individual’s conscience was essential to maintaining social order.

Anarchism, to be successful, needed to demonstrate that it was superior to other political ideologies because it offered both individual liberty and social order. The methodology of anarchist thought was to destroy the state so that individuals could genuinely discover the laws of nature governing human interaction and, thereby, synchronize their thoughts and behaviors with others, reducing conflict and maximizing cooperation. The key to human liberty is to discover natural law and conform with its strictures. The rights of individuals are established in nature and are revealed as persons are freed from domination of the state and able to discover natural law. Natural law and natural right were essential to freedom and order. In the absence of natural law and natural right, morality was impossible and humans were free to visit all sorts of abuse on their fellows.

By the time the debates over natural rights with the Kellys began in 1 887, Walker had read Stirner and was eager to share his egoistic critiques of morality, natural law, and natural rights with the individualist anarchists associated with Liberty. In several exchanges with the Kellys, Walker argues that the notions of natural law and natural right were only “spooks” that had no referent in the world humans inhabit. If they did exist, natural laws and natural rights are silent and inert. They do not speak to everyone.

They do not speak to anyone. Like theology, natural right philosophy is dependent upon a small group of technical specialists who claim to speak for nature, elaborating the content of law and right that should structure the thoughts, values, and behaviors of persons. Someone always has to speak for the laws and rights that are thought to be grounded in nature. What qualifies a person to speak for nature with any authority? Why are the Kellys and their philosophic companions qualified to define the laws and rights of nature? Why should they be taken as the ultimate arbiters of natural law and natural right and, hence, morality? Continue reading