Ludwig Binswanger – Existence and pseudo-existence: Stirner’s construction of uniqueness

This is a rough, first translation into English of a section from Ludwig Binswanger’s Grundformen Und Erkenntnis Menschlichen Daseins.

Now it could still be held against us that there were people who were completely “to themselves,” who therefore had no “other Cause” because they were Cause enough for themselves. Apart from the ontological impossibility of speaking of a purely self-contained, particular or singular Being1, the anthropological proof of the impossibility of being-oneself, which would not be the basis of being, can also be demonstrated. Is it being-oneself and nothing else that “man” somehow unifies his particular or “singular” existence with the ground of Being or at least strives to? To refute the above objection, we again choose an example, namely the most extreme “Caseof systematically denying Being as a basis in the literature and also the systematic defense of a pure self-assertion from purely singular being, the “Case” of Stirner2.

It is by no means an insignificant opponent that we are choosing here: a very skillful stylist and dialectician, a passionate revolutionary and fighter, in the guise of a dictator, a spiritual nihilist3, but with the weapons of the spirit, an opponent of all ethical traditions and schools, but with a voice that addresses everyone and wants to be heard by everyone. What makes the fight easy for us from the outset is the primitive ontological framework on which it stands, the contrast between specimen (unique) and genus, a contrast that is no longer ontological but primarily logical. At least this contrast is lived passionately by our author, similar to Schopenhauer, but with the opposite front. He prioritized the genus, but Stirner zealously enthrones the individual specimen. Once one has become entangled in this conceptual opposition, a solution to anthropological questions becomes impossible. In its place are dogmatic and conceptual premises and eristic advocacy of them.

“Man is the last evil spirit or spook, the most cunning and sincere hypocrite, the father of lies” (op. cit. 215).

“God has had to make room, but not for Us, but for man. How can you believe that the God-man died before man died in him out of God?” (op. cit. 187)

“Only what was taken from God has been given to man, and the power of humanity has increased to the same extent that that of piety has lost its weight: ‘man’ is the God of today, and fear of man has replaced the old fear of God.

But because man represents another supreme being, nothing but a metamorphosis has indeed taken place in the supreme being, and the fear of man is merely a changed form of the fear of God” (op. Cit. 216).

“One believes one can no longer be more than man, one cannot be less than that!” (op. cit. 158).

“Man” – in contrast to Feuerbach, whom Stirner makes the starting point of his polemics4 – “man” for Stirner is the Genus, unlike the transitory, individual ego.

“Man is not the individual, but an Idea, an Ideal Man, to whom the individual does not even behave as the child behaves to man, but as a chalk mark to the imagined point, or as a finite creature to the eternal victim, or, according to a more recent view, as the specimen to the species” (op. cit. 387).

“The Genus alone is nothing, and if the individual rises above the limits of his individuality, this is rather just he himself as an individual, he is only by rising, he is only by not remaining what he is; otherwise he would be finished, dead. Man is only an Ideal of man to be fulfilled, not to represent himself, the Individual.

My task need not be how I realize the generally human, but how I realize myself. I am my species, I am without norm, without law, without pattern and the like. Possibly, that better than what I have made of myself by the power of others, by the training of custom, religion, laws, the State, etc. Better – if one is to speak of better – better is an unwilling man. The ill-mannered and unwilling man is still on the way to educate himself according to his own will; the precocious and willing man is made better by the ‘species’, the general requirements, etc. Certainly, it is law to him. He is determined by it: for what else is the species to him but his ‘destiny’, his ‘profession’? Whether I look at ‘mankind’, the species, in order to strive for this ideal, or at God and Christ with the same striving: how could there be an essential difference in this? At most that one is more fused than this one. As the individual is the whole of nature, so is the whole species” (op. cit. 213 f.).

Here we already have the whole Stirner in front of us and we also hear how he ends up contradicting himself. Genre, that is what we see in any case, does not only mean here, as with Schopenhauer and in natural science, the biological-logical contrast to the individual or I, but above all the ideological in the Christian and humanistic sense.

With Stirner the opposite pair: single specimen and genus is now opposed: concreteness (physicality5) and abstraction (thought, idea, concept). The human being, the species, the spirit6, education, religion, the State, etc., are all abstractions or ideas. But there is also being:

Feuerbach always insists on the Being of the ‘principles of future philosophy’. In this, too, despite all opposition to Hegel and absolute philosophy, he remains stuck in abstraction; because ‘the Being’ is an abstraction, like itself ’the I’, only I am not abstraction alone, I am all in all, consequently myself abstraction or nothing. I am everything and nothing; I am not a mere thought, but I am also full of thoughts, a world of thoughts. Hegel condemns the own, the mine, the – ‘Meaning’. The ‘absolute Reasoning’ is the Reasoning that forgets that it is my Reasoning, that I reason and that it is only through Me. But when I swallow up mine again, I am master of it, it is only my Meaning that I change at every moment, that I can destroy, take back into Me and consume. Feuerbach wants to smash Hegel’s ‘absolute Reasoning’ through unconquered Being. But being in Me is overcome as well as Reason. It is my Being, like my Reason” (op. Cit. 397 f.).

We do not want to argue with our author, if he – not knowing the interralation of Sense, Truth and Reason (of Transcendence) – believes that ‘Being’ can be achieved with the popular-logical alternative abstract-concrete. On the other hand, it elevates him high above school psychology, that he puts “the I” – as a mere Term – and I am in sharp contrast. But if I am to be more than I am, the only condition and only objective here (cf. 178, 410), then we must be content on the one hand with the expression “in the flesh”, but on the other hand consider ourselves, to our greatest astonishment, reminded of a dialectic that brings our author into the next proximity of the “transrational” dialectic of the coincidentia oppositorum, not in the sense of Heraclitus or Hegel, but in the sense of Nicolaus von Cues (and more recently of Simon Frank): I am Everything and Nothing, Abstraction and Nothing, All in All7. Here, in the spirit of that doctrine, we boldly go beyond the contrast between “both and also” and the “either-or”, see the unity of both opposites in Totality, and rightly recognize that this Totality cannot be reasoned, but only lived. The ontological and logical “leap” that is made here, however, consists in the fact that instead of the concept of Being, which is the only possible expression for this transrational lived “reality”, I am established, i.e. is invisible, that, where we slide into the transrational, there can also no longer be any talk of an individual bodily I-am, but only of a “concrete universality”, which, if we add the I-am to it, can be nothing else but – God. Only God can say of himself: I am – that I am. And as it rightly says of this transrational or metalogical (Simon Frank) uniqueness of God: “Names do not call you”, Stirner says of the uniqueness of his “divine” I: “In Me, the unnamable, the realm of thoughts splinters, of thinking and spirit8”. Thus we may, just as Stirner can go beyond Feuerbach, we can also go beyond Stirner, showing that he no longer compares “Man,” but rather “the Individual” – not, as he himself thinks, by comparing him to God, but – making him into God. Now the Individual is no longer, as he accuses Feuerbach (71, 170), homo homini Deus, but the Individual is itself Deus.
Even where Stirner finally reflects on the “last and most decisive” opposition, that of the
Unique against the Unique, he falls back into the dialectic of the coincidentia oppositorum:

“The last and most decisive opposition, that of the Unique against the Unique, is basically beyond what is opposition, but without having sunk back into ‘unity’ and agreement. Unique against the Unique, you no longer have anything in common with the Other, and therefore nothing separating or hostile; you do not seek justice against him before a third party and stand with him neither on the ‘right ground,’ nor on any other common ground. The opposition disappears in perfect – separateness or uniqueness. This could indeed be seen as the new community or a new equality. Here, equality alone consists in inequality, and is itself nothing but inequality; an equal inequality, and this only for the one who makes a ‘comparison'” (op. cit. 243).

Even what Stirner says about the Unique here, if thought through to the end, only applies to the being of totality or of the absolute, of God.
We already see here that I-am is indeed
decreed9 to be the first and last condition of being oneself, but cannot be shown as such, unless one makes it into God. This very failure of an ontological proof of the possibility of an individual who is completely independent shows that even the boldest insistence on the autonomy of being of the individual cannot shake the thesis, that being-oneself is only possible as “being at the foundation”, that is, always as being to a being that first founds and substantiates being-oneself. Yes, if we take Stirner’s thesis to its conclusion, it proves just the opposite of what it wants to prove, namely just what we claim.
Let us now turn from ontological criticism to anthropological, namely to the question of how the individual, if one may say so, becomes aware of his selfishness and realizes it in life.
For Stirner, selfishness does not mean
an “idealisticfreedom10, not like NietzscheanWill to Power’, but rather uniqueness, property, self-authority (in the popular sense of the word), enjoyment and consumption (of others as well as myself), rightful violence11. Without controversy over the ethical content of this program, which would have removed us from the anthropological goal of our investigation, we only want to see how this “ideal” can be realized, and whether this achievement is actually possible on our own authority, that is, without leaning on a cause other than “self”.
Stirner, too, knows and emphasizes that “isolation or aloneness” is
not “the original condition of man”; but he calls it “society”, to which he then again contrasts intercourse or association, as an inexhaustible unification (a. a. O 358).

It is a difference whether my freedom or my peculiarity is restricted by a society. If only that is the Case, it is an association, an agreement, a union; but if the peculiarity is threatened with destruction, it is a power for itself, a power over me, something above me, which I can marvel at, worship, adore, respect, but which I cannot master and consume because I resign myself” (op. cit. 259f.).

In contrast to this I am only – I am only my own, insofar as I “can master and consume”. This is thus what Hegel calls in the Phenomenology of the Spirit and, even earlier, desire, the lowest level of “self-consciousness” that can be moved through.

“I do not want to acknowledge or respect anything in you, neither the owner, nor the rascal, nor even the human being, but rather consume you” (op. cit. 164).

But the same applies to me as to you: “That I consume myself is only called the I am” (178). Stirner here again consequently shakes the precondition that he presupposes for himself:

“I am just honoring my precondition alone and am only by consuming it. But therefore that presupposition is none; for, since I am the only one, I know nothing of the duality of a presupposing and presupposed I (an ‘imperfect’ and a ‘perfect’ I or man), but that I consume myself means only that I am. I do not presuppose myself, because I set myself or create myself every moment in the first place, and only through this am I, which I am not presupposed but set, and again only set in the moment when I set myself, i.e. I am creator and creature in one” (op. cit. 178).

Stirner does not see or does not want to see that he here mixes two concepts of ego with each other which cannot be mixed at all, namely, that of the serving or immediate ego and that of the context, the objective ego or the ego-world or world of one’s own, as we say. That he is creator and creature in one is again an empty assertion, inasmuch as the concept of a mere ego that founds itself has always already gone beyond that of the “subjective” or individual ego and ends in that of the transcendental ego, in which the ego of the World is already established! Incidentally, we have here the ego-judgment of any “enlightenment” of ourselves. We find it not only in the Greek but also in the Roman Enlightenment, for example, when Petronius, against the view that dreams came from the gods, explains: sed sibi quisque facit (Anth. Lat. 651 R), “but each one makes them (the dreams) for himself”. (The self of being oneself, the self-creation, remains here, as usual in the “epochs of enlightenment”, completely unclarified).

Furthermore, Stirner only shows the Moment when I establish myself. I, and so did Stirner, had to be a different or new individual every “Moment” and could never be a Person as the epitome of the inner life story if I were only in the single moment where I sat. The fact that Stirner cannot speak of a “self” arises from the complete lack of time for being.

Insofar as the form of being I-am (which always had to be: I am in the World) is to be a momentary consumption of myself and others, I and the others must be “my property”, I and they have to be as far as possible, i.e. as far as I authorize myself “with clear conscience12 to “be in my power”13. We are only interested in the “violence” over me, coming-together.

This expression alone shows that it cannot have its end in the current egos; for the self, to which one should and wants to come, must at least be a self-contained and self-contained goal, otherwise I never really came to Me, but had to constantly go astray. I come to me, according to Stirner, as we know, in a purely negative way, especially when we acknowledge nothing above or beyond:

“So I always saw my I above and beyond Me and could never really come to Me.”

“I never believed in myself, never believed in my present and only saw me in the future. The boy believes that he will only be a real me, a right guy when he becomes a man; the man thinks that he will only be something right beyond”14

Coming-to-myself is identical to being my property15.

“Only when I am sure of myself and no longer looking for myself, I am truly my property: I have myself, therefore I need and enjoy myself. On the other hand, I can never be happy with mine as long as I think that I still had to find my real self, and it must come to the fact that not I but Christ lives in me or some other spiritual, i.e. H. ghostly ego, the real human being, the essence of human beings and the like. ” (loc. cit. 375).

The aim and purpose of coming together is therefore not “life”, but that of being happy, “living out” (428), “enjoying yourself” or “enjoying life”.

“But how do you use life? By consuming it, like the light you use by burning it. You use life and therefore yourself, the living, by consuming it and yourself. Enjoyment of life is consumption of life ”(375).

Coming to yourself (self) in the sense of the enjoyable self-possession and possession of others is the goal of the development of mine, the meaning of the individual16:

“But I am not an I next to other I, but the only I: I am unique. Therefore, my needs, my actions, in short, everything is for me is unique. And only as this only I do I take everything into my own as I only act and develop myself as this one. I do not develop as a human being and not as a human being, but as an I develop I – myself ”(op. Cit. 423).

As the goal and sense of development, his I-am still “split in two” (as Stirner himself once says of “people”), in the current, aimless individuals and the “determined” to become his own Himself, yes God “developing” only one.
As far as one can speak of a self-existence at Stirner, it is also a being to the bottom, nothing less to the bottom than this reason is determined as – creative nothing:

“I am the owner of my power, and I am when I know myself as the only one. Even the owner himself returns to his creative nothingness from which he was born ”(op. Cit. 429).

So the criterion that I came to the “goal of my development”, in the Stirnerian sense, first of all, is the peculiarity. However, we are faced with the paradox that “something” is only my own and that I, like myself, only really have it when I am willing and able to destroy it or throw it away at any time:

“It is only my own thought if I do not hesitate to put him in mortal danger at any moment, if I do not have to fear his loss as a loss for me, a loss of mine. The Gadanke is only my own when I can make it into a tool for its realization, although it can never subjugate Much, never fanatical Me “(op. Cit. 401).

As correct as the first sentence of this passage is, the meaning of it is exaggerated again in the second, in that the relationship between thoughts and I, I and thoughts is only seen in the extremes of subjugation or the shaking off of the yoke. I am therefore only free if I do not bind myself to anything but myself; but I myself cursed myself again only into a mere “form” without “matter”, into the “form” of idiosyncrasy. This form is the reason I strive to come here, here is being at the bottom, the most labile truth of my being that changes from moment to moment; because this is again the criterion of the truth of the peculiarity: that I do everything I do with a bold courage and that I become happy in everything I do.

Freedom here means freedom from social and traditional coercion and pressure, individual independence, but by no means moral freedom, of whose liberating power Stirner wants to know as little as Freud:

“As long as there is only one institution that the individual must not dissolve, the peculiarity and self-belonging of mine is still very far away. How can I For example, be free when I have to commit myself oath to a constitution, a chart, a law, conspire to my people, body and soul? How can I be unique if my skills are only allowed to develop to the extent that they don’t interfere with the ‘Marmonie of Society’.
The downfall of the people and of mankind will invite me to rise.”(a. A. 0.252).

Only Lucifer could speak that way. From this luciferic principle the Mas of my peculiarity follows:

“The degree of my adherence and devotion indicates the point of view of my subservience, the degree of my inquisitiveness shows the degree of my peculiarity” (op. Cit. 391).

But this mas is also destroyed again, namely transformed into a mere dream, illusionary:

“But I tell you, you have never seen a Sunder, you only – dreamed it” (op. Cit. 422).

Nihilism cancels itself out here.

The second – hedonistic – criterion of idiosyncrasy, self-enjoyment in the sense of becoming happy, is linked to the first, freedom, essentially; because I can only enjoy myself insofar as I am at my service, independent, independent, nobody and nothing, not even myself. Unlike Freud, in which the pleasure principle arises from the concept of the psychic apparatus and the scientific construction of homo natura17, the pleasure principle arises here purely from the idea of an “absolute” individualism. And while with Freud the pleasure is guaranteed by the fact that the psychic apparatus works freely and undisturbed, the pleasure here is guaranteed by the fact that I feel as an individual, as the only one. The criterion of peculiarity here is a subjective feeling, a pure state of mind or mood. The world design that emerges in this mood is that of the idios cosmos of Heraclitus, the world as its own. But this cosmos also becomes idiotic, its own, only in the way of averting, even opposing, the koinos cosmos, the common world. His idea, his pathos, his dialectic are born, live and feed on the koinos cosmos. The “downfall” of the latter therefore does not mean the “invitation to rise” of the individual, but his own downfall. Plato has already shown (cf. The end of the 1st book of the state (351 A – 352 D) that the absolute only, as the absolutely evil and “unjust”, is no longer able to do anything (greek word), that is, all human “practice” is lost.


1) See various thinkers such as Hegel or Simon Frank (La Connaissance et l’Etre) and Haberlin (Natural Philosophy Considerations I).

2) The Unique and His Property. I quote from the 2nd edition (Reclam). For an understanding of Stirner’s historical position in the struggle against Christianity, cf. Lowith, The Philosophical Criticism of Christian Religion in the 19th Century. Rundschau, 5th year 1933, 166 to 172.

3) See the final word: “I didn’t put my things on anything.”

4) Stirner may have thought of Schleiermacher, Humboldt or Goethe.

5) I say: “You are more than a Jew, more than a Christian, etc., but you are also more than a person. These are all ideas, but you are bodily”(150). “The pious wish of the old was holiness, the pious wish of the new is bodily.” “The unreal‘ sage ’, this bodily ‘saint’, the stoic, became a real person, a bodily ‘saint’ in the incarnate god; the unreal ‘human’, the bodiless self, will become real in the bodily self, in me”(424 f.)

6) Nevertheless, to our greatest astonishment, we immediately read the sentence: “Everything depends on spirit” (21), a highly strange parallel to the identical expression of another apparent denier of mind: Freud! See L. Binswanger, Freud, and the Constitution of Clinical Psychiatry. Switzerland. Archives f. Psych. U. Neur., 1936, XXXVII, 177: “Yes, spirit is everything.”

7) Stirner throws this – his deepest – thought here (398) only in order to immediately decree again against Feuerbach and Hegel’s “absolutism” only his pure “subjectivism”.

8) A. a. O. 175. – On the last page of his work, Stirner himself naively expresses this identification of God and himself: “One says of God: ‘Name does not call you’. That applies to me: no term prints me out, nothing that is given as my being exhausted me; it’s just names. Likewise, God is said to be perfect and have no profession to strive for perfection. That also applies to me alone ”.

9) We completely refrain from the fact that “in reality” is not I am a prerequisite for selfhood, but only the other way round, that selfness can be a prerequisite for being I, and not without a “simultaneous” relationship to existence. Cf. the passage in Heidegger already quoted (p. 130), Vom Wesen des Grundes, a. a. O. 97.

10) “Freedom of the spirit is bondage to mine because I am more than spirit or flesh” (389).

11) We have already emphasized that the experience of all these “peculiarities”, as of peculiarity, property, self-sufficiency in general, can only be made in the presence of one and the other, that is, in a supra-individual form of being.

12) “I am only entitled to do what I do not do with my courage, that is. H. What I do not authorize. I decide whether it is the right in Me; besides me there is no right. If it is right for me, it is right ”(221 f.).

13) “So what is my property? Nothing but what is in my power! What property am I entitled to? To everyone I empower myself to. I give myself the right of ownership by taking ownership or by giving myself the power of the owner, the power of attorney, the authorization ”(299).

14) A. a. O. 261. Here too we see that, if Stirner can even speak of the timing of a self, the future, as a tense of striving and the intended goal, must necessarily be “eliminated”.

15) Even as my property, I have to own myself as a persistent – and not always momentary!

16) It is forgotten that development and meaning cannot be spoken of in such a teaching. Both contradict nihilism, the fact that his things are set to nothing, the negation of self-indulgence (actual timings) and of spirit or idea.

17) L. Binswanger, Freud’s conception of man in the light of anthropology. A. a. O.