Max Stirner, by Alfredo Bonanno
Translated from https://www.edizionianarchismo.net/library/alfredo-m-bonanno-max-stirner.html using DeepL
Alfredo M. Bonanno
Second edition revised and corrected with the addition of the annotations of Bergamo
Introduction to the second edition
At heart, we are builders. Not of superfetations and adjectives, but of values. New values, of course. In carrying out our destructive action, we clash with the basic contradiction, the one that gives meaning to our opaque way of being. We would have preferred a “different” meaning, but no: we, the radical critics of all power, use the same concepts as those who overpower and oppress us. We, the most consistent destroyers, suck the same milk from the same nourishing sources and it is useless to claim the contrary.
This sends us into a frenzy and we don’t want to look her in the eye. We realize that we are still playing with the gods, while all around us the doers of usefulness are rushing to give free reign to the overabundant ideas of humanity, kindness, pity, mutual support, etc.. The soft skin we caress hides something faulty.
That one falls in love with one’s own ideas, passes, that one demurely shares them with the sharp teeth of power, irritates not a little. The alternative would be a harried, lonely, doubtful and fragile being: better not. So we discuss public grievances even when we don’t strictly need to. I can understand keeping away the cop’s teeth at the moment they are biting us with a quick set-up, or the black wings of a PM at the moment he raises his hand to count the years of jail he would like to do us a tribute for, but to let oneself go to the “criticism” of the polychrome shanty that still hosts the last ghosts made up as philosophers, there is no reason for it.
The fact is, we don’t want to decide to go any further. The thin grammatical dress we keep using makes this step impossible. Following Stirner’s logical thread, as I have been doing for many years now, the conclusion cannot be other than silence. Not sloth, but silence. There is a dog that does not bark – I think it is the Neapolitan mastiff – it attacks without barking. It is a dangerous animal.
But Stirner was not always silent; he spoke. He spoke for a whole book, full of ideas and also of unfulfilled allusions, suggestions and even incongruities. He continued to speak for a short while – a few other writings, here and there, some important, others (the most) negligible -, then silence, only later, not much later.
The appeasing word wants to be heard, it presents itself as the sign of something that exists, that is constructed in detail and seeks space in existence so as not to be suffocated. Places of reference, angular mummies, lists of obviousness (with a few rare exceptions) that send signals back to each other, more than immortal, just dead.
By affirming, as I have done so many times, that with the word we try to hide what we want to say, I have reopened the territory of the possible, the tragic and obscure place of what we could transform if we could silence, just for a moment, the will that directs us to the preservation of ourselves, therefore to the reconfirmation of what we say in order to better camouflage this preservation.
I have experienced, a few times, that in the approach of an action, of a putting myself at risk – let’s say barely more significant than a simple walk in the countryside – the night before, delaying sleep to come, I felt the irresistible impulse to write. There are not a few pages I have written under these conditions. While the heart wanted to leap over the obstacle, the intellect, a passionate lover of the will, set to work and like Joshua watched the nearby sunrise with rancor. Fear? Perhaps. Fear is always an advisor at our side, but not only physical fear, mainly fear of the innocence that action requires, of the suspension of value judgments, of every word wittily gathered and made available to better understand (and thus to avoid acting).
The soundness of one’s choices, that which comes out of the so-called self-determination, the dream of every good anarchist with papers in order, is the result of a squabble between larvae, comes to light in an ephemeral life, even comforts the ferocity of a maximalist thought, but is not able to rise above its limits (and how could it?). How many singers of desire have I seen, in the indecision of the moment, terrorizing and dribbling between their hands the unstoppable destiny equipped with a smoking fuse.
Stirner is a fierce maker of abstractions, he produces an obnoxious mechanism of objective verification, none of his readers – not even the most extreme critics – could find a flaw in this mechanism. But in the end, the most extreme critic is a victim of his own conclusions. Having reached the end of The Only One, we realize that neither he, nor we, can move forward. The territory that opens up to us is that of desolation, the wild territory of the “absolutely other”.
The phonemes that captured us are now mute, they have said all there was to say, they have stripped away every last aura, meaningless sounds.
What we are left with is a strangled, incomprehensible bellow. The enemy sharpens his ear, he hears this nonsensical sound, and is disturbed by it. He does not yet know what makes him uncomfortable. He’s used to handling sounds like living animals, curious lemurs available for any kind of fulfillment, but this sound has no translatable register. Its cruel atonal elegance would seem to want to say something, but it says nothing, it does not imitate, it does not solicit, it does not intend to intimidate. It is there, in its total incomprehensibility.
Now, incomprehensibility disturbs power. The great means of decoding at its disposal are useless in the face of the “absolutely other”. The beggar can be satisfied with the crumbs of the rich banquet, the threatener silenced with a promise of better conditions and, in extreme cases, with a contest of strength in the terms of the known, the dreamer caught in the lap of spectacular illusions where imbeciles of all kinds swim at their ease. The “other” does not have these outlets, it does not even exist. One can hear its bellowing in the distance, but this sound remains incomprehensible.
The happening, sudden and extreme, is never directly connectable to that mooing, and when it is – by accident – only the happening is codifiable (and punishable in the lap of force), the rest continues to happen, sudden and extreme, in its incomprehensibility. But what is captured is not the absolutely different mooing, but only this fact here, partially traceable to action and even identifiable under an article of the penal code.
The One and His Property is not a behavioral manual – to be consulted as needed – as it has atrociously been used too many times. It is the book of the “absolutely other.”
After reading it, one can throw it away: either it has made its contribution to this definitive break with the eternally explicable, or it has not. In both cases: waste paper.
Get over it, barbarism is coming.
Trieste, July 11, 2003
Alfredo M. Bonanno
A thinker does not provide tools that can always be used in the same way and with identical luck. His struggle with things, to discover their relationships and contents, is also a struggle with time. In the great crucible of meanings, the work of the thinker evolves, while remaining consigned to the immutable isolation of the pages of a book. New processes of creation come to light as a result of new readings, new contents, new factors of interpretation.
Often it is our fatigue (or fear) that prevents us from reading well and courageously. What we don’t want to find we end up not seeing, and the biased criticism – to which we resort to exorcise a sense that is too clear – giving us a hand ends up in weakness in readings of convenience, an unshakable monument of supreme academic obtuseness.
Certainly, for their part, there are authors who collaborate in an early crystallization of their work. Some, indeed, provide it themselves, drafting readers’ guides, school directions, government licenses, and high lineage awards. But they are the least dangerous. One knows how to deal with them: they are never surprises to the conscious reader.
It is with others, with those like Stirner, that the greatest dangers are run, that the most pressing recourse is made to the support of the tutelary deity of the party (or party), of the critical programmer and guardian of the conclusive and definitive interpretation.
But then, when you are aware of what you are doing, you realize that the titular protectors are not enough, that you are not calm, that the sense of the instrument has been distorted, that you have not understood anything and that you have to start all over again.
There is no doubt that Stirner must be considered as a thinker of a certain type and that he must be placed in relation to the development of philosophy in the era in which he lived and worked. There is no doubt that this preliminary step contributes to fix the terms of the problem of a reading that – more or less rigidly – must be such and not such. But it is also beyond doubt that in doing so, however much one tries to rest on foundations unanimously recognized as solid, one ends up with a bitter taste in one’s mouth.
The rigorous reduction to absurdity of the theses of Hegelian idealism, placed in the philosophical framework of the environment in which it was carried out, has an importance limited to that polemic and ideological clash. The same is true of the critique of the political conceptions available in the marketplace, the forces at play, and those theories that supported them. Also the language, the method of exposition, the Teutonic punctiliousness, the love for biblical metaphors, the delight in aphorisms and qualitative leaps: all goods of the period. But in doing so, only one moment of the reading is circumscribed, one sense of the instrument is perceived, another (or many others) elude us.
The struggle of the unique is brought back within the historical framework of its interpretations: from the church fathers to existentialism. Another era of reading. What eludes us continues, still, to run before us.
Exaltation and vituperation are not the doors that it is convenient to cross. The clash has never been between individualism and communism, not even when the word “anarchist” is added to these two terms. The aesthetic glove has never fit well the iron hand of the politician. And Stirner deeply experiences the crisis of a vision of the dehumanization of aesthetics and politics.
That this crisis of his was not intelligible for more than a century is not even true: here and there timid references emerged, crushed by the obtuseness of the times and the necessities of the power struggle. An isolated reading – perhaps in the confines of a prison – did not stand up to the “official” condemnations or exaltations, each of which was aimed at the growth of a line of “power” that was often confused with the “declared” struggle against power.
The only one is the most concrete reference to the “totality” of the historical dimension of man, which is lost in the “partiality” of fictitious associative achievements. Without a shadow of hyperbole, Stirner is the theorist of the most consequential association I know, at least of that anarchist association which is the union of the exploited no longer as metaphysical beings – the result of an ideological elaboration – but as physical beings, with their empty stomachs and their guts separated from those of the Emperor of Japan who – lucky him – eats every day.
Of course, this consideration is arrived at through the fact of thought, and with tools of the time. But this statement is superfluous: it is not the objective and personal limits of Stirner that will constitute the object of the present research experience, but those of possible attempts at readings that have been made and that could be made. In the game of overall relations, today it is possible to grasp profoundly different meanings with respect to those that in the past were grasped in Stirner’s work, and this not because it is a sort of dream book that everyone interprets as he likes, but because some theoretical elaborations have come to fruition, some concrete modifications of the relations of production have occurred, making clear a passage from aesthetic intuition to political forecasting.
If man’s destiny is the definitive liberation from exploitation, it must pass through the destruction of the bonds of slavery, therefore through the ugly to arrive at the beautiful. The reading of beauty is always an overcoming of the limits of legibility that the prevailing ideology forces us to accept, it is an effort against power, a destructive effort. In this sense the work of art is only the destructive work, the work that sabotages, attacking, the center that gives meaning to all the so-called works of art that find market and buyers.
It is not the ingenuity of the detail, the scenic skill, the ingenious arrangement of relationships that makes the artistic product. The capital market, in this sense, would be the greatest and most colossal dramatic achievement ever brought to fruition. But understanding the other side, the flash of the possible opposite that the ideological blanket persists in covering, and also the opposite of the opposite, that which is covered by the (in turn) contrary ideology. Because the whole, in its partial and dissociated aspect, has a correspondence of significance, a unitary and total project, which, if it cannot be grasped in the work of the “politician”, forced to identify the strategic moments of the intervention, can be identified by the artist. Only when the latter goes so far, his product suffers a bitter fate: either it is declared a criminal fact (gesture, thought, act or object), or it is interpreted by the pontificating official school and, in this way, mummified, or it is deformed by the “revolutionary” tendency with more say in the matter.
The Stirnerian single stands before the concrete totality of social reality, understood materialistically, as the revolutionary movement of the exploited: with the same claim to representativeness, with the same interests, with the same outlets. On the other hand, the pseudo concreteness of the pseudo totality of the one ideal (bourgeois individualism) and of the party (false representative of the revolutionary movement). Reversing the terms: only by considering man as a subject can we arrive at the conception of the revolutionary totality, which is denied by the consideration of man as an object (of himself, of the ideological mechanism, of the capitalist market, of the revolutionary party, etc.).
Only this interpretation has to reckon with a wall that has as its foundation St. Max, certainly not among the most brilliant writings of Marx and Engels and certainly among the least read. And this wall – apart from the stimuli of linguistic sagacity – has become orthodoxy for persistent academic obtuseness. History” enters and exits: when it is convenient, the only Stirnerian is taken out of history and therefore, as a metahistorical, suspected of a crime; when it is not convenient, then it is forced back in and accused of partial historical sense, of fragmentary nature, of denial of the broader meaning of human things.
Of course, here too, in this book, we toil around marginal issues, open doors that are broken down again, commonplaces redefined at a good pace, but it is the necessary tribute that must be paid to the forces at play, or at least that is how it seemed to us. In fact, now that we have all the material in front of us, at the moment of putting it together, definitively, there is no lack of doubts. Some things could have been avoided, but we would have run the risk of axiomatizing. Others could have been said differently, but the conclusions they would have suggested would have been, often, almost incomprehensible: how much fear remains, because of this, inside our chests? Just think: developing an argument and arriving at incomprehensible conclusions! Stuff to throw in the trash. Still other things have been said, just as we thought it right to say them: that the terms of the relationship of meanings should not move so fast as to make them incomprehensible before printing.
Catania, December 1977
Alfredo M. Bonanno
By traditional philosophical placement Stirner belongs to the Hegelian left. It is not very important to address at once the reasons that justify this assignment and make it methodologically useful. The philosophical figure, the speculative achievements, and the meaning of his work in the world of thought and in the world of political action, respectively, make such a scholastic label sufficiently valid, at least until we delve into the actual meaning of his message.
The Hegelian left was born on a real distinction around a concrete historiographical problem. It is therefore not an extrinsic affair or a product of cultural alchemy. The Young Hegelians agreed with the interpretation of David Friedrich Strauss and his Life of Jesus , identifying themselves with the rejection of Gospel history as authentic history and opposing the Hegelian “right” (Karl Göschel, Georg Gabler, and – at first – Bruno Bauer) who saw Gospel history as history at its most authentic. Less important was the “center” (Johann Karl Friedrich Rosenkranz, Johann Eduard Erdmann, Julius Schaller) who considered it only partially authentic history.
But, before asking ourselves what in practice led to the emergence of this problematic in the German philosophical climate of the time, it is necessary to further clarify the positions within the Hegelian left itself. It is the political situation of the moment that prompts men eager to change it in the direction of greater democratic openness to view Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel with suspicion.
Rosenkranz writes: “All those who had before their eyes the future of Prussia distanced themselves with distrust from Hegel, considering him a person whose policy is too limited and too dependent, as he himself recognized, on Prussia”. (Life of Hegel , tr. it., Florence 1966, p. 352). If the situation of the moment is judged irrational, the identification of rationality with the “hard” reality of the Prussian State could not but lead the progressive “young” Hegelians to consider Hegel as a reactionary from whom to distance themselves. Now, by the greater or lesser degree of accuracy with which these distances were taken can be measured the various positions within the Hegelian left.
Following the division given by Mario Rossi we have: 1) Liberal-national tendency, with components of the center. 2) Individualistic-anarchic tendency (from Bauer to Stirner). 3) Liberal-radical tendency (extreme left). (See M. Rossi, Marx and the Hegelian Dialectic, vol. I, Hegel e lo Stato, Rome 1960, pp. 32-33).
Here ends our ability to follow the discourse made by Rossi. We will see later the flaws of the critical evaluations provided by this scholar, with regard to the anarchist current, and in particular of Stirner, considered as a current of thought that, starting from the global contestation, ends up aborting in the abstract individualism or in the aristocratic super-individualism of Engelsian memory.
So Stirner represents the extreme address of the line-up of the Hegelian left, not as an extravagant position of a bourgeois intellectual who, in the privacy of his own room, dictates the conditions of the total destruction of the world, but as a consequent analyzer of the Hegelian philosophy and in particular of the universal historical construction implemented by it. Even Stirner himself realized this, although for him it was merely accidental. (Cf. M. Stirner, On the Book of B. Bauer: La tromba del giudizio universale, in Scritti minori, tr. it., Milan 1923, pp. 20-21. From now on, we will always indicate this edition of the minor writings with the symbol SM, quoting the title of the writing and the indication of the page only). Among the contemporary scholars, hastily linked, in their critical consideration of Stirner, to the judgments of the Marxists, only Rossi was forced to admit: “We have been unfair to Stirner, because his deduction is in any case more complete than Hegel’s”. (From Hegel to Marx, vol. II, The Hegelian System of the State, Milan 1970, p. 137). New edition of the work Marx and the Hegelian dialectic, but essentially new book as well as remake. This is but a note between the lines, most of the time these scholars do not go so subtle in analyzing and recognizing the validity of the theses of the unfortunate anarchist philosopher.
Certainly, for those who consider the style of the writers of the Hegelian left, especially Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, but also the others and Stirner himself, will notice that journalistic trend, that often ironic and mocking flavor of which St. Max is a good example. An unconscious answer, on the one hand, to the complicated formulas, to the dismay and melancholy that inevitably take the reader of Hegel once he enters into the monumental and, often, cold elaborations of his system. But for these new men, the problem of style is also a problem of interlocutors, of target audience, of the concrete dimension of their writings. The profession of “free” literature was born, with all its apparatus of alienation: the intellectual work and the sale of the finished product to publishers and booksellers often brought these young thinkers face to face with the verification of the constriction of social relations and production.
Ludwig Feuerbach felt himself, above all, to be a “writer,” Arnold Ruge and Bauer were journalists, Marx and Engels were also journalists, Søren Kierkegaard himself, even with his strange stance towards traditional relations to the everyday world and journalistic literature, remains fundamentally a writer and, moreover, among the most passionate. (On this topic: K. Löwith, Da Hegel a Nietzsche, tr. it., Torino 1959, pp. 118-120. Feuerbach speaks of this problem in Der Schrifsteller und der Mensch, Leipzig 1834, cf. K. Löwith, op. cit., p. 120. For Marx, important is the so-called Intellectual Autobiography, in Il marxismo e l’educazione, Rome 1971, pp. 17-20).
And these men, including the taciturn Stirner, lived in Prussia, in the Prussia of Frederick I, of Immanuel Kant, of Gotthold Lessing, in Berlin, in a city traditionally known for its ironic skepticism and broadmindedness, a city that saw its own Enlightenment spreading along with its own inability to make democratic liberalism coexist with Enlightened despotism.
If the general level of information of the masses is very backward, on the other hand there is a growing impatience with the various acts of government repression. In 1835, the circulation of newspapers throughout Prussia was only 35,000 copies. All periodical publications have very high prices and therefore are usually read in cafes, since few can afford to buy them with a certain periodicity. In 1836 the books of the “Young Germany” are banned and 192 sentences are pronounced, some of them to death. In 1837 Pastor Weidig, tortured in prison, committed suicide, causing a wave of outrage throughout Germany. In 1838 the King of Hanover dismisses seven professors of the University of Göttingen who had signed a protest against the abolition of the Constitution.
On the other hand, the Political Encyclopedia (Staatslexikon) edited by Rotteck and Welcker, clearly inspired by the principles of the Great Revolution, becomes widespread. The brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm organize a large-scale relief effort in favor of the dismissed Göttingen professors. A real proletarian movement is born, initially of liberal inspiration, then, gradually, with socialist coloring, as the class struggle takes more precise contours and the industrial revolution becomes more precise and develops.
Thus, growth of the proletariat and growth of the bourgeoisie. The last ambitions of the feudal class fade into national absorption. A new Weltanschauung rises from the ashes of the old ideological seclusion of the Junkers: it consists in the theoretical reflection of the rules of the capitalist game, based on the principle of freedom of production and accumulation, an ideology dominated by the concepts of movement and competition.
As a consequence of Germany’s backwardness in the economic and social spheres, the previous worldview, born of a nascent bourgeoisie that was still very weak in the face of persistent feudal power, had the characteristic of being a botched adaptation of rationalist ideas to traditional religious ideas. Thus, the German rationalism of the eighteenth century, like the French rationalism of the seventeenth, had limited itself to inserting the new idea of progress in the field of intellectual and moral development, alienating it from the economic and social conflicts in concrete. (Cfr. J. Bury, Storia dell’idea di progresso , tr. it., Milano 1964, pp. 168-181).
All this determined a dualism, between spirit and matter, which would become clear at the time of the development of productive forces – towards the end of the 18th century.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling and Hegel set themselves as attempts to overcome this dualism, which prevents them from arriving at an organic conception of the world. As Auguste Cornu wrote, these philosophers, in an attempt to overcome the dualism between man and nature, conceive “the world as an immense organism subjected to the incessant transforming action of internal forces and laws, lead the development of the world to that of the spirit, and place the latter as the creative and regulating principle of beings and things. For in their systems the spirit comprises within itself, in what is essential, all reality, and thus the development of the world is explained by the self-determination of the spirit. Conceived in this way the evolution of the world, they assign to it as its end freedom, which is presented to them as the very expression of the Divine”. (Marx and Engels from liberalism to communism , tr. it., Milan 1962, pp. 46-47).
The fact of having denied to the “thing in itself” any possibility of limitation, in the direction opened by Jacob Beck, forces Johann Gottlieb Fichte to entrench himself in an idealist position. The world is understood in terms of a process of consciousness, a conception that needs to attribute to the ego a particular charge: the absolute freedom and limitlessness. Builder and guarantor of the finite, the ego becomes infinite possibility, infinite spontaneity, infinite activity and infinite freedom. It is the moment of intuition, the consoling solution that Kant had glimpsed but not totally accepted. The circle of consciousness has definitively closed in on itself. Self-consciousness and reflection override the “thing in itself”.
The Fichtian principle of the self, in addition to the radical opposition of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, did not fail to arouse broader dissent. Along the line of thought originating in Germany from Lessing, there had been a wide spread of Spinozism. Friedrich Jacobi’s Letters to Moses Mendelssohn on the doctrine of Spinoza  and his controversy with Moses Mendelssohn attracted the attention of scholars on Spinozian theories of consciousness understood as the derivative of things, the exact reversal of any idealist claim. It is on this line that Johann Friedrich Herbart placed himself, trying to avoid the destruction of the “thing in itself”, without, however, returning fully to Kant’s theses, and this because of the recognition given to the philosophy of being able to deal with all the problems of reality and nature.
Friedrich Schleiermacher himself, in spite of the delays that may have resulted from his interest in religion, took the same line of reorganization of the Fichtian principle of the ego. The feeling is recognized as the key to the interpretation of the infinite in the finite, and religion as the manifestation of this feeling.
But the highest rethinking of Fichte’s doctrine was accomplished by Schelling.
A very evident fracture was found in Fichte’s speculation: the impossibility of explaining the formation of nature and the art world. With Schelling there is the reworking and the fusion of these two concepts, until then divided: the dogmatism of Spinoza and the absolutism of Fichte. Objectivity and subjectivity, presuppositions of these two doctrines, are merged in natural philosophy, which thus assumes the task of raising the fortunes of the concept of reality of nature (and art), rather compromised by Fichte’s centralism. Of course, to subjectively lay the foundations of a science of nature, in the fragmentary situation in which science was at that time, assumed all the consequences of any metaphysical enterprise. Precisely for this reason, Schelling’s philosophy does not descend to a distinction of the categories of nature, but directs its efforts in the teleological attempt to overcome the quantitative requirements and spatial realities, in order to reach a concept of reason that can give order and meaning to all the necessary metaphysical assumptions, without misrepresenting the legitimacy of phenomena. The air we breathe in Schelling’s system is still that of the Kantian “thing in itself”. The Ideas for a philosophy of nature , can be considered as an attempt to overcome this obstacle. It will be Hegel to disavow the autonomy of nature, recognizing it as insufficient to itself. Schelling will complain about this conclusion, full of consequences, although, in the end, it has contributed to a decisive turn in his own thought: the one towards the “positive philosophy”. But the greatest effort of unification of philosophy, the most powerful attempt to formulate an absolute thought, is made by Hegel.
With Hegel we witness the establishment of a fictitious equilibrium, an equilibrium so apparently stable, so outwardly accomplished, that it could make its proponent believe that philosophy was about to end. It is the bourgeois dream in the moment of its maximum ideological game: the impression that the definitive conquest of power was about to approach coincides with the disappearance of philosophical reflection which, as we know, is always a critical matter and in moments of crisis it sharpens and develops. The same romantic jolts do not move Hegel. An unprecedented metaphysical coordinator and systematizer, he starts, like many other post-Kantians, from the rejection of the “thing in itself”, but without being satisfied with Fichte’s solution, clearly pioneering, and Schelling’s solution, since it is repugnant to him to recognize a perfect organization in nature. In Kant he borrows the dialectical principle of contradiction, so that criticism is denied to any possible metaphysical construction. With Hegel this principle is twisted and addressed precisely to that work which Kant believed was not suitable. This work of construction is the “philosophy of history”. If the method is provided by Kant, even indirectly, the predominant idea comes from the mystical tradition of a certain German Protestantism, excluded and banned from the religious-academic officialdom. The infinite, according to Hegel, must not relate to the finite, because it would force the latter to an endless progress, just because it is infinite. Naturally, since it is not possible to have a relationship between the infinite and the finite, one of the two poles must jump off. And it is the finite to be annulled by the action of the infinite which discovers offshoots of itself in the finite, contributing to the ideal interpretation of the latter. Thus Hegel worked, dialectically, on the construction of rational reality. The well-founded doubts about the possibility of a metaphysical construction, advanced by Kant, are overcome by Hegel by identifying the dialectical contradiction as the basis of reality. Therefore, since reality cannot be defined as a “thing in itself”, it becomes reason; indeed, Hegel goes further, insisting on the identity of reality and reason, an identity that is realized in “rational reality”. The doors are closed in front of the “having to be”, and therefore also in front of the “having to be that is not”. Reality, insofar as it is rational, is complete and concluded; insofar as it is a dialectical process, it is history.
This new philosophy of “necessity”, this absolutizing doctrine, finds itself in open contrast with the romantic parallel currents, with Jacobi’s sentimental cues, with every tendency to disintegration and fragmentation. From its intimate tendency to fusion and reorganization, Hegel’s philosophy finds the basis for being able to call itself “science”. Naturally science of history, systematic doctrine of the historical process, elaboration of the conjunctions of historical concepts transformed into glorious synthesis. The revolutionary project and the historical realization that led to the formation of capitalism could not find a more comprehensive foundation. Once the bourgeoisie has achieved power, it sits on it, kicking every irrational remnant of medieval origin, as well as every attempt to undermine its conquest, an attempt that could find its origin in the weak organization of proletarian resistance.
The profound difference between the path traced by Hegel and that followed by Kant is evident. The latter could not detect any movement within the historical process, too covered by the shadow of the “thing in itself”, from which it is said that Kant remained closed to the historical problem. In Hegel, on the contrary, this idea largely appears and, at the same time, is exhausted by manifesting the negative side: the impossibility of an opening to uncertainty and constructiveness, which are the characteristics of man’s will to fight. Hegel’s historical process is still stuck in its claim to completeness. In the absence of the real clash of facts and events, everything seems to end in a huge effort directed to keep alive a phantom of concreteness. The dialectic principle can reconcile every contradiction, it can transform every new contradiction into a superior synthesis, but it demands a sacrifice: the mutilation of reality, forced to adapt to schematism. Let us now see in what way the tendency to conclusion is expressed in the forms of the spirit.
Art, religion and philosophy are brought back to a progressive and, first of all, constructive system, valid even in those cases where it becomes necessary to resort to a modification of tradition. Thus art is interpreted in terms of progressive completion, as a continuous reaching and overcoming of certain effects, as a struggle between subject and object that takes place through alternating phases within society and found throughout the history of man. The symbolic period, the classical period and finally the romantic period, form the description of the vicissitudes of art over the centuries, vicissitudes that necessarily turn to an epilogue. It is not an adverse destiny that forces art to its own end, because it is “daughter of time”, but a direct consequence of its “extrinsication” that forces it to flee from the present. It is time that acts deleteriously on art, its influence modulates the history of the aesthetic spirit and allows us to fix the exact evaluative position to take towards the artistic works of the past.
Something similar happens with religion. Hegel is concerned to give us a positive development of religion, a development inserted in the turn of historical events and, therefore, directed to the conclusion. The epochs of religion, from the natural to the absolute, are arranged progressively, in one with the unfolding of the history of the Spirit. Christianity is, therefore, for Hegel, the highest form of religion, the most complete manifestation of the relationship established over the centuries between the finite and the absolute. In Hegel we can see the effort to bring to fruition these conclusions and, at the same time, the need to keep detached from temporality the conception of the spirit understood in creative terms. It is precisely the problem of time to cause the greatest cleavages within his thought.
The union and fusion of non-being and being constitute a concept of becoming completely detached from the chronological concept of time, which will make its fleeting appearance (always within the limits of persistence) in the Philosophy of Nature . It is always the basic concept of Idea that gives life to nature as becoming. Even for Hegel it must have been very difficult to contract the exteriority of nature into the essence of the Idea. The passages in the Encyclopedia  that deal with this problem are among the most troubled and obscure. The disciples themselves and then, later, the most fruitful interpreters, will not be able to overcome this genuine stumbling block and, at times, will contribute to make it even more arduous. Modifications of a structural (space-time) nature are included by Hegel in his characteristic dialectical demonstration: an attitude that made Johann Wolfgang Goethe go berserk. “To want to destroy the eternal reality of nature by means of a sophistical joke of a bad kind seems to me absolutely unworthy of a reasonable man.” (Letter to Thomas Johann Seebeck, November 28, 1812).
Unfortunately, Hegel’s system can lead to a resolution of nature in spirit, to an annihilation of natural laws in the face of spiritual laws. The legacy of the “thing in itself” casts its last evil shadows here. We must understand how this danger does not only have metaphysical aspects, such as those underlined by Feuerbach, that is, directed towards reducing the object to absolutely abstract determinations, which end up totally misrepresenting it, but it also has more concrete, immediately political, empirical aspects, capable of using Hegel’s philosophical formalism as the basis for an ideology of exploitation.
In essence, moving two criticisms, from two different starting points, we arrive at two results that are also different. The first result would be the denial of a formal validity to the Hegelian philosophy, that is a philosophical declaration of illogicality, on the simple basis of the reduction of the object to a simple toy of the absolute spirit acting in the historical empyrean in which all contradictions are resolved and reappear. The second result would be the identification of the positivity (deleterious) of the same apparent negativity, when it contributes to laying the foundations for the acceptance of the irrational. If the State is irrational (insofar as exploitation is irrational), seeing it as an element of an abstractly logical formalism, we can accept it because its negation would deny that formalism and would throw us into great anxiety, whence the concrete function of the abstract, the constructive function of the inconsistent, the reactionary function of the ideological illusion.
Hegel does not start from the concrete subject, therefore he ends up in the absolute substance, relived in mystical form, even if seen through the historical process. He is aware of this – and here is his positive side – and indicates the overcoming of the obstacle in the need to start from material data, from real assumptions (as Marx will later say) to develop a rational process of understanding reality, but, at the same time, wraps his mysticism in the final act of power that rationalizes everything in itself, in the act of the State.
From the initial romantically revolutionary position to the conservatism of old, Hegel always moves within this theoretical world. For him, the political field remains tied to a compromise between the static and the dynamic conception of the world, between the conservative Prussian state and the dialectical movement of history, between the Christian religion tied to absolute and immutable canons and the continuous becoming of historical forms that imply a continuous change even in religion.
On this basis of interpretation, Hegel has been, from time to time, considered reactionary and progressive, philosopher of the absolute state and philosopher of the dialectic and therefore the only creator of dialectical materialism and Marxism, at least from the point of view of philosophical progeny. The last great drama Hegel and his fortune have experienced in the Russia of Stalin who had made mandatory the extraordinary formula: “Hegelian philosophy is the reaction to the bourgeois Revolution of France and the French materialism of the eighteenth century,” pitting the Stuttgart philosopher Feuerbach against the French materialists of the eighteenth century and the Russian democrats of the nineteenth century. (See I. Fetscher, Greatness and Limits of Hegel , tr. it., Milan 1973, p. 12).
Interesting, on this subject, the controversy that Ernst Bloch conducted with the German Stalinists in the pages of his magazine: “Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie”. Bloch advocated a reinterpretation of Hegel in the sense of the relationship between Marxism and Hegelian dialectical methodology, a relationship that was more alive than is commonly believed. In essence, Bloch’s thesis seems interesting to us, although for an inverse reason to the one argued by its author himself. He, in fact, states that it is not possible to identify what in the Hegelian methodology is right-wing and separate it from what is left-wing, accepting the latter part, and rejecting the former: the reading of Hegel must be redone en bloc, as all inseparable and fruitful to understand the dialectical method that will be, then, employed by Marx. This, for Bloch, means something positive, for us, something negative, highlighting the deterministic-idealist component of Marxist thought.
However, what is important here is to underline the effort led by the German Communist Party, on that occasion, to detach Marx from Hegel, to condemn the attempt of connection carried out by Bloch and to keep intact the sanctification of the dialectical method.
Here is what the official spokesman of the party writes in this sense: “Dialectical materialism is free from all metaphysics. Marx and Engels considered Hegel’s dialectic to be false and unusable. They rejected it and contrasted it with the dialectical materialistic method, which has a totally different character from Hegel’s dialectic.” (R.O. Gropp, Die marxistische dialektische Methode und ihr Gegensatz zur idealistischen Dialektik Hegels, in “Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie”, Berlin 1954, no. l, pp. 69-112 and no. 2, pp. 344-383. Quoted by S. Zecchi, Utopia e speranza nel comunismo, Milan 1974, p. 12).
Rugard Otto Gropp himself relies on the authority of Walter Ulbricht, from whom he quotes the following passage: “In the German Democratic Republic the dissemination of the teaching of Karl Marx is immediately connected with the battle for the creation of the foundations of socialism. In order to be able to realize the teaching of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in Germany, in the homeland of the founders of scientific socialism, it is necessary to wage a consequent battle against all attempts to falsify Marxist teaching, it is necessary to wage a battle against all reconciliation on ideological questions.” (in “Neues Deutschland,” May 8, 1953. Quoted by Gropp in the above work. See S. Zecchi, op. cit., pp. 45-46).
These brief lines indicate the most obvious parameters of the philosophical and cultural milieu of Germany at Stirner’s time, and help to clarify his philosophical training and literary production.
Before moving on, it is worth pointing out a curious parallel. The One and His Property  begins with a phrase that is the opening line of a Goethe chant, “I have laid my cause on nothing.” (This is the chant Vanitas! Vanitatum! Vanitas!, from 1806). Beyond all the causes for which they made me fight – continues Stirner – I have never fought for myself, it is time to do it now. The divine is a thing of God, man is a thing of man, my cause is neither the divine nor the human, but only what is mine. “There is nothing that matters to me more than myself.” (The only one and its property, tr. it., Catania 2001, p. 14. For the beginning we will always indicate this edition of The Only One limiting ourselves only to the symbol U and the indication of the page).
In fact, Hegel had stated that the individual man is free, “is something” only in the “general” of a certain class. Thus in his Lineamenti di filosofia del diritto ossia diritto naturale e scienza dello Stato : “The ‘I’ is especially the passage from indistinct indeterminacy to distinction, to determinateness and to positing a determinateness, as content and object: – be this content then, given by nature or produced by the concept of the spirit. Thus this positing of itself as determinate, the self enters into existence in general – the absolute moment of finitude, or individuation, of the self. The will is the unity of these two moments; – the particularity, reflected in itself, and thus brought back to universality-individuality; the self-determination of the I to place itself in the One, as the negativity of itself as, that is, determined, limited; and to remain in itself, that is, in its identity with itself and in its universality, and to coincide, in determination, only with itself.” (Paragraphs 6 and 7). All this put him in clear contradiction with his being not only an “official” of the State, but the reference point of a particular publicity battle, organized by the State itself, in favor of his philosophical conceptions; despite his doctrine of the coexistence of being free for the truth and being dependent for salary on the State, as the medieval philosophers, doctors in theology, taught philosophy but remained ecclesiastical.
From this point of view, Feuerbach’s phrase is illuminating: “The more one wants to make of me, the less I am something, and vice versa. In general, I am something only as long as I am nothing”. (Der Schriftsteller und der Mensch, op. cit., p. 149. Cf. K. Löwith, op. cit., p. 120). Ruge’s life is also characteristic in this sense: struggles with police repression, loss of his professorship, flight to Paris. The same for Marx: impossibility of taking up the professorship in Bonn, difficulty even living without the financial help of Engels.
For Stirner, the parable of “nothingness” is even more significant. After a few productive years, and after exactly two years in which the critics dealt with him, he kept silent in his work and began his life, that is, his continuous struggle against debts and creditors. He lived his last years on the miserable income from a dairy, set up with the money of his wife, who then abandoned him to emigrate to Australia, even changing her name, and on the meager income from translations of the classics of economics (Jean-Baptiste Say and Adam Smith), which he was doing for his publisher. At his death, perhaps caused by a bite from the anthrax fly, only Bauer and Ludwig Buhl were behind the coffin.
It is in this perspective that it should be seen, later, the comparison and the influence of Stirner on the anarchist movement, a problem that requires little effort here, dedicated to the study and examination of the environmental premises.
Of the earlier classics of anarchism little could be known by him and nothing transpires in his work. Considering the precursors, such as François Rabelais, Étienne de la Boétie, Jean Meslier, it must be said that the first until recently was considered only a storyteller, the second an extravagant moralist and the third was known only by a few thanks to the attempt made in France by Voltaire. The same William Godwin, complete theorist of anarchist principles, was not known in Germany, as John Henry Mackay has shown.
Stirner’s work therefore remains tied to the environment we have examined, it undergoes the influences we have tried to outline – first and foremost that of Hegel, who presents himself to him as a mountain to be moved, on pain of suffocating all philosophical thought. “I do not teach you a philosophy,” said the master of Stuttgart, “I am a philosophy. This could in no way be admitted by Stirner, who wisely and steadily digs to get to demonstrate, initially by idealist means, the fundamental error of idealism: the contempt of the individual man and the sublimation of the immutable and realizing power of the State. In this, he follows in the footsteps of Feuerbach who, on the theme of the relationship between the professor of philosophy and philosophy, wrote: “Philosophy and the profession of philosopher are in absolute contrast, so that it is a characteristic sign of the philosopher not to be a professor of philosophy, and vice versa it is a characteristic sign of the professor of philosophy not to be a philosopher”. (Sämtliche Werke, edited by Feuerbach himself, vol. I, Leipzig 1841-1866, p. 257).
In this perspective, the concrete world on which Stirner focused his reflective capacity produced much more than what it would have been logical to expect. Stirner is to be considered a forerunner, a man who posed himself problems and solutions that were not justified but at least understandable, considering the objective conditions of the moment.
In an article from 1842-1843 Feuerbach clarifies his views on the purpose of philosophy. (The Need for Transformation, quoted by Karl Löwith, op. cit., p. 131). While for German thought from Kant to Hegel the reference point of speculation was the past, from Feuerbach onwards it will become, for Ruge, Stirner, Bauer and Marx, the future.
In the epochs of transition, Feuerbach points out, there is a fundamental contrast between those who believe in the necessity of the preservation of the old and the rejection of the new and those who go so far as to seek the realization of the new. His critique of Hegelian philosophy is centered precisely on the fact that the need for conservatism and the consideration of the past close off any perspective to the future, making it an “arbitrary connection of imperfect things.” (Ibid.).
The unity of the infinite and the finite remains intact but, contrary to Hegel, it is realized in man, particularly in the relationships between men, in their communal living. Even the philosopher is reduced to a concrete man, who acts here, in a precise dimension, and not in a rarefied atmosphere, where the absolute truth opens up to him by magic. Feuerbach notes: “The essential tendency of philosophical activity cannot be other than that of making the philosopher a man and the man a philosopher. Philosophy must not be the science of a particular faculty, an abstract quality, but must include in itself the whole nature of man, in all his faculties.” (Sämtliche Werke, vol. II, op. cit., p. 256).
But he remains a man with too many attributes, a man too “free” to be true, a man too “particular” to be plausible. For Feuerbach, the benchmark is “the writer who belongs to no school, to no particular tendency, the free writer, the obscure philosopher, who remains ignored, who does not elbow his way in, the philosopher who loves the truth, who seeks the truth, who suffers the thirst for the truth.” (Ib., vol. II, p. 403).
Religion, with its traditional concern to grasp man in his unity, is of extreme interest to Feuerbach, hence the need to rationalize it by transferring it to a terrain more in keeping with the philosophy of the future. The main thesis is that the absolute being, the God of man, is the very being of man: the heart and feeling thus replace Hegel’s mighty system. The effort in this direction appears clearly as an anthropology, a philosophy of the future stripped of metaphysics, a philosophy that takes as the basis of itself the experience of man. Against idealism the way is opened to materialism, against the asphyxiation of the abstract Hegelian logic, the feeling of corporeity, the passion of nature. All of this, however, has very strong limits, as we will see later, and many of them will be, in fact, indicated by Stirner. Antonio Banfi writes: “In a certain way we can say about Feuerbach’s thought what was said about the Socratic one: that it had brought philosophy from heaven to earth. His effort was in fact that of a human and humanistic interpretation of life and of the values of culture. But the experience on which this conversion operates is a generic experience, still rich in abstract romantic motifs. It is natural, therefore, that the concept of man should be abstract, and abstract with it the forms of culture taken into consideration – pure religion, for example -, ethical ideals and the worldview itself.” (Introduction to L. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, tr. it., Milan 1971, p. 13).
Apparently a regression, but the road to the future was so open: on it, among others, and in a more radical form, Stirner will place himself. Let us examine the theoretical consequences.
“What do we gain if, for a change, we move the divine from outside of us to within us? Are we what is in us? As little as we are what is outside of us. I am as little my heart as I am my heart’s beloved, who is also “another me.” Precisely because we are not the spirit that dwells in us, we had to place it outside of us: it was not us, it was not at one with us, and therefore we could not think of it existing except outside of us, beyond us, in the beyond”. (U, p. 31).
The starting point is the overcoming of the Hegelian barrier, carried out by Feuerbach, but Stirner goes beyond this, not content with a simulacrum of victory. In order to properly understand the phrase “we are not the spirit that dwells in us”, it is necessary to understand the concept of ideological superstructure that in Stirner is something constant, even if it is never clearly expressed. In practice, Feuerbach had only inverted a sentence, desperately trying to save, even in the collapse of the static nature of Hegelian reality, the “truth” of Christianity, a religion judged “superior” to others precisely because it made man the center of itself. According to Stirner’s criticism, the fear of the afterlife leads him to mistake a chimera as substantial: not wanting to continue the journey into the world of the incredible, he transports this incredible into the everyday world, into the world of man, indeed into the most alive and essential center of man: the seat of his feelings. But the essence of man, this arcane thing is not man, it is something for which he will come to accept other hateful assignments, something in the name of which he will be driven to fight, to kill, to discriminate against his fellow men.
This “reality” of Feuerbach is considered by Stirner critically, but used as a reference point for his further radicalization of the atheist position. If the spirit of God, which formerly dwelt in heaven, we now transfer it within ourselves, this poor man will end up being a truly crowded dwelling.
And further on, more calmly, but with equal decision: “In this way we certainly lose the limited religious point of view, we lose the God who is the subject from this point of view, but in exchange we get the other part from the religious point of view: the moral one. We no longer say, for example, “God is love,” but “love is divine.” But if we replace the predicate “divine” with the synonym “sacred”, here things return exactly as before. Now love must be what is good in man, his divinity, his honor, his true humanity (“it alone makes him a man”, it alone makes him a man). More precisely, therefore, things would be like this: love is the human in man and the inhuman is the heartless egoist. But all that Christianity and, with it, speculative philosophy, which is theology, offer us as good and as absolute, is not, in its particularity, good (or, which makes the same thing, is only good): thus, with the transformation of the predicate into subject, the Christian essence (the predicate contains precisely the essence) would only become even more oppressive. The God and the divine would become even more inextricably confused with me. Chasing God out of his heaven and defrauding him of his “transcendence” does not yet give the right to cry victory, if one has simply driven him into the human heart, thus endowing him with an indelible immanence. Now it will be said: the divine is what is truly human!
“The same people who oppose Christianity as the foundation of the State, that is, the so-called Christian State, never tire of repeating that morality is “the pillar of social life and of the State.” As if the domain of morality were not a complete domain of the sacred, a ‘hierarchy’!” (U, p. 42).
We are well across an abyss. Feuerbach could not understand Stirner’s discourse and, in fact, did not understand it. What can it possibly matter to us to erase the image of God, replacing it with the image of morality, if man remains the same alienated by a larger machine that oppresses and destroys him? What importance and what consolation will arise from the fact that this horrible machine will have the name of “morality,” when it will have the same weight as the divine hierarchy?
Indeed, what does it matter to be exploited and persecuted in the name of a tyrant who uses the title of God, who throws lightning bolts from the top of a mountain, shrouded in clouds, or to be exploited, rationally, in the name of proletarian internationalism, by Stalin or Mao? In this last eventuality, which historically keeps recurring, the concepts of, let’s say, “proletarian internationalism” or “proletarian class”, or, in a more reasonable and effective form, “class consciousness”, serve to exaggerate exploitation if, as it happens in a society divided by strong internal contrasts of interests and powers, hierarchy is not annulled and equality radicalized: antechambers for the birth of the new man, which is then the substance of Stirner’s discourse, in his opposition to Feuerbach.
More significant still is the long response Stirner wrote to his three critics in 1845: Franz Szeliga, Moses Hess and Feuerbach. They had written reviews in the same year of publication of The Only One. But let us see, now, to give an insight into the literary situation that this book found at its debut.
According to Mackay (Max Stirner. Sein Leben und sein Werk, Berlin 1898) the publisher Otto Wigand released the book before Christmas 1844, but with the date 1845. Gustav Mayer (Stirner als Publizist, in “Frankfurter Zeitung,” October 4, 1912) and Ernst Victor Zenker (Der Anarchismus. Kritische Geschichte der anarchistischen Theorie, Jena 1895, p. 69) all speak of a great success with the young German and Berlin intelligence in particular. By Christmas everyone had this book in their hands. Even if one wishes to discount, as one should always do, Mackay’s opinion, given its frequent unreliability due to the enthusiasm with which he approached research on Stirner, the fact remains that throughout 1845 and 1846 the book had a wide echo throughout the literary world.
But few were the indications in the newspapers, due to censorship. An article by W. Friedensburg (Zur Sittengeschichte der neuesten Philosophie. Max Stirner. Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum, in “Die Grenzboten. Zeitschrift für Politik und Literatur,” vol. I, Leipzig 1845, pp. 239-241) of little importance comes out precisely in 1845 and two notes of superficial interest come out in 1846. (Cf. E. Barnikol, Das entdeckte Christentum im Vormärz, Jena 1927, p. 40). If we add to this two notations by Ruge (this is a letter directed to his friend J. Fröbe, written precisely in 1845 or at the end of 1844. It can now be found in Briefwechsel und Tagebuchblätter aus den Jahren 1825-1880, vol. I, 1825-1847, Berlin 1886, p. 379. The other notation, where Ruge discusses Stirner’s importance to the cultural development of Germany, is found in Zwei Jahre in Paris. Studien und Erinnerungen, vol. II, Leipzig 1846). In this early period of Stirner’s fortunes nothing was written, or at least nothing concrete has come down to us. As extensive as the bibliographical material collected by Hans G. Helms is, it should not be forgotten that all of Mackay’s documentation, consisting of 1100 volumes and 300 manuscripts on Stirner, was sold, for a very modest sum, to the Institute for Marxism-Leninism in Moscow, so it is not so easy to say, without consulting that collection, whether there are other publications that came out in this period.
So, returning to our discourse, even the great Feuerbach is inconvenienced by that book, which after barely two years will be returned to the slow digestion of decades in the dusty halls of libraries. (Über das “Wesen des Christenthums” in Beziehung auf den “Einzigen und sein Eigenthum,” in “Wigands Vierteljahrsschrift,” 2, 1845. Today this writing is found in Sämtliche Werke, edited by Bolin and Jodl, vol. VII, Stuttgart 1960, pp. 294-310).
But his argument does not get to the true depths of the Stirnerian position. He limits himself to criticizing the concept of “nothingness” as the foundation of man (he refers to the opening passage of The One) by saying that nothingness is one of the designations of God. He returns to the discussion of human predicates that are something different from divine predicates (a statement challenged by Stirner who saw in it a simple transposition with the sign changed). He challenges the necessity of the realization of the “species” of man rather than of the individual man (Stirner’s counterclaim referring to the Feuerbach man who is a precise man with a certain physical structure, born in Franconia, etc. and not just any Feuerbach, let’s say a Frederick Feuerbach). (See MS, p. 376).
The clash is exhausted from the point of view of philosophical interest. The two thinkers have nothing else to say to each other: the one deaf to the other, the other now beyond a speculative barrier that does not admit returns.
If the answer to the three most significant critics (this is the writing Critics of Stirner which is found in SM, pp. 336-387 and which under the title Recensenten Stirners is found in “Wigands Vierteljahrsschrift”, 39, Leipzig 1845, pp. 147-194) has a value, in spite of the revaluation that has been attempted by those who love philosophical categories placed before concrete reasoning, it has it as a deepening and clarification of what is already contained, and clearly, in The One, in that nothing is called into question. For Stirner, Feuerbach is no longer a point of reference, a support to overcome Hegelian idealism, but only a trivial incident to be clarified, after having completed his entire reasoning.
Friedrich Albert Lange, in his fundamental work on the history of materialism (Geschichte des Materialismus und Kritik seiner Bedeutung in der Gegenwart, Iserlohn 1866, vol. II, pp. 81-135, the sixth German edition is from 1902, the Italian translation is from 1932), speaks of Stirner calling his work “infamous”. In particular he complains – as Giorgio Penzo (Max Stirner, Turin 1971, p. 83), without giving an appropriate interpretation of Lange’s point of view – about the absence of a second part of the work, a positive part, which would mitigate the excessive crudeness of the first part, which is limited, according to Lange’s analysis, to underlining the moment of the will interpreted as the exclusive starting point of being, which would link Stirner no less than to Arthur Schopenhauer. Lange’s discourse is, in our opinion, very indicative, and it is necessary to explain it, avoiding to assume Penzo’s attitude, unless we have precise reasons to put in second place the political aspect of Stirner’s thought in front of the component obtainable from the existential aspect.
In this perspective, the alternative is to be seen between irrationalism and materialism, between philosophy of reaction and philosophy of revolution, between the last Schelling and the “young Germany”, between the dissolution of reason and the reconstruction of a new order, to which the Hegelian left puts its hand. As György Lukàcs tried to verify (La distruzione della ragione , tr. it, Turin 1959, pp. 91e sgg.), Schopenhauer is to be placed in constant relation to Schelling, precisely the Schelling who resumed lessons after the death of Hegel, and his theory of “intellectual intuition”, resulting in a contrast to Hegel, as radical as the Marxist one, but more usable by the new reactionary forces that the bourgeoisie emerged in the period between the two revolutions (1789-1848). Friedrich Nietzsche, as the founder of the irrationalism of the imperialistic period, will set himself on this path, but this remains a problem that Lukàcs, for precise reasons, could not conveniently focus on.
Let’s take a few steps back. At the death of Hegel many breathed. Old and new philosophical contrasts were reactivated. On the one hand Schopenhauer rekindled a dense, sometimes petty, struggle that dated back to the time of his doctoral thesis. On the other the old Schelling, as we have said, seemed to rise from his papers and regain his lost courage, once Hegel’s terrible genius could no longer harm him. In the other camp Herbart, Jakob Fries and Friedrich Eduard Beneke, in the name of the German realist current.
Starting from Kant, Schopenhauer insists on the determining power of the “will” and on the characteristic unreality of the phenomenon in Kantian terms, whence the relative attainability of the noumenon, through the bridge of an infinite will. But these conceptions, rather than against Kant, who had been stationary for years in the inactivity of death, were directed towards Hegel, alive and dominant, towards this “Professor of philosophy” who alone represented the intellectuality of the German nation. The manner in which the young Schopenhauer attacked Hegel would remain the same throughout his life, even after his opponent’s death. “The Germans are accustomed to accept words, instead of concepts, from their youth, we tame them to this, just look at Hegelianism, what is it but an empty, meaningless, and moreover disgusting nursery rhyme. And nevertheless, how brilliant was the career of this ministerial philosophical creature! It was enough for a few venal comrades to intone the glory of that rascal, and his voice found in the empty cavity of a thousand imbeciles an echo that continues to this day and will still last: behold, in this way a vulgar head, indeed a vulgar charlatan, was changed into a great philosopher.” (The fourfold root of the principle of sufficient reason , tr. it., Turin 1959, p. 75).
Open contrast, then, between Schopenhauer and Hegel, although, ultimately, the metaphysical foundation, the subject of the dispute, has no notable differences. In a sense, they are united by the fact that they consider infinity as the only reality. And it should not be overly surprising that, from the same starting point, Hegel arrives at optimism and Schopenhauer at pessimism. In spite of the efforts of the latter, we cannot breathe new air in his philosophy, the old post-Kantian problems are still too alive to be overcome, especially if we keep in mind that Schopenhauer, for his part, has every interest in not moving from them, both for his own incompetence and for the consequential continuity of his speculation.
On the same level Schelling’s effort develops. The whole of the “Positive Philosophy,” though conducted along a line of ill-concealed satisfaction in grasping the weak points of the Hegelian theses, does not ultimately tell us much new. The driving principle, beyond the intuitions on the myth, is always the specific one of all the philosophy of the period: the infinity weighing down with all the weight of its presences. We could identify a certain originality in the fact that the “given”, in Schelling of this period, assumes a “positive” consistency and abandons the appearance of nothingness claiming its own independence from the despotism of the “logical concept”. Contrast of reaction, this of the old philosopher, and as such devoid of effective constructive possibilities. Too much tied to a philosophical and cultural world that based on certain basic canons all the speculative organization, Schelling could not leave definitively although, from that subtle spirit that he was, he could glimpse the possibility of new openings.
There would remain Herbart’s discourse, developed in the name of realism. Founded on opposite foundations to those of idealism, Herbartian speculation comes to meet the real, recognizing the possibility for philosophy to shed light on the contradictions of experience, with the appropriate use of the logical concept. Herbart feels that once he embarks in this direction he will end up finding the “thing in itself”, that obstacle so proudly neglected by idealism. And here he is, from one concession to another, accepting a logic that we can call pre-Kantian, rather than simply Aristotelian or scholastic. This allows the growth of many obstacles, the same ones against which Kant had fought. Here is the need to accept Hegel’s dialectical procedure, in order to develop the relationship between empirical data and experience.
Clearly, the use of dialectics in Herbart is profoundly different than in Hegel. In a sense, he affirms a new way of understanding the possibilities of philosophy, a new way that unfortunately was not sufficiently exploited. According to the evidence of earlier metaphysics, “given” was understood as a presential sensation, an ineliminable abstract sensation. For Herbart it is not possible to conceive the logical concept in a way detached from the real experience, in a way detached from a series of contradictory relations that contribute to clarify it and to make it effectively “real”. In the Allgemeine Metaphysik [1828-1829] assigns to experience the task of choosing the modifications of knowledge and the task of directing these modifications towards real substances. The whole procedure is based on one rule: experience, no concession to categories, intellect or other metaphysical partition, but only experience. Not all experience as a whole, but the partial experience of the given forms. Here we come to the most interesting result achieved by Herbart: the abstraction of thought makes it possible to detach the elements of reality, which to a pure empirical consideration turn out to be so interconnected that they cannot be identified. Unfortunately, this wide philosophical opening is wasted with the pretension of wanting to anchor in “absolute data”, that possible abstraction that only if maintained in those terms could have speculative validity.
Therefore, the reference to Schopenhauer, as well as to the irrationalism of the second Schelling or to Herbart’s realism, must be absolutely excluded. The common opposition to Hegel is too external to constitute a parallel of political views.
It is symptomatic that even Wilhelm Windelband, certainly not indictable as a revolutionary historian of philosophy, included Schelling and Schopenhauer in his “handbook” in a common chapter entitled The Metaphysics of the Irrational. (History of Philosophy [1878-1880], vol. II, tr. it., Florence 1954, pp. 314 et seq.).
Voluntarism, an invitation to the philosophy of action, is not the heritage of bourgeois irrationalism, although it is, in one with it, an overcoming of the political concept of the State in the Prussian or Hegelian sense. Let us look at some passages from authors belonging to the Hegelian left.
August von Cieszkowski: “Humanity has come to maturity, so the historical-universal individuals are no longer blind instruments of chance or necessity, but conscious makers of their own freedom.” (Prolegomena zur Historiosophie, Berlin 1838, p. 20).
Hess: “If philosophy does not want to fall back into dogmatism, it must, in order to achieve a positive result, go beyond itself and take action”. (Die europäische Triarchie, Leipzig 1841, p. 24).
Karl Marx: “Philosophers have merely interpreted the world in different ways: it is now a matter of transforming it.” (Theses on Feuerbach , in La sinistra hegeliana, Bari 1960, p. 446).
Stirner makes the same point when he denounces the monolithic and mystical grayness of the future communist society with pages that make one shudder when one thinks of the recent experiences of Stalin’s Russia. “But the social reformers preach to us a ‘right of society.‘ The individual becomes in this way the slave of society and is justified in claiming a right only if society grants it to him, that is, if he lives according to the laws of society, that is, he is – dutiful to the laws. Now, I can be obedient to the laws both in a despotic regime and in Weitling’s ‘society,’ but in both cases I am completely deprived of rights of my own, because those I have, in the one case as in the other, are not mine, but strangers.” (U, p. 140).
And further on: “You want to “be right” against others, to “be in the right”, that is, to “have the right”. But this is not possible: in front of them you will always be “in the wrong”; they, in fact, would not be your adversaries if they were not also “in their rights”: they will always “give you the wrong”. But your right is, in the face of that of others, higher, greater, more powerful, is it not? Not at all! Your right is not more powerful if you are not more powerful. Do Chinese subjects have a right to freedom? Try to give it to them and you will find that you are very much mistaken: since they do not know how to make use of freedom, they do not even have the right to it or, to speak more explicitly, since they do not have freedom, they do not even have the right to have it. Children have no right to majority, because they are not of age, that is, because they are children. People who allow themselves to be treated as minors have no right to be of age; only if they stop acting like minors would they have the right to be declared of age. All this means nothing but this: you have the right to be what you have the power to be. I derive every right and every legitimacy from myself; I am legitimated to do all that I have the power to do. I am legitimized to overthrow Zeus, Yahweh, God, etc., if I am able to do so; otherwise, these gods will always have more right and more power than me. And then I will fear their right and power with impotent “fear of God,” abide by their commandments, and believe that I am in the right in all that I do according to their justice, just as Russian border guards consider themselves authorized to shoot on sight those who make themselves suspicious by attempting to flee, because they kill “by order of the higher authority,” that is, “in the name of the law.” But I authorize myself to kill if I do not forbid it myself, if I am not afraid of murder as an “injustice”. This intuition is the basis of Chamisso’s poem Das Mordthal, in which a reckless Indian murderer manages to wring a feeling of respect from the white man whose comrades he has slaughtered. I am not authorized to do only what I do not do freely and courageously, that is, what I do not authorize myself to do.” (U, p. 141).
Here, then, we are faced with the possibility of understanding several things. First, when Stirner appeals to the strength of the individual, he is not referring to that unconscious, irrational, primitive, unknowable force to which the theorists of fascist violence refer. If the reading of the German philosopher fascinated the impudence of Benito Mussolini, the greater philosophical preparation of Alfred Rosenberg certainly did not mislead him. Mussolini wrote in “Popolo d’Italia” on December 12, 1919: “Enough, red and black theologians of all churches, with the abstract and false promise of a paradise that will never come! Enough, you ridiculous saviors of mankind, who don’t care about your infallible “findings” to give them happiness! Leave the path clear for the elemental forces of individuals, because no other human reality exists apart from the individual! Why wouldn’t Stirner become topical again?”. Lukàcs thus specifies: “Rosenberg recognizes as classics of fascist irrationalism only Schopenhauer, Richard Wagner, Lagarde and Nietzsche”. (The Destruction of Reason, op. cit., p. 91). Stirner’s reference to force is to be considered in the sense of the force of will, capable of saving man in front of the flattening of values, in front of the absolute alienation operated in the name of any religion, be it that of Christ or that of proletarian internationalism, understood in the sense of the pyramidal structure of a party that overpowers the working class and decides its fate.
Second, Stirner’s insertion into the perspective of the Hegelian left is now clear, as he can be considered perhaps the most consequential theorist of the rupture premises of the Young Hegelians. The irrationalist hypothesis falls, as is clearly seen in contemporary disputes, because it is completely without foundation.
Thirdly, it is clear to us, reading Errico Malatesta, that the role played by nineteenth-century materialism, of the Comtian and determinist kind, linked to the prospects of the “fixed” laws of rational mechanics, was not – unless one wanted to betray it at the moment of realizing it in concrete political action – a prospect producing social changes. The Malatesta-Kropotkin dispute on this subject is very indicative. Determinist fatalism, a product of nineteenth-century bourgeois philosophy, expertly enucleated by Herbert Spencer and his companions in the social debate, could not be turned into a revolutionary direction, on pain of shutting down all concrete activity. Pyotr Kropotkin, a determinist scientist, geographer and sociologist of world renown, could not leave that perspective summarized in the work Modern Science and Anarchy, at least from the theoretical point of view, although in practice, with his revolutionary militancy, with his activity of agitator ended up denying, in part, his own thesis of departure. (See Memoirs of a Revolutionary , tr. it., Milan 1969).
Here is Malatesta’s thesis: “According to his [Kropotkin’s] system, the will (a creative power whose nature and source we cannot understand, just as we do not understand the nature and source of “matter” and all the other “first principles”), the will, I say, which contributes little or much to determining the conduct of individuals and societies, does not exist, is nothing but an illusion. Everything that was, that is and that will be, from the course of the stars to the birth and decadence of a civilization, from the perfume of a rose to the smile of a mother, from a piece of land to the thought of Newton, from the cruelty of a tyrant to the goodness of a saint, everything had to, must and must happen by a fatal sequence of causes and effects of a mechanical nature, which leaves no possibility of variation. The illusion of the will would itself be nothing but a mechanical fact.” (P. Kropotkin. Memories and criticisms of an old friend, in “Social Studies,” April 15, 1931).
Apart from any consideration, which will be developed later, it seems to us truly arbitrary and crude to affirm, as is often done, that the will necessarily falls within the ambit of the irrational and therefore should be considered dangerous. So much certainty in declaring the will “irrational” would imply an equal certainty in the knowledge of the rational. And here the obligatory question arises: is the revolutionary party rational? And if it is, as such is it not only “real”, but it is the only reality, therefore it is the truth in itself? It is the reification of the historical process into a merely quantitative fact, charged with the charisma of truth. Everyone sees well how much “irrational” is hidden under these claims.
Michail Bakunin wrote: “He who starts from the abstract idea will never reach life, because there is no way from metaphysics to life. An abyss separates them. And to jump over the abyss, to perform the mortal leap, or what Hegel himself called the qualitative leap (qualitatiner Sprung), from the logical world to the natural world, no one has yet succeeded and no one will ever succeed. He who rests on abstraction will find death there.” (State and Anarchy , in Complete Works, tr. it., vol. IV, Catania 1977, p. 142).
An attempt to distinguish within the concept of rationality could be that between rational as “reason for being”, which would be like looking at a thing – let’s say a triangle – and considering it rational in the parts that compose it because it corresponds to a law of rationality that we know and trust, and rational as “what each individual in a precise class situation must do according to his or her moral consciousness of the class situation”, which would be a dynamic view of the concept of volition.
Both moments of the rational appear to us as having a content of significance which comes to them from the actual level of the class clash. The first of these moments, the one we call static, is subjected, in a certain sense, to the action of the general level of the forces at play in the social field (meaning by this the broad spectrum of social action): everything contributes to fixing a path of necessity between the subject and the relations that determine it. The totality is placed before the subject and almost weighs him down, weighs on him and often crushes him. In the second moment, the subject awakens and passes to action, only this second moment is not temporally separated from the first and the “passing to action” cannot be understood as something that happens “after” the ecstatic waiting for the flow of things. This second moment underlines the flow that starts from the subject and modifies the level of the forces at play, also changing the conditions of that abstract deterministic moment that – just for a moment – seemed immutably far from the acting subject.
The apparent separation between reason and will, between rational and voluntary, between determinism and voluntarism, was an obstacle that was grounded in the very game of power. Everyone had an interest in identifying themselves in a clear-cut line-up, in a motto and a flag. All pursued – some more, some less, some openly and some covertly – a quantitative illusion. In this perspective, a clear distinction between determinism and voluntarism was necessary. Kropotkin believed that it was appropriate to choose the path of the scientific nature of the political project, believing in good faith that assimilation was guaranteed by the same laws of nature, that the path towards social evolution reflected the signs of the great master path of biological evolution. Malatesta had great doubts, but he too preferred not to delve into the serious problem. In one way or another, the quantitative growth had to be urged, if only because in the militant commitment, in demanding improvements, even partial, there is a growth of revolutionary consciousness (an element that we will find in Stirner, and that is one of the strengths – for another not deepened – of the so-called anarchist individualism).
In essence, today, in the face of phenomena such as the French May or the Italian movement of 1977, we are without valid answers. We must bow our heads and admit our ignorance. Fixed laws do not exist, constant growth ratios are not even conceivable.
This issue, as should be evident, has nothing to do with Schopenhauer’s bourgeois voluntarism, and it is precisely for this reason that we cannot agree with Victor Basch, who writes: “Schopenhauer’s voice will not be developed and understood until much later. Before his attacks bear fruit, there will arise, from the opposite side, frank shooters, around the year 1850, led by Karl Vogt, Jacob Moleschoot, Ludwig Büchner and Henrich Czolbe. Their inspirer: Feuerbach, their watchword: to renew, but enrich and deepen, the achievements of modern science, of materialism”. (V. Basch, L’individualisme anarchiste. Max Stirner, Paris 1928, p. 29). While earlier he had brought Schopenhauer closer to Stirner, since the former had built a “war machine capable of destroying from top to bottom the whole edifice of the Master.”
The path of the materialists of the nineteenth century, and we find Büchner even today, with his work Force and Matter of 1855, as a perspective of a certain fatalistic anarchism, retrograde and wait-and-see, passes through Schopenhauer, as an implicit cosmic acceptance of the eternal validity of the law, as a rejection of reason in view of the existence of a higher reason, which is then the one discovered by Newton with his celestial mechanics, transported to earth and defended by all the bourgeois positivists starting with Spencer. In this way, philosophical irrationalism and scientific determinism shake hands from two opposite sides to build the dominion of man over man in one of the most daring expressions: the Nazi one. (See A. M. Bonanno, I pericoli dell’analogia nelle scienze sociali, in “Quaderni di cultura contemporanea”, 1968, n. 2, pp. 47-61. Now in The anarchist dimension, Ragusa 1974, pp. 35-48).
Thus the legitimacy of Stirner’s inclusion in the leftist problematic. Even the most malicious critics of the work of the German philosopher could not deny this necessary inclusion. The same Gian Mario Bravo, author of a tendentious presentation to the volume that UTET has dedicated to the anarchists in its collection of Classics of Politics (The Anarchists, vol. I, Turin 1971, Introduction, pp. 9-74), had to reject the thesis of Helms directed to prove that “Hitler has articulated an ideology typical of the middle class, and that Stirnerism and National Socialism are forms of variation of an analogous fascist lack of culture”. (Die Ideologie der anonymen Gesellschaft. Max Stirners “Einzigers” und der Fortschritt des demokratischen Selbstbewusstseins vom Vormärz bis zum Bundesrepublik, Köln 1966, p. 5).
All the major work of Helms, the most informed scholar on Stirner we have in the world today , but at the same time among the most tendentious in the Marxist and anti-libertarian sense, is directed to prove the relationship between Stirner and National Socialism and Italian Fascism. The fact that on November 3, 1911, Mussolini, from prison, wrote a letter to Cesare Battisti, where he magnified Stirner, together with Nietzsche, Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Michel de Montaigne and Miguel de Cervantes, comparing them, all together, to the highest peaks of the Dolomites (the letter is found in Opera omnia, vol. IV, Florence 1952, p. 285), means two things: first, that Mussolini had not understood the substantial difference that passes between Stirner, Goethe and Nietzsche on the one hand and Montaigne on the other, not to consider Cervantes and all his problems that have nothing to do with Fascism. The reading of those volumes had exalted the father of Italian fascism in his will to power. Second, it meant that he had understood nothing of Stirner’s message.
For the same reason, when we are told that The Only One had an Italian edition (in 1944) under the Social Republic, we are not at all surprised. Even the Italian Nazis, in recent times, in building their provocation funded by the organs of the state and the upper echelons of economic and political power, have provided to cheat the waters by releasing some classic anarchist, including The One and his property (Ennesse editions 1970, translated by Pino Turco Liveri and introduction of the poor Roberto Di Marco, who fell into the provocation) and the Minor Writings (published by the same publisher in 1969). In essence, the true message of a thinker is something else, something else is what all sorts of political troublemakers manage to draw from it, mystifying its meaning. As we said, Bravo rejected Helms’ thesis, making his own, however, its denigrating purpose. “The text in question [Helms’s work] does not aim to offer either a historical analysis or a picture of the political and philosophical discussion: it is instead a roundup of Stirner’s life and thought; and above all of his “fortune” conducted with a cinematic method. [We may point out that Helms is a specialist in short documentary films for German television, and that he was also a special correspondent in Vietnam]. The basic argument put forward is that the consequent readers of The Only One were the “authoritarians” of the contemporary era, from Otto von Bismarck to Adolf Hitler, and that the book found the most suitable environment to be received in the Federal Republic of Konrad Adenauer. Such reasoning may be considered questionable, and in fact has been discussed and rejected (among others, the criticism came from Henri Arvon in L’actualité de la pensée di M. Stirner, in Anarchici e anarchia nel mondo contemporaneo, in “Atti del convegno promosso dalla Fondazione Luigi Einaudi”, Torino 5-6-7 December 1969, Torino 1971, pp. 285-292), but it seems to me that Helms has centered his observations in two points at least, making Stirner the “apostle of the middle class” and the precursor of fascism-Nazism, while in a third case he has, in my opinion, wrongly denied that he was a theorist of anarchy: but, it may be observed, apart from the other more pertinent considerations, deducible from the present exposition, may not anarchy today also be understood as a theory proper to the “petit-bourgeois” classes, disalienated, estranged from themselves and detached from modern neocapitalist society?». (The Anarchists, op. cit., Introduction, pp. 30-31).
Bravo’s thesis is very serious, certainly more serious than that of Helms, who at least from the height of his political cluelessness is merely doing a job as a film documentarian. But for Bravo the discourse is different. He says that Stirner can be considered, in harmony with Helms’ analysis, the apostle of the middle class and a forerunner of fascism-Nazism, but he does not agree with Helms’ statement that denies Stirner to have been a forerunner of anarchy: it follows that by admitting Stirner to be at the same time a forerunner of anarchy and national socialism and Italian fascism, these diametrically opposed political tendencies are identified. Academic alchemy truly worthy of a university professor at the service of Italian Marxist revisionism. Bravo’s bad faith betrays itself, not only with regard to Stirner’s work and reflections on it, but with regard to the inclusion, in the choice, of a little-known anarchist theorist, Wilhelm Marr, who after having started as a libertarian writer, ends up as a theorist of racism and anti-Semitism. (Bravo publishes, in the work cited above, Marr’s book, Anarchie oder Autorität, Hamburg 1852, see The Anarchists, op. cit., pp. 681-756). As if to demonstrate that, finally, between anarchy and National Socialism does not pass any difference: the same thesis that with great brazenness, on all the squares, the politicians in power make us know about the opposite extremisms.
Regarding the accusations that Marxists make against anarchism, accusations that repeat, in various tones, the formulas of the founding fathers, it seems interesting to report some excerpts from a famous interview that Hermann Rauschning obtained from Hitler. Here is what the latter had to say about Marxism: “I am not only the winner of Marxism. If we strip this doctrine of its Judeo-Talmudic dogmatism, in order to preserve only its final purpose, that which it contains of correct and just views, one can also say that I have realized them. I have learned much from Marxism, and I do not attempt to conceal it. I have certainly not learned from the tiresome chapters on social class theory or historical materialism, nor from that absurd thing called the profit limit or other such fibs. What has interested and educated me about Marxists are their methods. I simply took seriously what those souls of little shopkeepers and typists had timidly planned. All National Socialism is contained there. Look at us closely: the workers’ gymnastic societies, the factory cells, the massive marches, the propaganda pamphlets written to be understood by the masses. All these new means of political struggle were almost entirely invented by Marxists. I have done nothing but appropriate and develop them.” (Gespräche mit Hitler, tr. fr., Paris 1945. Summary of ch. XXXI).
These statements do not need much comment. If the accusations of Marxists to anarchism are made on the basis of a theoretical analysis, on issues related to the denial (by anarchists) of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the extinction of the state, of power, of the party, etc., these statements by Hitler indicate a very worrying foundation, inherent in Marxism (at least in the party structures that refer – more or less properly – to this doctrine), that is, they indicate the possibility of using this foundation as an instrument of oppression of the masses. It is not important, here, to give a name to this exploitation: when men are enslaved, it doesn’t mean much if it is in the name of socialism or national socialist fantasies.
And here is another enlightening statement by Grigory Zinoviev: “State capitalism is that capitalism which we will be able to organize, that capitalism which is closely linked to the State; as for the State, it is the workers, it is the progressive fraction of the workers, it is the vanguard, it is us.” (Quoted in: Leftist Anti-Statism and the Social Nature of the USSR, edited by Bruno Bongiovanni, p. 100).
But, leaving aside the partisan reflection, there remains the other reflection, the critical one which, if conducted by the Marxists in an overwhelming majority, since they have now reached the distribution centers of official culture, cannot conceal Stirner’s substantial belonging to the extreme wing of the anti-bourgeois and proletarian struggle begun, precisely, by the Hegelian left.
Let us begin with Claudio Cesa: “Already the contemporaries – and it is enough to think of Marx of the Deutsche Ideologie, but also of B. Bauer and K. Fischer – had no doubt that Stirner’s ideas were rooted in the publicism of the Hegelian left. He is inextricably bound to this perspective, his persistent struggle against spectres and illusions and his concrete worldview of human struggles and suffering.” (The political ideas of Max Stirner, in Anarchists and anarchy in the contemporary world, in “Proceedings of the conference sponsored by the Fondazione Luigi Einaudi”, op. cit., p. 307). The issue of inclusion in the philosophical line-up of the Hegelian left is addressed at length by: W. Mönke, Über die Mitarbeit von M. Hess an der “Deutsche Ideologie“, in “Annali Feltrinelli”, Milan 1963, VI, p. 450. The connection with the world of work is treated by V. Roudine, Introduction to The One, tr. it., Milan 1922, pp. 18-21).
We continue with Arvon: “Stirner consecrates the decomposition of Hegelism. The unique and its property proves that dialectics has exhausted its possibilities. Having made all transcendences disappear, it now attaches itself under Stirner’s pen to what it considers up to the present as its own essence, to the “Spirit” itself. As for the young Hegelians, they take an even keener interest in this work, which, based on ideas that are their own, leads to an entirely new vision of the human condition. Passionate interest and all the more ardent because the certainty of the affinities that exist between their ideas and those of the author is exacerbated by the originality of the book that seems to defy any classification”. (Aux sources de l’existentialisme. Max Stirner, Paris 1954, pp. 2-3). Consideration that we consider quite central: the Hegelian dialectic finds its total resolution in the perspective of The Only One, after the disappearance of any transcendence, as well as any hierarchy, even that of a party.
We conclude with Bravo, quoting from another work of this scholar, where, regarding Stirner, he lets slip some statements more adherent to reality: “We consider here briefly Stirner, because he was really a precursor of Marx. If by precursor is meant a thinker whose ideas provided the occasion for a critical intervention by Marx and Engels for the subsequent construction of “scientific socialism” and the materialistic interpretation of history, then this was indeed Max Stirner. The German Ideology [1845-1846] represented its repudiation and its overcoming, in the division of a new way of “doing” politics and history, anchored to the socio-economic situation: but it did not constitute the rejection of its presence in the pre-1848 social world, but rather of its conceptions, typical expression of a class that, in the dynamism of accelerated industrialization, remained at the rear but of which Stirner intended to give a revolutionary interpretation. The significance of the work of Marx and Engels was to have denounced this fact, even though Stirner (especially Engels) received from Stirner his very strong and vehement charge of rejection of society and the state as they had been built, especially since the French Revolution”. (History of Socialism. 1789-1848, Rome 1971, pp. 326-327). In effect, the influence on Engels was great, but that on Marx, as we can see through The German Ideology, was very great. In this regard, in passing, we want to recall some points that are usually forgotten. The critique of the so-called “crude” communism and the in-depth investigation of the human personality are, for the first time, attempted by Marx in the controversy with Stirner; in a word, the Marxist problematic on man begins precisely from the opposition to Stirner and from the clarification that his extremely lucid position brought about in Marx. The concept of autonomy (Selbsttätigkeit) is enlarged by Marx with the inclusion of social-historical conditioning, precisely on the occasion of the above-mentioned controversy. (See C. Luporini, Introduction to The German Ideology, Rome 1971, p. LXXVIII).
Beyond any possible doubt, it remains for us proven that Stirner was a social thinker extremely consequential to the starting hypothesis and to the condition of philosophical environment that determined him to reflection. If it is not possible to speak with equal clarity about the validity of Stirner’s thought in relation to political praxis, and this for reasons that we will see later, in the context of the present research, it is possible, for the moment, to positively conclude the question posed at the beginning of this chapter: Stirner rightfully belongs to the current of thought that traditionally accepts him. Any attempt to make him a bourgeois irrationalist, a companion of a badly read Nietzsche or of a Schopenhauer, is an attempt to play the game of the historiography of power, academic servant of any kind of reaction. (Cf. G. Penzo, Max Stirner, op. cit. pp. 50 et seq.).
There is a precise existentialist interpretation of Stirner’s thought. Apart from Arvon, for whom this interpretation has been the occasion of a political deepening, as a rule it is a matter of research that starts from the comparison with Kierkegaard.
Arvon’s major work on Stirner, at least to date, stands as one of the most successful investigations. (Aux sources de l’existentialisme, op. cit). Arvon himself, in a letter dated May 1, 1972, had forewarned me of the publication of a monograph on Stirner that Seghers would publish in Paris in the series “Philosophes de tout les temps”. It was not possible for me to get further news about this book.
The aspect of existentialist research is confined to the initial premises and conclusions: the analysis is typically a social-political analysis, with the implications that an actuality of Stirner’s thought, or at least, a study done with a direct eye to the present and its political struggles, might have. Kierkegaard’s problem is taken in the last pages. He writes: “Stirner, it is known, constitutes the last link in the Hegelian chain; but he is, at the same time, the first link in another chain which, after remaining invisible for nearly a century, is now appearing in full light. Its true rebirth should have begun with that of Kierkegaard. The two philosophers, it is true, ignored each other; apparently an impassable ditch divides the atheist Stirner from the believer Kierkegaard. And in spite of this, what an astonishing encounter between the two. It is with the same dialectical vigor that they struggle against Hegel’s system; it is with the same violence that they refer to impersonal reason. Both of them start from the existential “I”, extending its field of action to infinity. Stirner brings the unique back to the consciousness of its property. Kierkegaard writes in the Post-scriptum that “it is forbidden for a man to forget that he exists”. Stirner extols the absolute character of uniqueness, Kierkegaard glorifies “absolute existence.” Sometimes their argumentation comes almost close to confusion.” (Ib., p. 177).
In the wake of Arvon, existentialist exegetes, emphasizing the possibility of uprooting the philosopher from the concrete political environment in which it is possible to place him, interpreting his intuitions in the light of current historical events, set to work. One of these, and among the most aggressive, is Penzo himself. He writes: “Stirner’s egoism reaches the most absurd solipsism and nihilism that the history of thought remembers, where human life seems to be reduced to a vegetative life and where the triumph of the ego basically means the triumph of nothingness. Stirner thus prepares the basic themes of the existential problematic. And only after understanding this basic theme, is it possible to understand the relationship between man and society; that is, in other words, it is possible to understand the existential dimension of Stirner’s ‘anarchism’ which can be summarized in the expression of existential revolt.” (Max Stirner, op. cit., pp. 352-353).
In its place, we will investigate with greater depth Stirner’s existential interpretation, examining historically all the contributions that have a specific meaning, then we will come back to Arvon and Penzo: here we wanted to bring back these two quotations to indicate the historiographical climate of a relationship that if it exists should be placed in a very different perspective, that is, in the sense of a difference between Stirner’s voluntarism and Kierkegaardian irrationalism, which then translates into the same possibility of a class political discourse and into the possibility of understanding many Stirnerian affirmations that try to explain a reality of class contrast, affirmations that otherwise would remain meaningless if relived only through the existential metaphysical nebula and, claiming a sense, could have only the one valid for the reaction.
This is the kind of concern that Lukács develops in his interpretation of the work of K. Löwith (From Hegel to Nietzsche). We quote it because it is very indicative of the problem that is also ours: “There [in Löwith’s book] an attempt is made for the first time in German bourgeois philosophical historiography to organically include in its development the dissolution of Hegelism and the philosophy of the young Marx. But it is already clear from the fact that Löwith makes this development culminate in Nietzsche, and certainly not in the sense of unmasking his tendencies, that he does not see the real problems of the period treated and when he comes across them he puts them decisively backwards. Since he sees the main direction simply in a departure from Hegel, his critics on the right and on the left, and, in particular, Kierkegaard and Marx, come to stand for him on the same plane: their contrast in all matters appears as a mere diversity of themes in an essentially uniform fundamental philosophical direction.” (The Destruction of Reason, op. cit., pp. 14-15).
Likewise, any uncritical juxtaposition of Stirner with Kierkegaard is deviant. The concept of eternity, relived in Kierkegaard through the heavy religious affair, is in relation to the concept of totality. Not for nothing, his problem, like Stirner’s, is also the struggle against the static nature of metahistory. The present is alienation and banality, therefore it is the negation of the time of history that captures, in itself and in its contradictions, the moment of eternity (totality).
Kierkegaard’s attack against Hegel is made in the name of the recovery of man against the danger of dispersion, against the leveling that individual existence undergoes in the historical world as interpreted by Hegelian philosophy (particularly in the Lineamenti di filosofia del diritto, or natural law and state science). He writes: “In order to regain eternity, blood will be necessary, but blood of another kind, not the blood of thousands of victims who died in battle. No, it will be the precious blood of individuals, of martyrs, of these mighty dead, who can accomplish what no living person could, even if he had slaughtered thousands of men: what even these mighty dead could not accomplish while alive, but are able to accomplish only once dead. They can reduce a mad crowd to obedience, precisely because this raging crowd has been able to kill in its disobedience the martyrs.” (Quoted by K. Löwith, Da Hegel a Nietzsche, op. cit., p. 191).
The particular has destroyed history, re-presenting the denial of a false eternity and a false totality, represented by the mad crowd. The leaders have destroyed the possibility of regeneration. Only the martyrs, the only ones who include within themselves the profound sense of totality and, for Kierkegaard, of eternity (whence the sign of death), will be able to overturn the relationship and point the way to the recomposition of the concrete, historical, worldly totality: the totality of the world.
It has been said that Kierkegaard “fights the totality in which the sense of singularity and unrepeatability is lost”. (L. Pareyson, Esistenza e persona, Turin 1950, p. 24). This does not seem accurate to us. The struggle for the individual is not a negation of totality (what sense would the concept of eternity have in Kierkegaard himself?) but is, on the contrary, the reaffirmation of totality, in the extreme rarefaction of its meanings, in singularity, with the simultaneous negation of every fictitious totality (parties, instruments of power and their correlated quantitative illusions).
Certainly, despair and anguish, the feeling condemned by sin and the profound detachment that the infinite assigns to the finite, with all the collateral consequences, typical of the great Manichaean struggle between good and evil, between the divine and the demonic, are in Kierkegaard dialectical moments of the relationship between individual and totality, between finite and infinite, and are – as has been noted – poetic moments of a great artist. They must not be understood in their literal sense, but in the broader reference to the complex themes that the clash with the problem of totality ends up bringing to light.
The great paradox of life, the genius of the demonic, the scandal of faith, are elements of deepening of those capacities of concentration that the individual welcomes in himself in reliving the aesthetic moment of totality, a moment that will constitute, for him, the step towards the clarification of relationships and contradictions, within the same totality, relationships and contradictions that are determining, for him, and, in turn, are determined by him.
We believe that the main value of Stirner’s work, what ensures its relevance within the anarchist theme, is the critique of authoritarian socialism, seen as a critique of authority. In a word, as we will demonstrate more fully in the course of this work, Stirner is the anti-authoritarian philosopher par excellence. To focus the research on the existential theme, playing on the misunderstanding between the terms “existence” and “man”, is a matter of academic exercise that cannot interest those who want to truly understand Stirner’s message, beyond school formulas or party crystallizations.
In fact, Arvon, who in 1951 presented a thesis on Stirner at the Sorbonne, a thesis that then came to light with we do not know what additions and modifications in the work Aux sources de l’existentialisme, a work that we have already mentioned and that dates back to 1954, wrote in 1951: “Stirner’s doctrine, which is extremely solid, so much so that it cannot be taken out of the magic circle of its purely consciential position, suffers a crushing failure when it is applied to the interpretation of historical facts. There is a distance, in fact, between the real sphere of historical truths and Stirner’s ideological construction where only the successive stages of the development of consciousness determine the progress of humanity.” (Une polémique inconnué. Max Stirner, in Les Temps Moderns, 1951, p. 517).
On the contrary, in a more recent work he writes: “This critique of authoritarian socialism, which keeps to the social aspect, seems much more limited than that of Bakunin, for example, which refers to the necessarily repressive character of the State and the bureaucracy which is its emanation. But it is, in truth deeper, in that it approaches and attaches the particular problem of social slavery to the general problem of human alienation. Stirner emphasizes the double revelation that the Hegelian dialectic has provided him with. This, in effect, makes all human progress depend on the phenomenon of objectification: the spirit can only become aware of itself by projecting itself into nature. But every objectification entails the danger of alienation: the spirit is encompassed by nature unless it realizes that nature emanates from itself and must therefore remain subordinate to it. Prisoner of the positivist activism of the nineteenth century, Marx had foreseen the suppression of all alienation within a classless society. Even before experience proved the utopian character of this statement, Max Stirner had insisted on the danger of permanent alienation that is always lurking for man whatever form the state and society will take. In order to secure himself from attack he should live in a brute and inaccessible solitude.” (L’actualité de la pensee de Max Stirner, op. cit., pp. 290-291).
As we can see, the existentialist position, which Arvon had assumed at the beginning, now appears to be more shifted towards an analysis in terms of class, an analysis that is certainly more important, at least for us, who do not study Stirner as a simple philosophical “case”, but as a thinker who was able to foresee, with great analytical penetration, the final outcome of a partial attempt at liberation.
In Sebastian Faure’s Anarchist Encyclopedia we read: “Stirner did not descend towards the people, like the Bakunin, the Kropotkin, the Tolstoi, for example. He was not a mass-producer like Proudhon with the prejudices of an average and generous bourgeois: he was not a scientist like Élisée Reclus, charged with the spirit of evangelical goodness; nor an aristocrat like Nietzsche; he was one of us. A man who never found himself in a profitable, secure position that would guarantee him an income. He had to practice different trades to survive. The glory that surrounds the famous proscribed, the militant revolutionaries or school leaders, was unknown to him. He had to muddle through as best he could, and in place of a certain consideration that the bourgeoisie, in spite of everything, gives to some revolutionaries, he received the blows with which it rages against individuals without a guarantee and without a position.” (The article is due to Emil Armand. It can be found on pages 2668-2669).
Immediately after the two years of fame, following the publication of the main work, during which he wrote the answers to the critics and some other writings of minor importance that we will see later, the silence begins. The solitary thinker, who remained closed in on himself even in the clamor of the beer hall frequented by the “Free” in the Fredrichstrasse (it is in this environment that he is caught in the famous sketch by Engels, made at Mackay’s request forty years later), is forever silent. Some like George Woodcock have caught in it the material impossibility of continuing to work given his financial and family situation. “But Stirner’s success was as ephemeral as almost all successes based on notoriety. Public interest quickly faded.” (Anarchy. History of libertarian ideas and movements , tr. it., Milan 1966, p. 85). It seems to me, on the contrary, that situation and those difficulties – including financial – were the result of a precise choice. After The Only One, and after the few things written to clarify some concepts of that book, Stirner remained silent forever. In this it is possible to see a very precise message.
As Feuerbach had theorized and “done”, with greater consequentiality, he places himself beyond the actual “constructible”, in order to elaborate a means of extreme criticism, a means that once put in place can no longer be expanded or perfected, but must only function. Of course, with this we do not want to say that Stirnerian construction is perfect or that it is the highest point of human thought: far from it. But we want to affirm, as Arvon rightly said, in the passage quoted before, that Stirner’s position constitutes the last link in the chain of the old Hegelian world, really the last one, while Marx and Marxism in general constitute only intermediate links that make, from time to time, the serious contradictions of the authoritarian and repressive society emerge. With his characteristic of being the last and consequent theorist of anti-Hegelianism, Stirner could not but remain silent. Even today, wanting to go beyond Stirner, on the road to the construction of the new man, many thinkers (Martin Buber, Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno, Ernst Bloch, Emmanuel Mounier and others) have found almost insurmountable difficulties. In any case, it is one of the most interesting roads of modern thought, as Marxism itself had to recognize, realizing the importance of the figure of Stirner for the methodological justification of dialectical materialism.
But the real problem with Stirner’s silence can be traced back to his intellectual suicide, to his progressive annihilation before the prospect of a revolutionary quantification he recognizes as partial and defective, or of an everyday trivialization he experiences as alienating and purposeless. “Precisely the most consequential critic will be hit the hardest by the curse of his principle. Shaking off from himself one exclusivism after another, shaking off clericalism, patriotism, etc., he dissolves one link after another and isolates himself from the clerical, the patriot, etc., until at last, after all the links have been blown off, he is left alone. He must necessarily exclude all those who have anything exclusive or private about them, and, in the end, what can be more exclusive than the same single, unique, exclusive person?” (U, p. 104).
Here: Stirner found himself alone. Unique in front of totality. The sudden enlightenment of the great capacity of condensation that this had in its enclosure in the uniqueness of the individual forced him to keep silent, to commit suicide by giving himself up to a slow death, to a fight against daily banality and against misery, to a heroic and unknown fight. Ludwig Wittgenstein will write almost a century later. “On that, of which one cannot speak, one must be silent.” (Tractatus logico-philosophicus , tr. it., Turin 1964, p. 82). But suicide is an event that is difficult to understand for the academic scholar who builds, piece by piece, his miserable sandcastle and gets sad when the slightest lapping of the wave crumbles it without meeting resistance. The terrible event, for the sociologist conservative of the destinies of the enlightened and exploitative minority, is always the breaking of the social bond, the absence of which would end up nullifying the very work of sociology, at least as it is understood even today by much of the scientific research in the field. The individual must disappear, absorbed by the social group, a group that is continually reconstituted and broken up in a constant relationship that guarantees the persistence of ties: family, friendships, work, study, leisure, all take place within this dimension. When the bond is broken and a situation of suffering arises, everything must be done to restore the previous situation in order to prevent the “loneliness” of the individual in front of himself.
Take, for example, the thesis advanced by James Hillman: “Once it is established that the individual is no longer capable of being governed by the reason-based laws of the social contract, his death no longer tears the fabric. He is no longer woven into the social structure; his words and actions are outside the social apparatus. To rational society, in a sense he is already dead.” (Il suicidio e l’anima , tr. it., Rome 1972, p. 23). Both religion and law participate in the crystallization of this concept. The State must be protected from any tendency to disintegrate, authority must be saved in its exercise, removing from the individual the “personal” loophole of suicide. The figure of Job, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, becomes the symbol of the endurance of suffering.
Some scholars, however, have asked themselves questions, if you want vague questions, to which they have not really tried to give a serious answer, but still questions. One of these was Jack D. Douglas: “To say that a suicidal action has a general dimension of meaning in the sense that there is something wrong with the situation of the subject at the time he performs the suicidal action is almost ridiculous. This is such a fundamental aspect of more or less all suicidal actions that it is difficult to take it seriously. But it is precisely this taking of the obvious for granted that, presumably, has led to the general inability to see the many implications of the fundamental meaning of suicidal actions. It is this reflexive dimension of the meanings of suicidal actions that makes suicidal actions themselves such effective social weapons.” (The Social Meanings of Suicide, Princeton 1967, p. 275).
In other words, the suicide is a precise actor, intending to show “something” to others, but at the same time he is a defendant before the court constituted by the inescapable (or almost) situation of social disintegration that leads him to find that “something” he intends to show: that is, how little life is worth living.
For Stirner, the choice of silence as suicide is an existential choice, it is consciousness of the exhaustion of philosophical possibilities. Afterwards, beyond interpretation, there would have been the transformation, the overturning of the world. But this transformation would have required the overcoming of a barrier, the acceptance of the quantitative fallback (conspirator or propagandist, killer of men or idols). Stirner prefers silence, an open declaration of philosophy’s impotence, a concrete attack on the system of fixed rules and rigid deductions. The sense of totality is the great revolutionary capacity of the solitary thinker, but it is also the iron circle that clutches his throat. In Kierkegaard this sense is called “despair”.
Kierkegaard writes: “The torment of despair is precisely not being able to die. Therefore it resembles more the state of the dying man when he twists in the struggle with death and cannot die, but not as if there were hope of life; on the contrary, the absence of all hope means here that there is not even the last hope, that of death. When the greatest danger is death, one hopes for life; but when one knows the still more terrible danger, one hopes for death. When the danger is so great that death has become the hope, despair is the absence of the hope of being able to die.” (The Mortal Sickness , tr. it., Milan 1952, pp. 9-10).
Here is Stirner’s situation: a contradiction that is a disease of the old ego, the one of the long story that from Fichte leads to Hegel, a deadly disease, but which is not resolved in death, because that ego cannot die death. Dying, committing suicide, means that everything is over, that the contradictory process of totality has been resolved unilaterally by decision of the individual, but this decision stops and distorts that process, ending up by pushing it back into the domain of banality, alienation and fear. Suicides are, almost never, courageous. But why, those who allow themselves to live perhaps are?
“Owner of my power is myself, and I am so in the moment that I know I am unique. In the unique, the owner himself re-enters his creative nothingness, from which he was born. Every being superior to myself, whether God or man, weakens the feeling of my uniqueness and pales as soon as the sun shines on this awareness of mine. If I base my cause on myself, the only one, it rests on the ephemeral, mortal self-creator who consumes himself, and I can say: I have founded my cause on nothing”. (U, p. 270).
Yet the internal process, if you want metaphysical, of the philosophical gesture that struggles for the liberation of itself, through the reflection of the thinker, reduced – this time – to the instrument of the primordial gesture, of the word, of the dream, this process, cannot do without possessing a content, and a content that is the same as that of historical knowledge, the same as that of the class of the exploited. Its communication, of this content, will be linked to the struggle of necessity against prevarication, it will be a manifestation of the revolutionary consciousness that reproposes the temporal coexistence of totality, above contradictions and meanings.
Let’s address the problem of communication. Why did Stirner “let himself go”? The first answer is that he decided to let himself go, to reject an externalized model of life that others were accepting, even though they were expressing sharp criticism of the dominant reality. But Stirner wants to “do” something more, he wants to commit suicide. But he doesn’t want to do it in the usual way. He first wants to commit suicide as a philosopher. He wants this suicide to be “real”, i.e. concrete, and not just a simple theorization of the necessity of suicide or of its inevitability, once the line separating awareness from the ebetic acceptance of power has been crossed. He wants this last, most complete theory of his to serve as a necessary complement to The One.
To understand this, it is helpful to examine the research that has been conducted on the motivational processes of suicide. The first thing that has been noted is that the suicidal person attaches great importance to communication. Of course, it is not possible to say that he intends to commit suicide precisely in order to communicate something, but it is certainly possible that he manages to see suicide itself as communication, the simple act of depriving others of his presence, definitively, as a complex discourse, profoundly real, the most real discourse it is possible to make in the nebulous world stifled by ideologies.
“That so much importance is attached to what others think of us is due to the fact that we can only realize our worth in the presence of the opinion of others, since what we call our worth may ultimately consist only in services (emotional or practical) rendered to others. Our value consists in what we are worth to others and in the eyes of others – at which, ultimately, all our personal and practical achievements aim.” (Margarethe von Andics, Suicide and the Meaning of Life, London-Washington 1947, p. 94).
This interpretation of Andics is significant of the “liberal” way of looking at the problem. In fact, in the concept of suicide communication we need to see two quite distinct things, although they often remain wrapped closely together: what the suicide wants to “prove” to himself-and, to do so, has no choice but to prove it to others-and what the communication implicitly contains that relates to the suicide’s experience of death in common with others.
In Stirner’s choice we must therefore consider, on the one hand, his personal decision to struggle to realize himself in the destruction of another, externally conditioned self, even beyond the philosophical envelope of Hegelianism; on the other hand, what this struggle intrinsically means for everyone else: the theoretical message it contains, the sense of the experience of death that it manages to convey to us, the relationship between this sense and that other, that of the so-called alienated life that we are used to enduring in the capitalist dimension, a relationship full of consequences, such as precisely that of the contrast between theory and practice. Communication has a precise meaning, which we can say is content-related, but it also has a point of reference external to itself as communication, and that is the experience of death. It is this experience that gives the suicide’s communication a deeper meaning, because others feel deep down that the person who “speaks” has touched a very delicate key, the key of the threshold, beyond which life itself no longer makes sense. In fact, the whole of life is nothing more than an approach to death, a preparation for death. But a conscious action in the real dimension of life, which is then that of the class struggle, transforms this temporal approach to death into a real escape from time, into an overcoming of the physical bottleneck that has become solidified in the reality of capital. Only in this way, indeed, is there no incompatibility between death and life. The revolutionary seeks life and joy, but he also knows how to face death, when this is indispensable to escape the suffocation of a death that everyone passes off as life.
Because we almost always remain victims of the capitalist ideological process, we do not understand other ways of living than those of consumption and alienation. We die without learning how to die, just as we have never learned how to live, we fall victim to countless prejudices that make us consider the conscious path to death as something deplorable and condemnable. By acting in this way we reject the suicide out of hand, we expose him in front of the temple to be stoned, but by doing so we cannot avoid picking up his message. We understand this message well because it speaks the language of our daily problem of approaching death.
Hillmann again writes: “Without fear, without the prejudices of pre-established positions, without a pathological tendency, suicide becomes ‘natural’. It is natural in that it is a possibility of our nature, a choice open to every human psyche. The analyst’s interest is less in the suicidal choice as such, but rather in helping the other person to understand the meaning of this choice, the only one that directly requires the experience of death. An essential meaning of the choice is the importance of death to individuality. The possibilities for suicide increase as individuality develops. This is recognized by sociology and theology. Where man is a law unto himself, responsible to himself for his actions, the choice of death becomes a more frequent alternative. In this choice of death, of course, lies hidden the opposite. Until we can choose death, we cannot choose life. As long as we cannot say no to life, we have not even really said yes to it, but have been carried along by its collective current. The individual who stands against this current experiences death as the first of all alternatives, for he who goes against the current of life opposes it and has become identified with death. The experience of death, finally, is necessary in order to be able to separate oneself from the collective flow of life and discover individuality.” (Suicide and the Soul, op. cit., pp. 48-49).
This interesting analysis is developed around the central theme of the contemporary experience of the suicide’s death and the recipients of its communication. But, in our opinion, here the relationship is strangely placed in an absolute way in the existential dimension. Thus, everything ends up becoming inauthentic, since the historical reality that rightly gives meaning to the perspective of the individual relationship is missing. Progress disappears in a pure relativism, reality becomes an advance towards nothingness, every truly objective knowledge ends up being possible. The experience of death is one of the aspects of reality; it occurs not through man’s soliloquy with himself, but through the encounter with the interests of the other, with the framework of delimitation of these interests, through the encounter that these interests can gather in groups and in classes, whence the concept of progress as history and history as the history of class struggle. In this way, between the quantitative dialectic of historical knowledge and the qualitative dialectic of the essential, “existential,” infinitely interested human attitude, a gulf much deeper than objective methodological limitations has been opened. It is the abyss that divides theory and praxis, history and ethics.
In fact, every personality, and therefore also that of the suicide, is the bearer of a well-developed individuality, but one that fits into a socially determined perspective, an activity that has social effects. In a purely idealistic psychological position, such as that based on the experience of death in the sense seen above in Hillman’s passage, any form of materialistic construction is rejected, such as that which starts from the consideration of the contradictory relationship implicit in the construction of the personality. In this type of consideration the psychological act is ignored, or reduced to the rarefied existential exponent (i.e. the pure fact of suicide), so that the activity itself (which must have preceded the act of suicide itself) disappears.
In contrast, Hillman insists, “Death can be experienced as a state of being, an existential condition. The experience of death cannot be forced into a logical definition of death. What gives Heidegger – this non-psychological man – his influence on psychology is a crucial insight. He confirms Freud by placing death at the center of existence.” (Ib., p. 46).
The deep consciousness of death and silence constitute, therefore, the content of Stirner’s last message. His attack on the idealist construction had been too axiomatic to reveal those hesitations that ended up lying under the blanket of statements, deceiving the superficial or interested reader.
Stirner’s most important work is something that comes “after” The One, which is readable in its silence. Nothing, in this way, appears decisive to us in the declaration of the positioning of one’s own cause on the nientification of divine and human causes, the accusation fails to become a positive foundation of a positioning within the totality and, therefore, reveals itself for what it is: a critique of onto-theology, a contempt for Kantian imperatives of any form, a suspicion for Marxist imperatives of any color. From Stirner, and from his silence, we learn that ethical narrowness produces death, that of the real dying of the spirit, of dullness and alienation, that other death, that of the suicide who tries to die death, is a barrier against our weakness, a recognition of it and a surmounting of it.
“As the owner of my thoughts I will certainly protect them with the shield, since they are my property, just as, as the owner of things, I do not allow everyone to lay their hands on them quietly; but at the same time I will assist smiling at the outcome of the battle, I will cover with the shield, always smiling, the corpses of my thoughts and of my faith and, even defeated, I will smile in my triumph. This is precisely the humorous aspect of the thing. All those who have ‘sublime feelings’ know how to give free rein to their humor with regard to the pettiness of men, but to let one’s humor play with all the ‘great thoughts, sublime feelings, noble enthusiasms and holy faiths’ presupposes that I own everything”. (U, p. 265).
What comment to add? What consideration? How the easy critics of Stirner should reflect on this kind of statement. Those who wanted to see the destroyer of the worlds, armed with sophistic logic, will be disappointed, those who wanted to see the desecrator of the Hegelian temple will be disappointed, as well as all the apologetic interpreters and superficial readers. Having crumbled the metaphysical castle, what to do with the place of the metaphysical weapon? It is necessary to throw away the shield. One realizes, then, that the shield was made of papier-mâché and that if it was able to stop the arrows, it was because these arrows were entirely imaginary. A real arrow, sharp and made of steel, would have pierced that shield like nothing else. It is the discovery that shield and arrows were nothing but the last reflections of ideological illusion. Stirner, having concluded his philosophical itinerary, alone, without any Sancho to spur him on with his calm bourgeois wisdom, finds the pride of the definitive solution, the one that, overcoming the ideological barrier, places the clash in the heart of reality: the uselessness of the world of attitudes and smiles, of swearing and grimaces. The vast scope of the aesthetic dimension, the dimension of irony and smiling, is born. Having discovered the adversary’s weak point, it is no longer worth fighting a struggle that had never existed. But the arrest of that struggle means its continuation at another level: having overcome the apparent, spectacular contradiction, one enters the real contradiction: that of capital. Only here the instruments of metaphysics are no longer valid. Another theoretical tool is needed: the transformation of reality. And Stirner, consistent with himself, identifies this tool in silence and suicide.
In those same years, another great soul of anarchist revolutionary was struggling with the same problem. He lived that problem and, in living it, developed it also from the theoretical point of view. Suicide Stirner, suicide Ernest Cœurderoy. Here are some passages from Jours d’Exil [1854-1855], the French anarchist’s most extensive and significant work.
“No, man’s destiny on earth is not that of the beast that is led to labor. And the philanthropists who show him on the horizon slimmed bodies, desperate souls, gallows and torture, apostles of Duty and Sacrifice, cannot even be heard by the simplest. Happiness is the goal towards which all beings head, when they listen to the great voice of nature. There are two wings to reach it: Hope and Freedom. And if it is thought impossible to attain it in this existence, the attempts of philosophers to keep it from dying are of no avail. – I affirm on my soul, Suicide will decimate men until they have found the way that leads to Happiness…. I will commit suicide because I am convinced that I will live again. – And the future life in which I believe is not the exasperating mirage with which all religions fascinate trembling spirits. The free man, God of the future, will be handsome, robust, intelligent, good and happy. There will always be pain in humanity, I agree, but it will no longer be imposed from one class to another. This guilty pain, true original sin, will disappear thanks to the science of justice and harmony, because it comes from ignorance, discord and iniquity. Faith in this future life is my strength, the counterpart of weakness, the secret of cold blood before Suicide. To divert me from suicide, do not tell me that I must fulfill a mission, that of living, that I must do it to the end. Because to have such a burden is to be condemned, obliged, enslaved. Because I only do what I like, except in cases of force majeure, and I have, at least, for consolation in this life, the certainty of being able to get rid of it when I judge it useful.” (Jours d’exil, vol. III, Paris 1911, pp. 27-28). [Of this beautiful book, with the title The Days of Exile, I have translated only the first volume: Editions Anarchism 1977. The second and third volumes are still being translated].
The situation is emblematic. The struggle, in which the author had lavished his best energies, had ended in great failure. Never had the Seine carried such a large number of corpses, not even during the days of the Great Revolution. The disillusionment with the vanity of quantitative effort, for Cœurderoy, is solidified in the recourse to the general movement of spirits, in a sphere that appears to be detached from factual reality and entrusted to the aesthetic sense of the beautiful and the sublime. Obviously, romantic and mechanistic presences deform the message, but this does not prevent a deep sense of the drama of man torn apart by the revolutionary experience, in the face of which he often finds himself unprepared and powerless. So, he finds refuge in the illusion of the conspiracy, of the closed nucleus that pretends to reproduce the revolution in its entirety, in the microcosm of his own reality of struggle, or – which does the same thing – he relies on the long run, on a race towards progressive educationism and evolutionism, which ensure that he can transform the world. Beyond its drama, however, the anarchist movement of reality, the movement of the exploited, is delineated in a precise level of confrontation, a level of struggle that remains isolated and extraneous, unapproachable if it is grasped through the moment of contradictory partiality, of quantitative approximation. And this leap can also be seen as achievable through suicide, of one’s own physical world, through silence, through denial: how many militants, even in recent years, have ended up concluding for nothingness and the suspension of judgment, letting themselves drift, often finalizing this drift with subjective and objective “suspensions”?
In this sense Antonin Artaud wrote: “If I commit suicide, it will not be to destroy myself, but to put myself back together again. Suicide will be for me only a means to reconquer myself with violence, to brutally invade my being, to anticipate the unpredictable approach of God. With suicide I reintroduce my purpose into nature, I give things the form of my will for the first time. I free myself from the conditioned reflexes of my organs that are so poorly attuned to my inner self, and life is no longer for me an absurd accident whereby I think what I am told to think. But now I choose my thinking and the direction of my faculties, my tendencies, my reality. I place myself between the wonderful and the horrendous, the good and the bad. I suspend myself, without innate propensities, neutral, in the state of equilibrium, between good and bad stresses.” (Quoted by Alfred Alvarez, Il dio selvaggio , tr. it., Milan 1975, pp. 131-132).
A similar discourse, under a different tone, is found in the last entries of Cesare Pavese’s diary: “The most secretly feared thing always happens…. All it takes is a little courage. The more determined and precise the pain, the more the instinct of life struggles, and the idea of suicide falls. It seemed easy to think about. Yet weasels have done it. It takes humility, not pride. All of this sucks. Not words. I won’t write anymore.” (Quoted as above, p. 265).
The incapacity of thought and abstraction, sharpened in the artistic fact, transpires with all clarity. On the one hand, the disinterest for everything that becomes accurate and faded repetition, uselessness of formulas and interpretations, on the other hand, the difficulty of identifying a glimmer for action, for the transformation of the world. Even in transformation, it is easy to “agree”, to silence one’s false conscience, to throw oneself dead weight into “doing”, to stop asking oneself something about the sense of one’s own doing. But not everyone accepts this compromise. Action must get inside things, and these things – beyond the ideological screen – find a revolutionary sense in the level of the class clash: the real one, present, in progress, and not the other one, the fantastic one that a prearranged dialectical methodology intends to impose. And Stirner, while remaining a product of his time, a thinker linked to the dimension of the controversy against the prevailing Hegelism, manages to grasp the sense of this problem. His analytical ability allows him to see the logical development of certain premises which, on the surface, spoke in the name of freedom, implying that the freedom of society would be obtained in one with the freedom of the individual, however postponing this last aspect indefinitely and considering it secondary to the main problem. This is why Stirner is silent. After The One, on that road, there is only emptiness. It is no longer possible to “interpret”, one must transform. The lone thinker went too far, destroying, perhaps for the first time, in a definitive way, any kind of transcendence and indicating that all that was being constructed in this way in place of the old transcendences of the past, located in the afterlife, was always transcendence, always authority and domination, always exploitation of the individual, even when it took on the alluring aspect of the construction of freedom and equality, of the construction of the new society, the society that abolished God. Robespierre and Saint Just, Stirner says very pointedly, are always priests.
The only one is divided into two parts: a first: “Man”, a second: “I”. The division is influenced by the one implemented by Ludwig Feuerbach in Essence of Christianity , between the first part dedicated to the “true essence” and the second part dedicated to the “untrue essence”, i.e. the anthropological essence opposed to the theological essence of religion.
In this way, Feuerbach’s theological God is contrasted with man and Feuerbach’s man with Stirner’s ego. One understands here the importance that the work of the great anthropological interpreter of religion had for Stirner.
In the first part Stirner demonstrates that all the powers that have always gripped man have arisen from “nothingness”, in the second part he lays the foundations of a new universe, that of the one.
God, Humanity and Spirit have always forced man under their empire, but today man realizes that those ghosts were nothing more than the product of his own activity and, therefore, he brings them back into his domain, he takes them back into his hands: from this moment on, the ego will dispose of them at will.
The first part, going into its divisions, is devoted to the critique of humanism. It is a true ideological history that Stirner makes. A first chapter is entitled “A Life of Man,” the second “Men of Ancient and Modern Times.” In them is developed the history of the three eras of man: realism, idealism and egoism. Humanism develops in the era of idealism: its starting point is the spirit. The central point of the criticism of the “moderns” is developed on the theme of the spirit: the various paragraphs are entitled: “The Spirit”, “The Obsessed”, “Ghosts”, “Fixations”, “The Hierarchy”. It is the turn, finally, of an ironic chapter, entitled “The Free”, which includes three treatments of liberalism: 1) Political liberalism, 2) Social liberalism, 3) Humanitarian liberalism. Here is addressed the problem that will allow us to understand how even the most modern expressions of liberalism are nothing more than creations of the spirit, in the most deleterious sense of the term, that is, they fall, in the same way, under the domain of idealism.
The second part, entitled, as we have said, “I”, includes three chapters: “The individuality proper”, “The individual owner”, “The unique”. The speech is made in contrast to the first part. The chapter “The own individuality” is opposed to the first and second chapter of the first part, dedicated to the spirit, the chapter “The individual owner”, includes three parts: 1) “My power”, 2) “My relationships”, 3) “My enjoyment of myself”, and carries out the discourse of re-appropriation. My Power takes back what was taken from political liberalism, My Relations stands in relation to socialist liberalism, My Enjoyment of Myself stands in relation to humanitarian liberalism.
The last chapter of Part Two, “The Unique,” is the closing of the circle begun with “A Man’s Life.” The egoist recognizes himself as such and identifies, in the recognition of a power foreign to him, not only a diminution of his uniqueness – as Henri Arvon has indicated (Aux sources de l’existentialisme. Max Stirner, Paris 1954, p. 48) – but a precise elimination of uniqueness, a leveling that can save the “community” or “society”, but that does not save the individual and, by not saving the individual, ends up killing the very vitality of society, destining it to tyranny. “It was always believed that I had to be given a destination outside of myself, so that in the end it was demanded that I claim the human because – I am human. This is the magic circle of Christianity. Fichte’s “I” is also the same essence outside of me, because “I” is each one, and if it is only this “I” that has rights, it is “the I”, it is not me. But I am not an I next to other I’s, but the exclusive I: I am unique. Therefore my needs are unique and so are my actions, in short, everything about me is unique. And I appropriate everything only insofar as I am this unique I, just as I act and develop only insofar as I am such: I do not develop myself as man and I do not develop man, but, insofar as I am I, I develop – myself. This is the meaning of the – unique self.” (U, p. 267).
Let us now briefly trace an indication of the fortune of this book, a discourse which, if repeated for the Minor Writings, where it obviously has a different importance, will lead us to possess the valid scheme for interpreting the concrete meaning of Stirner’s work, in its complex generation of concrete consequences.
The analysis of fortune is, as we said in the first chapter, a militant intervention in the process of “using” the texts, a constant reference to something that comes later, a project for the future. Otherwise, the re-presentation of the crystallized becomes an occasion of death, an affirmation of the perfectly concluded event. Every care must be taken to avoid enclosing the “classic” in a formula and then swearing by it, although the problem of the meaning of history must be solved or, at least, courageously addressed.
Regarding a similar issue, I wrote in 1976: “There is no doubt that history must be considered as an unfolding, and therefore brought back into a perspective that we can define as ‘progress’. To cut this perspective means to fall back into history divided into two distinct parts: on one side the good guys and on the other the bad guys, a dichotomous vision that would end up forcing us to a necessary alliance with the PCI – let’s say – in the name of the common fight we carry out against reaction. But, if history is an unfolding, and it is not, as the idealist masters taught, an unfolding of the absolute spirit, it is an unfolding of man and his relations with his peers in different realities, which are then the only things that unfold, history being a rather generic name to indicate the whole of human relations. And this unfolding is also a slow maturation, an encounter with problems and a struggle to solve them, an attack on power and coming out of it perhaps defeated but certain of having taken a step forward, an acceptance of small advances – even if not exactly revolutionary – because they too enter into the gigantic game of those relationships that lead man to liberation, a story of advances and returns, of victories and defeats. It is not, therefore, a sure confrontation between two contenders with well-defined camps, who look each other in the eye and know where to strike, but the block of the exploited who attack that of the exploiters and, in the middle of the fray, the subtle game of the latter who use a part of the former by hiring them and throwing them into the fight against their brothers, while the rest are welcomed, with a thousand misunderstandings, within a game of consent and acquiescence. And if the policeman with his machine gun guards the wealth of the bank, the other proletarian, the one who buys the car on installments, increases that wealth and, in the inability to clearly identify his enemy, often ends up serving the interests of the exploiters. This does not mean that in history there can be moments in which the interests of the exploited collide with those of the exploiters, it only means that the immense mass of facts that we call history is constantly a problem to be deciphered, because in it nothing is clear, nothing takes on the aspect of clear-cut opposition. This is why we believe it is necessary to continuously reconstruct the experiences of the past, enlightening them, which is even more interesting for us, with the reflections of the anti-authoritarian revolutionaries who lived those experiences and tried to understand them”. (A. M. Bonanno [Editorial staff of “Anarchism”], Di Bakunin si muore, in “Umanità Nova”, n. 40, November 7, 1976, pp. 6-7).
At the present state of research, the fortunes of The One can be divided, roughly, into four periods.
In 1845, the release of the book marks the moment of the maximum dissolution of Hegelism. The procedure with which Stirner demonstrates that all transcendences are as many alienations of man is radical and indicates the very possibility of getting rid of the concept of “essence” which, even transported into the world of man, ends up assuming the corporeal meaning of transcendence and therefore alienation. The young Karl Marx will undergo the influences of this critical perspective, especially in the elaboration of the philosophy of action, as appears from the Theses on Feuerbach . (See H. Arvon, L’actualité de la pensée di M. Stirner, in Anarchists and anarchy in the contemporary world, “Proceedings of the conference sponsored by the Fondazione Luigi Einaudi”, Turin 5-6-7 December 1969, Turin 1971, p. 285).
We saw earlier the presence of the three reviews of 1845, but it is even more significant, in our opinion, to follow the decisive influence Stirner had – recognized or not – on other thinkers.
To the criticism of Kuno Fischer who wanted to derive Stirner’s philosophy from Bruno Bauer’s self-consciousness, Stirner can answer: “Stirner’s book was already finished before Bruno Bauer had turned his back on his theological criticism as a dead thing, and Bauer’s proclamation of “absolute criticism” in the “General Journal of Literature” is mentioned by Stirner only in an appendix which does not necessarily belong to the whole work. Feuerbach’s “humanism,” which took universal value in the German communists and socialists, was much nearer to realization, and realization would have brought out quite clearly the inhumanity of humanism, the contradiction lying in the system. So did Stirner turn his greatest diligence to the struggle against 1 humanism? Feuerbach in Wigand’s Quarterly Review, year 1845, vol. III, answered Stirner, and Stirner replied to this answer. Of all this Kuno Fischer seems to know nothing and nothing to know, or else he would have saved himself the trouble of making….” (SM, pp. 398-399. Fischer’s critique came out in Moderne Sophisien, in “Leipziger Revue. Zeitschrift für Literatur, Kunst und Leben,” 2-4, 6-7, 1847).
In this way a chronology of The Only One is pointed out, which would indicate a reading of Bauer and a certain influence on him. It is not without significance the final duet, the “Closing of the Council of Leipzig” of the German Ideology [1845-1846]: “St. Bruno: Max Stirner is the leader and the leader of the crusaders (against criticism), at the same time he is the best and the most valiant of all the fighters”, and further on: “St. Bruno: In front of the unique and its property succumbs the political liberal who wants to break the selfish will, and the social liberal who wants to destroy property. They succumb under the critical (i.e., stolen from criticism) knife of the one.” K. Marx, F. Engels, The German Ideology [1845-1846], tr. it., Rome 1871, p. 443).
Another noteworthy piece of critical writing from this period is that of Moses Hess, who, despite some of the more polemical points – if one can say so – of St. Max himself, ends up reproaching Stirner for the same thing as Marx and Engels: the fact that he is still essentially an idealist philosopher and that he is against humanism but is unable to overcome it because the contrast between human and divine, from the moment of Christianity onwards, is practically insuperable. (See M. Hess, Die letzten Philosophen, Darmstadt 1845).
We come, now, to the second moment in the history of Stirner’s fortune, the moment of rebirth. After about fifty years, when bourgeois irrationalism in philosophy was in its culminating phase, while in the political and social dimension the individualistic-bourgeois illusions were taking on more and more consistency, Stirner, behind the myth of Nietzsche, came back into fashion. This is the era of a hasty and indigestible reading: the anti-progressive, anti-egalitarian, racist, bourgeois reading. In short, it is the era of right-wing reading.
This is not the place to deal with a comparison between Stirner and Friedrich Nietzsche. Not because the possibilities of reading the latter have been definitively exhausted in the antidemocratic, aristocratic, bourgeois and racist perspective: quite the contrary. The reading of Nietzsche is still open. In front of the conception of the Superman, one can place its opposite. The Superman is not only the blond beast, but also the hero who seeks happiness and pain that ennoble. In front of the war, considered as a regenerative force of civilization, there is the evaluation of war as a necessary affair of the state, as the slavery of society, an affair that makes the winner stupid and the vanquished malicious. In front of the nationalist spirit, there are the arrows against nationalism, especially the German one: “The German spirit comes out of clogged guts”. His critique of socialism, for example, as it has been summarized by Francesco Orestano, (Le idee fondamentali di F. Nietzsche nel loro progressivo svolgimento, Palermo 1903), has many premonitory cues of a tragic situation that even today  is experienced in countries under the Stalinist dictatorship. But we limit ourselves to these brief hints, referring, for some other considerations, to Camillo Berneri’s study on the subject. (F. Nietzsche and Anarchism  in Interpretations of Contemporaries, Pistoia 1972, pp. 64 and ff).
Yet a parallel between Stirner and Nietzsche does not hold. It has fascinated many people but, every time it has been attempted, it has failed. There have been those who have even investigated the list of books borrowed by Nietzsche in Basel, over a period of ten years, to try reading The Only One or some other book that took up the Stirnerian theme. If it is true, as has been ascertained, Nietzsche’s suggestion to one of his disciples about reading The Only One, there are no reasons to believe that he read it. However, as often happens, there has been no lack of theorists of this parallel and even today there is no lack. They study the comparison starting from Nietzsche’s irrationalism, but without giving to this philosophical dimension a derogatory meaning. On the contrary, they find there room for an existential openness – fashionable some twenty years ago . It is not for nothing that Martin Heidegger published [Pfullingen 1961] a work in two volumes on Nietzsche. (Italian translation: Milano 1994).
There remain those who consider Nietzsche, openly, as an irrationalist reactionary, indeed, as the founder of contemporary German reactionary thought, one of the theoretical architects who paved the way for the red-hot climate of Hitler’s advent. These people, let’s say the more or less orthodox Marxists, from our own Marxists (who in recent times have had strong stomach pains) to György Lukàcs, condemn Nietzsche without having read him and reaffirm the parallel with Stirner in order to have the convenience of condemning the latter as well without taking the trouble to go deeper into the subject, which would then mean not so much to deal with a philosopher uncomfortable for his insights – rather marginal issue from the point of view of political practice – as to deal with the criticism of the left and in particular with anarchism.
What remains is the interpretation of those who study Stirner and evaluate some themes close to those of Nietzsche’s voluntarism, without pronouncing condemnations to the right or to the left and without enclosing Nietzsche in the intellectual ghetto of bourgeois irrationalism, avoiding, however, to raise altars or praise his victory over contemporary thought. This is the direction Arvon has taken, at least in his last interventions on Stirner, and it seems to us a quite interesting way to get out of a closed circle that intends to make forced and useless comparisons.
In the first interpretative model fall the works of Ettore Zoccoli (F. Nietzsche, Modena 1898), Matteo Johannes Paul Lucchesi, (M. Stirner als logischer, socialer un ethischer Anarchist. Ein Nietzsche vor Nietzsche, in “Jahresbericht der Lausitzer Prediget-Gesellschaft su Leipzig”, Leipzig 1900, pp. 3-20), Max Messer, (Max Stirner, Berlin 1907) and Moritz Kronenberg, (Max Stirner, in Moderne Philosophen. Portraits und Charakteristiken, München 1899, pp. 181-213).
In the second model: Albert Camus, (The man in revolt , tr. it., Milan 1962, pp. 78 et seq.), G. Lukács, (The destruction of reason , tr. it., Turin 1959, pp. 308 et seq.) and others such as Gian Mario Bravo (Introduction to The Anarchists, vol. I, Turin 1971, pp. 9-74).
In the third model, within certain limits, Robert Schellwien (Max Stirner und Friedrich Nietzsche. Erscheinungen des modernen Geistes, und das Wesen des Menschen, Leipzig 1892), with other limits Paolo Orano (Max Stirner in Italia. L’unicismo, in “Rivista di Filosofia e Scienze affini”, 5-6, Bologna 1903, pp. 348-373) and the varied anarchist literature on Stirner of the early twentieth century. On this subject there is a large bibliography but of little value. A recent and quite interesting work is that of John P. Clark, Max Stirner’s Egoism, London 1976, published by the editors of “Freedom”. The author tries to clarify some elements of Stirner’s ethical-aesthetic reflection, helping to eliminate several commonplaces about Stirner’s egoism. More philosophical is another recent work: Ronald W. K. Paterson, The Nihilistic Egoist: Max Stirner, Oxford 1971, which develops other considerations on the aesthetic problematic. The limitations of Oran and Schellwien are caused by the fact that they consider the obvious influence on the anarchist movement of Stirner’s thought as a catastrophic fact, to say the least. On the other hand, one must think that the facts “like” Bresci, at least for Oran, were very recent stuff.
Insisting on the Stirner-Nietzsche relationship in an uncritical way – both in the strictly reactionary-bourgeois sense and in the authoritarian-Marxist sense – pushes these two philosophers against each other, drowning what is interesting in their work and preventing a critical reading.
Perhaps André Gide, in spite of his strange ideological position, understood the problem better than many others, as Arvon noted: “Father of a Lafcadio who throws a harmless old man off a moving train for the sole purpose of reaffirming his freedom, Gide turns all his preference to Nietzsche’s Superman who is master insofar as the others are slaves; he despises the Stirnerian uniqueness that is in the heart of each of us. Rather than bringing them together, it is therefore appropriate, according to Gide, to oppose them. On the other hand, this is evident in itself: Nietzsche exalts the master at the expense of the slave, Stirner elevates the slave to the dignity of master”. (L’actualité de la pensée de M. Stirner, op. cit., p. 286).
The third Stirnerian revival, the one that followed immediately after the Second World War, became evident in France around 1948. This is how Arvon describes this climate and the reasons that led him to Stirner: “I would like to specify the personal reasons that led me then to this much discredited philosophy. The painful experience of inhuman totalitarianism made us ardently desire a revaluation of the human person, whereby particularity, far from being a defect capable of justifying physical extermination, was to be considered as the surest premise of human dignity. Emmanuel Mounier and Martin Buber led me into this privileged domain where I could find the health of the personality and its safeguard against the indistinct and repressive mass personified yesterday by Hitler, today by the sprawling bureaucracy, tomorrow perhaps by an omnipotent technique. Now, both the one and the other, imbued with a religious spirit and despite this had not hesitated to proclaim the deeply human value of anarchism: if Emmanuel Mounier was primarily interested in Mikhail Bakunin, Martin Buber turned to the uniqueness of Max Stirner. Being German, and it may also be as a consequence of my petit-bourgeois origin, I preferred a revolution of conscience to political activity. But this reflection, it must be said, I did not make until after reading Helius’s book, which groups all Stirners in this social class.” (Ib., p. 10).
In fact, to start from after the Second World War this new interest in Stirner, is not chronologically accurate. In-depth research began as early as 1936. That of Kurt Adolf Mautz (Die Philosophie Max Stirners im Gegensatz zum Hegelschen Idealismus, Berlin 1936) is, from a strictly philosophical point of view, one of the best. Also in 1936 there are hints on Stirner in a study of Franco Lombardi (Kierkeguard, Florence 1936), while, in the same year, the excellent work of Buber (Die Frage nach dam Einzelnen, Berlin 1936), reprinted several times until 1962 (München).
In 1937 we have the work of Wilhelm Cuypers (Max Stirner als Philosophe, Köln 1937), once again set up as almost exclusively philosophical research. Then, in 1941, Karl Löwith’s book: The Hegelian Left. Selected texts, tr. it., Bari 1960.
Other notable contributions are lacking until 1951. The work A. Borelli (L’individualismo assoluto di Max Stirner e la negazione dello Stato, Firenze 1942), although considered worthy of note by Giorgio Penzo (Max Stirner, Torino 1971, pp. 62 ff.), does not seem to be of much value from the point of view of the deepening of Stirner’s thought, given that this author places himself from the outside and not from the inside of Stirner’s problems, in a word, he places himself from an ultra-reactionary point of view.
In 1951 came out the aforementioned book by Camus and a few years later the often mentioned study of Arvon (Aux sources de l’existentialisme. Max Stirner). In 1957 the work of Rudolf Hirsch was published (Der erste Kritiker Marxens, in “Zeitschrift für Religions und Geistesgeschichte”, 3, 1957, pp. 246-257) and the year after that of Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze (Zur Religionskritik Max Stirners, in “Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte”, 1-2, Stuttgart 1958, pp. 98-110). Carl August Emge’s essay (Max Stirner. Eine geistig nicht bewältigte Tendenz, in “Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur (Abhandlungen dar Geistes und Sozialwissenschaftlichen Klasse)”, 12, 1963, pp. 1231-1279) came out in 1964. In 1967 he published an interesting article Mario Silvestri (Filosofia e politica nell’opera di Stirner, in “Rivista Internazionale della Filosofia del Diritto”, 2-3, 1967, pp. 303-326, 716-753).
The characteristics of this period are: greater philosophical deepening, disappearance of the positions “type” Plechanov, flowering and stagnation of the existentialist interpretation, timid return of the Hegelian theme in one with the revival and modernization of philosophical studies in the field. The interpretation of Georgij Valentinovic Plechanov is found in the book Anarchism and Socialism (tr. it., Milan 1921, pp. 23 and ff). Plechanov first rejects Stirner en bloc, going so far as to assume that his work started from the assumption of ridiculing the work of Feuerbach, without any serious intention of research, but then he is forced to “stumble”, to use his term, several times in some “right” things said by Stirner. The latter’s struggle against the “bittersweet” sentimentality of the “bourgeois reformers,” the fact that he managed to pronounce “the last word of idealist speculation,” the fact that he was the most fearless and consistent of all anarchists, maintaining to the end the courage of his own opinion.
The philosophical deepening, especially with Mautz, takes place in the anti-Hegelian climate, that is, in the dimension of the category of individuality understood as a concrete situation. It is Mautz himself who proposes a distinction between the “mythology of the dynamic”, which would be proper to Stirner, and the “mythology of the tragic”, which would be proper to Nietzsche, placing Stirner’s thought as an overcoming of the passivity of traditional values handed down to us and clarifying Stirner’s attempt to base the new philosophical dimension on the nothingness of these values. Note on this point the considerations of Penzo (Max Stirner, op. cit., pp. 144-145).
As we have said, Plechanov-type interpretations disappear, but Mario Rossi-type interpretations emerge (Da Hegel a Marx, vol. II, Il sistema hegeliano dello Stato, Milan 1970), and Cesare Luporini-type interpretations (Introduzione a L’Ideologia tedesca, Rome 1971), i.e. those interpretations that, albeit indirectly and between the lines, always on the Marxist side, hint at a revaluation of Stirner.
The existentialist interpretation, after its flowering at the end of the war, stagnated, with various rethinks within the narrow academic structures. Even today, and Penzo’s work is indicative, it insists on this direction.
A final aspect of the revival of the so-called new Hegelism, based on the international reading of Karl Marx, is to be considered the work of Herbert Marcuse, in particular Reason and Revolution. Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory (New York 1941, tr. it. 1968). A balance in this sense has been attempted by Bernd Oelgart (Marcuse: un rendiconto, tr. it., Catania 1972).
The current debate on Stirner must be brought back to the most recent experiences: that, in perspective, of the French May of 1968, and the more burning one of the Italian movement of 1977. Arvon marks the limits of the framework of current interpretations, limits that, if they are precise enough, do not take into consideration deeper levels of the message, something that will become quite clear in the course of the reading of the present work. Arvon writes: “For Stirner it is not so much a matter of acting as of reacting. What matters to Stirner is to save himself from sclerosis, from the oppression he suffers, from the accepted depersonalization, from this perpetually present risk of losing possession of ourselves so that we are condemned to ‘objectify’ ourselves and to create at the same time things that immediately turn against us. Now, our age is caught up in a frenzy of creation and conquest that ends up multiplying itself endlessly. So that man does not end up suffering the worst slavery, it is necessary to remind him forcefully that as an original, single, irreversible self, he has a breaking force that allows him to re-establish his sovereignty at any time” (L’actualité de la pensée by M. Stirner, op. cit., pp. 290-291).
Here we need to take a step forward. This picture was fine in 1968, today it appears rather poor. The ghost threatens to chase us all the way into the folds of negation, revealing itself to be able to uncover the subtle game of the negation of negation, with which the hatefully deceptive affirmation of ideological mysticism reappears. Ultimately, even “faith” in the unique can constitute an outlet valve for the religious residue. But only on condition that this unique, here and now, is considered a point of reference and “guide” for other “unique” – but of a second category – who need this reference and this guide. Failure to understand this problem devalues the importance of Arvon’s reflections, and renders trivial Jean Maitron’s indications regarding the French phenomenon of May 1968. (See Anarchists and anarchy in the contemporary world, “Proceedings of the conference sponsored by the Luigi Einaudi Foundation”, Turin 5-6-7 December 1969, op. cit., pp. 543 et seq.). Similarly, passed the “hot” writing of Jean-Paul Sartre (L’idée neuve de mai 1968, in “Le Nouvel Observateur”, n. 189, 1968) where we find the thesis of the “need for sovereignty of the movement”.
However late in understanding and linked to the sclerotized structures of the party and the theoretical church, orthodox and less orthodox Marxists have ended up taking so many punches in the eye that they can no longer deny that the characteristic of recent years is precisely constituted by a “rejection of authority”. All this has led to a profound change in the debate between Marxism and anarchism, although this change can not be said, in truth, that the anarchists have not yet fully realized. The conservatives of the Marxist temple have realized the danger and have tried to remedy it. Well-deserving in Italy Bravo, indefatigable in his constant activity of misrepresentation of the history of anarchism. Along the same lines, but with more serious research intentions: Erich J. Hobsbawm (What teaching can still offer anarchism , in Criticism of Anarchism, tr. it., Milan 1970, pp. 11 et seq.), Wolfgang Harich, (The Criticism of Revolutionary Impatience , in Ib, pp. 27 et seq., an expanded edition of this work, with the same title, was published in 1972 by Feltrinelli), Wolfgang Dressen (Against narcissism and populism , in Ib., pp. 87 et seq.), Karl Markus Michel (Institutions free from domination?  in Ib., pp. 147 et seq.) and others.
In the anarchist field, interesting assessments in the work of Jean Barruè, L’anarchismo oggi, (tr. it., Ragusa 1973), due to a scholar of Stirner and, in the “geography” of Gino Cerrito (Il movimento anarchico internazionale nella sua struttura attuale, in Anarchici e anarchia nel mondo contemporaneo, “Atti del convegno promosso dalla Fondazione Luigi Einaudi”, Torino 5-6-7 December 1969, op. cit, pp. 127-207, there is also a separate edition entitled Geography of anarchism, in Anarchism ’70, “Quaderni dell’Antistato”, No. 2, Pistoia 1971, however, damaged by too many printing errors). It must be said, however, that in these topics the level of ideological clash develops at such speed as to make almost immediately outdated any systematic research that seeks to historically frame the development itself. It is always preferable, instead of abstruse schematics, to have recourse to the direct evaluation of the problems and to the examination of the positions on the concrete reality of the struggle.
For the Scritti minori we follow the first Italian edition, appeared in Milan in 1923 at the Casa Editrice Sociale in the translation of Angelo Treves. It is the edition corresponding to the second German edition, edited by John Henry Mackay, appeared in the spring of 1914, which followed the first edition, missing some texts, in the fall of 1897.
The most important writings, excluding the responses to critics of The Only One, are all prior to the publication of the main work. Only some of the writings that appeared in the “Journal des österreichischen Lloyd”, which was published in Trieste, date from 1848, therefore later. Excluding this collaboration, we do not know of other works published in periodicals at a later date than that of L’unico. Recently some articles and poems published in the journal “Die Eisenbahn” from 1841-1842 and the essay Christentum und Antichristentum published in 1842 in Leipzig in “Deutsche Jahrbücher für Wissenschaft und Kunst”  have been found.
But let us come to the most important writings. The first in order of time is On the book of B. Bauer. The Trumpet of the Last Judgment (SM, pp. 9-22), a lively piece of writing that attacks the claim of the “young Hegelians” to find foundation for their ideas in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel himself, which is regarded more or less as an alibi. In practice, Bauer had tried to show that the very atheism of the “left” could legitimately be deduced from Hegel, and to do this, given the censorship situation of the time, he had pretended that a character, with the characteristics of the orthodox believer, would take on the task of discovering an atheistic Hegel and point to him as the foundation of the philosophy of the Hegelian left. Stirner professes his atheism in the first few pages and clearly indicates how the days of collusion between philosophy and the Christian religion are over. Bauer’s real merit, according to Stirner’s writing, is to have separated forever Hegel and philosophy on the one hand and the Christian religion on the other, destroying every syncretist illusion of Friedrich Schleiermacher’s disciples.
The second piece of writing bears the title Response of a member of the Berlin community to the writing of the 57 Berlin churchmen entitled: The Christian Sunday holiday, a word of love to our parishioners (SM, pp. 23-44). The writing is about religious struggle and is aligned with other works of the genre (including one by Ludwig Buhl) aimed at confronting the offensive of Church and State, united to force citizens to sanctify religious holidays by going to hear services in church. Stirner’s writing was interdicted on February 3, 1842. The central point of the theme is the final break with religion, but there are some significant passages for the future author of The Only One. Here is one of them: “Investigate in yourselves whether you are really satisfied when your preachers continually direct you to God, to a God who is not your own self. Can you ever become one with him? Only with you can you become one and the same thing, not with another who must always, even in the most intimate union, remain a stranger to you, a Lord and Father in inaccessible majesty”. (SM, p. 30).
The correspondence to the “Rheinische Zeitung” in Köln lasted from March 7 to October 13, 1842, for a total of 27 pieces of various kinds and importance. (SM, pp. 234-254). Finally, there are two essays of considerable significance that should be studied more carefully in order to establish the orientation of Stirner’s thought from 1842 onwards.
The first of these essays is The False Principle of Our Education or Humanism and Realism. The paper is a response to the publication of a small pamphlet by the pedagogue Theodore Heinsius (Konkordat zwischen Schule und Leben oder Vermittlung des Umanismus und Realismus aus nationalem Standpunkte betrachtet, Berlin 1842), where a kind of agreement between school and life is theorized, a mediation between the terms humanism and realism. Stirner affirms that humanist education, by occupying itself too much with the classics and the Bible, limits itself to forming in man an abstract culture which is then nothing more than the basis of power, the foundation of the authority of the lord over the servants. The Reformation is the symbol of this type of lordly education, destined to perpetuate the power-based differentiation of the class of lords; the French Revolution, on the other hand, marks the advent of an education more in direct contact with things. Stirner particularly attacks this “concordat” suggested by Heinsius, this sort of compromise obtained by a “harmonious” fusion of the subjects of modern education with the principles that animate classical education. He writes: “Thus the rays of all education converge in the one center, which is called personality. Knowledge, however erudite and profound, however vast and voluminous, nevertheless remains only a property and a possession until it vanishes into the invisible point of the ego, to burst forth omnipossibly from it as will, as transcendent and elusive spirit. Knowledge undergoes this transformation when it ceases to adhere solely to objects, when it has become a knowledge of itself, or, if this seems clearer, a knowledge of the Idea, a self-consciousness on the part of the spirit.” (SM, p. 250).
But the fact that Stirner rejects the agreement between humanist education and realist education, and the fact that in the end he concedes to the latter a preeminence over the former, precisely because education of objects, that is, founded on knowledge that is itself founded on objects, does not mean that he considers realist education to be the end point of the educational process. Neither of these two educational dimensions succeeds in penetrating the authentic perspective of truth and freedom, in a word, neither of them succeeds in eliminating the alienation of man. (The work edited by Barrué is important on this point: Max Stirner, De L’éducation, Paris 1974). Both, says Stirner, are linked to knowledge: the first, the humanist, to a knowledge that tends to the universal, the second, the realist, to a knowledge that tends to the particular, to the practical. Both, therefore, remain on the plane of the intellect and do not draw on the plane of reason. True education, on the other hand, does not aim at any object, but only at self-determination.
It may be that this outlet is a Hegelian reminiscence, an unintentional triadic plan of the still too Hegelian Stirner, as Penzo has noted (Max Stirner, op. cit., p. 229). However, the emphasis on the role of the will is already a Stirnerian characteristic. Knowledge is therefore considered as a phenomenon that enters among the characteristics of man’s alienation: its overcoming is indicated in the organic enlargement and development of the will.
The other writing, also from 1842, is Art and Religion (SM, pp. 255-265). Again, the occasional motive is the campaign that the Hegelian left was waging against religion. The reference is Bauer’s writing, published anonymously on June 1, 1842 by the usual publisher Otto Wigand, (Hegel’s Lehre von der Religion und Kunst von dem Standpunkte des Glaubens, Leipzig 1842). Stirner develops the thesis that religion does not come from philosophy but from art, so that, as a consequence, religion takes place in the realm of the intellect and not in that of reason. The Hegelian triad of the Spirit reached self-consciousness: art (sensible symbol), religion (mythical representation) and philosophy (fullness of concepts proper to the absolute Spirit), in Stirner is replaced by the Kantian relationship between reason and intellect, but not in the sense of considering them as two faculties, but as two orders of faculties, with the exclusion of the intellect from the philosophical field. The understanding of the intellect in Kantian reason disappears to enter the domain typical of Stirner’s anti-intellectualist speculation.
The writing The State Founded on Love. Considerations and prejudices, published in the “Berliner Monatsschrift” published by Buhl (MS, pp. 266-275), stems from the disappointment of liberals who had placed unfounded hopes on the advent to the throne of Frederick William IV, later revealed to be the author of an extremely reactionary policy. But Stirner’s criticism, consequent to his thought and anticipating the best pages of The Only One, strikes the same hopes of his liberal friends and derides the thesis of Baron Heinrich Karl von Stein (the famous declaration of Nassau in 1807) writing: “In love man determines himself, gives himself a certain imprint, becomes his own creator. But he does all this out of love for another person, not for himself. The determination of himself still depends on the other person; it is at the same time a determination by another, a passion: the lover lets himself be determined by the woman he loves. The free man, on the other hand, is determined neither by another nor by the love of another, but purely by himself; he understands himself, and in this understanding of himself he finds the impulse to determine himself: only by understanding himself does he act reasonably and freely. (SM, p. 272).
The equality desired by von Stein is an equality of slaves, aimed at establishing an absolute central power. Popular representation thus becomes in Germany, according to von Stein’s desire, the spokesman of the slaves, while in France – the model of the proposal – it was the spokesman of the citizens.
Aligned with the position of the Hegelian left and with the struggle that the major representative of this group, Arnold Ruge, was leading with his “Hallische Jahrbücher”, when he addresses the critique of Christian love, Stirner goes beyond the position (which today we could call social democratic) of the Hegelian left, and denounces its dangerous function. When he speaks of the German “subjects,” using the term in the sense of “slaves,” and contrasts them with the French “citizens” of the revolution, his preferences are clear, but deepening the analysis he concludes that in neither of these two cases is there true autonomy of the individual.
Wanting to construct a new Hegelian triad, as Arvon did for example (Aux sources de l’existentialisme. Max Stirner, op. cit., p. 34), Stirner considers egoism as born of love: their contrast is overcome by autonomy. But these formulas, in our opinion, leave time to find.
Also in the “Berliner Monatsschrift,” in a second essay, Stirner directly addresses the social problem. The title is Eugene Sue’s Mysteries of Paris (SM, pp. 276-292). He shows, regardless of Sue’s artistic ability, that the picture he has obtained of the society of his time, of the suffering society, of the proletarian society, is very superficial. The reason is given by the fact that the author has placed himself from the point of view of morality looking around with “virtuous thrill.” Vice and Virtue, struggling with each other, thus belong, for Stirner, to a world in which man still remains a slave to powers superior to him. The symbol of morality is opposed to him as an insurmountable obstacle, against which he continually beats his head. Arvon writes: “The solution of the social problem does not consist in subjecting the social body to the imperatives of morality, to inform it according to rules that remain external to man. It is not a question of curing an age sick of its own convictions, but on the contrary, of accelerating its disappearance, so that man covers the full availability of himself”. (Aux sources de l’existentialisme. Max Stirner, op. cit., pp. 38-39).
The rest of the minor writings are little. The History of Reaction, a work of 1852, is a kind of large volume with little of Stirner’s work: only the passages intended to tie together the pieces collected here and there. The first 40 pages of the first volume are a dull exposition of French events up to mid-1789.
The fortunes of the Minor Writings make sense with Mackay’s work in mind (Max Stirner. Sein Leben und sein Werk, Berlin 1898). At the same time as publishing his extensive biographical work on Stirner, he prepared in 1897 the first edition of these writings, which was later augmented in 1914 in a second edition (Max Stirner’s kleinere Schriflen und seine Entgegungen auf die Kritik seines Werkes “Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum” Aus den Jahren 1842 bis 1847, Berlin 1898).
Bruno Bauer’s book review was found by W. Houben and reprinted in 1900. The Replica to the 57 Berlin Churchmen was found by Gustav Mayer and reprinted in 1913. The other pieces, the most important and minimal pieces of current correspondence to periodicals, were all found by Mackay. Critics have almost never dealt separately with the less important writings, preferring to deal with the main work and establish the necessary comparisons. They have dealt with separate problems: Cornelio Fabro (Introduction to Modern Atheism, Rome 1964, p. 211), G. Penzo (“Kunst und religions. Riflessioni sul filosofare di Max Stirner, in “Atti del XXV convegno di studi filosofici tra professori universitari”, Gallarate 1970, now in Filosofia e Religione, Brescia 1971, pp. 344-353), Enrico Rambaldi (Le origini della sinistra hegeliana, Florence 1960), James J. Martin (Introduzione a The False principle of Our Education or Humanism and Realism, Colorado Springs 1967), Sergio O. Hessen, (I fondamenti filosofici della pedagogia, tr. it, Rome 1966, pp. 66-68).
Stirner starts from a contrast to Feuerbach in order to found a consequent atheism that constitutes the indispensable premise for his later work: that which will determine the negation of the state.
“God and humanity have founded their cause on nothing, on nothing but themselves. In the same way I then ground my cause on myself, I who, like God, am the nothingness of every other, who am my all, I who am the only one.
“If God, if humanity have, as you assure, sufficient substance in themselves to be to themselves the all in all, then I feel that I shall lack even less and that I shall not have to complain about my ’emptiness’. I am nothing in the sense of emptiness, but rather the creator nothingness, the nothingness from which I myself, as creator, create everything.” (U, p. 14).
The human, considered as something not its own, but as the ideal to be reached, the essence to be realized, comes to constitute the last stronghold, the most dangerous, of faith.
And he continues: “As a fanatic you pursue everything that is not spirit, and therefore you also rage against yourself, because you cannot get rid of an unspiritual residue. Instead of saying, ‘I am more than spirit,’ you contritely say, ‘I am less than spirit. The spirit, the pure spirit, the spirit that is nothing but spirit I can imagine, but it is not me, and since it is not me, it means that it is another, it is the other whom I call ‘God'”.
“It is in the nature of the thing that the spirit which must exist as pure spirit belongs to an afterlife: since I am not, it can only be outside of me; since a man cannot absolutely dissolve himself completely into the concept of “spirit,” the pure spirit, the spirit as such, can only be outside of men, beyond the human world, not on earth, but in heaven.
“The fact that the spirit necessarily dwells in the hereafter, that is, is God, is clarified in a completely tautological way only on the basis of this disagreement in which I and spirit find ourselves, only on the basis of the fact that I and spirit are not names designating one and the same thing, but different names for totally different things; only on the basis of the fact that the I is not spirit and the spirit is not the I.” (U, pp. 30-31).
Having identified the logical origin of the prejudice of God’s existence, Stirner insists on the absurdity of its transfer within man. “The spirit dwells in heaven and dwells in us; we poor things are precisely nothing more than his ‘dwelling place,’ and if Feuerbach now destroys his heavenly abode and forces him to move with arms and baggage to us, I am afraid that we, his earthly quarters, will be somewhat ‘overcrowded'” (U, p. 32).
The path Stirner opens up is toward the foundation that links the idea of God to the idea of domination and “hierarchy.” The priest and his institution find their counterpart in the state functionary and in the state, the God-State circle is definitively closed. On the same line is Pierre-Joseph Proudhon when he writes: “Thus power, the instrument of collective power, created in society to serve as a mediator between work and privilege, is fatally chained to capital and directed against the proletariat. No political reform can make this contradiction disappear, since, according to the confession of the politicians themselves, such a reform would only succeed in giving more energy and extension to power, and that unless the hierarchy is broken down and society dissolved, power cannot touch the prerogatives of the monopoly. Thus the problem consists, for the working class, not in acquiring, but in winning at once the power and the monopoly, which means to raise from the bowels of the people, from the darkness of labor, a greater authority, a powerful fact that envelops capital and the state and subdues it. The crowning glory of this system is religion. It is from God, man thinks, that authority and power come to me; therefore let us obey God and the prince.” (System of Economic Contradictions. Philosophy of misery , tr. it., Catania 1975, p. 31).
. False humanism is unveiled. Proudhon deepens in other ways the work of Stirner on the destruction of the earthly God, succeeded, with the complicity of Feuerbach, to the heavenly God. The fall of the new illusions is fundamental because it will be precisely these illusions that will be exploited by the “revolutionary” minorities to direct the people and to replace them. And this, after the advent of the new man, will happen in the name of fraternity, in a much more refined way than before in the name of brutality.
Proudhon continues: “In other words, atheism, also called humanism, true in all its critical and negative part, if it were to stop at man considered as the son of nature and set aside that first affirmation of humanity that it is the daughter, image, emanation, reflection or verb of God, would be, by denying its own past, a contradiction even more. We must therefore criticize humanism, verify whether humanity, taken as a whole and in all the periods of its development, satisfies the divine idea, made also deduction of the hyperbolic and fantastic attributes of God; whether it satisfies the fullness of being, whether it satisfies itself. We must, in a word, research whether humanity tends towards God according to the ancient dogma, or whether it itself becomes God, as the moderns say. Perhaps we shall finally find that the two systems, despite their apparent opposition, are both true and, at bottom, identical: in that case the infallibility of human reason, in its collective manifestations as well as in other reflected speculations, would be expressly confirmed. – In short, until we have verified on man the hypothesis of God, atheistic denial cannot be definitive.” (Ib., p. 32)
From the relationship between God and the State we can deduce the failure of atheistic humanism, of the Enlightenment and Romantic illusion of a struggle against God and of a substitution of Man in place of all the attributes that, previously, used to be attributed to God.
With Stirner, atheism becomes an indirect way of reflecting on the religious problem, an occasion to bring back the reflection from the sphere of sterile religious controversy to the most just and productive dimension: the social one. In fighting to eliminate exploitation, the hypothesis of God becomes superfluous and idle. Elimination occurs not through a technical test, but by bringing everything back into the destructive and constructive program of the social revolution, a program that denies God at the very moment it begins to take place.
And here is Proudhon’s conclusion, which Stirner could have subscribed to: “Today it is not much disputed; theists no longer worry about the logical impossibilities of their system. They want a God, a Providence above all else; there is competition for this between the radicals and the Jesuits. The socialists preach happiness and virtue in the name of God; in the schools, those who speak loudest against the Church are the first of the mystics.” (Ib., p. 268).
And Bakunin, completing the reflection and laying the foundations of a militant use of atheism: “Being absolute means nothing else than absolute Non-Reality, Nothingness; or rather our own power of abstraction which, after having made a vacuum around itself, having absolutely nothing more to deny, rests in absolute Nothingness. Here then is the real origin and meaning of God: it is the Nothing of the Whole, the Nothing produced by the faculty of abstraction of our own spirit. “It is evident that the idea of God is absurd. It is also indisputable that it is harmful: the intellectual cause of our present slavery, it has produced immense misfortunes in the past. But we must not less recognize that this idea has been historically inevitable and that if we do not take it into account we will understand absolutely nothing of the progressive development of humanity.” (Mazzini’s Political Theology. Second part. Fragments and variants , in Opere completes, tr. it., vol. I, Catania 1976, p. 152).
In Bakunin the atheist hypothesis becomes one of the main elements of his analysis of oppression and exploitation. No vain and useless dialogue with the speculators of the theological system, but a rational employment of materialism to achieve the purpose of the attack on concrete power that is based on the collaboration between religious and economic imbroglio. Bakunin recognizes that humanity has come to the point where it can understand that God is of weight to it, at the very moment when it understands that he constitutes the sacred foundation of all power. Bakunin’s conclusion is clear: “If God is, man is a slave; now, man can, must be free: therefore God does not exist.”
For Stirner, ours is an age of transition, between the abandonment of transcendence, now transferred to morality, and the “voluntary” non-acceptance of egoism. So man is stretched like a rope over the abyss, caught in a trap in the “web of hypocrisy”. This situation does nothing but “catch gnats”, while involuntary egoism becomes an extreme form of sacredness.
Here it becomes clear, and the usual critics of Stirner have been silent on this point, how and how far the criticism of the concept of sacredness goes. Egoism itself, if involuntary, is not enough, because it is not recognition of itself, because it is not yet the foundation of something on this side of the sacred and against the sacred. As we shall see, the liberal state cannot be confused with libertarian society (in Stirner’s case with the association of egoists) for an identical reason.
“Faced with the sacred,” Stirner states, “we lose all power and intrepidity: in its regard we are powerless and trepid. And yet nothing is sacred by virtue of itself, but instead because I declare it sacred, that is, by virtue of my judgment, my judgement, my genuflections, in short, my conscience.
“Sacred is everything that must be unapproachable to the egoist, untouchable, outside his power, that is, above him; sacred is, in short, every – matter of conscience, in fact: “for me it is a matter of conscience” means precisely: “such a thing is sacred to me.”
“For young children, as for animals, there is nothing sacred, because there is room for this idea only when the intelligence is sufficiently developed to be able to make distinctions such as “good and bad, legitimate and illegitimate,” etc.; only at this degree of reflection and judgment (which is then the perspective proper to religion) can unnatural (i.e., produced only by thought) “veneration” take the place of natural fear, sacred awe. This implies that one considers something external to be more powerful, greater, more just, better, etc., that is, that one recognizes an extraneous power, not that one only feels it, but that one explicitly recognizes it, that is, one admits it, withdraws from it, allows oneself to be a prisoner and allows oneself to be bound by it (dedication, humility, submission, subjection, etc.). Here hovers the whole host of ghosts of the “Christian virtues”.
“Everything for which you feel respect or veneration deserves the name of sacred; in fact, you yourselves say that a “sacred fear” takes hold of you in its presence. And you also color with the same hue everything that is deconsecrated (gallows, crimes, etc.) and you are horrified with revulsion if you come in contact with it: you feel something sinister and strange, that is, foreign, unfamiliar, that does not belong to us.” (U, pp. 58-59).
The category of sacredness is even more serious for man than the category of fear. The terrified man still manages to free himself even by resorting to cunning, to deception, to malice; but the man who adores something cannot free himself in any way, his veneration has too deep roots: not only does he not even think of making the thing adored disappear, but he also honors it.
Stirner again: “Fear is at the beginning of everything, and even the most brutal man can be made to fear, thus already putting a limit to his bravado. In fear, however, there always remains the attempt to free oneself by cunning, deception, cunning, etc., from that which instills fear. With veneration, however, things are quite different. The object of our fear is now not only feared, but also honored: it becomes an inner power from which I can no longer escape; I honor it and am possessed by it as a devoted subject: by honoring it, I am completely in its power and I do not even remotely attempt to free myself. Now I remain attached, with all the strength of faith, to what I feared: I believe. The feared object and I are one: “It is not I who live, but that which I worship lives in me!” Since the spirit, which is infinite, cannot have an end, it does not even change: it fears death, it does not know how to separate itself from its little Jesus, it can no longer recognize, having its eyes blinded, the greatness of the finite: the feared object, now grown to the point of becoming worthy of veneration, can no longer be touched: veneration is promised for eternity and its object is deified. Now man no longer creates, but learns (knows, researches, etc..), that is dealing with a stable object, in whose study is deeply immersed, without the possibility of returning to himself. The relationship that binds him to this object is that of knowing, of searching for its foundations and establishing it, etc., not that of dissolving it (abolishing it, etc.). “Man must be religious”: there is no question about this, the problem is only how to achieve this goal, what is the true meaning of religiosity, etc., and the problem is not that of a religious object. It is quite another thing to question the axiom itself, to question it, even at the cost of having to throw it away. Even morality is a sacred idea of this type: one must certainly be moral, the problem is only to find the right way, the right way to be. Morality itself does not dare to be questioned, wondering if it is not itself an illusion: it remains, in its sublimity, superior to any doubt, immutable. And so proceeds the scale of the sacred, from the “sacrosanct” to the “most holy and most sacred”. (U, pp. 57-58). Here lurks the concept of power, in this dependence the concept of “Hierarchy” finds justification: “Hierarchy is the dominion of thoughts, the dominion of the spirit!”.
Man needs to objectify, outside himself, the fixed point of his own being, in order to silence, or dampen, his restlessness. If the class response can, more or less, be clear and involve even massive indications that are predictable, this is not to open the way to a blind determinism. Contradiction is maintained even within consciousness-raising. Often, the more apparently iron and monolithic it appears to us, the more internally troubled and exposed to the influences of reality it is.
In this sense, we say that revolutionaries are not idealists, but men of action who, starting from materialist analysis, develop a strategic project of intervention in reality. For this, they must be so concrete as to question themselves, that is, to include themselves, as individuals, in the parameters that contribute to the realization of the revolutionary project. Otherwise, if they start from deterministic presuppositions, or from voluntaristic statements of principle and concretely fideistic, they are idealists and fall under the criticism developed by Stirner.
The danger would then be the subterranean drive for objectification. If nothing else, the objectification of revenge. Centuries of exploitation and pain are well worth a few heads. But, by acting in this way, revenge is objectified, and with it violence. In other words, a false myth is created, and thus the conditions are created for a new guide, i.e., for someone in charge of personalizing that objectification.
Such developments fit into the line that runs through the whole story, in parallel, the line of myth. Myth, even in its absolute inconsistency and lack of reality, plays a concrete and real role in history. It is the story of man and his struggles and efforts, even if it is a reversed story, a negative story.
In this way, myth is collective creation, so it is organized and complex system. God is a myth of this species. Power (the state) is a myth of a different species, but connected with the first. Hierarchy is another myth. The mythological developments of these systems take place in separate sections but with constant connections. Hence the fundamental importance of juxtaposing the problem of God with that of power, hierarchy, etc.
Taking the myth in itself, it cannot be considered significant, indeed, most of the time, it appears paradoxical and ridiculous. Only in relation to other myths and other realities does it take on meaning and therefore value.
Lucien Sebag writes: “Understanding a myth is therefore equivalent to conceiving the process of symbolization that is proper to it; every portion of the myth, every sentence, is then placed on a level that allows the decoding of its message. The reciprocal articulation of these planes, the operations by virtue of which the passage from one to the other is made possible define the logic of the whole.” (Marxism and Structuralism , tr. it., Milan 1972, p.112).
All this means that it is necessary to identify the responsibility of the deforming presences of ideology, within the human practices of transformation of reality. Often these responsibilities cannot be identified, because ideology acts in such a way that it does not appear conscious, as a process, to the men who suffer its consequences.
Thus Edmund Husserl: “If we cannot separate authentic humanity from life assumed in its radical responsibility, and with this not even scientific self-responsibility from the total responsibility that invests human life in general, then we must rise above all this life and this cultural tradition as a whole and seek for ourselves – taken individually and as a community – the ultimate possibilities and necessities from which to take a position in the face of factual realities in judging, evaluating and acting”. (Logica formale, logica trascendentale , tr. it., Bari 1966, pp. 8-9).
This consideration by Husserl makes us understand that not even science can help us in the so-called problem of “truth”. Here is Stirner: “One does not want to renounce truth, “truth in general,” indeed one wants to seek it. But what else is this truth if not the être suprême, the supreme being? Even “true criticism” would have to despair if it lost faith in truth. And yet truth is but one – thought, but not just any thought, but the thought that is superior to every other, the incontrovertible thought, it is thought itself, thanks to which alone all other ideas are sanctified, it is the consecration of thoughts, the “absolute”, “holy” thought. The truth resists longer than all the gods, in fact, only to serve the truth and for its love the gods and finally God himself have been overthrown. The “truth” survives the fall of the kingdom of the gods, because it is the immortal soul of this fallen world, it is the divinity itself.
“I want to give an answer to Pilate’s question: what is truth? Truth is free thought, it is the free idea, the free spirit; truth is that which is free from you, that which is not your own, that which is not in your power. But truth is also that which is fully dependent, impersonal, unreal and incorporeal; truth cannot show itself as you show yourself, it cannot move, mutate, develop; truth awaits and receives everything from you and exists only thanks to you: it exists, in fact, only in – your head. You admit that truth is a thought, but you say that not all thoughts are true or, as you also express yourself, not all thoughts are really and truly thoughts. And by what do you measure and recognize true thought? By your powerlessness, that is, by the fact that you cannot affect it! If it dominates you, excites you and drags you, you believe that it is the true one. Its dominion over you testifies to its truth for you, and if it possesses you and you are possessed by it, you are at ease with it, because you have finally found your – lord and master. When you were seeking the truth, to what did your heart aspire? To find your Lord! You were not seeking your own power, but instead a mighty one to exalt (“Exalt the Lord our God!”). The truth, my dear Pilate, is – the lord, and all who seek the truth seek and exalt the lord. Where is the lord? Where, if not in your head? He is only spirit, and whenever you think you see him, it is only a – ghost; the lord is in fact only something thought; only the tormenting anguish of Christians, who want to make the invisible visible and give a body to the spirit, has generated this ghost: here is the tremendous misfortune of faith in ghosts.
“As long as you believe the truth, you do not believe yourself and you are a – servant, a – religious man. You alone are the truth or, rather, you are more than the truth, which without you is nothing at all. Of course, you also seek the truth, of course, you also “criticize”, but you do not seek a “higher truth”, that is, one that is superior to yourself, and you do not criticize on the basis of the criterion of such a truth. You approach thoughts and representations, as well as the appearances of things, only to make them more enjoyable and make them your property. You only want to dominate them and make yourself their owner, you want to orient yourself in them and feel at ease, and you find them true or see in them a light of truth precisely when they can no longer escape you, no longer present any aspect that you do not understand or master, that is, when they are right for you, when they are your property. If then they become obscure again and escape your power, this is precisely their non-truth, that is, your impotence. Your powerlessness is their power, your humiliation is their exaltation. Their truth, then, is yourself, that is, it is the nothingness that you are for them and in which they vanish, their truth is their nothingness.” (U, pp. 260-262).
Denial of God, therefore, is denial of truth. Not only that, but it is also a denial of the sense of tranquility that truth provides, a sense of tranquility that translates, in the current world of technocratic capitalism, into the truth of science, on which one can swear with one’s eyes closed. Now, this latter truth includes ideological components that bring it back to the set of truths of which Stirner speaks, for which the scientist would ultimately be a religious man. Thus we have the myth that collectively develops a model of support for reality, a model that is objectified in the action of the priest or the artist or the philosopher; and science that develops another model of support for reality, a model that is also objectified in the scientist, a particular type of priest.
From the very beginning the “myth” of the search for Truth has been specified. Mythology developed before philosophy and science. Truth, daughter of time, in Greek mythology is the mother of Justice and Virtue. Only there is nothing meritorious, nothing personal, in the relationship between man and truth, not even through the realization of justice and virtue. Hercules, say, is always a kind of toy in the hands of fate. Labors do not presuppose the drive toward knowledge. Except for the myth of the giants, only half men, there is no case of open revolt against the gods. The only exception is Prometheus, who thus becomes the symbol of reason’s efforts towards truth. He too moves within fixed perspectives, however, for the first time, he begins to feel bad about it. Popular creation develops the possibility of revolt, of dissent in the name of something that is not yet clear.
With the development of cosmogonic ideas there is an attempt to reflect, from a scientific and philosophical point of view, on the problem of origins and the problem of truth. Different peoples produced different efforts.
The Bible’s narrative is deeply lyrical but fails to structure the myth in a way that allows for a minimum of theoretical and practical observations. The Supreme Good occupies the entire development of human possibilities.
The perspective among the Persians is different. Here the myth hosts the struggle of a terrible duality: good and evil, powers of identical and opposite strength. These are both creators of the world. In the Hebrew tradition evil never reaches the height of good, in the Persian tradition temptation is equivalent to salvation. At the origin of things is duality and not uniqueness. (For a more extensive treatment of this topic see A. M. Bonanno, The problem of truth at the origins of philosophical thought, in “Studi e Ricerche”, 1965, pp. 33-48).
In other peoples, such as the Egyptians, we notice the lack of an idea of evolution and a more pragmatic and technical development. Yet in the field of concepts there is no precise influence of this spirit of research, if we want to exclude a kind of tendency to disintegration in logical and philosophical concepts, a tendency that made impossible a theorization of the very problem of research. The particular social form of Egypt did the rest. Society closed in all respects, saw periodic outbreaks of violence succeeding the repressively compact rule of the pharaohs.
In other peoples, such as the Indians, the approach is more markedly philosophical. In Indian mythology we can identify the attempt to trace, in the course of events, the constant work of a creative impulse, finding unique justification in the initial simple and determined act. We Westerners find considerable difficulties in understanding Indian myths, difficulties that, in recent times, are lightening a little thanks to the fall of many traditional barriers that barricaded Western thought and its tradition.
Let us see, now, the more precisely philosophical cues concerning the concept of truth, and which constitute, as we have said, a second face of that religiosity which always leads to the support of power and exploitation. In this incarnation, the priest of the myth wears the robe of the philosopher.
The myth, as the literary presences are refined, as the general conditions of production change, as certain stable situations of power worsen in the face of the pressing revolutionary events, is almost always transformed into precise reflective indications. The rainmaker gives way to the intellectual. The latter closes himself within his own little garden, and weeps over the fate of the world, or, more often than not, collaborates in restoring the compromised fate of the old power, allowing a new power to take over, even if substantially unchanged.
Myth is a collective creation, philosophy an individual creation, but the opposition cannot be so axiomatic. That collective foundation that made the myth solid and credible needed the careful and constant maintenance of the individual priest, the exegete and the incrernator, who joined, in the mystifying (and often fruitful) work, with the individual who suffered the mystery, in a contact that ended up accelerating and modifying the production and evolution of the myth itself.
Thus the philosopher’s reflection, in successive epochs, is placed within that arc of collective production of ideas that remains the constant point of reference of the very act of philosophizing. No research effort, however abstract and apparently aimed at itself, could be said, with certainty, detached from the collective situation. As well as the collective creative fact, however hidden in the folds of a historical development that sanctions the knowledge of some facts and decrees the disappearance and oblivion of others.
The passage from myth to philosophical reflection is assured in the arc of those necessities of ideological production that are strongly felt by power. No qualitative leap, no situation of subsequent maturity or privilege. This is why it is not right to speak of “primitive peoples” or of “Greek miracle”, with regard to, say, the Egyptians, the Indians or the Greeks.
But with the philosophical rationalization, the foundation of mystery surrounding the myth has been lost. Especially the official philosophical current has felt obliged to sanctify objectivity, making it clash with the irrational survival of underground currents, systematically struck by power, which put forward doubts and perplexities. One of the tools to better ground this philosophical rationality was to bring it back to science, at least after Francis Bacon and the Renaissance. The highest point of security and bravado occurred in the late nineteenth century. The attestation of historical materialism to positions of pre-eminence will, later on, give greater scope to the investigation of ideologies.
Let us take an example. There is no doubt that Descartes went the short way in considering his formula of “I think therefore I am” fundamental. The reality of the “I” is much more multifaceted than an elementary proposition and is not intended to be curled up in formulas and schemes. Moreover, it would be a rather poor formula, because it is capable of founding the “I” but not of giving us indications on the rest of the world.
It is interesting to observe, now, the conclusion that Hans Reichenbach succeeds in drawing from the examination of the Cartesian formula: “The psychology of the philosophers constitutes a theme worthy of greater attention than that usually devoted to it in works on the history of thought, and its study can prove more valuable than any logical analysis when one wishes to shed light on the meaning of philosophical systems. Descartes’ reasoning, for example, while hardly rigorous, is psychologically interesting. It suggests that it was the anxiety of certainty that drove such an acute mathematician to such confusing logical conclusions. Such anxiety seems capable of precluding the intelligence of the postulates of logic, and the attempt to base knowledge on pure reason seems destined to induce those who work it to the abandonment of the rational principles themselves.” (The birth of scientific philosophy , tr. it., Bologna 1961, p. 44).
So a conscious approximation (an error), in good faith, suggested by the urgency of truth. An ideological mirage that produces effects that are in turn ideological.
The tension towards truth develops bilaterally: on the one hand, intuition tries desperately to leap over obstacles in order to suddenly reach the heart of the mystery; on the other hand, scientific proof cools down the lyrical impetus of the former and moves forward slowly. It is the collision of two methods that claim an objective existence. The first tries to cross the abyss of details, to get to the core of the problem, deluding itself that this core is something concrete, well determined and therefore achievable, or, at least, intuitable. This method does not take into account the moment of research, of the effort to understand what is unknown. The second method follows the opposite path and, necessarily, takes into account the effort of investigation. What counts here is the partial result, the step on a ladder that one deludes oneself is very high, with “truth” at the top.
Neither method is free from human pollutions and faults. Their objectification is not possible. The failure of any attempt in this sense leads to the question: what is “truth”? a question that is equivalent to the other: what is life? with the consequence that not being able to answer exhaustively to either one, everything remains automatically shrouded in mystery. This is the existentialist position. Having accepted the task of clarifying being, existentialists do not understand the enormous abyss that separates them from the object, from their attempts at approximation. Philosophy lays bare its ideological core, even in subjects that one would like to be denatured by any subjective presence. Only by recognizing this major limitation can reflection produce something positive. The contrast between philosophy and life ceases to hang on the ideological interests of the dominant party. Philosophy cannot – as the existentialists thought – center itself in the symbol of being, for the simple fact that it would no longer be a reflection on being itself and, even less, find itself in the intimate essence of being, because then it would be placed in a distant and inaccessible sphere, completely outside our interests.
On the side of the scientists things are not much better. They have had to face these problems all the same, since they are the methodological premises necessary for any research action, and they have had to do so groping their way through the ideological fog. In making this effort they have pretended to provide, in turn, psychology, sociology, philosophy or economics with a tool, a method, an analytical structure, a “truth”, such as to constitute fixed points, guarantees, securities that the tools developed and possessed until then could not ensure.
In the formulation of the principles of Positive Philosophy [1830-1842] Auguste Comte assigned himself a task of this kind. (Corso di Filosofia positiva, tr. it., Torino 1967, vol. I and II).
Thus the early successes of science, successes that culminated in the formation of a true metaphysical doctrine of “scientific determinism,” entered the realm of philosophy with full sails.
In economics, very similar problems were faced by scholars of market relations, such as Léon Walras, who used for the first time in a complete form the equilibrium models of classical mechanics to demonstrate the possibility of the economic laws of partial and total equilibrium of the consumer and producer. (Mathematical Theory of Social Wealth , tr. it., Turin 1878).
Sociology has followed more or less the same path with Vilfredo Pareto (Trattato di sociologia , tr. it., Milan 1965) and others, only that the relationship with physics, rather than in Pareto’s equilibrium schemes or theory of social capillarity, is seen more clearly in more recent developments in sociometrics. (See P. F. Lazarsfeld, Recent Trends in Methodology and General Sociology in the United States, in Contemporary Sociology in Western Europe and the Americas, tr. it., Rome 1968).
A striking example is Kurt Lewin’s work in psychology and his uses of topological models derived from physics. Thus he writes: “Very interested in the theory of science, already in 1912, as a student, I had defended the thesis (against a then fully accepted philosophical dictum) that psychology dealing with a multiplicity of coexisting facts should finally be forced to use not only the concept of time but also that of space. Knowing something of the general theory of point sets, I vaguely felt that the young mathematical discipline “topology” might be of some help in making psychology a real science. I began to study topology and to make use of its concepts, which at once proved to me to be particularly suited to the specific problems of psychology.” (Princìpi di Psicologia Topologica , tr. it., Firenze 1961. The passage is taken from a letter from Lewin to Köhler in May 1936, used as a preface to the book cited above).
This fact tells us two things: first, that the observation that psychology makes by dealing with coexisting facts should allow for the use of a descriptive tool of a geometric nature; second, that this tool should even transform psychology into a “real science”. It seems clear that in this way the use of topology and other mathematical techniques remains only a modeling fact, leaving intact both the field of research of psychology and its basic experimentalism, as well as that from this simple methodological expedient one expects the “miracle”.
Under this fideistic aspect hides the other hope, that of transforming psychology into a unitary science based on a unitary interpretative principle: old dream, obviously not only of psychology.
So summarizes Guido Petter in this regard: “A revolution analogous to that which has taken place in physics would involve, in psychology, the abandonment of these dichotomies, and a homogenization of the sphere of psychic facts, in the sense of the explicit recognition that any psychic event, whether of a lower or higher order, whether frequent or rare, insignificant or significant in the history of a person, is referable to a law, in so far as it is linked to a certain constellation of precise conditions by a relation of functional dependence, and can therefore also be predicted if these conditions are perfectly known.” (The Conducting Motifs of Lewin’s Work, Preface to K. Lewin, Dynamic Theory of Personality , tr. it., Florence 1972, p. X).
The basic unity of psychology, its transformation into a science capable of using mathematical models of analysis, its ability to predict behavior and reactions. This is where the last dream is located, the one most rooted in the deterministic construction of nineteenth-century science and that has not completely disappeared even after the “real” revolution that took place in physics after the beginning of the century, from Max Planck onwards. Seeing to predict, symbol of a certain scientific research of the last century, was based on the concept of determinism.
Among the methodological guidelines of the history of science one of the most significant, for us today, is the one we are used to identify with “determinism”. We consider it so important because its developments, being still in full modification, will have to give those fruits that the current assumptions let us hope for.
Determinism is commonly regarded as a derivative of Newton’s theories. The laws of motion of the planets, the law of the inverse of the square, and the system of differential equations that follows, all combine to give the solar system the characteristic that its initial conditions determine its future with mathematical rigor. Yet, in Newton’s scheme there is not that faith in determinism that will be characteristic of the following philosophers. The Newton-Kant pair would explain more things. Examining it, one sees the concordance of their efforts in the elaboration of positive research in science. The Newtonian motive was to substitute for the purely empirical method a generalization capable of dealing with possible future events, necessarily not yet experienced. Then the new causal construction derived from it came to adapt satisfactorily to the world, a little as Euclid’s geometry, derived from the axioms, adapts to reality. Kant’s motive was to find a solid point of support for metaphysics: what before constituted the standard of identification of reality, now serves as a justification. It will be then to the formulation of Pierre-Simon de Laplace and the radical conclusions of Julien Offroy de La Mettrie the task of giving determinism a real scholasticism. As long as they remained linked to the principle of cause and effect, in which we must not forget the conservative role played by the idea of “order”, it was not possible to avoid the charm of the consequentiality and precision of determinism. The collapse of a world that many considered perfect, the degeneration of a production system that seemed to have solved the problem of pauperism because it had succeeded very well in hiding it in the ghettos, the rise of strong proletarian movements in opposition to the structures of capital, in short, the end of a world and the rise – with the new century – of a profoundly different world, which in just two decades will see the first major world conflict, all this favored the clarification of ideas about determinism, helping to highlight its metaphysical structure.
In summary, we can indicate with sufficient clarity that the theological element is hidden in the three components we have examined, components elaborated by human collective thought in its various individual and class interrelationships to serve as an ideological and practical basis for power.
The problem of God, in the aspect of the problem of “truth”, can pass intact not only through the filter of myth – which indeed solidifies it, objectifying it in an apparent earthly reality – but also through the rational filter of philosophy and science. Who would not grasp a theological meaning in deterministic scientific doctrine?
This is how Barrué underlines this problem: “If the Ego decides to overcome the difficulties of the world, Science will increase its mastery of the whole reality, and then it will make even better use of the Ego itself and of the World. Only in this way will the Ego not be possessed by Science, but, on the contrary, will possess it and use it at its pleasure and in its interest”. (En lisant l’Unique, in M. Stirner, De l’Education, op. cit., p. 30).
It did not happen by accident that the profound modifications within the structure of science, which occurred after the beginning of the century, coincided with the period of imperialism, with the birth of the great modifications of class relations. The supreme crisis of capitalism, the one that led to the two world wars and to the parenthesis of rampant fascism, was also a crisis of social values and a crisis of the scientific models of the past that justified those values.
A new power structure needs new rainmakers, so it puts the old ones in the attic. Priests, philosophers, and scientists must adapt, or else be suspended from service. But, as far as the official managers of science and thought are concerned, they are obliged to realize some objectively usable results even from a revolutionary point of view. It is the Stirnerian project of the appropriation of science and knowledge by the individual and use against all hierarchy and against all power.
Here it is in The Only One: “One cannot stop thinking, just as one cannot stop having sensitive perceptions. But the power of thoughts and ideas, the dominion of theories and principles, the supreme authority of the spirit, in short, the – hierarchy will last only as long as the bigots, i.e. the theologians, the philosophers, the statesmen, the philistines, the liberals, the pedagogues, the servants, the parents, the children, the married couples, Proudhon, George Sand, [Johann Kaspar] Bluntschli, etc, etc., will be listened to with great respect: the hierarchy will last only as long as principles are thought, believed or even criticized: for even the most relentless criticism, which destroys every existing principle, nevertheless ultimately believes the principle.
“Everyone criticizes, but the criteria are different. One goes in search of the ‘right’ criterion. It is the first presupposition. The critic starts from an affirmation, from a truth, from a faith. This is not a creation of the critic, but of the dogmatist, indeed it is usually deduced without hesitation from the present culture: thus for “freedom,” “humanitarianism,” etc. The critic has not “found the right” criterion. The critic has not “found man,” but instead the truth “man” has been established by the dogmatist, and the critic, who may moreover be the same person as the dogmatist, believes this truth, this principle of faith. Within this faith, and invaded by this faith, he criticizes.
“The secret of criticism is some ‘truth’: it is the mystery that gives it energy.” (U, pp. 258-259).
The essence of Christianity becomes, for Stirner, the continuous effort to distance man from things in order to make him worry only about the spirit. The “fear of God” is the spring of this mechanism that leads back to the “fear of the sacred”, which we find in the “fear of the State”. The circle closes in this way. The doctrine of true atheism is preparatory, in Stirner, to the doctrine of anarchism, as the need to eliminate the State. Even wishing to stir up the “fear of God,” as eighteenth-century anticlericalism did, nothing is taken away from God, since everything is transferred to man, but to man as today’s God.
“The fear of God in the proper sense,” he had said, “has long since been shaken and a more or less conscious “atheism”, recognizable outwardly by a certain “anticlericalism” now widely spread, has become, without opinion, a common attitude. But everything that was taken away from God was attributed to man, and the power of the humanitarian spirit has increased exactly in proportion to the diminishing importance of religious devotion: “man” is the God of today, and the fear of man has taken the place of the old fear of God.
“But since man simply represents another supreme being, in fact the supreme being has undergone only a metamorphosis and the fear of man is but the fear of God under a changed species.
“Our atheists are pious people.” (U, p. 138).
Only in the dimension of the egoist: “No thought is sacred, because no thought must be the object of “devotion”; no feeling is sacred (neither friendship nor maternal love, etc.), no faith is sacred. They are all alienable, my alienable property, and I annihilate them as I create them.
“The Christian can lose all the things, all the objects, the dearest persons, who are the “objects” of his love, without believing for that reason that he has lost himself, that is, from the Christian point of view, his spirit, his soul. The individual owner can remove from himself all the thoughts that were dear to his heart and inflamed his zeal, and yet he will be “rewarded a thousandfold,” because he, their creator, remains.
“Unconsciously and involuntarily we all tend to our own individuality, and it is difficult to find anyone among us who has not renounced a sacred feeling, a sacred thought, a sacred belief; indeed we do not even meet anyone who does not already know how to dissolve himself from this or that of his sacred ideas. Our whole battle against beliefs proceeds from the opinion that we can drive the adversary out of his trenches of thought. But what I do unconsciously, I do half-heartedly, and therefore, after every victory over a belief, I will again be the prisoner (the obsessive) of a belief, which will once again take my whole self into its service and make me an exalted person for reason, after I have ceased to exalt myself for the Bible, or an exalted person for the idea of humanity, after I have fought more than enough for the Christian idea.” (U, p. 265).
Hence the first radical criticism of Christianity, which is not recognized as a means of spreading sympathy and love of neighbor. Yes, it speaks of the love of neighbor, but under the rarefied aspect of man: one must love in one’s neighbor man in general, not that Peter or that Paul, concrete men, with their characteristics: once again it is the ghost of the spirit that emerges preventing the construction of the new man. On the other hand, isn’t religion, Christianity itself, a form of concealed egoism? Perhaps religions can do without promises, perhaps they can do without rewards? But this is an unconscious egoism that ends up degenerating into slavery. In fact, religion, and in particular Christianity, covers the egoist with reproaches and insults, with a war that by covering every truth ends up becoming a fanatical and universal war.
Bravo recently wrote: “Even in Stirnerian criticism of religion we can see that lack of political realism, already noted in general by Marx. His denial of God and religion always emanates from an intellectual position, untied from the truest demands for emancipation against the present religion, which, however, leveraging a widespread religiosity (with the reference to primitive Christianity), such as in the pre-forty-eight years of Wilhelm Weitling, who wanted to march towards the revolution using the tool that everyone had available, religion precisely, and today present in Emmanuel Mounier”. (Introduction to The Anarchists, op. cit., pp. 37-38).
Of course, considering things from a literal point of view, reading Stirner’s work with an eye to the Hegelian polemic and an eye to Feuerbach, one cannot but agree with Bravo. If we add to this the need to consider Marx’s critique “well-founded” and therefore, according to Stirner’s conception, “sacred,” the result becomes clear. The reference to Mounier is dispersive insofar as it would be necessary to clarify his never specified position regarding the fideistic premise and the existential imprint. In Stirner, if there is one thing that is clear, it is the anti-intellectualistic element. But, on the other hand, one should not look for what is not there, only to have the pleasure of shouting with an open throat that one has not found it. The religious criticism of Marx starts from different presuppositions, from an indication of “facts” which, as contemporary Marxist analysis, especially French (Jean Hyppolite), has deliberately suggested, starts from the Hegelian Phenomenology  in order to transfer the events of the “novel” onto the plane of the concreteness of certain facts, chosen for their solidity (class struggle, for example), never revoked in doubt on the philosophical plane. This is precisely Stirner’s work. Work limited to the foundations only, but which provides us with a formidable means of moving forward, a means perhaps just as remarkable as the critique of Marx, if one takes into account the fact that often, using the Marxist analysis of religion as a spontaneous product of the suffering people, one stops, surprised, to wonder what the re-emergence of sacredness means, let us place it under the guise of the dictatorship of the proletariat or proletarian internationalism, or class struggle or other revolutionary symbols used to build a new power. Stirner’s critique is not intellectualistic critique, with Bravo’s good grace, but philosophical critique; just as Marx’s critique is not realist-intellectualistic critique, but realist-philosophical, i.e., pseudosociological, critique, with all the appropriate consequences.
One must not misunderstand. Stirner has not produced any remarkable insights regarding the religious problematic, he has only placed the problem at a more advanced level than that which, as a rule, is worked out by interpreters of Marx’s works. Much work will have to be done in the direction indicated by Stirner, and this work will also be useful to those who insist on crystallizing Marx. “For a society of commodity-producers whose generally social relation of production consists in behaving before their products as commodities, and therefore as values, and in referring their private labor to each other in this objective form as equal human labor, Christianity, with its cult of the abstract man, and especially in its bourgeois unfolding, in Protestantism, deism, etc., is the most corresponding form of religion.” (Il Capitale [1885-1894], tr. it., vol. I, Rome 1951-1952, pp. 92-93).
Hence the identification of Christianity as the religion best suited to capitalist development, based on the reification of commodities. But in what does the overcoming of religion consist?
“The religious reflection of the real world can generally disappear only when the relations of daily practical life present men day by day with clearly rational relations among themselves and between them and nature. The figure of the social life-process, that is, of the material process of production, removes its mystical veil of mists only when it stands, as the product of men freely united in society, under their conscious control and conducted according to a plan. However, for this to happen a material foundation of society is required, that is, a set of material conditions of existence which in turn are the original natural product of the history of a long and tormenting unfolding.” (Ib., p. 93).
This analysis of religion is rightly directed towards the “fact”, but this does not mean that we should consider it exhaustive. There remains, in fact, the obstacle of the process of continuous reification, or sacralization, as Stirner would say. If Stirner’s analysis has remained at the philosophical level, this does not mean that it has failed to point the way to the heart of the problem. In the face of progressive sacralization, the only thing I cannot sacralize is myself, as the self who thinks of himself, as an accomplished being, as an egoist. Every other perspective remains bound to me by the same phenomenon of sacralization. I can always run the risk, and in fact I do run the risk, and recent history has given us proof of this many times, of seeing religion resurrect, which is not only Christian religion, but can take on the strangest guises and the most disturbing disguises. In this sense and through this consideration, Stirner’s phrase “Our atheists are pious people”, takes on a profound meaning of indication and work.
Whoever overcomes – or claims to overcome – religion, must also implicitly overcome the hierarchy of ideas sacred, in whole or in part, to man. It is not enough to get rid of God or of the Spirit, and nothing is concluded by emancipation obtained by bending one’s back, by making an act of reverence or servility to other “spirits”, to other “ghosts” that take the name of family, fatherland, party, science, humanity, justice, truth, etc. All this is always religion, that is to say, it is always pretism.
Let us examine, before addressing the problem of the state in Stirner, his considerations of “law” that will be necessary for us to clarify the issue of authority.
“I decide if I am right; outside of me there is no right or justice. If something is the right thing, the thing that is needed for me, then it is right. It may not be the right thing for others: that is their business, not mine: let them defend themselves if they want to! And even if the whole world didn’t like it, but it was the right thing for me, that is, if I wanted it, I wouldn’t ask for the opinion or thought of the whole world. So do those who know how to appreciate themselves, each to the extent that he is selfish: for strength precedes right and indeed – rightfully so!” (U, p. 142).
“Law is the spirit of society. If society has a will, this will is precisely law: society exists only because of law. But since it exists only because it exercises dominion over individuals, law is nothing but the will of the dominator. Aristotle says that justice is the interest of society.
“Every existing right is an – extraneous right, a right that is “granted to me,” that I am “allowed to enjoy.” But would I be in the right, that is, would I be within my rights, just because everyone agrees with me? Yet what else is the right I possess in the State, in society, if not a foreign right? If an idiot agrees with me, telling me that I am within my rights, I will immediately be wary of being right, because the fact that he agrees with me does not please me at all. But even if a wise man agrees with me, that does not mean that I am really right and that I am really within my rights. Whether or not I am right, whether or not I am within my rights, is entirely independent of the judgment of the fool and the wise man.” (U, p. 139).
Thus an absolute rejection of law in view of the individual good, the health of the individual, the only one. The foundation of law is still the concept of the sacred. “I must submit to these established rights, considering them sacred. Such a “sense of right” and a “sense of justice” are so ingrained in people’s heads that the revolutionaries of our time want us to submit to a new “sacred right”: the “right of society”, of the social structure, the right of humanity, the “right of all” or the like. The right “of all” must precede my right. As the right of all, it should in any case also be my right, because I am among these “all”; but since it is at the same time a right of others or even of all others, I will not take a step to uphold it. Instead, I will defend it not as the right of all, but as my right, and each one will think, if he wants, to defend it in the same way. Everyone’s right (for example, the right to eat) is everyone’s right. Let each person keep that right for himself by opposing every restriction and that right will remain for everyone (since each person defends it for himself), but it is not at all necessary for him to be concerned about and zealous for the right of all”. (U, p. 140).
The Great Revolution, according to Stirner, was also a process of sacralization, and this occurred with the fact that the principle of equality was given the sanction of law.
“Who could search for “right rights” except those who look from a religious point of view? “Is not ‘right’ a religious concept, that is, something sacred? The “equality of rights” as the revolution put it is but another form of the “Christian equality,” the “equality of brothers, children of God, Christians, etc.,” in short fraternité. Every single question concerning questions of law deserves to be stigmatized with Schiller’s words: “For years now I have been using my nose to smell; do I really have a demonstrable right to it?”.
“When the revolution declared that equality is a “right,” it ended up in the religious realm, in the region of the sacred, of the ideal. Hence the struggle, which began then, for the “sacred, inalienable rights of man.” Against the “eternal rights of man” is naturally asserted, with no less foundation, the “right that the established order has deservedly won”: one right against another, so that one is defamed by the other and called “wrong”. This is the dispute of rights that has lasted since the revolution.” (U, pp. 140-141).
In order to support the legitimacy of the destruction of the libertarian instances proposed, in the very course of the revolution, by the base, the authoritarians have always advanced the concept of “necessity”. Even the Stalinist scourge has been justified with the “necessity” of communism in one country. This is an alibi that cannot hold for long. The advent of the bourgeois technicians and the seizure of the key points of revolutionary rule by the new-style bureaucracy have always been considered the two main points of the success of the revolution of 1793. In fact, what was done was to kill the internal dynamism of the revolution by denying any creative possibility to the popular initiative and laying the foundations of the future centralizing state that would find any Napoleon ready to manage it for his own imperial aims.
The truth is that in all the decisive moments of the French Revolution it was always the popular initiative that created the necessary conditions for victory, then, when all was said and done, bourgeois oppression, with its structures and techniques, with its “necessity” and its bureaucracy, had the upper hand, killing all spontaneity and creativity and rebuilding the state.
For the first time in history, the classic process of revolutionary involution prepared and carried out by authoritarianism is presented. The other great example will be the Russian Revolution.
The presence of a stimulus from below, in the course of the French Revolution, could not suffice in the absence of a clear consciousness of the tasks and prospects that opened up before the exploited and the working classes in general. These stimuli were there, undoubtedly, but they were soon misrepresented by those who sensed them on a theoretical level – such as the followers of François-Noël Babeuf – or persecuted by those who saw them as a possible danger to future bourgeois domination. (On this subject see my Introduction to P. Kropotkin, The Great Revolution , tr. it., Catania 1975).
The Jacobins themselves, within their own organization, were divided on the basis of this intention to see the Revolution as a result of the base or as something that rained down from above. The “plebeians”, adherents of the Jacobins, clearly supported the Revolution from below, mediated by a revolutionary vanguard, but they were the first to go to the guillotine. The bourgeois, having in their hands the direction of the Jacobin movement, succeeded in impressing their intention of a revolution dominated by a power elite, and ended up on the guillotine second, killed, in turn, by the reactionary conservatives, who saw clearly as that thesis had now made its own time.
The revolution is always a fact that emerges from a contrast: in the absence of the contrast there would be no revolution but harmonious development, idyllic, of a perfect society that is always different but, at the same time, identical to itself, in its perfection. The main contrast is the economic one, a contrast which, in the period of maximum development of imperialist capitalism, took on macroscopic characteristics that led some analysts to denounce it as the only existing contrast. In fact, the revolution, although based on the economic contrast between the exploited and the exploiters, is too complex to be enclosed within a fixed form. As it matures, it can be followed with the interpretive aid of history and past experience, but only up to a certain point: as it unfolds, it brings with it so many modifications, so many new aspects, so many explosions of creativity that those who are experts do not always manage to understand their importance.
That’s why the study of the revolutions of the past and, in particular, of the Great Revolution, which can be considered the mother of all modern revolutions, is of great importance, even if it cannot be considered as a methodological study to look for the best revolutionary systems and employ them as such. In this sense Nikolai Lenin was wrong when he identified himself with the methods of Jacobin terror. Everything has its own historical fixity, it reappears with extremely different forms of implementation, in other words, it is unrepeatable. And revolutions do not escape the rule.
Marx and Engels, on this subject, seem more adherent to reality, just as they are torn between one interpretation and another of the meaning and value of the French Revolution. Their model of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” is sometimes brought back to the events of 1793 and sometimes considered as an adjustment, a modern analytical device to bring the arms of the proletariat back to the modernity of the conflict that awaits them. But the very presence of the word “dictatorship” clearly indicates the persistence of the bourgeois and Jacobin tradition within the new Marxist interpretation. In fact, to the masses, to their spontaneous movement of claim and struggle, to the creative ideas of a new social organization, the concept of “dictatorship” can only be extraneous. Dictatorship by whom and over what? Certainly not by the masses and not on themselves! It would be a nonsense. The idea of “dictatorship” implies the presence of someone (dictator) or of some precise organization (party) that can exercise it in the name of someone else (the masses). In fact, especially in the Leninist elaboration, much clearer on this point, the dictatorship of the proletariat becomes a dictatorship not exercised by the proletariat – which would fall into the above contradiction – but a dictatorship exercised by the party in the name of the proletariat.
But idealistic formulas always leave the field to concrete application, defined in all details, application that makes the abstract idea usable by power. The law is embodied in the law, which regardless of its content must be respected by the citizen. Now, starting from the assumption that “he who has the power has – the right: if you do not have the first, you do not have the second either. Is this wisdom so difficult to attain?” (U, p. 144), an intellectualistic statement and detached from reality – some would say – (but how close, instead, in our opinion, to a painful reality that we experience every day on our skin), one would arrive at the conclusion that it is not possible to distinguish between law and arbitrary command, hence the fall of the entire normative scaffolding of law.
“But law,” Stirner insists, “what is right in a society is also expressed – in law.
“One strives to distinguish law from arbitrary command by saying that the former proceeds from legitimate authority. But a law that concerns human behavior (a moral law, a state law, etc.) is always a statement of will and therefore a command. Indeed, even if I give myself a law, it is still a command, even if it is a command to which I can deny, a moment later, my obedience. Someone may declare, it is true, what he is willing to endure, declaring at the same time by a law that he will not tolerate everything else, threatening to consider every transgressor his enemy; but no one can have dominion over my actions, prescribe them to me, and impose laws on me about them. I must accept that he treats me as his enemy, but never that he treats me as his creature and makes his reason (or perhaps his foolishness) the criterion for judging me.
“States last only as long as there is a dominating will that is considered identical with its own will. The will of the dominator is – law. What use are your laws to you if no one observes them, what use are your commands to you if no one carries them out? The state cannot abandon its claim to determine the will of individuals, to count on it and speculate on it. It is absolutely necessary for the state that no one has a will of their own, and if anyone proves to have one, the state must exclude them (lock them up, exile them, etc.); if everyone proved to have one, they would abolish the state. The State is unthinkable without domination and slavery (subjection); in fact, the State must dominate all those who are part of it: this is precisely called the ‘will of the State'”. (U, p. 145).
This claim of universality of the juridical norm clashes with the actual source of the norm itself, which is grasped in the relations of production, in the situation of social confrontation and in all those concrete elements that condition the theoretical scaffolding of law.
Stirner again: “Since every human right is always a concession, it always boils down to the right that men attribute to each other, they ‘grant’ to each other. If infants are granted the right to life, they have that right; if it is not granted to them, as was the case with the Spartans and the ancient Romans, they do not have it. In fact, only society can attribute or “grant” that right to them, because they can neither take it nor give it to themselves. It will be objected that infants have the right to life “by nature”: well, the Spartans refused to recognize that right. But in this way infants had no right to recognition of their right, just as they had no right to demand that the ferocious beasts to whom they were thrown as food recognize their right to live.” (U, p. 143).
Society, says Stirner, as the overall source of all possible behavior, is force and domination, so much so that it is solidified in the expression “state”, an expression that makes the exercise of power more efficient. It produces law, which is thus perfected, in its normative and doctrinal aspect, by the specific elements that form the “will to power” of society. It is these elements, concrete and not abstract, that make the abstractness of law perceptible and the philosophy of law itself comprehensible. Only that all this, as an exploitative organization, is foreign to me. It is not, in any way, “my right,” unless I myself take possession of something by force, thereby placing myself beyond law, beyond the abstract conception of legality, that is, accepting the process of criminalization that the very conditions of exploitation open up before my will. The other aspect, legality, is the “right” that society recognizes in me, not “my right” but that of the “foreigner”.
In reality, with regard to law, institutional ideas are not clear, tying themselves to a double consideration: law, in order to justify itself, needs the foundation of the State, the irrational element that justifies the latter, but, at the same time, it must help to indicate this irrational element, which is both ethical and political. In other words, the state presupposes the existence of law and, what is impossible, the latter must be able to adapt itself as the source of the state. Georges Gurvitch writes, very rightly: “The legal phenomenon is extremely complex because of its antinomic structure: in it, in fact, autonomy and heteronomy, ideal and real elements, stability and instability, order and creation, constraint and conviction, social necessity and social ideals, experience and interpretation and, finally, logical ideas and moral values meet”. (Sociology of Law , tr. it., Milan 1957, pp. 61-62).
This position seems to us more adherent to the reality examined by Stirner than the one deriving from an implicit acceptance of Marxist determinism, which can be summarized in the phrase: “every form of production produces its own juridical relations”. Thus Marx: “Both the legal relations and the forms of the State cannot be understood either for themselves or for the so-called general evolution of the human spirit, but have their roots, rather, in the material relations of existence, the whole of which is embraced by Hegel, following the example of the English and French of the eighteenth century, under the term ‘civil society’; and that the anatomy of civil society is to be sought in political economy.” (For the Critique of Political Economy , Preface, tr. it., Rome 1957, p.10).
On the contrary Gurvitch: “Given the degree of indeterminacy that characterizes social reality and in particular legal reality (linked to symbols and collective values), regularities in this field are reduced to eventualities (Weber), to probabilities, to tendencies, whose realization is limited to a wide margin of unpredictability. That is why we speak of tendential regularities.” (Sociology of Law, op. cit., p. 350).
This, however, should not be understood in an abstractly scientific sense, i.e. as a further “certain” datum that can be found with a different method, because, by doing so, one would fall from the old mechanical determinism into the new probabilistic determinism. The opening that can be drawn from these statements is that of greater attention to be paid to the element of the individual’s will, an element which, in the final analysis, acts within the historical framework of institutions, relations of production and all the other conditions that contribute to forming the “level of the class clash”.
It is natural that, on the side of power, evaluations change according to the prospects for obtaining consensus. The ethical foundation of law comes close to religious sacredness, the justification of the norm is linked to the principle of “having to be”, the foundation of a certain way of being. Once again, the idea of God is the basis of a repressive instrument. The elimination of mystery would guarantee a free expression of the will – insofar as it would occur as a parallel condition to the elimination of exploitation – and, therefore, would also determine the progressive disappearance of law (and the State).
Whoever does not accept these conditions is considered “outside the law”, since it is always “they” who set the limits of law (as well as its foundations), the masters, the powerful, those who constitute the ruling class. “My own will“, writes Stirner, “is the ruin of the State: therefore it is stigmatized by the State as ‘personal arbitrariness’. The personal will and the State are mortal enemies between whom there can never be “eternal peace.” As long as the State asserts itself, it portrays the personal will, its warlike adversary, as irrational, evil, etc., and the latter allows itself to be treated as such, indeed it really is insofar as it allows itself to say so: it has not yet come to itself, that is to say, to the consciousness of its own dignity, and is therefore still imperfect, still willing to allow itself to be misled, etc., and so it is not yet able to be treated as such.
“Every state is despotic, whether the despot be one or many or even all, as is presumed to be the case in a republic, where each tyrannizes the other. This is in fact what happens in the case where a law, established once as a result of opinion, of the expressed will, let us say, as a result of a popular assembly, must then be a law for the individual, to which he owes obedience, that is, towards which he is obliged to obey. Even if one were to imagine that everyone in the people had expressed the same will and that therefore a perfect “general will” had been achieved, the matter would not change. Would I not be bound today and tomorrow to my will of yesterday? My will would then be stiffened. Damned stability! My creature, that is, a specific expression of my will, would become my ruler. But I, with my will, I, the creator, would be blocked in my flow and in my dissolution. Since I was crazy yesterday, I would have to remain crazy all my life. Thus, in state life, I am at best – and I could just as well say: at worst – a slave to myself. Since yesterday I willed, today I am without will: yesterday free, today forced.
“How to change this state of affairs? Only by no longer recognizing any duties, that is, neither binding myself nor allowing myself to be bound. If I have no duties, I have no laws either.
“”But I will be forced!” My will cannot be forced: I am always left with the possibility and the will to oppose it.
“”But it would all go up in the air if everyone could do whatever he wanted!” Who says everyone can do everything? What are you in it for, except to oppose what you don’t want done to you? Defend yourself and no one will do anything to you! Whoever wants to break your will will have to deal with you! He is your enemy: treat him as such. If there are millions of people behind you to defend you, you will have an imposing force and will win without difficulty. But even if the impressiveness of your force overcomes your adversary, you will not be a sacred authority to him, unless he is a petty scoundrel. He owes you neither respect nor consideration, though he will have to be on his guard in the face of your power.” (U, p. 146).
Here lies the problem of “deviance”, to which we will return when we address the issue of individualism and its relationship with Stirner’s philosophy. Now, it seems interesting to us to note the relationship that exists between Stirner’s intuitions about law and so-called “deviant behavior,” understood as “behavior that violates rules. “Now I could, if I wanted to make a fool of myself by behaving like a well-meaning person, ask you not to make laws that would harm my personal development, my individual activity, my creation of myself. I will not give you this advice. In fact, if you followed it, you would be foolish and I would lose what I have gained. From you I do not demand anything at all, in fact, no matter how much I recommend myself, you will continue to be imperious legislators and you will not be able not to be, in the same way that a crow cannot sing and a thief cannot live without stealing. Rather, I ask those who want to be selfish if they think it more selfish to let themselves be dominated by your laws, respecting them, or to be recalcitrant, indeed fully disobedient. Good people think that laws should prescribe only what popular sentiment considers fair and just. But what do I care about what has value in the people and for the people? The people will perhaps be against blasphemy and make a law to that effect. Perhaps that is why I should not blaspheme? Perhaps that this law should be worth more to me than a “command” (which I can also refuse to carry out)? I really wonder!” (U, p. 147). That is, as something that at the same time produces and is the effect of contradictions. We can affirm that what characterizes the so-called deviant activity is precisely contradiction, which can take on two aspects: a) external contradiction, on the model of the relationship between man and nature, b) internal contradiction, that which man experiences with himself, but as part of a collectively organized system.
Internal contradictory processes are those that are most difficult to accept being catalogued in rigidly a priori thought structures. Internal contradictions have a psychological basis and, therefore, are the result of two contrasting drives. At the level of the individual, internal contradiction presents itself, as a rule, as a psychological problem, a discomfort. The perception of the higher level of the contradiction, where a more effective choice would be possible, rarely occurs. What is missing, therefore, is the consciousness that the internal contradiction has its origin in an external (social, fundamental) contradiction and that it is only (at least, for the most part) its internalization that produces the internal contradiction.
But all this is not enough. Stopping at the analysis of the individual, even if an abstract relationship between internal and external contradiction were to intervene, would only produce a natural conclusion: the possibility of an “improved”, “healed” individual, but placed abstractly in a metaphysical zone that is completely unreal. Now, if the individual is an expression – of the social, everything that is part of the psychic is fundamentally linked to the social world, so a certain way of being, of disposing oneself, of reacting will have a meaning only after a correct theory that takes into account the contradictions by placing them in a series (albeit complex) of superstructural, cultural and, finally, structural mediations. (Cfr. A. K. Cohen, Controllo sociale e comportamento deviante , tr. it., Bologna 1969, p. 27).
Sergio Piro writes: “Within the personality, contradictory instances are outlined that tend to conform homologously to the analogous social pressures: thus, there result, always within the personality, two opposite lines that, each in its own whole, reflects quite faithfully an analogous line existing in the formative life environment (family, group, social class). At an advanced stage of development and at a high level of consciousness, the two lines can connect no longer and exclusively to poles of microsocietal formation, but can extend to an entire society: in this case (and we are already at a high level of liberation) the two lines will tend to reproduce no longer internal contradictions within the group or class, but directly the antagonistic contradiction between social classes.” (The Techniques of Liberation. A dialectic of human discomfort, Milan 1971, p. 21).
The social element must constitute the starting point of an analysis of deviance and must also constitute the point of arrival, the proposition of a deeper contradictory level, where the conflict is not resolved in the recognized narrowness of its terms, but opens up to new objectives.
There remains the other side of the problem, the hidden side of a subject that ends up becoming a kind of “problem within a problem”. This is the problem of ideology, not only from the point of view of the method used to elaborate the results, but in the very way the researcher is disposed towards the choice of method and the elaboration of the results. This is the well-known difficulty deriving from the essential identity between subject and object. Here, in fact, subject and object cannot be thought of separately, and researchers are no exception. The object that one seeks to examine is always, in one way or another, the product of an ideological process that has been defined as prescientific (cf. L. Sebag, Marxism and Structuralism, op. cit., p. 222), but which (whichever term one prefers) cannot be considered, in any case, as given absolutely and forever. As Sebag indicated, psychopathology is one of the areas in which this danger is most prominently displayed (in addition to the areas of ethnology and aesthetics). (Ib., p. 221).
And he concluded, “Not that its realization is impossible; it clashes with certain difficulties, which nevertheless do not frustrate its project: the existence of prescientific models relating to the very data that science submits to its method indicates that the scholar, whenever he proceeds to investigate, gather facts or interpret them, may be guided by prejudices, often implicit, which direct his judgments toward perspectives foreign to the objectivity to which he is striving.” (Ib., p. 222).
Ultimately, as we will see better later, when we talk about deviance, we do so to try to rationalize an explanation of certain real relationships behind it, relationships of domination, social and political mechanisms without which the concepts of “role” and “balance” would be unthinkable.
The contradictions of capitalist relations of production thus become rationalized in the “division of labor” (hence the equilibrium of bourgeois political economy), while the contradiction of exploitation becomes rationalized in the ahistorical affirmation of the impossibility of a society without exploiters and exploited (hence the equilibrium of role modification in the persistence of basic conditions). It is then that psychologists and sociologists are called upon to carry out their task. The former at the individual level, the latter at the social level, but both with the task of carefully separating the two levels.
These statements should not lead to the conclusion that once social and psychological research is subjected to these ideological presences, it no longer makes sense. On the contrary, they are very indicative for the measurement of various problems, often precisely by virtue of the clarification, within them, of the influence exerted by the ideological component. If the problem of deviance has often been distorted, through its extraction from the overall context of historical and social relations, this does not mean that the problem does not exist or is not detectable or is not important, precisely those distortions give the measure of its existence and the efforts that power makes to hide it.
Let us now examine Stirner’s passage from the theme of law to that of the State. The same procedure used to criticize the notion of law, reducing it to the strength of the individual: “a fist full of strength is certainly more convincing than a basket full of law”, is used for the critique of the notion of the State.
Before going any further, however, we need to clarify here the problem of the use of force and violence, about which so much has been said without result and without construction. In what way is it possible to identify Stirner’s affirmations with the exaltation of force as vital impulse, as primigenial force and violence, typical of fascism and of national socialist ideologies that, all of them, are founded on a biological basis?
Fascism is not a doctrine. In 1919 Benito Mussolini declared: “Our doctrine is the fact”. Next to this irrational drive to action there is – limited to the concept of force and the derived concept of violence – the irrational exaltation of the force of the race, which has all the right on its side to remain alone, exterminate the rest of the world, live as a dominatrix. At the head of the delusional thesis is a person, the solidified charisma: the Führer.
All of this is far removed from Stirner’s intentions. He refers to the indispensable moral and physical energies that make revolt possible, the rejection of the imposition that power encloses in the “fair” envelope of law, the construction of direct action.
Revolt is a fact that concerns individuals and organizations. It is not, if you like, the revolution, but it makes the latter possible, which would drown in a vain wait-and-see attitude in the absence of the former. Without the continuous revolt of conscious individuals, only a traitorous revolution will be possible, that of the new masters who use the watchwords of the class struggle. And revolt is consciousness of oneself, of one’s own commitment, of the sacrifices one must make, but also of the hopes and joys one can attain. Revolt determines the life of each of us. On occasions of great social tension, when the contradictions of capital explode violently, the consequences of small compromises and small weaknesses come to light, compromises and weaknesses that we had, individually, thought to consider as normal facts. The consequences of opportunism, a disease capable of finding clever words to hide, to justify, to smuggle itself as the most efficient of revolutionary tactics, come to light.
As a rule, the way the problem of the difference between “violence” and “non-violence” is posed is wrong, and this is because class interests and the emotional reactions connected to them prevent a clear view of the differences and ideological coverings.
The violence and terrorism of the masters, as realized within the institutional framework of the state, are deadly, know no limits, and pose no moral obstacles. There is no doubt that revolutionaries, and anarchists in particular, have the broadest justification in responding to this violence with revolutionary violence. Moreover, revolutionary violence, i.e. that of the exploited, is not exercised only in words, but is realized in the preparation of those organizational forms and those tools that are best suited to respond violently to the violence of the state.
The question becomes more complicated when we examine the positions of the supporters of non-violence. Only apparently, the latter choose peaceful methods, resorting to instruments of intervention that – if observed in isolation – are not violent, that is, they do not directly and physically attack the opponent. But, in the general framework of the clash, their interventions, attacking the power, when not carried out under the conditions of those mass organizations that resort to the non-violent alibi to cover their intention to leave things as they are, are as violent as those carried out by the supporters of violence.
A procession of “pacifist” demonstrators is in itself a violent fact, it is the realization of something that disturbs the order of exploitation. It is a demonstration of force, a test of strength. It does not differ from the “violent” procession, at least not in the possibility of identifying just objectives. From the strategic and revolutionary point of view, in the present state of things, the realization of a violent demonstration capable of obtaining and managing a military victory is unthinkable. We don’t want to say that we have to reject revolutionary violence, we just want to say that we have to clarify, avoiding to sacralize the machine gun, on one side, and avoiding to turn all of us into policemen on the other side.
As things stand, the distinction between violence and non-violence is a false distinction, once it is circumscribed at the level of words. That is to say, a pasty bourgeois, in the vein of criminal excesses, may very well “theorize” the most ruthless of violence, even against the master class, but he hardly gets to enact it, under the conditions of those militant organizations that require total dedication to the revolutionary task. Most of the time its violence is only verbal. In practice, then, he prefers things to remain as they are, because they give him the possibility of continuing to exercise his fiery rhetoric.
Another bourgeois, fed in the same way, may feel led to exalt non-violence, but as a theoretical fact, as a fact that condemns the negative “instincts” of struggle and violence, in order to sanctify the positive “instincts” of peace and brotherhood. But it is very difficult for this bourgeoisie to put these “non-violent” principles into practice, that is to say, it will prefer the comfort of the situation as it is to the daily and total commitment to social struggle (including non-violent struggle), a situation which offers him, on the other hand, the possibility of making his reflections on the rhetoric of peace and brotherhood.
Before talking about violence and non-violence, it would be necessary to make a distinction between participation in struggles, insertion in reality, and abstention from intervention, engagement in the fictitious of theories. Only afterwards, when faced with a twofold commitment, equally total and equally engaging, could we talk about the strategic, political and military conditions that make the methods of non-violence less efficient, that make them more easily encompassed by power. But this discussion will always be a subsequent discussion and one of methodological content, never an abstractly a priori discussion and one of philosophical content.
We are not interested in the philosophical reasons that make the hypothesis of violent intervention valid. It is not in the philosophical arena that violence finds its necessary connotation, because then we would be forced to place it in the sphere of basic motivations, inherent in man: biological violence, hereditary, of the species, etc.. All this junk ends up reeking of inverted theology. What matters is the struggle towards the reality of the clash: the rest is a matter of choosing the means and methods of employing these means.
If, personally, we are convinced that the nonviolent method is unsuitable for social confrontation, today we are not against those comrades who recognize in the nonviolent method their own dimension of struggle. As long as this struggle is carried out in earnest, as long as we don’t just talk about “nonviolent struggle”, building an alibi to avoid responsibility, as long as we don’t claim to be nonviolent because in this way the police won’t unleash their repression.
Abstract discourses on violence, discourses that are almost always the most brutal and bloody, as well as abstract discourses on peace and brotherhood, discourses that are almost always the most idiotic and heavenly, disgust us in the same way. Faced with the historical scandal of exploitation, terrorism and employers’ violence, one can only respond with violent struggle, that is, with confrontation at any level and by any means: one cannot respond, however, with the mere violence (or non-violence) of words and speeches. Once one has decided to respond, to enter into the reality of the struggle, choosing the method of non-violence, one will make a mistake with serious consequences, even if in good faith, even if one’s personal commitment is total and unconditional. This error, however, must be able to be evaluated strategically and methodologically.
It is for this reason that now, in talking about a legitimization of the attack against exploitation carried out by the bosses through the State, we cannot endorse a philosophical distinction between “violence” and “non-violence”. Here only the personal, individual and collective moment, the moment of commitment, must be clarified, and the danger of ideological pollution and wordy mystification must also be pointed out.
Let us examine the position of a non-violence theorist who takes up Gandhi’s discourse in Italy. While not sharing the conclusions, and while expressing great perplexity about the religious foundations of the premises, one cannot deny that in the indications of Aldo Capitini and of the other nonviolent people who adhere to the movement he started, there is a decision to remain within the reality of things. The fact that this method is unsuitable to fight against a power that has institutionalized violence for centuries is another matter, which, as we have said, must be considered strategically, politically and methodologically.
According to the analysis developed by Capitini, nonviolence revalues the supreme value of openness to existence, to freedom, to the development of every being. Just as once the slave was able to free himself (cf. Le tecniche della Nonviolenza, Milan 1967, pp. 13-14), acquiring the value of a person and destroying the prejudice that wanted him to be a “thing”, now, all beings must be able to assume this value, that is, to arrive at the “reality of all”. Non-violence, in this way, on the basis of Gandhi’s teaching, becomes from an individual method, a method for the masses. “In the light of this principle the method of realization had to be constituted and articulated. It was to get out of the dilemma of violence and arrogance, sometimes cloaked in a hypocritical juridical value, and the inertia and passivity that everything endures; it was to show the possibility of a position of open and active courage, but not to destroy the opponent, a courage to fight.” (Ib., pp. 16-17).
The fundamental connection between truth and nonviolence includes a deepening of the former term that serves to re-evaluate the latter and causes not a few methodological concerns. Here the sacralization occurs through an indirect use of Immanuel Kant. Truth is what it truly is, the value in itself, the good in itself. Commitment is placed on a philosophical basis – the weak point of non-violent theorists – which nourishes the concept of suffering. The willingness to commit oneself is experienced by the nonviolent as persuasion, and persuasion is a willingness to suffer, a tension towards a liberated reality that cannot be acquired through conservatism and adaptation to violent institutions. Through Gandhian elaboration, which is strongly religious, the model of nonviolent direct action is constructed here.
Contrary to what many amiable supporters – in theory – of non-violence think, it cannot be identified with inertia, with inactivity. On the contrary, it is a constant activity that does not wait for definitive weapons, an activity that continuously opens up to the outside world and multiplies its interventions. The creative characteristic should constantly nourish it, and this in the various fields of education, psychological research, pedagogical training, transforming the school, its cultural contents and its teaching and community methods.
Non-violent people affirm that in order to transform society it is necessary to found a method that radically counters the method of power on which it has been based until now. This method is the non-violent method of so-called “power from below.” “Everyone must learn that he or she has a share of power in his or her hands, and it is up to him or her to use it well, to the advantage of all; he or she must learn that there is no need to kill anyone, but that, cooperating or not, he or she has in his or her hands the weapon of consensus and dissent. And everyone has this power, even those who are far away, women, the very young, the weak, as long as they are courageous and move by seeking and doing, without being impressed by those who scare them with power”. (A. Capitini, Il potere di tutti, Florence 1969, pp. 152-153).
One error that comes to us from the past is “idolatry,” the belief that a determined person, perhaps endowed with certain requirements in a high degree, can change everything for the good. (See Ib., p. 153).
These points are interesting and highlight two characteristic elements of non-violence, elements on which many “theorists” asserting the abstract “value” of non-violence should reflect: courage and activity. So many people, whose only concern is to attack their comrades who think it is right to use violent methods, to act as policemen, as watchdogs, as spies, should not have the right to talk about non-violence, because in their mouths that talk is the worst of alibis and does nothing but further confuse things.
When talking about violence, therefore, it would be good to distinguish between real violence, which consists in attacking repression, exploiters, the state and all forms of power, and false violence, which consists in keeping out of the realities of struggle, in locking oneself up in vain and doctrinaire statements (violent or non-violent, at this point, it makes no difference).
Even the armed struggle does not escape this philosophical premise. If the armed struggle is a violent struggle against the State and its servants, it is so because it concretizes a precise action within a class line-up and with a class objective. No consideration of the armed struggle, no reflection on the P 38, in itself, is violent or non-violent: it is only a reflection, a consideration. But, alongside the armed struggle, other struggles can be effective and greatly disturb power, struggles that do not require the use of the P 38 but of other weapons, but which are no less violent for that, even when they are covered with the questionable theoretical discourse of non-violence.
With regard to Stirner, critics at the service of power (of any form and color) have often resorted to the method of denigration, accusing him of being an inconsiderate glorifier of gratuitous violence, of violence as the primordial force of man, as a force capable of resolving everything. In Stirner’s anti-intellectualist discourse, these statements sound out of tune: philosophical idealism of Hegelian origin, from which one can draw conclusions such as that of the ethicality of force (work done by Giovanni Gentile), is harshly criticized, and this allows us to see clearly that Stirner’s analysis is directed to a real critique of the means available to attack power.
When Stirner writes: “If something is the right thing, the thing that is needed for me, then it is right” (U, p. 142), it must be read well, avoiding giving space to those attempts made by those who tend to accuse him of exalting brute force in order to numb the masses by preparing them to accept that force which is, in a certain way, sacralized. Stirner simply says that the rejection of the “right” set by others, by those who exploit me, means the establishment of a “right of my own”, different from that of others. “Whether it is nature or God or popular decision, etc., that grants me a right, it is always a foreign right, a right that I am not the one to grant or take.” (Ibid.). But this can only happen if I have the strength to raise myself above the right of others, which for me is always and only a source of exploitation, to raise myself to full awareness of myself, of my own value. Who often bends his back gets into the habit, so he loses, with the sense of his own value, the sense of individual revolt. Once this is lost, no mass perspective, no centralized movement, no ideal will be able to push him forward: the acceptance of the right “of others”, fixed “by others”, will be definitive.
The mass revolt, the strike as an instrument of struggle, the revolutionary organization come later, remaining transitory constructions if they are not based on a process of education to individual rebellion.
Stirner affirms: “In the bourgeois regime the workers always fall into the hands of the owners, that is, of those who have some state property (and every property that can be possessed belongs to the state, it belongs to it and is granted as a fief to individuals), in particular money and land, in short, the capitalists. The worker cannot value his labor according to the value his product has for those who enjoy it. “Labor is poorly paid!”: the greatest gain is the capitalist’s. Well and more than well is paid only the work of those who contribute to increasing the luster and sovereignty of the State, that is, the work of the high officials, the distinguished servants of the State. The state pays well so that its “good citizens” The state pays well, so that its “good citizens” [Bürger], i.e. the “good bourgeoisie”, the landowners, can without risk pay poorly; it gives security, paying them well, to its servants, with whom it forms a body of defense for the “good citizens, landowners”, a “police” (of the police are part of the soldiers, state employees of all kinds, for example the branch of justice, education, etc. …), In short, the whole “machinery of the state”), and the “good (bourgeois) citizens” willingly pay high taxes to the state in order to pay their workers much less.
“But the working class, being unprotected in what it essentially is (as workers they enjoy no state protection, only as subjects they participate in police protection, i.e., they have so-called legal protection), therefore remains a hostile power to this state, the state of the landlords, the “bourgeois monarchy.” Their principle, labor, is not recognized in its value: it is exploited, it is the spoils of war of the landowners, the enemies.
“The workers hold the most enormous power in their hands: if they really became aware of it and used it, nothing could resist them: it would be enough for them to suspend their work, to consider as their own the product of the work accomplished up to that moment and to enjoy it. This is the meaning of the workers’ revolts that surface here and there. “The state is founded on the – slavery of labor. If labor becomes free, the state will be lost.” (U, pp. 89-90).
But it is time, now, to turn to Stirner’s conception of the state.
“What is called “State” is an interweaving, a network of dependencies and linkages, it is a mutual belonging of men who hold themselves together and adapt themselves to each other, in short, they depend on each other: the State is precisely the order of this dependency. If, for example, the king were to disappear, whose authority confers every form of authority down to that of the policeman, all those in whom the sense of order was alive would nevertheless hold the order up against the disorder of bestiality. If disorder won out, the state would die out.” (U, p. 165).
And, further on, “Our societies and states exist, without us making them, they come together without us bringing them together, they are predestined and subsist or have a subsistence of their own, independent, they are the indissoluble subsistent in the face of us egoists. The battle being fought in the world today is, as they say, directed against the “subsistent.” However, it is customary to run into the misunderstanding that one should only exchange what subsists today with another, and better, subsistent. Whereas war should be declared on subsistence itself, that is, on the state (status), not on a particular state, nor even only on the current condition of the state; certainly not another state (perhaps a “people’s state”) is the goal, but a union, the unification, though always fluid, of every subsistent. A State is a reality present even without my participation: I come into the world in it, I am educated in it, I am obliged to it and I must pay “homage” to it. The State, in fact, welcomes me into its “grace” and I live by it. The State’s autonomous existence means that I cannot be autonomous and its “naturalness” and organism demand that my nature not grow freely, but adapt itself to it. The state adjusts me with the scissors of “civilization” so that I can develop freely, it gives me an education and a culture that takes into account its needs and not mine, it teaches me, for example, to respect the laws, not to violate state property (i.e. private property), to respect a divided and earthly authority, etc., in short, it teaches me to be – irreproachable, “sacrificing” my own individuality to “sacredness” (everything can be considered sacred, from property to other people’s lives, etc., etc.). This is the kind of civilization and culture that the State can give me: the State educates me to become a ‘useful tool’, a ‘useful member of society'”. (U, p. 166).
Therefore: “The fact that the State holds me responsible for my principles and demands that I have certain ideas, might make me ask: what does it care about my “fixations” (principles)? Very much, because the State itself is the – ruling principle. One would think that in the matter of divorce and, in general, in family law, the problem would be that of the opposition between civil law and ecclesiastical law. But instead it is a matter of deciding whether a sacred entity should dominate over men, be it faith or moral law (morality). The state acts as a ruler exactly as the church did. This one is based on devotion, that one on morality.
“There is talk of tolerance and the possibility of letting opposing tendencies go free, something in which civilized states would particularly distinguish themselves. But some States are strong enough to attend quietly to the most violent meetings, while others unleash their cops to hunt tobacco pipes. However, for each State, the game that takes place between individuals, their fluttering here and there, their daily life, is a purely indifferent accident, which the State cannot therefore leave to the discretion of individuals, since their game does not interest it at all. However, it must be said that some states sift through gnats while swallowing camels without realizing it, while others are much more skillful. In the latter, individuals are “freer” because they are less harassed. But there is no state in which I can be free. The famous tolerance of States is only tolerance, precisely, of what appears “harmless” and “inoffensive,” it is only an overcoming of pettyness, it is only a – more authoritative, more grandiose, more superb tyranny. A certain State seemed for a time to want to be superior (at least to a large extent) to literary battles, which could thus be waged with all the ardor one wanted; England is superior to popular riots and – to tobacco. But woe to literature if it directly attacks the State, woe to popular riots if they can “endanger the State.” In a certain state one dreams of a “free science”; in England one dreams of a “free life of the people.” (U, pp. 167-168).
Thus: “The nationalists are now working hard to achieve abstract and lifeless unity, in the manner of the bees; but the individualists will fight for the unity they themselves want, for union. It is the mark of all reactionary desires to realize something general and abstract, that is to say, an empty and lifeless concept, while the individualists are trying to free the vigorous singularity full of life from the fetters of generalities. The reactionaries would like to raise from the earth a people, a nation; the individualists have only themselves before their eyes. After all, the two aspirations that are on the agenda today (i.e., the reconstitution of provincial rights, of the old divisions into lineages – Franks, Bavarians, etc., Lusatia, etc., and the reconstitution of national unity) coincide in the essential point. But the Germans can only be united, that is, can only unite, if they throw off their “apity” along with all the hives; said in other words, only if they are more than – German can they constitute a “German union.” They must not recall their nationality, that is, attempt, as it were, to re-enter the womb to be reborn: let each one come back to himself, rather! How ridiculous and sentimentalistic it is for one German to shake hands with another with a sacred thrill because “he too is German”! And by that he would be a decent person! But this will be considered touching as long as people continue to exalt themselves over “fraternity,” as long as they have, that is, a “sense of family.” The nationalists do not know how to free themselves from the superstition of ‘family love’, of ‘fraternity’, of ‘filial sense’ or, as they say in their melancholy catchphrases, of the family spirit, and so they want to build a big German family.” (U, pp. 171-172).
“The State cannot renounce the claim that its orders and laws are sacred. The individual, consequently, is considered as something not sacred (barbarian, natural man, “selfish”) in front of the State, just as he was once considered as such by the Church; in front of the individual the State puts on the halo of a saint. Thus, for example, a law against duels is enacted. Two men who agree to put their lives on the line for whatever cause should not be allowed to do so, because the State does not want to and punishes violators. But where does the freedom of self-determination go in this case? Things are completely different when, for example in North America, society decides to make duelists suffer some harmful consequences of their action, taking away, for example, the esteem they had enjoyed until then. Everyone can deny esteem to another person, and if a society wants to take it away for this or that reason, the person concerned cannot complain as if his freedom had been violated: the society only enforces its own freedom. It is not a punishment for a fault committed or a punishment for a crime. The duel is not a crime, in this case, but an action against which society decides to take its defensive countermeasures. The state, on the other hand, brands the duel as a crime, that is, as a violation of its sacred law, makes it a criminal case. While that society leaves it up to the individual to decide whether or not to draw upon himself harmful consequences and nuisances arising from his behavior and thus recognizes his free choice, the state does exactly the opposite, denying the decision of the individual any right and recognizing instead the exclusive right to its own decision, to state law, so that whoever breaks the commandment of the state is judged as having violated a divine commandment; the Church has always thought in the same way. God is then the saint in and of himself, and the commandments of the Church or of the State are commandments of this saint, transmitted by him to the world through his ministers and princes by divine right. The Church had mortal sins, the State capital crimes, the first heretics, the second those guilty of high treason, the first ecclesiastical penalties, the second criminal penalties, the first the trials of the Inquisition, the second the tax trials, in short: there sins, here crimes, there sinners, here criminals, there the Inquisition and here – the Inquisition! Perhaps the sacredness of the State will not end like that of the Church? Will there still remain the religious thrill before its laws, the veneration of its sovereignty, the humility of its “subjects”? Will the ‘face of the saint’ never be defaced?” (U, p. 177).
And, to conclude: “People” is the name of the body, “State” the name of the spirit of this dominating person who has oppressed me until now. One has wanted to transfigure peoples and States, ennobling them with the more general names of “humanity” and “universal reason,” but precisely this amplification would make the slavery even heavier: philanthropists and humanitarians are absolute masters just like politicians and diplomats.” (U, p. 179).
These are the main theses around the state. Modern civilization has given us the illusion of the conquest of freedom. In practice, disrupting the ancient state, feudal, they took away the police laws, the most inhuman laws and, therefore, harmful to the very essence of the state, to leave both the concept of the state and the best laws. In this way the man is forced to a greater obedience to the remaining laws, because they are precisely the least defective, in a word remained “the spirit of the laws”, ineliminable ghost of liberalism.
As it happens with the state, so it happened with the family. All are willing to emancipate themselves from the commandments of their parents: in this way they deny obedience to the family. But once freed from this dependence they fall into the even more terrible dependence of the abstract concept of the family, of the “spirit of the family”. The same with morality. Many are ready to break away from morality, but they fall into the abstract concept of morality. If morality is too material to bind a “free thinker,” morality binds him for good. “Observe how a “moral man” behaves who nowadays often claims to have dismissed God and rejects Christianity as an antiquity. If he is asked if he has never questioned that the mating of brothers is incest, that monogamy represents true marriage, that fidelity and respect are sacred duties, etc., a moral thrill will run through him at the mere thought that one might brush against one’s sister with erotic intention, etc. Why this thrill? Because he believes in those moral commandments. This moral faith has deep roots in his heart. As much as he rages against pious Christians, he has nevertheless remained just as Christian: a moral Christian. Under the guise of morality, Christianity holds him captive and, to be more precise, a prisoner of faith. Monogamy must be sacred, and those who live in bigamy are punished as criminals; those who practice incest must atone because they are criminals. On this I also agree with those who are always shouting that religion should not be taken into account in the State and that the Jew is a citizen in the same way as the Christian. Are not incest and monogamy articles of faith? Try to touch them and you will find that this “moral man” is also a champion of the faith, although at first glance one would think to reserve this title for a Krummacher or a Philip II. This one fights for the faith of the Church, that one for the faith of the State or for the moral laws of the State; in the name of an article of faith they both condemn those who behave differently from what their faith prescribes: they are branded as “delinquents” and left to rot in “houses of moral correction”, in prisons. Moral faith is no less fanatical than religious faith. However, in the case of two brothers being thrown into prison for a relationship that concerned only their “conscience”, it is “freedom of faith”! “But they were setting a dangerous example!”. Yes, of course, they could also lead others to believe that the state should not meddle in their relationships, and with that would end the “purity of morals”. The champions of religious faith are fanatical zealots for the ‘holiness of God’, those of moral faith, on the other hand, for the ‘holiness of Good'”. (U, pp. 40-41).
Similarly, the reasoning for the State works. The rebels against the positive State, historically identifiable, as in the case of the Great Revolution, are numerous, but there always remains in them, invulnerable and worthy of respect, the concept of the State, of a State that performs its function badly and that can be improved through the revolutionary process. We are faced with a new type of despotism that can only be broken by dissolving the family, morality and the State into nothingness.
But, how does the concept of the state materialize in practice? Stirner begins his critique of liberalism here, stating that it is already a lot if it has succeeded in giving independence from personal domination and if it has succeeded in securing the person against other persons. The inequality of servants and masters is abolished. The master, detached from the individual (from the egoist) becomes “the state”. In liberalism, the Christian contempt for personhood is perpetuated. Instead of considering man as he is, it considers him in his ideal qualities, which are then nothing more than phantoms, and this is because liberalism preserves in full its religious background. In the bourgeois states there are only “free people”, who are however forced to obey and observe a thousand precepts. The bourgeoisie is interested in the fact that the command exists even if it is impersonal. We therefore have a conflict of things, which has come to replace the previous conflict of people. Let us take free competition; it is an impersonal conflict, since, personally, no one can exercise any right of struggle or mastery over others.
The egoist is the only one who is essentially “free”. This freedom of his depends on his strength. Freedom, in practice, can only be liberation of oneself, in other words, I can only enjoy the freedom that I procure from myself. Once freedom is given to me or, even, imposed on me, it is no longer freedom. Nothing, says Stirner, is more frightening to the state than “my own worth”. Every opportunity that allows me to assert myself is constantly prevented. The State is therefore an inept and superfluous organization, incapable of achieving the very ends it proposes, which continually denounces the fact that ineptitude is at the basis of its very reason for being. Therefore, the decision to move war against it is legitimate. It is a matter of organizing oneself in a reasonable way so that the State, from the height of its overpower, does not end up crushing the individual before he can find the way to attack him.
Hegel had written: “The real idea, the spirit, which splits itself into the two ideal spheres of its concept, the family and civil society, as its finity, in order to be (moving from its ideality), spirit for itself infinite real; assigns, therefore, to these circles the matter of its infinite reality, the individuals as a multitude; so that this assignment to the individual appears mediated by circumstances, by the arbitrariness and the particular choice of its destination”. (Lineamenti di Filosofia del Diritto , tr. it., Bari 1971, pp. 220-221).
In other words, the family and civil society are the basis of the state, which is realized in the contingent but within the realm of the ideal. This is precisely the starting point of Stirner’s critique. Once the spirit splits into the two components of family and society, and then reassembles itself in the dimension of the State, it achieves its “unity”, that is, it places itself beyond any intervention by the individual, who, in any case, is forced to pay homage to it. Like the Church, the State resorts to an abstract principle in order to establish itself. In the case of the State, this principle is that of morality, in the case of the Church it is religious devotion.
Up to this point Marx places himself very close to Stirner. For here is Marx’s analysis of the above passage from Hegel: “The idea is reduced to a subject. And the real relationship of the family and civil society to the state is understood as an internal, imaginary, activity of the state. Family and civil society are the presuppositions of the State, they are properly the assets. But in speculation it becomes the opposite: while the idea is transformed into a subject, there the real subjects, civil society, the family, ‘circumstances, arbitrariness,’ etc., become objective, unreal moments of different meaning, of the idea.” (Critique of the Hegelian philosophy of law , tr. it., Rome 1950, p.17). Marx’s concern here is materialistic. He tries to avoid the metaphysical obstacle of the Hegelian perspective, an obstacle that would have, elsewhere, led to the use in an ethical sense of the notion of the State, a use with which Stirner is very concerned. “Everything that concerns the principle of morality is a matter for the state.” (U, p. 167). As if he saw in perspective Gentile and the theorization of the “Ethical State”. The latter will write: “The sovereign power, the will has it in itself; and outside itself, where empirically it represents itself to him armed with the sword, he cannot see it except through what he already has in his innermost being, where is the root and true substance of society and the State”. (Foundations of the Philosophy of Law, Palermo 1916, p.61).
But let us return to Marx. The insistence on the extraneousness of man in the State, which is a product of the abstraction of the absolute spirit, reappears again and again in various theses: “Man, in the reality closest to him, that is, in civil society, is a profane essence. Here, where by himself and by others he is considered a real individual, he is an unreal phantom”. (On the Question of the Jews , in The Hegelian Left, op. cit., p. 406).
Differences emerge as the analysis deepens. Stirner’s path opens up to the perspectives of the individual who measures himself against the drama of liberation. Marx’s way seeks to historicize this project, to tie it to a cyclical course of contingent events, often with the hope of tuning it to certain dialectical claims. Stirner’s perspective is, at the same time, political and aesthetic: a struggle for liberation but with the restoration of the qualities of the individual and, especially, of his best quality, that of being unrepeatably “one,” of being a unity that must live life, even beyond the “cause,” even if it is the best in the world, the most revolutionary and radical. Marx, on the other hand, immediately links the existence of the State to the existence of the bourgeois class, indeed he says precisely that the State is a derivation of bourgeois egoism. (See The Holy Family , tr. it., Rome 1954, pp. 131 et seq.). Elsewhere he says: “The State is nothing other than the form of organization that the bourgeois give themselves by necessity, both externally and internally in order to mutually guarantee their property and their interests…. Since the state is the form in which the individuals of a ruling class assert their common interests and in which the whole civil society of an epoch is summed up, it follows that all common institutions pass through the intermediary of the state and receive a political form.” (The German Ideology, op. cit., pp. 59-60).
Marx’s path is reinforced by Friedrich Engels with his usual determinist extremism, stating that the initial stage of society without the state (primitive society) was followed by a society with the state (class society), so it must follow logically, according to the dialectical scheme, a future society without the state and therefore without classes. Thus the state becomes not only the state of the bourgeoisie, but the instrument of the latter to ensure the balance of the class struggle. “The State, since it arose out of the need to rein in class antagonisms, but at the same time was born in the midst of the conflict of these classes, is, as a rule, the State of the most powerful, economically dominant class which, through it, also becomes politically dominant and thus acquires a new instrument for keeping the oppressed class subdued and for exploiting it.” (L’origine della famiglia, della proprietà privata e dello Stato , tr. it., Roma 1960, p. 172).
But on this road the role of the individual’s will to liberation is killed. In fact, as will become clear in the writings of the so-called revisionists, the concept of the state will be disengaged from the original Marxist context and re-evaluated, not only as an instrument of domination of the bourgeoisie, but as an instrument for the maintenance of social and economic order. Karl Kautsky writes: “The whole enormous movement of society, which began with the rise of industrial capital and carried on by the class struggle of the proletariat, could not continue without completely transforming the state itself, causing not only upheavals within the state, but transforming from top to bottom the very essence. (Die materialistische Geschichtsauffassung, vol. II, Berlin 1927, p. 597). And more clearly Eduard Bernstein: “The state is not only the organ of oppression and the chief executive of the owners. To present it only in this light is the only way out for all the elucubrats of anarchist systems. Proudhon, Bakunin, Stirner, Kropotkin, all of them have always presented the State solely as an organ of oppression and dispossession, which it certainly was for far too long, but which it does not necessarily have to be in general. It is a form of coexistence and an organ of government, which changes its social-political character as the social content changes”. (Der Sozialismus einst und jetzt, Stuttgart-Berlin 1922, p. 88). These statements, directed not only against the anarchists but also against some original texts of Marxism, would not, however, have been possible if the founding fathers had not bound themselves to the deterministic process of the dialectical methodological structure, that is, if they had not operated only partially a “revision” of Hegel.
Care must also be taken to avoid possible, tempting, “anarchist” readings of Marx. (See M. Rubel, Marx critique du marxisme, Paris 1974, pp. 42-59). Certainly, one can put together passages of Marx’s work that seem inspired by the self-determination of the proletariat, but the overall project is, always, brought back within the historical mechanism, without room for aspects of voluntarism. When Marx speaks of the future destruction of the state, he does so as something prospective, considering that all current efforts must be directed towards strengthening the proletarian class, the only one capable of developing the socialist revolution. Now, one of the means to develop this class is to give vigor to the great state and national centralizations, which in the capitalist structure ensure precisely the birth and strengthening of the proletarian class consciousness. Criticizing the State and Anarchy  (in Complete Works, tr. it., vol. IV, Catania 1977) of Bakunin, he writes: “Schoolboy asinery! A radical revolution is linked to certain historical conditions of economic development; they are the premise. It is therefore possible only where with capitalist production the industrial proletariat occupies at least a significant position in the popular mass. And in order to have any chance of victory, it must at least be able to do immediately for the peasants what – mutatis mutandis – the French bourgeoisie did in its revolution for the French peasants of the time…. Bakunin understands absolutely nothing of the social revolution, he understands only its political phrases; for him the economic conditions of the revolution do not exist…. He wants the European social revolution founded on the economic basis of capitalist production to be accomplished at the level of the Russian or Slavic agricultural or shepherd populations, that it should not go beyond this level… Will, not economic conditions, is the basis of his social revolution.” (Konspekt zu Bakunins Staat und Anarchie, quoted by Iring Fetscher, Il marxismo , tr. it., vol. III, Milan 1970, p. 157).
Marx’s revolutionary project develops on three parallels: a) the intervention within the recognized order of the state, through universal suffrage, laws, etc., to develop the economic and political struggle, b) 1 seizure of political power, legally or violently, to expropriate the holders of the means of production, c) a transitional period, with a popular state, called “dictatorship of the proletariat”, to ensure the transition to the liberated society and the final elimination of the state. It is natural that, in this perspective, the strengthening of the State, implemented by bourgeois capitalism, should be considered as a positive step, a progress towards the realization of the conditions that will allow the seizure of power by the proletarian class. In a famous letter to Engels, Marx writes: “The French need a thrashing. If the Prussians win, the centralization of state power will be useful for the centralization of the working class.” (Marx-Engels, Carteggio, tr. it., vol. VI, Rome 1972, p. 99).
The most straightforward criticism is that of Bakunin, who takes up the theme of the Stirnerian revolt, which leaves no room for state realization and does not foresee any possible revolutionary use. Thus he writes: “We therefore see that these two words, political consciousness, from their very origin, and through the whole development of history, have two absolutely different, opposite senses, according to the two points of view, equally opposite, in which we like to examine them. From the point of view of the [privileged] classes, they mean conquest, enslavement, and organization of the State as it is, with a view to the exploitation of the enslaved and conquered masses. From the point of view of the masses, on the contrary, they mean revolt against the State, and, in their ultimate consequence, destruction of the State. Two things, as we can see, so different that they are diametrically opposed. Now it can be said with absolute certainty that there has never been any people on earth, however bastardized or however mistreated they may have been by nature, who have not felt, at least at the origin of their subjugation, some vague urge to revolt. Revolt is an instinct of life; the worm itself revolts against the foot that crushes it, and, in general, it may be said that the vital energy and comparative dignity of every animal is measured by the intensity of the instinct of revolt which it carries within itself. In the animal world, as in the human world, there is no faculty or habit at all more degrading, more stupid and more vile, than that of obeying and resigning. Well, I maintain that there has never been any people so degraded, on earth, that has not revolted at all, at least at the beginning of its history, against the yoke of its conquerors, its subjugators, its exploiters, against the yoke of the State.” (Written against Marx , in Complete Works, tr. it., vol. III, Catania 1977, p. 236).
These assertions, which indicate the other revolutionary direction of deepening, and which are developed in the Writ against Marx, find completion in the passages of State and Anarchy: “We have already expressed on several occasions a very strong aversion to the theory of Lassalle and Marx which recommends to the workers, if not as a supreme ideal, at least as an immediate and essential aim, the foundation of a popular state, which, as they themselves have explained, would be nothing other than ‘the proletariat organized into a ruling class’. If the proletariat, one will ask, becomes the ruling class, over whom will it rule? It means, therefore, that there will still remain a class subjected to this new ruling class, to this new State, were it not also, for example, that the plebs of the countryside, who, it is known, are not in the benevolence of the Marxists and who, placed at the lowest level of civilization, will probably be directed by the proletariat of the cities and factories; or even, if one considers the question from the ethnic point of view, let us say with respect to the Germans, the question of the Slavs, these will find themselves for that same reason, facing the victorious German proletariat, in the same servile subjection as this proletariat with respect to its bourgeoisie. Whoever says State, necessarily says domination and, consequently, slavery; a State without slavery, manifest or disguised, is inconceivable, that is why we are enemies of the State.” (State and Anarchy, op. cit., p. 197).
A unitary design of the revolution is not possible. When it has been attempted, entrusting it to the dialectical scheme, capable of encompassing contradictions and making them reappear modified and ready to generate new contradictions, it has always ended up doing violence to history. The truth is that there are no absolutely and entirely progressive struggles. The constancy of the rebellion of the exploited is marked by the intolerance of exploitation, so when progress takes the form of rationalization of exploitation, it is not uncommon for the exploited to fight for conservation. Such cases abound in history. The European peasant insurrections of the sixteenth century were marked by the religious element, lashed out against the new state with centralizing tendencies, and, on the surface, seemed to support the power of the old local lords. The revolt of the communes of Guyenne is typical of this situation. The same will happen with the Vendée or with the rebellion of the Calabrian and Sicilian brigands after the unification of Italy. The brigands fight under the Bourbon insignia, with the symbols of the religious brotherhoods at the head of their squads. The Vendeans fight in the name of the king and the rights of the totalitarian monarchy, against the revolution. The Guyenne peasant rebels fight against the gabelle but not to not pay it, only to pay the old gabelle and avoid paying the new one which is much more exorbitant because it has to support the scaffolding of the new centralized bureaucratic state, while the old one had to support only the local lord. Yves-Marie Bercé writes: “The gabellieri are not only called exploiters, but they are also given the name of ‘inventors’. The rebels do not refuse the tax, they only refuse to pay the new taxes. The tax collectors are detestable because their way of acting does not fit into the custom and tradition that have come to shape the lives of all.” (Croquants et nu-pieds, Paris 1974, p. 40).
If one does not unravel the riddles of these contradictions, one will never understand the revolutionary fact. If one works, obtusely, on the construction of the political party of the revolution, with the certainty that this will lead to the liberation of man, one will always fall victim to the tanks of the new reaction, which will cover itself with the revolutionary colors.
The reality is that the exploited struggle within precarious structures and cannot rise beyond these structures. The only thing they see clearly, within them, is their own exploitation. Only, more often than not, the ideological cover makes them misrepresent the true content of this exploitation. In other words, they see it but are under the illusion that they continue to live thanks to exploitation and not, on the contrary, in spite of it. This is why, often, revolts seem to take the form of a defense of a certain type of exploitation against another exploitation of a different form. This is certainly possible. The sense of progress is not always interpretable by those who live in poverty and those who are forced to read the pages of history through the curtain of ideology prepared by the ruling class.
If things were otherwise, the need for leadership would not arise, there would be no political leaders, parties would not be fortified, there would be no “popular states.” George Sorel writes: “The instinct of revolt of the poor can serve as a basis for the formation of a popular state, formed by bourgeois eager to continue bourgeois life, but presenting themselves as the proletariat’s proxies. The popular state is led to extend its tentacles more and more, because after the first moment of struggle, it becomes increasingly difficult to deceive the masses, and yet it is necessary to sustain an instinct of revolt even in a period of calm.” (The Decomposition of Marxism , tr. it., in Political Writings, Turin 1963, p. 748).
It will be necessary to read better, in the future, within the spontaneous revolts of the peasants, even in those that have been hastily catalogued by historians as counter-revolutionary. Take the fact of the Vendée. The peasants struggle against the army of the revolution. On one side the golden lilies of the French dynasty, the banners of the Holy Spirit, the priests and feudal lords, on the other the words of the new philosophical, civil and political revolution. It seems that the Middle Ages fight against the equality and fraternity of the modern world that opens the doors of the future, and the peasants support the reaction. But, in essence, the revolutionary element of the Great Revolution was not at all the armies with tricolour cockades, the new Jacobin state, or the attempts to reorganize the new bourgeois fortunes on the expropriations of the nobility. The revolutionary element was constituted by the popular ferments, libertarian in character, which were developing everywhere and against which the leaders of the new power were fighting. Therefore, the official representatives of the revolution, not revolutionary at all, fought against the “reactionary” peasants of the Vendée, as well as against the libertarian current of the “Angry” and all those other popular exponents who hindered their plans.
In embryonic form, it is the concept of spontaneity and creativity of the masses that emerges in the days of the revolution, and it would be necessary to study better the reasons for the birth of these constructive ideas as well as the reasons for the easy victory of the authoritarian bourgeois forces eager to restore calm as soon as possible. The sans-culottes spontaneously discovered direct democracy, based on clubs and neighborhood groups, something absolutely different from everything that had been theorized and realized by the revolutionary bourgeoisie. In this sense, the Great Revolution was not only the cradle of bourgeois parliamentary democracy, but it was also the cradle of proletarian direct democracy, although the time and the degree of cohesion and consciousness of the proletarian class were not ripe for those germs to fully bear fruit.
At bottom, then, the “Angry” and the Parisian Sanctuaries were fighting on the same level as the “reactionary” rebels of the Vendée, because they were attacking the rising centralized power of the Jacobin bourgeoisie. Only that the former could not realize their commonality of interests with the peasants of the North, as the latter could not realize the basic contrast that was in the need to marry the interests of the nobility and the clergy that, certainly, could not collimate with those of the exploited.
In the Marxist ambiguity, which is hidden in the evaluation of the French Revolution itself, as well as in the evaluation of the facts of Vendée, we can grasp the element of which we find traces in Marx’s analysis, that is, the element of the positive evaluation of a stronger state, in view of the socialist revolution piloted by a minority of revolutionaries.
If the Jacobins were the bourgeois revolutionaries of 1793, their methods cannot be clearly detached from their ideal. The elimination of all attempts at emancipation of the masses and the conquest of power by a small minority of technicians and bureaucrats was their ideal, their methods were those of “terror.” If today’s revolutionaries are fighting for a proletarian revolution, they certainly cannot embrace the bourgeois ideal (and on this they all agree) but, strangely enough, not all of them accept the rejection of the methods that accompany the bourgeois ideal, precisely the methods of “terror.” Authoritarianism, in whatever form it presents itself today, always remains a strictly bourgeois phenomenon. Even if it fights in the name of the proletariat, once it sets up its struggle in an authoritarian way, resorting to the terrorist methods of the old Jacobinism, it can only reconstruct a new ruling caste, different, in name, from the old bourgeoisie, but identical in substance and intentions. The lesson that comes to us from the Russian revolution cannot be forgotten.
The peasant rebellions, like those of the Calabrian and Sicilian brigands, present, as we have said, elements of conservation, and not only elements of folklore, but also elements of class consciousness, but not for this reason they must be catalogued on the negative side of history. Their drive for preservation is an element of progress because, having cleared away the ideological blanket, it helps to indicate the limits and responsibilities of the so-called “progressive revolutionary popular state” that is sitting on the ruins of the old reaction. Thomas Münzer preached about a distant era, a golden age, in which Adam hoed and Eve spun, an era in which there were no owners. And in the name of this conservative ideal, the wretched rose up and burned down castles and murdered nobles. Through subterranean and tortuous ways, much more difficult to grasp than the apparent linearity of the Marxist dialectical mechanism, freedom managed to find its way even within conservation.
Today a large mass movement is rising for the defense of nature, against nuclear power plants, against pollution. Is it perhaps by chance that this movement finds an obstacle in the various communist parties? We do not know, we believe, however, that this is a subject for meditation.
Having laid the foundations of the negation of the State, Stirner proposed the problem of determining the conditions of a social coexistence based on different rules: what he called the “union of the egoists”.
But, before seeing what are, concretely, the possibilities of such an organism, he is forced to examine the conditions of the “passage”, the pattern of the “destruction” of the old organization, of the old State, in the different forms of its historical realization.
Here are his theses: “Liberalism, in all its forms, has a mortal enemy, an insuperable opposite, like God has the devil: man is necessarily accompanied by the inhuman monster, the individual, the egoist. Neither state nor society nor humanity can dominate this devil.
“Humanitarian liberalism sets itself the task of demonstrating to other liberals that what they want is not yet true ‘freedom.'” (U, p. 197).
This mortal enemy is precisely the starting point, the deliberate drive to destroy the state.
“Criticism,” continues Stirner, “says precisely: you must completely liberate your self from all limitations, so that it becomes a human self. I say: liberate yourself as much as you can and you will have done what is in your power; for it is not given to everyone to overcome every barrier, that is, to speak more clearly: what is a barrier for some is not a barrier for all. Therefore do not worry about the barriers of others; it is enough that you break down your own. Who has ever succeeded in breaking down even a single barrier for all of humanity? Are there not, today as always, countless people dragging all the “barriers of humanity” behind them? Those who break down one of their barriers may have shown others the way and the way, but the breaking down of their barriers remains their own thing. And in fact no one does anything but that. To demand of people that they become completely “human” is to demand that they throw down all human barriers. But this is impossible, because man has no barriers. I, of course, do have them, but all that matters to me are my own and only these will I be able to overcome. I cannot become a human self, because I am just me and not only man.
“But let us see if criticism has not taught us something we can treasure. Does it say that I am not free if I am not without interest, that I am not a man if I am not disinterested? Well, even if I don’t care much about being free or being a man, I don’t want to let any opportunity to assert myself or to assert myself pass by without using it. Criticism offers me this opportunity by teaching me that if I allow something to become fixed in me and indissoluble, I become its slave and prisoner, that is, an obsessive. Any interest, if I cannot get rid of it, captures me and makes me its slave: it is no longer my property, but I am its property. Let us therefore accept the critic’s recommendation not to let any part of our property become stable and to feel good only in – dissolving.” (U, p. 109).
It is not freedom that must be sought but individuality: this is the central point of Stirner’s discourse: “Freedom only teaches you to get rid of everything that weighs you down, but it does not teach you who you are. “Away, away!” is his battle cry and you, following him willingly, throw away even yourselves, “deny yourselves”. But individuality calls you back to yourselves instead and speaks thus: “Come back to yourself!” Under the aegis of freedom you get rid of many things, but others, new ones, oppress you: “From the Evil One you are free, but evil remains”. As individuals of your own, you are truly free from everything and retain only what you have accepted by your own choice, because it pleases you. The individual of his own right is the free born, the free by nature; the free person, on the other hand, is only a maniac of freedom, an exalted dreamer.
“The first is originally free, because he recognizes only himself; he does not need to begin by freeing himself, because he repudiates everything except himself, because there is nothing that he esteems more than himself, that he values more highly than himself, in short, because he starts from himself and “returns to himself”. As a child, forced to be respectful, he is already working to “free himself” from this constraint. Individuality works in the little egoist and provides him with the coveted – freedom” (U, pp. 123-124).
“My freedom is truly perfect when it becomes my – power; but because of this I cease to be simply free and become an individual of my own [ein Eigener]. Why is the freedom of peoples a “vain word”? Because peoples have no power at all! With a breath of the living self I can destroy whole peoples, whether mine be the breath of a Nero, a Chinese emperor or a miserable writer. Why is it that parliaments t.. call in vain for freedom and are then set up like schoolboys by ministers? Because they are not “powerful”! Power is a great thing and serves a great purpose: in fact, “you get further with a handful of power than with a lot of rights.” Do you yearn for freedom? Fools! Take power and freedom will come of itself! Do you not see that he who has power is “above the law”? What taste do you have for this prospect, men “of the law”? But yes, you have no taste!
“Everywhere resounds the cry, ‘Freedom!’ But is one aware, does one know what a given or octroyée freedom means? One does not recognize that all freedom, in the full sense of the word, cannot but be essentially – liberation of self, that is, that I can only have as much freedom as I can procure through my own individuality. What good does it do the sheep if no one takes away their freedom of speech? They continue to bleat. Give someone who is inwardly Mohammedan or Jewish or Christian permission to speak as he pleases: he will not be able to say anything but very limited things. If, on the other hand, certain others rob you of your freedom to speak and to listen, they are well aware of their temporary advantage, because you might perhaps say or listen to something that would take credit away from those “mirror consciences”.
“And if, on the other hand, they give you freedom, they are swindlers who give more than they possess. They do not give you anything of their own, but stolen goods, they give you your own freedom, the freedom that you should take for yourself; and they give it to you only so that you do not take it and call those thieves and swindlers to judgment. Clever as they are, they know very well that the freedom given (octroyée) is not true freedom, because only the freedom one takes for oneself, the freedom of the egoist, sails well. The freedom given to one’s self, the freedom of the selfish, sets sail as soon as there is a storm or calm: it always needs a breeze to push it along – gently and moderately.
“Herein lies the difference between liberation of self and emancipation (enfranchisement, granting of freedom).” (U, pp. 125-126).
Freedom is therefore not something that is obtained as a gift, but something that is conquered, through violence, through the will to be free, through education to freedom. The acts of freedom, which lead to definitive liberation, are not only the final, decisive ones, but also, and perhaps primarily, the everyday, every day acts, those that make us self-educate to freedom, that make us overcome the habitual view of life, that allow us to assert our will beyond alienation and exploitation.
It must be pointed out, however, that the conquest of liberty, this revolutionary tension, cannot be considered as a slow and progressive process of accumulation, completely remote from the possibility of losing the sense of the right direction. Revolutionary intentions can be the best tiles to pave the future reaction.
The clash is between the reality of the struggles which, in its totality, assumes the aspect of a point of reference, and which is divided into the reality of self-organization and the reality of delegation, and the individual who fights for liberation, that is, who fights so that the reality of the struggles reaches a level of self-organization that makes the damage that delegation continues to do derisory. But the conditions of the relationship are not stable. The separation between self-organization and delegation is not rigidly vertical: on the one hand the organizations that instrumentalize delegation (unions, parties), on the other hand the organizations that advocate and implement self-organization (grassroots groups). More than anything else, the process of self-organization of the exploited – which here would be improper to speak of workers or producers – is constituted by the emergence of new needs, needs that are summed up in the global need for communism.
If these needs cause certain behaviors to emerge (absenteeism, sabotage, etc.), and these behaviors stand in opposition to other behaviors of the past (sacralization of work and production), there is a development of the self-organization of the movement as a whole. The consequences of this development are not directly measurable, becoming part of the structure of the totality of the movement, a subject we have examined at length elsewhere. (See A. M. Bonanno, Movimento e progetto rivoluzionario, Catania 1977).
However, in broad terms, the process that we are witnessing today, of the “new movement”, which has made us rethink many categories of “revolutionary action”, can be usefully brought back into the typical dimension of Stirnerian reflection. The conquest, with force and violence, of what constitutes freedom, therefore also of those conditions that make possible the emergence of the necessary force and violence, is only possible if we overcome the moment of delegation, which can only lead to a freedom similar to that of the dog dragging a piece of its chain.
The same on the economic level. Stirner, speaking of the property of the only one, does not say what a tendentious right-wing reading has wanted to find, but, on the contrary, he says: “Proudhon calls property “theft” (le vol). But the property of others (and only of this he speaks) exists only thanks to sacrifice, renunciation and humility, it is a gift. Why, then, take this sentimental attitude of the poor robbed and invoke compassion if one is in reality only a foolish and cowardly giver? Why put the blame on others, as if they were robbing us, when in reality the fault is ours, since we do not rob them? If the rich are there, the poor are to blame.” (U, pp. 233-234).
Paul Eltzbacher writes: “The change necessary to establish the individual good will be accomplished, according to Stirner, in the following way: first a sufficient number of men will have transformed their mentality coming to recognize as the supreme law of their individual good, then, these men will cause the transformation of the environment through the destruction of law, the state, property, thus initiating a new era “(L’anarchismo , Chap. Ch. V can be found in No. 1, January 1968, pp. 39-50. The quotation is on p. 48). It is essentially to the revolutionary scheme that this passage refers, only that the historian does not tell us anything about the modalities of the passage. There are many differences between revolution and rebellion.
And a little further on: “Revolution and rebellion should not be considered synonymous. The first consists in an overthrow of the existing condition or status, of the state or society, and is therefore a political or social action; the second certainly leads, as an inevitable consequence, to the overthrow of the given conditions, but it does not start from here, but from the dissatisfaction of men with themselves, it is not a raising of shields, but a lifting up of individuals, that is, a rebellious emergence, without worrying about the institutions that should follow. The revolution aimed to create new institutions, the rebellion leads us not to be governed by institutions, but to govern ourselves, and therefore does not place any bright hope in the “institutions”. It is not a struggle against the subsistent, since, if it just grows, the subsistent collapses by itself, it is only a process by which I remove myself from the subsistent. And if I abandon the subsistent, behold it dies and decomposes. But since my purpose is not the overthrow of a certain subsistent, but my raising myself above it, my intention and my action do not have a political and social character, but rather an egoistic one, since they are directed only to myself and to my own individuality”. (U, p. 234).
Of course, here the discourse should be clarified, if only with regard to the use of terms. But what matters, at this point, is to state clearly that Stirner does not turn, in his investigation, to the abstract “revolution”, aiming at the model of the Great Revolution, but turns to the insurrection of the individual, the rebellion against the authority, in any modern form takes shape, for the violent acquisition of themselves, for the birth of the egoist. Then arises the new perspective: the new society, the society of tomorrow, the society that anarchist philosophy has often theorized and that Stirner calls “union of the egoists”.
“Thus we two, the State and I, are enemies. I, the egoist, do not have the good of this “human society” at heart, I do not sacrifice anything to it, I merely use it; but, in order to make full use of it, I prefer to turn it into my property, into my creature, that is, I annihilate it and build in its place the union [Verein] of the egoists.
“The State thus reveals itself to be my enemy by requiring me to be a man, which presupposes that I might not even be one and be considered by it as an “inhuman monster”: it imposes on me to be a man as a duty. The State also demands that I do nothing that might endanger its subsistence, which must therefore be sacred to me. Then I must not be an egoist, but a “righteous, honest” man, that is, a moral man. In short, I must be, towards him and his subsistence, powerless and full of respect, etc.” (U, p. 134).
But this company will not be a party. “In the state, the party carries a lot of weight. “Everyone must take party!” But the individual is unique; he is not a member of the party. He freely assembles and just as freely divides himself. The party is nothing but a State within the State, and in this smaller State of api it is said that “peace” should reign, just as in the other, larger one. It is precisely those who shout loudest that there must be an opposition in the State who are then upset because the party is not united. It is a proof of the fact that only one State is wanted. The rock against which the parties are smashing is not the State, but the one.
“Nothing is heard more often than the exhortation to remain loyal to one’s party; nothing is more despised, by party men, than those who pass from one party to another. One must throw oneself into the fire for one’s party and approve and support its basic theses at all events. The case of the party is certainly somewhat less worse than that of closed societies, because the latter bind their members to established laws or statutes (e.g., the Orders, the Society of Jesus, etc.). But the party ceases to be a free union at the very instant in which it makes certain principles obligatory, protecting them from any possible attack: but this instant is precisely the one in which the party is born. The party as such is a ready-made society, it is a dead union, it is an idea that has become a fixed idea. As an absolutist party, it cannot want its members to doubt the irrefutable truth of its principle; they could only raise this doubt if they were selfish enough to want to be something other than their party, that is, to want to be impartial. But impartial they cannot be as party men, but only as egoists. If you are a Protestant and belong to this party, you will only be able to justify or at best “purify” Protestantism, not repudiate it; if you are a Christian and belong to this party in human society, you will certainly not be able to leave it as a member, but only if your egoism, that is, your impartiality, impels you to take this step. How much effort did the Christians up to Hegel and the Communists afterwards make to consolidate their party! They have always continued to assert that Christianity cannot but contain eternal truth, and that one has only to know how to find, ground and justify it.
“The party, in short, cannot stand impartiality and precisely in it lies selfishness. What do I care about the Party! I will certainly find enough people to join me without swearing on the same flag as me”. (U, pp. 174-175).
This last sentence (used as the motto of a successful series of pamphlets of revolutionary and anarchist propaganda, published in Ragusa and that still  comes out regularly) could indicate the entry into the “union of egoists”, constituting in itself a real program.
But you have to understand between “society” and “union.”
“Not isolation or loneliness – Stirner states – is the original state of man, but society. Our existence begins with the closest of ties, since we, before breathing, live in the body of our mother; opened our eyes to the world, here we are again attached to the breast of a human being: his love cradles us holding us in his lap, guides us with the dandies and binds us with a thousand bonds to his person. Society is our state of nature. It is also for this reason that, as we gain self-awareness, the primitive, intimate bond loosens and the dissolution of that original society becomes more and more manifest. The mother must fetch her child, whom she once carried in her lap, into the street, among her playmates, to have him once again all to herself. The child prefers the relationship he has with his peers to that of society, which he has not contracted, but in which he was only born.
“But the dissolution of society is the relation or union. Of course, even from union a society can arise, but only as from a thought a fixed idea arises, that is, by the fact that in thought the energy of thought, thinking itself, this incessant retraction of all thoughts which tend to fix themselves, disappears. If a union has crystallized into a society, it has ceased to be a union, because union is a ceaseless coming together; the union that has become a being-already-joined, stabilized and degenerated into a fixed thing, is – dead as a union, is the corpse of the union, that is – a society, a community. A striking example of this is the party.” (U, p. 227).
And a little further on: “The limitation of freedom is everywhere inescapable, because one cannot free oneself, that is, get rid of everything; one cannot fly like a bird just because one wants to, since one cannot free oneself from gravity; one cannot live as long as one wants under water, like a fish, since one cannot do without air and one cannot free oneself from this necessary need, etc.”. Religion, and in particular Christianity, has tormented man with the pretension that he should achieve what is against nature and against common sense; the real consequence of this religious exaltation, of this exaggerated tension, is that freedom itself, absolute freedom, was eventually elevated to an ideal, so that the absurdity of the impossible was evident. Union can certainly grant greater freedom and be considered precisely for this reason “a new freedom”, because, thanks to it, one escapes all the constraints of social and state life; but it will also have some aspects of non-freedom and constraint. Its aim, in fact, is not freedom, which it sacrifices to individuality, but to it and to nothing else. With regard to individuality, the difference between state and union is great. That is his enemy and murderer, this is his daughter and companion, that is a spirit who wants to be worshipped in spirit and in truth, this is my work, my product; the State is the lord of my spirit, it demands faith and prescribes articles of faith for me: the articles of faith of legality; it exerts a moral influence, it dominates my spirit, it drives out my self to replace it as “my true self,” in short, the state is sacred and is with respect to me, single man, the true man, the spirit, the ghost; the union, on the other hand, is my creation and my creature, it is not sacred, it is not a spiritual power above my spirit as no association, of whatever kind, is. In the same way that I do not wish to be a slave to my maxims, but instead expose them without any assurance to my pressing criticism and give them no assurance of preserving them, in the same way, indeed even less, I bind my future to the union and pledge my soul to it, as it is said to be done with the devil and as it is really done with the state and all spiritual authorities; I am and remain, on the contrary, for me something more than the state, the church, God, etc., and consequently also infinitely more than the union.” (U, pp. 228-229).
The presence of an underlying conflict clearly fixes the relationship between the individual and the organization. Consequently, the latter cannot claim to define itself in a static way, finding itself, from time to time, compromised in situations that intimately transform it. Stirner has no illusions, he does not consider the prospect of freedom through social organization as final, since, ultimately, this prospect might conceal a sudden necessary sacrifice for the individual. Here a great many misunderstandings have been placed in the readings. It has been desired thus to emphasize the denial of freedom or, in any case, the subordination of this great ideal to the selfishness of the individual. They wanted to give a negative accentuation to this last value, unconsciously transferring to the first value (freedom) all those uncritical contents that the bourgeois tradition transmitted. It would be time to clean up within this big problem. By placing ideality before the freedom of the objective conditions of the historical development of the individual, and therefore the concrete dangers that this development runs in the face of the resurgence (in different forms) of exploitation by the state, one accepts an idealistic and ahistorical interpretation of the social clash. The rarefied value of freedom ends up becoming the yardstick for all things. Even from the depths of the darkest Stalinist prison, the communist militant condemned to death and to preventive self-criticism could, little by little, and in good faith, convince himself that that historical condition, which he lived so painfully on his own skin, was nothing but one of the negative moments of the dialectical process of development of freedom. Moralizing in this way the exploitation is dragged out of the historical context, crystallizing it in an area that sees the abstract events of the principles of morality and that treats as waste and byproducts the physical needs of the individual, the individual, branding him with the mark of “petit bourgeois”.
Therefore, it is necessary to dynamize the concept of organization. Stirner offers a cue. He is not much more than that. From the bottom of his historical situation, he could not do more. We are not suggesting a “sacred” reading of Stirner’s book, only a reading that is capable of grasping stimuli and contributions to the problems that trouble us today. His “union of the egoists” is, without a doubt, a point of passage, a point of further limitation of freedom, but it is a point towards the reconstruction of the individual and of freedom, not towards the construction of freedom without the individual. That is why this organization has dynamic and structural concerns. Let us look at them separately.
Dynamic concerns are related to the concept of equilibrium. Stirner speaks of the union as a derivation of the larger, terrorist association, that is, the state. But this derivation is not a spontaneous product of the state, it is something I produce, it is my own product. Should this “activity” of the individual be set aside, we would have the typical aberrations of the party which can be considered a “corpse of association”. But the dynamism of the continuous production of the association can run into another danger: the balance of the conditions of existence between the state, which guarantees and delimits the association, and the association itself which, in the state, sees its own point of reference, its own negative producer, which, in this way, is diverted from the only source of production valid from the revolutionary point of view, that is, the individual. The balance, secured in this way, by allowing control by the State, leads to the silencing of all efforts for liberation, leads to the silencing of the cemeteries.
Moreover, the danger of the balance of relations between the association (organization) and the state is reflected within the association itself, which automatically shatters on the basis of the indications provided by the larger power organization, becoming itself an organization of power, with its own center and periphery. Thus the balance is no longer at a macroscopic level, i.e. at a formal and external level, but becomes balance at a microscopic level, i.e. at the level of the structural relationships within the two organizations. The individual cannot help but fall victim to these structuring processes that end up crushing him.
And even further, even within the individual, as an organization itself, the consequences of the balance of the larger organizations are reflected, consequences of an ideological nature that end up generating that consensus to exploitation that forms one of the most bitter questions of all history.
In Stirner there is the indication of the individual as a totality that sums up, in itself, the totality of reality: the positive pole of a confrontation that can break into a thousand contradictions but that, in order to be reconstituted and overcome, must always start from the same pole. As consciousness of the totality of reality, the individual is consciousness of a totality divided by the struggle against exploitation. A pacified reality would produce a consciousness of a pacified totality in the individual, with consequences that can only be assessed today in a utopian key (mind you, not utopian). However, its being totality is not identical to its being aware of being totality. The difference is not only given by the processes of intervention in reality, that is, by the struggles that make this consciousness grow (Marxist determinism), but it is mainly given by the consequences that the situation of the totality of reality has in its specific individual form, that is, in its identifiable form in the single individual.
The individual is aware of being, by himself, the totality of the real (and therefore of being a troubled and divided totality) not only on the basis of his commitment to struggle, but also as a result of the very fracture of the real in its totality. The two poles – both totality – of the individual (on the one hand) and of the reality of struggles (on the other) structure each other. The very ability to understand, typical of the individual, of the association, of the organization, of the state and of any other form of possible social organization, the very ability to grasp the sense of one’s own being in reality, is linked to the level of the clash, is related to a dynamism that denies equilibrium and reaffirms a structural relationship between different elements, each of which receives significance from the total complex of the reality of struggles, both in its individual and collective form.
The reoccurrence, in the individual, of the laceration of the struggles, the fact that this laceration is experienced – on an individual level – with the same intensity that it is experienced on a global level, that is, that it is itself, however atomized, a total laceration, prevents a positive and definitive evaluation of the individual as such. Stirner does not exalt, for example, force and violence as definitive elements of the problem of individual laceration, of the problem of the dominion of the spirit over the physical and over joy. He only says that this is the way to the appropriation of oneself, even if this appropriation is the appropriation of something divided that must be recomposed, then, in a wider process of appropriation (association) that allows to face definitively and adequately the process of global exploitation carried out by the State. The human meaning of being an individual is deeply experienced by Stirner. This is why, as we will see later, certain individualist readings are outdated today. Their superficiality grasped literal elements of the text and let slip concrete meanings that denied and re-dimensioned those elements.
Stirner again: “Only as my property do the spirits, the truths, quiet down and become real only when I tear away their accursed existence and make them my property, when it will no longer be said: truth develops, dominates, asserts itself, history (also a concept) wins, etc. Truth has never won, but has always been, instead, a means to victory, like the sword (“the sword of truth”). Truth is dead, a letter of the alphabet, a word, a material that I can use. Every truth for itself is dead, a corpse; it lives only in the same way that my lung can be said to be a living organ, that is, in the measure of my vitality. Truths are a material, like good and bad herbs: whether they are good or bad is for me to decide.
“Objects are for me only materials that I use and consume. I adapt to my needs any truth I can grasp. Truth is for me a certain thing and I have no need to aspire to it. I have absolutely no intention of rendering services to the truth; it is for me only a food, a food for my thinking mind, just as the potato is for my digesting stomach and the friend is for my heart that loves company. As long as I have the will and the energy to think, any truth serves me only to rework it according to my faculties. Truth is for me like worldly reality for Christians: “nothingness and vanity”. It exists exactly as the things of this world continue to exist, although the Christian has demonstrated their nullity; but it is vain, because it has its value not in itself, but in me. For itself it is worthless. Truth is a – creature.” (U, p. 262). Amidst all these progressive commitments, the individual tries to grasp the definitive moment of his passage from the sphere of sacred alienation to the sphere of liberation, but even here, a surprise catches him: this may be another of the causes founded outside of himself, another of the causes that require sacrifices for someone or something. The prison that the individual builds around himself, sacred in its foundations, remains sacred even in its elevation, even when the latter takes the external forms of blasphemy and profanity. The totality of its being hides its laceration and transfers it to a pacified zone: the unity of the individual is fictitiously reconstructed on false ideals: being revolutionary beyond oneself is one of these idols. Disappearance of the individual moment in the sacred sea of the revolution that is sanctified by the sacrifices of the militants, all in an end-of-the-world eschatology. Even sacrifice is transformed into something, into building bricks. Only with this kind of bricks you can only build prisons. The house of freedom is built on the basis of clarity and truth, not on the basis of mystification. Clarity and truth go through the recognition of the laceration determined by the class clash and connect this laceration with the laceration – of equal content and different connotation – which is the laceration of the reality of the struggles.
Stirner does not urge the conquest of others, the domination of wealth, or the rationalization of exploitation. His critique of sacredness also strikes at what is sacred – and untouchable – beneath all forms of domination. Even the trampling of laws can be a further form of the sacred, can find its own forms of religion and its own priests. More, Stirner’s work is not directed at finding an aristocratic dimension of reflection, a corner – small or not so small – for the intellectual to interpret the world. Here, too, the sacred can creep in. Intellectuals are also priests, especially when they are atheists. Not even the search for a perfect society satisfies Stirner. Icaria can become a new religion. Communists are also priests. And today, we could go on, not even the total absence of commitment, the overturning of sacrifice, overturning obtained with the help of any means (for example, drugs), can be considered Stirner’s reference, or rather of his discourse on the individual. Drugs can also become a sacred thing, can become a religion. Even those who take drugs can ultimately be considered priests.
The most important effort the individual makes is in taking possession of himself. This project is, first of all, the identification of totality. Not the recomposition of the totality, because that would still be a sacralization, and precisely the sacralization of peace and fictitious freedom. But recognition, identification, violent effort to place the limits of one’s property, of what one is, as an individual. This process, Stirner says, cannot be definitive. So it is a dynamic process. But it is a dynamism that repudiates the Hegelian equilibrium of the recomposition of opposites (pacification in the State as triumphant behemoth). Stirnerian dynamism is given by the relationship between the laceration of the individual and the laceration of the class society, two phenomena, both total, that re-present under two different structural forms, the same significant element: exploitation qualifies, in history, this individual and this society, this State and this association. Beyond this qualification, the realm of utopianism, completely foreign to Stirner’s analysis.
Let’s look at the other aspect of the problem of the union of the egoists. This is something structured, that is to say, simple but, at the same time, capable of determining with remarkable precision the different moments of individual laceration in the face of class laceration. This union is the starting point, in the face of the project of social constructability, but it is also the meeting point of different lines of development, a compulsory station for the establishment of that project of freedom which takes the individual beyond the laceration. Therefore, a structured point, translating, in an associative key, the total problem of the individual, as it had been developed in the context of the anti-sacral boundaries of the individual. But also a partial project of limitation of freedom. No thing can be built all of a sudden, go beyond the boundaries of history, where things are called by their name. The union, however, cannot be considered something balancedly progressive, something that puts order in the realm of confusion and approximation. Stirnerian union is structured but not organized, at least not in the sense that social organizations provide us with all the time. Even union then, in its realization, is a totality that reproduces the contradictions of totality in the reality of struggles. Its structures can crystallize in the closed space of the military party or in the apparently wider form of the opinion movement, but if they crystallize in this way, out of fear of the impossibility of reproducing exactly the basic revolutionary totality, they deny themselves as unions of egoists (in the Stirnerian sense) or, in modern militant language, they deny themselves as a revolutionary movement, posing themselves as “class memory”, as “vanguard”, or whatever.
The internal structures of the union of egoists, to insist on Stirner’s discourse, must be such that they can continuously relate to the revolutionary totality, constituted by the reality of the struggles, and must never relate to themselves, in a fictitious crystallization. To pretend to use abstract interpretative models, such as the dialectical model or other sociological models of the American type, or those suggested by the analyses of Max Weber, is a useful operation for the progressive deepening of partial aspects (class, party, state, class, mass, base, etc.).), but it can never replace the contemporary evaluation of the existence of a real totality, that of the struggles, which is distinguished in a whole unattainable through interpretative models, itself capable of making significant both the association (revolutionary movement) and the individual (fundamental element of the revolution). These structural relations between individual, association and the totality of the real should not be confused with the relations established between man, family, society and state. The latter relations are sacral, that is, institutional, the former are structural, that is, they coexist as such and as mutually significant. Cutting off one of the elements of the structural relationship is an arbitrary work that usually takes the name of ideological operation.
Readers of German Ideology are familiar with the controversy surrounding The One. The ones who give signs of not knowing it, oddly enough, are precisely the Marxist scholars who prefer not to deal with it, although, ultimately, it occupies most of the work. This statement is so true that Arvon spoke of a “conspiracy of silence.” (Une polémique inconnue: Marx et Stirner, op. cit., p. 509).
The opinions of scholars on the value of this polemic are very different. Some say that in it Marx, for the first time, manages to focus on the principles of historical materialism, precisely by following the mechanism of Stirner’s reasoning (Ib., p. 510), others even go so far as to consider Stirner a kind of precursor of Marxism, having to place him within the revolutionary problem of the proletariat (V. Roudine, Introduction, op. cit., p. 32), so that his critique of communism would only be a critique of a certain wrong type of communism. (M. Adler, Wegweiser. Studien zur Geistesgeschichte des Sozialismus, Stuttgart 1914).
Others, linked to an orthodox Marxist conception, see an insurmountable contrast (F. Mehring, Geschichte der deutschen Sozialdemokratie, vol. I, Berlin 1921, p. 270, tr. it., Rome 1961), or an influence of Marx on Stirner (G. Bückling, Der Einzelne und der Staat bei Stirner und Marx. Eine quellenkritische Untersuchung zur Geschichte der Anarchismus und Sozialismus, in “Schmollers Jahrbuch für Gesetzgebung, Verwaltung und Volkswirtschaft im deutschen Reiche,” 4, 1920, pp. 1071-1116).
In any case, it seems undeniable influence of Stirner on Marx. Many recognize it: Auguste Cornu (Marx and Engels from liberalism to communism , tr. it., Milan 1962), George Douglas Howard Cole (History of Socialist Thought, tr. it., vol. II, Bari 1972), Mario Rossi (From Hegel to Marx, vol. I, The formation of political thought of Hegel, Rome 1970).
Jean Yves Calvez writes: “Marx will not recognize him as a fellow fighter, because Stirner ignores what is positive about Marx’s materialist dialectics, which is a process of production of man and at the same time of verification of values. Stirner goes at least beyond all the classical individualism in which the individual collides with the object: for my ego, however, which is the One, the object is my object”. (The Thought of Carlo Marx , tr. it., Turin 1966, p. 124).
The ground of the polemic is clearly philosophical, being of interest, in the first analysis, to the fathers of Marxism, to understand the remote sense of Stirner’s work, even if then, on a concrete level, their work takes the aspect of literary polemic typical of the time, with a whole series of sarcasms and ironies that, in any case, have no relevance to the discourse.
Philosophical problem, then, and methodological problem. The step is short. In this way, the gratuitousness of the clash disappears and things become more interesting. For example, regarding the part dedicated to Feuerbach, Arvon writes: “It is significant, however, that the discussion never engages with the fundamental themes of his philosophy, but that it has as its starting point the response that Feuerbach gave to the attacks of The One“. (Aux sources de l’existentialisme. Max Stirner, op. cit., p. 149).
In other words, Marx’s critique is tied to the presupposition of the theses on Feuerbach, particularly the climactic thesis: the “transformation of the world.” Of course, Stirner being the most radical continuer of the Phenomenology of Spirit, Marx could not fail to attack him in the work that sees one of the first attempts to construct historical materialism.
In a certain sense, the clash between voluntarism and determinism begins to develop. On the one hand, the vicissitudes of consciousness that the determinist Marx could not fail to see under the purely philosophical aspect, on the other, the vicissitudes of things opposed as “insurmountable facts”, as “foundations” of the emancipation of man, as the only starting point of any philosophical discourse that really wants to “transform” the world.
No matter how many times one may read The German Ideology, one cannot find another perspective. Even the discourse on Feuerbach and Bauer goes back to the discourse on Stirner. Even for Feuerbach there is no doubt that Marx and Engels took into account the objections that the former had made to Stirner’s work.
In the section devoted to Feuerbach, Marx and Engels write: “Of course, we shall not take the trouble to enlighten our wise philosophers that the ‘liberation of man’ has not yet advanced one step when they have resolved philosophy, theology, substance, and all garbage into ‘self-consciousness,’ when they have freed ‘man’ from the dominion of these phrases, by which he has never been enslaved; that no real liberation is possible except in the real world and by real means.” (The German Ideology, op. cit., p. 23). At this very point the manuscript carries a few lines, later cut: “Philosophical and real liberation – Man. The unique. The individual – Geological, hydrographic, etc. conditions. The human body. The need and the work.” (Ibid.).
But this is not sufficient. Contrasting consciousness with fact is not enough. The thing will assume more conspicuous proportions, when this fact will become the “class struggle”, clearly demonstrating its own claim, partially unfounded, to play the role of the beginning.
If Kant, before Hegel, had limited his research to the sphere of knowledge, Marx, after Hegel, runs the risk of limiting it to the sphere of doing. With this we do not want to say that idealism, let us say in the Hegelian conception, can be indicated as a point of arrival of philosophy: quite the contrary. We only want to specify that the continuation of philosophical speculation, in the sense indicated by Stirner, should not be thrown overboard, but may have well-founded reasons to draw our attention.
The external structure of the development of Stirnerian thought, as it appears in The One, recalls the famous Hegelian triad: realism, idealism and egoism, follow each other perfectly, like the previous triad of consciousness, self-consciousness and reason. But, beyond the outward appearance, consistent with the Hegelian left, what matters is the substantial positive affirmation of The One: the self is freed only by its own conscience, which, in terms of political praxis, means a revaluation of individualist voluntarism against collectivist and communist determinism in general.
Our critics write again: “Jacques le bonhomme conceives of history as the product of abstract ideas, – or rather of his representations, all of which ultimately resolve themselves into the concept “of sanctity”. This domination of ‘sanctity,’ of thought, of the Hegelian absolute idea over the empirical world, he now represents as the present historical situation, as the domination of the saints, of the ideologues over the profane world, as hierarchy.” (Ib., pp. 165-166). It seems clear that a cut to Stirner’s intentions was intended here. The denunciation of “sanctity” is the denunciation of ideology, and this is the domain, transformed into a thing, of those who hold it and employ it in an active form. To claim that all this is experienced only at a “philosophical” level in the pages of Stirner’s work seems excessive. For the same reasons, an in-depth study that takes care of describing analytically “facts”, without making an effort to grasp the connection that binds these “facts”, an attempt that goes in search of imaginary “connections”, would end up being equally far from reality. From which pulpit comes the sermon! The destiny of the revolutionary is always partiality. His dream of revolutionary totality can also drown under a mountain of “facts”, in the same way that it drowns under a mountain of “ideas”, if he exclusively attributes to those facts the ability to transform reality. This is the most macroscopic effect of the illusion of the quantitative.
With the doctrine of the individual who takes possession of himself, who makes himself property while before he was nothing more than someone else’s property, Stirner wanted to break the encirclement of the ideologized repressive society. This discourse would not have taken place in the rarefied reality of absolute despotism. Just as democracy is the child of the Enlightenment, so are the first steps, the first babblings, in the growth of the new man, children of Enlightenment illusions. But it is necessary to move forward. It is necessary not to stop in front of the imprecision of the instrument, waiting for it to reach the highest possible degree of perfection. Let us use what we have at our disposal for the moment, if it is already good enough to strike the enemy.
If we were to stop and consider Stirner’s “egoism” according to Marxist interpretation, even if we wanted to set aside implausible positions, we would have nothing left to do but conclude for a strange ambivalence: on the one hand a bourgeois and obtuse theme, on the other a proletarian theme, egoism opposed to associationism, conservatism and the destruction of the old society. Indeed, Stirner’s work cannot fit into these categories. It is clearly not the project of a conservative who intends to lock up the privileges of the ruling class, as this is not his concept of egoism; he is not an elaborator of organizational plans for proletarian struggles. He is a destroyer of idols, of any kind. And this thankless work has always been one of the most useful and therefore of the most frowned upon.
First duty to him: misunderstanding. Stirner writes: “‘Money rules the world’ is the refrain of the bourgeois age. A penniless nobleman and a penniless worker are both “starving” and, therefore, insignificant in terms of political value: birth and work count for nothing, but money gives value. The landowners dominate, but the state educates its “servants” among the nobodies, to whom it will give money (a salary) in accordance with their duties in dominating (governing) in its name.
“I get everything from the state. Do I have anything without the authorization of the State? What I have without it, the State takes away from me as soon as it discovers that I lack “legal qualifications”. Do I not have everything by its grace, by its authorization?
“On this alone, on legal titles, rests the bourgeoisie. The bourgeois is what he is for the protection of the State, for the grace of the State. He should fear to lose everything the day the power of the State is broken.
“But how are things with those who have nothing to lose, with the proletarian? Since he has nothing to lose, he does not need, for his ‘nothing’, the protection of the State. On the contrary, he can gain if this protection is lost to the protected.
“Therefore the nobody will regard the State as a power that protects the possessed, that privileges them in every way, while he is simply – bled dry. The state is a – bourgeois state, it is the status of the bourgeoisie. It protects men not according to their work, but according to their docility (‘fidelity to the law’), that is, to the extent that they enjoy and administer the rights granted them by the state in accordance with the will, that is, with the laws of the state.” (U, p. 89). This removes the fundamental aspect of Stirner’s discourse, i.e. the voluntarist aspect and the consideration, which is not marginal, that the workers are always individuals who, all together, constitute the proletarian class.
The critics, finding it difficult to attack on the philosophical level, launch themselves on the level of concrete struggle organization, of the trade union type, of the difficulties of this type of organization (especially in England between 1832 and 1842). The fundamental theme passes into the background. Stirner had written that the workers were capable of taking power and managing it themselves. This is not metaphysics of history. It is a reflection on facts, much more than the “real” philosophical reflections of a Hess. That it lacks a nod to the concrete problems of organization is not surprising, given Stirner’s situation, his personal lack of preparation, and the particular context of The One.
When Stirner speaks of the need not to fall into Feuerbach’s unintentional pitfall, he means that from the morality of unconscious individualism, a morality just as deleterious as that of pseudo-humanitarianism, one must not fall into a new morality of a type that is only apparently free, but at bottom tied in the same way to the “ghosts of the spirit.” The only perspective of liberation is the one deriving from the logic of the individual, that is, from the concrete logic of the individual “fact”, the only fundamental fact. If we do not want to blur everything, and then be forced, hastily, to fall back once again on the “religious” myth – be it the humanitarianism of Rudolph, be it the determinism of Laplace, be it the historical materialism of Marx – we must avoid starting from collective facts that recall, for their intrinsic composition, previous facts. Marx started from the class struggle and then had to account for the relationship with nature, forgetting, in this way, the true lesson of Hegelian Phenomenology.
In conclusion, in the polemic against Stirner, there is no desire to understand the opponent, but only to better investigate one’s own thesis. The proof of this is given by the fact that Marx and Engels considered The German Ideology an exercise and, after all, were not so unhappy that they left it to the “rodent criticism of mice.” This true essence of the Marxist writing must be kept in mind. If it is very important for the understanding of the growth of Marx’s and Engels’ thought, as well as for an objective evaluation of their debts, it is only important with regard to Stirner because it contributes to bringing out of oblivion his work, which opens up paths never traveled, a work on which discredit has always been thrown with great ease and with the most absolute ignorance.
Anarchist individualism has always been the subject of a vast conspiracy of misunderstandings. Let’s try to clarify some of them, the most obvious, although, almost certainly, others will escape us, continuing to err in the analysis of scholars and militants.
At the base of a good part of these misunderstandings lies a precise partisan interest that develops ideological interpretations directed to support the harmfulness of individualist positions, in view of a revolutionary project that seeks foundation on the perspective of the quantitative growth of the party or movement.
Other misunderstandings are indirectly supported by an ideological perspective of power, while in direct form they find nourishment in the idle discussions of scholars and academics.
To complete the recipe we must remember the ingredients that give the most pleasant taste: these are some theses and some men. Stirner and the theses of The One are part of these ingredients.
The Marxists have fished well in the great sea of anarchist individualist production to demonstrate, with a large number of presences, that anarchism is a product of petit-bourgeois rebellion, then functional to the reactionary interests of the bourgeoisie. Their effort started from the criticism of the so-called philosophical individualism to get to the condemnation of those individualist manifestations that they believed inspired by that. Between the two moments, however, were inserted interests different from those of the clarification of the problem at hand. At the philosophical level, an attempt was made to isolate the tendency that revalues the will and the individual, making a bundle of all the herbs, lumping together Schopenhauer and Stirner, Nietzsche and the other philosophers of the irrational, reaffirming, with this, the official condemnation of academic philosophy towards the other philosophy, the one that questions the validity of reason and transforms the dogma of the head into a problematic one. Putting in the same bundle different tendencies, distorting the readings of Stirner and, in particular, of Nietzsche, Marxists have tried to accredit the historicist and dialectical vision of historical materialism, condemning without appeal any form of historicist operation that prescinds from that mechanism and pretends to remain the same materialist.
By glossing over revolutionary consciousness, by issuing court-martial sentences, the Marxists have therefore moved on to logical consequences. Doubts about the validity of the dialectical mechanism are a matter of mental illness. In fact, in the USSR, they are usually cured by internment in clinics (read: asylums). Since this denial was shared not only by the anarchist individualists, but also by the organizers (in the different tendencies), it was useful to generalize a condemnation, avoiding explanations and clarifications that would only bring water to the mill of a revolutionary current completely opposed.
Anarchists considered the individualist bangs as a phenomenon to be circumscribed, if not condemned and persecuted. By circumscribing it, this phenomenon could give its fruits, albeit limited, putting into question specific problems, such as the sexual question, the vegetarian question, the question of nudism, perhaps even that of pacifism (with big limits). But, at all costs, it was necessary to limit the consequences of the disintegration that individualism could cause to the organized movement. The concerns of many big-name militants were right here. Even certain issues, such as sexuality, were considered dangerous, and therefore placed on the sidelines, obviously unable to censor them. It is known to all how Emma Goldman was repeatedly hindered in her propaganda of clarification of the sexual problem and the feminist problem, even by anarchist militants like Johann Most or Pyotr Kropotkin. (See E. Goldman, Anarchism, Feminism and Other Essays, tr. it., Milan 1976).
A series of misunderstandings. The theorists of anarchist individualism, as we shall show, are epigones of a certain philosophical current that can be traced back to Stirner, but only on an intellectual level. The philosophical motive of the work of the latter is captured by them in the key of blind exaltation of the individual, while it is concealed both the sense of the totality of reality that is enclosed in the individual, as the sense of the revolutionary totality that is enclosed in the union of so-called selfish.
Other complications were not long in coming. The rebellion of a poor and disenfranchised minority, which did not find credit with the Marxists and was regarded with suspicion even by the anarchists themselves, ended up becoming a testing ground for the theories of some individualist theorists. But this ghettoized minority, subjected to an intense process of criminalization by the state, had little to do with the theories. For its members, individual recovery, dispossession, was a fact, an element of life, not an aesthetic expression, as it was for most of the theorists of individualism.
This does not take away, as further proof of the misunderstandings and prejudices that are rampant on this subject, that many members of this ghettoized minority have been influenced by certain readings. Only that, generally, these readings were almost never first-hand, but consisted of popular reworkings of philosophical themes, revived with considerable superficiality and schematism.
In a generic way, we can say that an individualist tendency, with a certain revolutionary meaning, existed within the anarchist movement, without being able, with this, to trace it back to the theoretical matrices of anarchist individualism that developed as a result of the work of some theorists. The tendency, operating most often at the level of nuclei of rebels and intolerant, underclass and so-called common criminals, took on the connotations of an active criticism of the operation conducted by collectivist and communist anarchism, an operation that, especially in the anarcho-syndicalist version, could give the impression of a further operation of power.
At this level we witness an incredible congerie of testimonies, of absurdities, of theories, of hasty and badly digested readings, of presumptuous assertions. A frightening mixture of voluntarism and exaltation of violence, of a justification of property and other strange claims. All this can not, in any way, be considered as a unitary whole, and be subjected to uniform criticism. It is necessary to distinguish between the anarchist thesis, which claims to impose the needs of the individual, and which is open to an exact evaluation of the conditions of the revolutionary association, understood in terms of the whole of the revolutionary movement, and other theses which irrationally develop marginal and contrasting elements, with an undertone based on the will to power.
Finally, we must not forget the other danger, always present, and always used by Marxists, to confuse anarchist individualism (as indicated by a certain historiography) with bourgeois individualism, exalting the figure of the man “who makes himself.
Let us therefore clarify this last point by showing how in bourgeois individualism two interpretations have developed, corresponding at bottom to two necessities of capital. The first, what we call “right-wing”, uses an indigestible mixture of voluntarism and the theory of power; the second, what we call “liberal”, uses two theories, which are complementary to each other although they are successive in time: the theory of utilitarianism (corresponding to a certain level of development of science in the 19th century) and the theory of methodologism (corresponding to the current development of science). The bourgeois interpretation of individualism will become, en bloc, dangerous, so they will move to interpretations more consonant and more suitable to imperialist modifications, not least the interpretation of Marxist dialectical ontologism.
The right wing has sometimes tried to recover Stirner, in order to revive his themes. Apart from the instrumentalization of already seen, the work of Franco Freda, Giovanni Ventura and partners, those of the massacre of Milan in 1969, remains the operation of the former Marxist Armando Plebe, current theorist of Nazism. The latter can be seen in an intervention in the volume Anarchism old and new, Florence 1971, pp. 11-25. But these are mystifications. A right-wing interpretation makes no sense. It does not make sense because Stirner proposes a use of the will that is very different from that suggested by the ideologists of the will to power, and it also does not make sense because there is no real right-wing culture, capable of meaning anything on the level of a complete philosophical research. The right-wing culture is always a narrow-minded affair, an “a posteriori” affair, an affair that is sewn on characters and thinkers who have never had right-wing ideas, but who have had such extreme thoughts and criticisms as to be able to seem, sometimes (taken separately), “right-wing”. This is not only the case of Stirner, but also of Nietzsche.
When Hans G. Helms states that “the history of Stirnerism is the history of Fascism” (Die Ideologie der anonymen Gesellschaft. Max Stirners “Einzigers” und der Fortschritt des demokratischen Selbstbewusstseins vom Vormärz bis zum Bundesrepublik, Köln 1966, p. 12), he advances a blatant joke not shared even by Marxists themselves. His work, which is interesting because it is the most complete from a bibliographical point of view, starts from the consideration of the process of fascistization that the governmental and state structure is taking in many so-called democratic republics, particularly Germany. As Marx and Engels are the apostles of the proletariat, according to Helms Stirner would be “the apostle of the middle class”, i.e. the bourgeoisie.
It is truly amazing how this scholar, who has dedicated so much work to Stirner, has not been able to get out of a scholastic perspective that has made him misrepresent all his otherwise praiseworthy research. According to him, the individual is urged – in Stirner’s works – to arm himself against those who hold the control of capital: hence, the identification of Stirnerism and Fascism. Hence the identification of Stirnerism and fascism. In fact, fascism would be the struggle between those who hold capital and those who want to manipulate it. To base this thesis, Helms starts from two assumptions: first, Stirner’s texts, second, the history of his fortune. In the first, he finds that the absence of dialectical materialism has prevented the exact cognition of the class struggle and therefore the exit from the Hegelian metaphysical quagmire, from which the condemnation to irrationalism, hero worship, bourgeois individualism, the antechamber of all national socialist depravity. In the story of fortune, this imaginative filmmaker even inserts a presence of Hitler, as this knew Henrik Ibsen and Ibsen was enthusiastic about Stirner. All these deductions need no critical clarification. It is truly extraordinary the nerve of many scholars who refer to Marxism and that, when they should, at least, use some of the methodological tools prepared by the latter, they let themselves be dragged by prejudices and inconsistencies of clear idealist matrix. According to Marxist historicism, fascism was nothing more than a product of certain modifications in the relations of production. Given this premise, in what way can poor Stirner be considered the “father” of National Socialism? Mysteries of dialectics, which like that famous razor cuts where and when it wants and not where and when it should.
The traditional sources of university culture, linked to patterns of interest and research that it is not the case to analyze here, but that can be defined as reactionary, have always approached Stirner’s thought with great suspicion, for two reasons. First, his poor ability to remain trapped for a long time within any historiographic prescription. Second, its immediate interference in political practice, so that frequently the researcher-philosopher is forced to put his personal political convictions on the table, which in the university climate is at least uncomfortable. In Italy, then, this is even more evident, lacking that certain vitality that has sometimes characterized foreign universities in the past. All of this ends up being functional to the right-wing interpretation that thus finds its miserable nourishment.
The liberal interpretation, employing the theory of utilitarianism, starts from the interests of the individual and the claim that the development of these can allow a parallel development of the interests of the community. The greatest fear of this doctrine of the triumphant bourgeoisie is revolutions and civil wars. Ludwig von Mises writes: “Democracy is not a revolutionary institution. On the contrary, it is the very means of preventing revolutions and civil wars.” (L’Azione umana. Trattato di economia , tr. it., Torino 1959, p. 145). Clearly this doctrine is, at the same time, materialist and idealist. It is materialist in the mechanistic, hence deterministic, sense. It is idealistic in the sense of establishing “a priori” conditions for interpreting the practice of intervention in reality. Concepts such as “economic man”, the “market”, “movement” and so on, are complementary to the “materialistic” concepts of “satisfaction of needs”, “elimination of discomfort”, “happiness”, which, being distorted by their real content, become “a priori” principles and therefore ideal. If we consider it well, this utilitarianism, with its mechanistic pretensions, is a derivation of the philosophy of the 18th century, although it is placed, with regard to its development, in the middle of the 19th century. This has a relationship with the above-mentioned needs of capital.
The methodological interpretation of bourgeois individualism passes through the experience of American pragmatism. Here a further specification must be made between the psychological and the physicalist tendencies. The former ends up merging sociology and psychology together, in a strange, typically American coupling of social psychology, the latter remains tied to scientistic interpretations of the research methodology that is developed by physics.
The essential feature of the research conducted by American sociologists and psychologists is the attempt to marry theoretical demands – silenced by a very long period of prevailing empiricism – with the needs of a consideration of reality from a practical point of view.
The period prior to World War II is characterized in American sociology by a prevailing empiricism. Extensive studies exist on this subject. (See L. Leclercq, Introduction à la Sociologie, Louvain 1948, p. 72). But the names of Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, John Dewey, and George Herbert Mead, were not insurmountable obstacles to the birth of a vast pragmatist current, immediately after the Second World War, a current that took its cue from a theoretical dissatisfaction, generalized in several areas of research.
Filippo Barbano writes: “Noticing a “theoretical void” means becoming aware of “theoretical needs”. In American sociology, these needs emerged as implications of empirical research itself: as the latter broadened the field of its interests, new scientific needs arose.” (Culture and Personality in American Sociological Thought, in Il Pensiero americano contemporaneo a cura del Centro di Studi Metodologici di Torino, vol. I, Social Sciences, Milan 1958, p. 6). Ultimately, there developed a tendency towards the “interdisciplinary unification” of the social sciences, so as to institutionalize a close relationship between social psychology, cultural anthropology and sociology. In this direction were the considerable efforts of Kurt Lewin, Robert King Merton and Talcott Parsons. Each of them operated on different research levels, arriving, more or less, at satisfying the basic theoretical need. What was achieved, Barbano continues, was “a concept of sociological theory as a unit composed of conceptual schemes, more or less generalized, and of a ‘framework of references'”. (Culture and Personality, op. cit., p. 9).
Take, for example, Lewin’s position around the problem of personality: “The mind is often regarded as the prototype of unity. The unity of consciousness, the unity of the person, are often used as an entirely obvious basis and presupposition for far-reaching speculations; and the wholeness of the individual, especially in his psychic aspects, seems closely connected with the special nature, the absolute uniqueness, which one wishes to ascribe to a person. On closer inspection, however, we find here a whole series of problems. The problem of the unity of consciousness is not identified with that of the unity of the whole region of psychic forms and processes, of psychic systems which are or are not in a state of tension, and whose totality can be designated by the term “mind.” Moreover, it is at least questionable whether what may be called the ego, or 1’self, whose unity is important with regard to many problems, is not merely a system or system complex, a partial functional sphere within this larger psychic totality.” (Dynamic Theory of Personality , tr. it., Milan 1972, pp. 63-64).
It is a sign of the process of fragmentation of the individual, a process that is accompanied by the accentuation of functionalism. The evolution of Lewin’s thought, in the new environment of the United States, where the scholar went to escape Hitler’s persecution, is indicative of the analysis of methodological individualism of a psychological and sociological kind, as it emerged in the American climate between the wars, a climate that can be identified in a certain stance of sociologists starting with Bronislaw Kaspar Malinowski and his concept of functionalism.
For Malinowski, cultures constitute organic ensembles whose different elements stand in a certain relationship to each other. (The Dynamics of Cultural Change, New Haven 1944, p. 20).
Other works that indicate the situation in which functionalist theory developed are those of Ralph Linton (The Study of Man, New York 1936), Franz Boas (The Mind of Primitive Man, New York 1911), Pitirim A. Sorokin (Social and Cultural Dynamics, New York 1928), etc.
It is the concept of “basic personality” that is outlined, a concept that is immediately at odds with the development of, say, Freudian individualism, of man in the total sense as understood by sociology of Marxist extraction, and the concerns of existentialist philosophers about the “person”. In this milieu, the idea of sociality as an objective reference and as a justification for human self-consciousness is considered an entirely theoretical idea, infected with ideologism. “American social humanism could not necessarily refer to an individual or collective ontologism, referring to a fixed and immutable substantial nature of the individual or society. This conception is at the antipodes, not only of thought, but of American real society itself (eminently “active” thought and eminently pluralistic society)”. (F. Barbano, Cultura e personalità, op. cit., p. 35).
This perspective is reminiscent of the mechanical puppet constructed by behaviorism. No longer the inanimate object that dances as a result of the action of external instincts, but always a partial creation. With the attempts of methodological individualism, the automaton of behaviorism is unable to become a man, despite its insistence on talking about psychological needs, intentions, hopes and aspirations, because it lacks that global link with socio-political reality, that basic consideration of the causes that determine the growth and modification of needs, intentions, hopes and aspirations, which are not the result of isolated drives, but the conscious product of certain factual situations, of certain divisions of power, of certain properties of the means of production, of certain ideological perspectives.
The other side of the methodological interpretation of bourgeois individualism has two orders of concerns: the first concerns the form of the utterances of science, the second concerns the activity of individuals. The concerns of the first order are rather formal and claim to treat objectively (scientifically) utterances of the type “human being” or “class”, dividing them into two categories: individual utterances and collective utterances. This aspect is related to the research of neo-positivism and is not of interest here. The other order of concern concerns the activities of individuals, activities that are claimed to be distinguishable from the activities of social groups. Groups and their activities are considered as simple summations of individuals and their activities. Thus we have that the social scientist must bring back all the phenomena he examines to the individual, as the atomistic basis of reality, by which it is derived that psychology is the science of sciences.
One of the most effective interpreters of scientifically based methodological individualism writes: “The ultimate constituents of the social world are individual persons acting more or less appropriately in light of their dispositions and understanding of their situation. Every complex social situation, every institution, or every event is the result of a particular configuration of individuals, their dispositions, situations, beliefs, and physical resources, and the environment. There may certainly be unfinished or half-finished explanations of large-scale social phenomena (e.g., of inflation) in terms of other large-scale phenomena (e.g., of full employment); but we will not have arrived at substantive explanations of such large-scale phenomena until we have deduced an exposition of them from utterances about the dispositions, beliefs, resources, and interrelationships among individuals.” (J. W. W. Watkins, Historical Explanation in the Social Sciences, “British Journal for the Philosophy of Science,” vol. VIII, 1957, p. 106).
This methodological current emphasizes the fact that all descriptive terms that satisfactorily explain social phenomena are individual-type terms, as they correspond to subjective situations of a psychological type. The practical foundation of the domination of capital prevents the acceptance of ontological tendencies, corresponding to another moment of development of the forces of domination of production. All this corresponds to denying that “superhuman” forces act in human affairs (in history), but it does not mean affirming the concept of the totality of social confrontation. On the contrary, the reduction to individual concreteness is made in view of the constructability of a harmonious balance between the productive forces, a balance that must ensure social peace and the rational exploitation of the workers.
The basic misunderstanding, which unites all these misunderstandings that we have enumerated, and which makes bourgeois individualism very dangerous, as well as the Marxist attempt to play on the similarities of anarchist individualism, theorized by some thinkers, with the previous individualism, an attempt in which some anarchist thinkers of communist tendency have also fallen, this basic misunderstanding is constituted by linking individual statements (starting from the individual) to concrete facts, but in pulverizing this link in the microcosm of everyday life refusing any reference to the total interpretation of the class contrast. In doing so, one gets the impression that the attempt at analysis is “honest,” is “realistic,” is “linked to the concreteness of the facts.” In essence, this realism fades into the series of evidence, all isolated, which should suffice alone, with the strength of the number, to bear the burden of demonstration.
We insert here a very delicate problem, that of so-called juvenile crime, a problem that has been treated by bourgeois psychologism and by American sociologism in particular, with the technique of methodological individualism. To a superficial observer this problem seems to be related to facts; it seems, therefore, quite well developed. In essence, these facts, or environmental elements as they are defined, are placed in a perspective that aids evaluative bias.
To fix the relationship between the phenomenon of juvenile delinquency and the environment means, for methodological individualism, to start a series of analyses of micro-social relations culminating in the contradictions between the child and his family. A more correct analysis, on the other hand, should analyze the entire social environment in which the formation of the child takes place (class placement, analysis of superstructural contradictions, analysis of ideologies, contradictions between emotional ties, etc.). All this should not be done in an abstract way, but in the concreteness of the factual recognition of the specific determinants. Only in this way would the analysis be included in the broader historical process and contribute to an easier understanding of the phenomenon.
In general, for the child, the fact that environmental influences are filtered by the individual on the receiving end is compounded by the way the family unit filters environmental influences. A number of theories attempt to explain the problem of relationships between environmental factors and crime.
a) Theory of “differential associations”, according to which the number and frequency of personal associations and encounters determine the choice, positive or negative, towards illegality. b) Theory of “differential identification” according to which it is not the encounters but the identification of the subject with a model encountered. c) Theory of “social disorganization” which starts from the assumption of a “sick society” which tends to disorganize the individuals who make it up. d) Theory of “cultural conflict”, according to which social mobility, instability of residence, migration, the contrast between levels of aspiration stimulated by external models and socio-economic conditions not sufficient to satisfy those aspirations, place the individual in a situation of cultural conflict, that is, in the inability to choose between one culture and another, from which the maladjustment and the choice for conduct against society. e) “Anomalous society” theory, it starts from Emile Durkheim’s research on suicide and argues that in a rapidly changing society the patterns of conduct and homogeneous values are missing. f) Theory of “dissociation between ends and means”, according to which when in a society there is no longer a correspondence between the ends and the means to achieve these ends, there is a supervaluation of the ends, which are considered on the basis of their efficiency and not their legitimacy, hence the decisions of the individual to behave in a deviant manner. g) Theory of “legitimized conduct”, according to which in a social group the condition for maintaining relations is the adaptation to the expectations of others. h) Theory of “cultural diversity”, according to which deviant behavior is specific to less fortunate socio-cultural groups that develop their own culture in contrast to that of the dominant groups. i) Theory of “frustration-aggression”, which starts from the Freudian concept of frustration as a psychological state of dissatisfaction. l) Theory of “containment” which considers man as a binary system (individual-environment) in which internal and external containers act. The former are components of the Ego (self-control, good self-concept) and depend on the strength of the Ego, a high tolerance to frustration, an orientation towards specific goals, a capacity for replacement satisfactions, rationalizations that reduce tension. The second are the representation made to the subject of a moral line consistent with accepted average values.
From the set of these theories a number of reports have emerged, more or less illuminating for our problem.
1) Relationships between juvenile deviance and depressed areas, unemployment, illiteracy, poverty, backwardness, immobility. 2) Relationships between city and country, the frequency of deviance from the average moral rules is about half in the countryside. 3) Relationships between economic factors and deviance, which are well studied. Statisticians have noted that an increase in the price of food, without a proportionate increase in wages, automatically leads to an increase in acts against property.
For minors, the problem is more complex because the events of the crisis of capitalism also act through the shattering of the environment in which the young person finds himself, an environment that traditional values want rigidly fixed and immobile (family, school, contact with adults in general). (Cfr. A. Franchini, F. Introna, Delinquenza juvenile, Padova 1972, pp. 126-127).
As you can see, it is a very broad framework of theories and relationships that those theories study and try to deepen with precise social analyses. Only that the set of all those theories is on the wrong methodological plane. In fact, examining it well, one realizes that the underlying assumption is social stability, i.e. equilibrium, the same eternal dream of the science of the last century. As Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck’s researches on this subject clearly indicate (Dal fanciullo al delinquente , Florence 1957, pp. 61 et seq.), concerns about the irregular situations of so many families, about the absurd life that so many children lead within the prison-like environment constituted by family rules, are only aimed at finding a solution to restore a disturbed “equilibrium”. These two worthy researchers conclude that “delinquent boys are the least loved by their fathers.” (Ib., p. 71). A remarkable example of the process of objectifying and distorting the concrete dimension of the problem. In this way, individualist psychological analysis arrives at partial and distorted results that are so useful to the management of power. The Lombrosian thesis of biologism in criminality, corresponding to a certain development of the contradictions of capital, here no longer has any possibility of citizenship. Modern man, the average man of modern civilization, needs concrete, visible facts. The more these facts are pulverized, statistically treated, elaborated, transformed into numerical relations and ratios, the better he feels, feeling the protection of the deity of quantitative science. Those old biological conceptions, especially after the negative experience of fascisms between the two wars, would put him under suspicion. This, on the one hand. On the other hand, capital has gone beyond the colonial phase and the phase of national war to enter the phase of economic warfare conducted through large multinational corporations. The division of the world no longer corresponds to that of the nation-states marked on the map. Other divisions, deeper and more significant, find reason to exist, and are not marked anywhere. This new contradictory level of capitalist development needs concrete things, analysis, facts: the words and dreams of pre-war idealists are no longer enough. But these facts and numbers must be shrouded in the ideological fog of sacralized fact and number. All this must be done without running the risk of opening the way towards the conception of the totality of the class clash, a dangerous breach because it would allow the revolutionary consciousness to be raised.
We trace, in brief, Stirnerian formulations of the problem of the individual. Afterwards, we will have the opportunity to develop another set of considerations that will lead us to examine the relationship between revolt and revolution.
On the first page of The One: “From the moment he opens his eyes to the light, man, finding himself thrown haphazardly among all the other things in the world, seeks to find himself and to conquer himself by emerging from their tangle.
“But everything the child touches rebels against its grip and asserts its own existence.
“So the struggle for self-assertion is inevitable, because everything cares about itself and at the same time is constantly colliding with other things.
“To win or to succumb: between these two possibilities oscillates the destiny of the struggle. The winner becomes the master, the vanquished the subject: the former exercises sovereignty and the “rights of the sovereign”, the latter fulfills, respectful and reverent, the “duties of the subject”.
“But both remain enemies and remain ever on the alert, alert to each other’s weaknesses, the children to those of their parents, the parents to those of their children (e.g., to their fear); either the stick wins the man or the man the stick.” (U, p. 15).
And at the end of his book, “We stand at the border of an age. The world as it has been until now has sought nothing but to gain life, has been preoccupied with – life. All activities are set in motion for earthly life or heavenly life, for life in time or for eternal life, people yearn for “daily bread” (“Give us this day our daily bread”) or “sacred bread” (“the true heavenly bread”, “the bread of God, which comes from heaven and gives life to the world”, “the bread of life”, John, 6), they worry about “dear life” or “life in eternity”, but in all these cases the purpose of the tension and concern appears the same: life. Do modern trends present themselves in a different light? It is desired that no one should be in difficulty with the most necessary necessities of life, but instead be secure in this respect, and on the other hand it is taught that man should care about the hereafter and should strive to live in the real world, without vain worries about an afterlife.
“Let us reconsider this from another perspective. Those who only care about living easily forget, because of this anxious concern, the enjoyment of life. If he is only interested in living and thinks: “As long as I stay alive!”, he does not deploy all his strength to use life, that is, to enjoy it. But how does one use life? By consuming it like a candle that is used by burning it. One makes use of life and at the same time of himself, the living person, by consuming life as himself. To enjoy life means to use it, to consume it.
“Well – the enjoyment of life is precisely what we seek!” (U, p. 237).
Therefore: “Only when I am sure of myself and no longer go in search of myself, am I truly my own property: I have myself, therefore I make use of and enjoy myself. I can never rejoice in myself, on the other hand, as long as I think that I have yet to find my true self and that the one who lives in me is not me, but is Christ or some other spiritual self, that is, some ghost, for example, the true man, the essence of man, and the like.
“An enormous distance separates the two conceptions: in the old one I go towards myself, in the new one I start from myself, in the new one I aspire to find myself, in this one I possess myself completely and do with myself what is done with any other property: I enjoy myself as I like best. I no longer care for life, but ‘spend’ it.” (U, p. 238).
And so: “From here on, the problem is no longer how to acquire life, but how to spend it, how to enjoy it, that is, it is no longer how to produce the true self in oneself, but how to consume oneself by thoroughly enjoying one’s life.
“What is the ideal if not the self of which one goes in search and which always remains far away? One seeks oneself, therefore one does not yet have oneself; one aspires to what one must be, therefore one is not. One lives in yearning: for centuries one has lived in it, one has lived in hope. But quite different will be the life of those who live in – enjoyment!” (Ibid.).
“A man is not “called” to anything and has no “task,” no “vocation,” just as a plant or a flower has no “mission.” The flower does not carry out its mission to perfect itself, but employs all its strength to enjoy and consume the world as best it can, that is, it absorbs as much juice from the earth, as much air from the ether, as much sunlight as it is able to receive and contain. The bird does not live according to a mission, but uses its strengths as much as it can: it hunts for insects and sings as it wishes. But the strengths of the flower and the bird are very little compared to those of man, and far more powerful are the interventions in the world by a man who uses his own strength than those of a flower or an animal. He does not have a vocation, but forces that are expressed where they are, because their way of being consists only in their externalization and they can never remain inoperative, as life itself, if it “stopped” even for a second, would no longer be life. Then one could exclaim to man: use your strength! But this imperative would be interpreted as if it were man’s duty to make use of his strength. It is not. Rather, each person makes use of as much strength as he possesses, really and at all times. One sometimes hears a defeated man say that he should have stretched his strength more, but he forgets that if, when he was about to succumb, he had had the strength to stretch his strength (for example his vital strength), he would certainly have done so: that momentary discouragement was precisely – impotence, even if only for a minute. It is certainly possible to increase and multiply forces, especially through enemy resistance or friendly assistance, but when they are not used, one can be sure that they are not even there. Fire can be released from a stone, but without strong friction it is not possible; likewise a man needs a “push.
“Precisely because of this, that is, because forces are already in themselves always active, the order to use them would be superfluous and meaningless. To use one’s own forces is not the mission and task of man, but it is his always real and present action. “‘Force’ is merely a simpler word for the manifestation of force.” (U, p. 242).
With this, all discussions about the irrational exaltation of force in Stirner must be set aside. The purpose of man is not violence but joy.
Let’s continue with quotes on the problem of the individual. “Far be it from me therefore any cause that is not entirely my cause! Do you think that my cause should at least be the “good cause”? What good and bad! I myself am my own cause, and I am neither good nor bad. Neither one thing nor the other makes any sense to me.
“The divine is the cause of God, the human the cause “of man”. My cause is neither the divine nor the human, it is not what is true, good, just, free, etc., but only what is mine, and it is not a general cause, but – unique, just as I myself am unique.
“There is nothing I care about more than myself!” (U, p. 14).
And, once again, at the end of the book: “My enjoyment of myself is spoiled because I think I have to serve another, because I imagine I owe him something, because I consider myself called to “sacrifice”, to “dedication”, to “enthusiasm”. So, if I no longer serve any idea, any “superior being”, it goes without saying that I no longer serve any man either, but in all conditions – me alone. But in this way I am, not only in my actions or in my being, but also in the consciousness I have of myself – the only one.
“You are entitled to more than the divine, the human, etc.: you are entitled to what is yours.
“Consider yourself more powerful than you think you are and you will have power; consider yourself more and you will have more.
“You are not only called to divine things and legitimated to human things, but you are instead the owner of what is yours, that is, you are appropriated for everything that is yours and able to use it.” (U, pp. 266-267).
The conclusion of the long work of dissection is simple: the target was the individual, not man in his common meaning, considered in his vague “sacredness”, which can only be the antechamber of a new dimension of domination, but the individual, in the limited concreteness of his own self, of the self that belongs to him.
The concept of “individual” cannot be separated from the concept of “organization.” The individual, even in his solitude, is always an organization: if nothing else, a biological organization and an organization of cultural knowledge. The presence of this organizational embryo differentiates it from the brute. When the individual has acquired a certain consciousness of his class situation, and recognizes himself as exploited, then he becomes a specific organization, which can act together with other individual organizations giving rise to complex structures of attack against authority.
Unfortunately, this type of approach to the problem, derived from some insights of Stirner, has not been developed by anarchists. Only recently, in these last months of 1977, the precipitation of events has exacerbated that conflict between being a militant and being a man, with all the consequences of the case. Conflict that has become a profound need for a clarification of the limits of political and social commitment, limits that were threatening to suffocate the individual, sclerotizing the struggle in a scheme that was easily exploited by the new gangs in power.
The resurgent concerns about the fate of the individual in the new society find further grounding in the negative experiences of the so-called communist “new societies” (USSR, China, Cuba, etc.). In what way, and within what limits, and with what consequences, must we be prepared to immolate the individual on the altar of society and its myth?
Old Stirner had posed the question. But a Marxist cannot take into account what Stirner said, the latter having been excommunicated long ago by the head of the church, so it is useless to go and ask anything of the Communist on the street corner.
It is the individual who rebels and becomes aware of a certain situation that previously escaped him thanks to the encompassing activity of reactionary ideology. His class situation, his being in the condition of the exploited, determines the formation of a “class consciousness”, which then translates into an “adaptation” to the reality of the struggles, as the Marxists put it, but in the end, if we look closely, it is always the individual who decides his action. This becomes more evident starting with the concept of “consciousness-raising,” unless one wants to admit, from the outset, that it is a matter of operating a banal arbitrary substitution of conditioning for conditioning. If the basic situation, the class situation, determines the possibility of consciousness-raising, it is always the individual who becomes conscious and begins and completes his struggle.
Often, even in the face of the realization of revolutionary perspectives, such as consciousness raising, mythical residues persist in the individual that are not easily eliminated. These residues are fed by the masters who provide for their maintenance. The residue of homeland, family, authority, productivity, duty, etc. often subsists. Despite its importance, the phase of awareness of exploitation, if it were to find an outlet only in a political-economic revolution, would always be a partial revolution that would leave the mythical residues to coexist with all the negative consequences that follow.
It is easy, therefore, that in the aftermath of the revolution, given the persistence of the old “ghosts,” class consciousness ends up not being able to deal with the new obstacles, disguised under pseudo-revolutionary forms, concluding for the necessary acceptance of authority.
But the revolution is not an abstract idea. Comrades do not fight and die for a simple abstraction. The Paris Communards did not fall merely to “make the Paris Commune,” nor even less because they wanted to “historically prove the possibility of making it.” They fell because they believed that their efforts would be the first step toward a different society, certainly not the decisive step, but a first step. The revolutionary struggle is always a progressive struggle, against resurgent but gradually fading “ghosts”. The revolution of the exploited must be able to guarantee, afterwards, a less painful life, with less injustice and less inequality. From now on, the necessity of continuing the struggle must be foreseen, beyond the resurgent ghosts, avoiding any kind of sacralization, even towards the present revolutionary symbols.
The relationship between the individual and the masses is, in this regard, an illuminating one. The conquest of oneself, in the Stirnerian sense, is not only a personal matter, it is the most immediate and concrete social action. Conquering himself, becoming unique, man, from ghost, becomes a precise individual: his journey is the message he addresses to others, the dialogue with others, the others who are the class, the active element of the revolution. This “conquest” of the individual becomes, therefore, an “adequate response” to the social problem, an “awareness”, a “class response”. In recognizing himself as an individual, man shows others the way forward, gradually identifying the concrete conditions of his liberation, first of all the economic conditions. A perspective of power, once it presents itself as the foundation of the liberation process, is nothing more than a new kind of obstacle.
The realizing instrument is for the individual the revolt. By other means, through the acceptance of a prize or a concession, through the bowing of the head and wait for the right moment, through the calculation and the perspective of “the time of revolution has not yet come”, you can not realize the project of anarchist revolutionary egoism. In this sense, it does not seem appropriate to interpret in a literal form the relationship that Stirner poses between revolt and revolution. The meaning that we give today to the revolution, that is, the social revolution, the final liberation from exploitation, would be, even for Stirner, the crowning achievement of individual revolts and, therefore, would not give reason for a distinction. On the contrary, the other revolution, the partial one, which falls instrument in the hands of the strongest for the restoration of a new form of domination, is natural to be opposed to the revolt of the individual, precisely because it denies the latter.
It is not possible to agree with Giorgio Penzo’s statement: “The terms revolt and association designate two limiting moments in the sphere of human existence, considered in its authenticity. Unlike the revolution that bites only on a social ground and that presupposes the recognition as valid a living according to laws in front of which we place ourselves in a critical attitude, the revolt instead is exhausted only in an inner act. That is, there is only a stance taken by the subject with respect to the object, without caring to change the object”. (The revolt in Stirner and Bakunin, in Bakunin. Cent’anni dopo, “Atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studi bakuniniani”, Milan 1977, pp. 290-291).
In this way, a further misunderstanding is fed. It is given as possible the existence of a personal, existential, microscopic sphere that the individual can close to the public, thus blocking the problems of the society that surrounds him. Revolt is nothing of the sort. When it takes on the external aspect in this sense it is a revolt “piloted” by necessity and ideological stimuli prepared by power. The individual is a moment, in itself complete, of the revolutionary totality itself. In his rebellion, he already begins to realize the revolution (permanent and personal) and then continues it in the dimension of an increased consciousness (the consciousness of the group and of the revolutionary union). The final project of the revolutionary totality is not something that “bites” in a different terrain, but a precise fact that allows the vision of the relationship between the individual and the revolutionary movement, the fact of inserting itself in the class clash.
Errico Malatesta wrote: “Insurrections will be necessary as long as there will be powers that with material force will force the masses to obedience; and it is probable, unfortunately, that many insurrections will have to take place before we will have conquered that minimum of indispensable conditions so that free and peaceful evolution will be possible and humanity will be able to walk without bloody fights and useless sufferings towards its high destiny”. (“Umanità Nova”, November 25, 1922).
And elsewhere: “Anarchy means organized society without authority … that if we believed that there could be no organization without authority, we would be authoritarian, because we still prefer authority, which jams and pains life, to the disorganization that makes it impossible.” (“The Agitation,” June 4, 1897).
The two are, as you can see, linked by the same method. What distinguishes anarchists from socialist and Marxist authoritarians is the libertarian method. This emerges clearly with regard to the problem of revolution.
The Leninists have, in this regard, repeated empty concepts applicable to war in general, often under the influence of the reading of Karl von Clausewitz (see Della guerra , tr. it., Milan 1970), or of a Lenin reader of Napoleon, Clausewitz, Helmuth Karl Moltke, Colmar von der Goltz, Frederick the Great, etc.. Hence all the conclusions about a dialectic of war and peace that, at best, is pulled by the hair. (See Mao Tse-tung, Identity and Struggle of the Aspects of Contradiction , in the volume On Contradiction, tr. it., Beijing 1968, p. 9).
Hence, what is even more serious, an authoritarian concept of revolution, followed by a particularly prepared group, therefore able to plan the revolution with strategic plans type traditional war, and bring it to victory.
The revolution thus becomes a theoretical problem and the revolutionary struggle a problem of strategy. Cesare Milanese saw in the London years between 1900 and 1903, which Lenin and Lev Trockij spent together studying at the British Museum, the origin of the “revolutionary thought of Bolshevism” (General Principles of Revolutionary War, Milan 1970, p. 25), as well as the seed of future victories. It is clear that with such perspectives, a methodology of the revolutionary struggle is translated into a manual for the military, when it should be an aid provided to the militants. The military, in the traditional meaning of the term, is an object that must obey and die; the militant, in the revolutionary meaning, is a subject that must reason and, if necessary, even die. It is therefore impossible to suggest, or impose, precepts on the latter that are good only for the former.
The error is that of the lack of confidence in the creative capacity of the masses, so that the individual revolutionary, in the cloister of the British Museum, believes himself to be in duty bound to work, not for them, but in their place, regardless of the consideration of their presence, not taking into account that a revolution is not only a fact of war but also, and primarily, a human fact, a social fact. All this leads irretrievably towards new and more terrible forms of authoritarian structure.
Revolution is the final outlet of insurrection, indeed of insurrections. It must be seen as a change of values. The Stirnerian conception of union, as the foundation of the “new society of tomorrow”, which is no longer “society but union”, would not make sense if it were not set as a limit situation, reachable by an increasing number of “individuals”, until the moment of the final revolution, that social revolution transforming values.
At the time when the brown shirts took over Berlin, in 1933, at the age of seventy years died in that city, theater of the greatest orgy of power, the literary and political writer John Henry Mackay, Prussian by birth.
The figure and the work of this anarchist are of interest here for the fact that through him there was the real “discovery” of Stirner.
But this “discovery” was not an occasional occurrence, a literary “fact” extraneous to the scholar’s life, as is usually the case with all researchers. Mackay was a militant anarchist and an individualist: the meeting with Stirner, due according to some to the reading of Lange’s History of Materialism , was therefore not an occasional encounter. Not only were his political works influenced by a continuous dialogue with Stirner’s work, but also his literary works, which cannot always be considered as such, remained works of social and political reflection.
Some of these works, such as Die letzte Pflicht  (The Last Duties) and Der Schwimmer  (The Swimmer), are the narrative concretization of Stirnerian individualist philosophy.
Taking into account that the first two works, gathered in a single volume, came out in the Universal Reclam Library, with a very wide circulation, we can have an idea of the importance of this writer for the diffusion of Stirnerian individualist philosophy.
After 1888 his dialogue with Stirner becomes tighter. The three-part division of the novel Der Schwimmer, corresponding to the stages of Franz Felder’s evolution, reflects the first chapter of The One. In this novel, moreover, the figure of man and prison, of man in the state (Felder in his swimming club), appears for the first time. Der Schwimmer‘s character is a heavy, stupid being, a mass of muscle, most of the time at rest, mentally and emotionally indifferent to everything around him except the water. He is the example of the ideal citizen, the man educated by society to perform a defined task.
The aforementioned novel, of which there are no Italian translations (the original edition was published in Berlin in 1901, by the publisher Fischer), is among Mackay’s best works, perhaps better than his other novel, Die Anarchisten , of which we have an Italian translation (Casa Editrice Sociale, Milan 1921), a novel set in London in 1887 but which faded with the passage of time, as has been rightly noted. (See T. A. Riley, L’œuvre littéraire de John Henry Mackay, tr. fr. by E. Armand, Paris 1950, p. 21).
The biography of Stirner is a colossal work that occupied him for years, engaging him financially and intellectually. Very few traces remained of the unfortunate philosopher. His wife, interviewed by Mackay in London, had memories that were anything but pleasant; she considered the period of her life spent with Stirner a bad experience, yet she had been a “free woman” and had frequented the Berlin group. Engels’ memories, for quite different reasons, but equally of visceral origin, were certainly not very useful to the biographical reconstruction. The drawing that is constantly reproduced, the one with the forehead high and in profile, was made by the Marxist theorist on the basis of his memories of Berlin, after so long certainly faded. Anecdotes, such as the one about the solitary thinker who rarely intervened in beer hall debates, leave time to be found.
Note that in 1893, by the interest of Mackay, the publishing house Reclam publishes a popular edition of The Only One. From this moment, until 1914, it comes out in average one edition the year. The diffusion of the book is great.
In Mackay’s autobiography, Der Freiheitscher, a kind of liberation story is hidden under the poetic aspect, marked by the influence of Stirnerian work. The main theme is still that of man in prison. This prison is the state, it is the society with its absurd structures and alien to man himself.
Thus writes Mackay: “The worker has against himself three great enemies which he must know and overcome: the politicians, the philanthropists, and himself. Let him learn first of all that, in order to abolish masters, the slaves need not necessarily become masters themselves, and that even if this change were obtained – which is the aim of all politics – it would not advance them one step towards economic liberation, this being solely the consequence of a succession of harmonious revolutions in the social order.” (Preface to The Anarchists, op. cit., pp. 10-11).
But the most complete manifestation of Mackay’s thought is that of the work Communism or Anarchist Individualism? which I saw in the French translation of Emile Armand (Le différents visages de l’anarchisme, Paris 1927).
Let us summarize the general principles expressed in this work, from which the Stirnerian derivation can be seen. They are: struggle of the individual against the State, until the final victory of the former against its powerful enemy. Right use of reason in such a way as to give words their original meaning, laying the foundations of the mutual agreement of individual conceptions. Direct management of affairs by all, eliminating the erroneous habit of delegating others to solve their own problems. Rebirth of a beautiful, rich, pleasant, happy life, after the elimination of the State, which will seem even better once it is compared to the previous life in poverty, degradation, misery. New address to the conception of equality, based on the only possibility that this conception can have: “equal freedom for all”. Elimination of the parasitic mode of existence. The only source of income will be work and all freedoms will be guaranteed. Stabilization of the price of a commodity according to the suffering it costs to produce it and not according to its hypothetical value. Elimination of all artificial and natural borders, of all obstacles to access to the sources of natural wealth. Elimination of all taxes, duties, tributes and a thousand other burdens, so that the people can breathe. Definitive elimination of all wars, of the perpetual terror of war, elimination of epidemics, of economic crises. Possibility, within the limits of their work, given to the only one to give themselves to their loves and pleasures, leading a healthy and rational life. Elimination of all crowns, scepters, armaments, uniforms, decorations and placement of all this stuff in museums. Consideration of capitalism and communism for what they actually are: a theft done in the name of the individual capitalist, the former, and in the name of the general interest, the latter. In the case of persistence of the courts, these will no longer have to act as now, that is as repressive bodies, but will act as arbitration bodies. Definitive elimination of every kind of power that can hinder, disrupt, curb the natural development of all the advantages that freedom can provide.
As we can see, some of these statements are too general and literary. We have also avoided reporting – by translating from French – the propositions regarding economic and technical aspects, in which Mackay’s position reaches the point of paradox. What we must emphasize, however, is the clear aspect of the rejection of the State and the identification of the values to be saved, which are those of man and not those of a structure that has superimposed itself on man, alienating him from his reality as an individual, as a living man, and reducing him to a purely verbal expression.
Much of this “political theory,” if one can call it that, since Mackay always refused to consider himself a political or social theorist, passed, outside of Germany, into England and other countries, such as the United States. Among the miners of Wales, according to George Woodcock, even today there are groups where The One is considered a true Bible.
The reading of Mackay opens up the problem of the intellectual current that approached The Only One, soliciting extremist interpretations to great effect, interpretations full of words and attitudes that should have frightened the bourgeoisie, but which, more often than not, served to appease the decadent aesthetic sense of certain literati and artists who, in this, remain a hundred leagues away from Mackay’s serious commitment. It can not be denied that when it comes to anarchist individualism is difficult to discern between the work of these interpreters and the work of rebels (countless) who have made an attack against institutions and exploitation, regardless of organized forms.
In the complex of actions carried out by anarchist individualism, we can grasp the theoretical basis of an organizational form different from that dominant in the revolutionary field. In the theorizing and exercises of the intellectuals can be grasped only the moment estetizzante (and decadent) of a certain need of the transfuga bourgeoisie to be afraid (intellectually) to the retrograde bourgeoisie.
Criticism, even anarchist criticism, has ended up putting together these two aspects that, strictly speaking, are not complementary. The revolt of the marginalized has exploded continuously in history, and such would have been, in its most important components, even without the coloring “anarchist” of certain characters full of revolutionary folklore, but poorly valid from the point of view of a real revolutionary perspective.
Anarchist individualism, according to the pure tradition of this term, is a practical conception of anarchism having as its basis the postulate that each individual human unit has the power to put anarchist theory into practice by itself, in everyday life. At the basis of this principle must be placed what anarchist individualists understand by “individual fact”.
Armand writes: “In spite of and in spite of all the abstractions of all the secular or religious bodies, of all the gregarious ideals – at the base of collectivities, societies, associations, agglomerations, ethnic, territorial, economic, intellectual, moral and religious entities, there is the unity-person, the individual cell. Without this, they would not exist at all. In vain it will be objected that without social or societal means the individual-cell could neither exist nor develop. Not only is this absolutely inaccurate in the literal sense of the word, since man has not always lived in society, but even if we examine the problem under its various aspects, we can in no way disregard this consideration: that without individuals, there can be no social or societal environment. It is the human being who is the origin, the foundation of humanity. The individual has pre-existed the group, this is also too obvious. Society is the product of individual additions.” (Anarchist Individualist Initiation , tr. it., Florence 1956, p. 33).
The development of the Ego has practically no limits in this conception, except this one: “do not invade, do not usurp the field where one’s fellow evolves”. It follows that no man can be sacrificed to his fellow man, however petty he may be, however insignificant he may be on the social plane. Likewise, no man can be sacrificed to another group of men, or to the majority, or to the social whole. Anarchist individualism in the strict sense is not characterized by any a priori project, but its position is a real new mentality, quite different from the fictitious construction of a new social order.
Here is Armand again: “The individualist as we conceive him – “our” individualist – loves life and strength. He proclaims, exalts the joy of living. He frankly recognizes that his goal is his own happiness. He is not an ascetic and the mortification of the flesh is repugnant to him. He is passionate… He is proud and conscious of his personal dignity. He shapes himself, sculpts himself inwardly and reacts outwardly. He gathers himself and lavishes himself.” (Ib., p. 38).
As we can see, the perspective is related to the structure of Stirner’s thought, but presents intellectual elements absent in Stirner’s “egoist”. For example, the differentiation that Armand makes between craftsman and laborer, with the consequent rejection of manual labor, unquestionably presents an aristocratic feature that will be the cause, in the anarchist movement, of many misunderstandings. Another intellectual element, in this type of individualism, is a certain refractoriness with regard to social struggles. The expectation and the constant search for a satisfaction that is not only personal but “individual”, that is, does not reach only the person (superficial organism, always at the mercy of collectivity) but the individual, that is the ego (Stirner), but with a hint of aristocratic closure, from “Epicurus’ garden” towards the theater of organized exploitation. If the individualist were to limit himself to saying: I don’t want to be exploited, I will avoid exploitation, I will also prevent by force that exploitation is exercised on my person, he would have before him a great limitation – rightly observed by Bakunin – because, as long as one man is exploited in any point of the earth, his exploitation will be the exploitation of all, therefore also of the individual who had considered it possible to close himself up in a golden isolation. In this way this individualist will not be such that apparently, he will not be “selfish” to the end.
Anarchist individualist aspirations are of three types:
(a) A human aspiration. The individualist by his action against authority and its economic corollary, against exploitation, against the members of a community who are slaves to ignorance and indifference, tends to the realization of the man who no longer needs external constraint, inasmuch as he possesses the will necessary to determine his own needs, while preserving his own individual power of resistance.
b) A social aspiration. The individualist tends towards the formation of an anarchic individualist environment that implies, especially from the economic point of view, ownership of the means of production and free availability of the product, elements considered as essential guarantees of the autonomy of the person. This environment should evolve within a humanity whose components determine their lives, in its various aspects, by means of a contract freely accepted and applied, implying the freedom of all without harming the freedom of any.
c) An individual aspiration. The voluntary anarchist individualist association, an association intended not only to increase and bring to its maximum development the freedom, performance, welfare and joy of all who contract it, has also the task of ensuring the personal autonomy of all against usurpation and oppression.
We are, once again, in front of a program with strong intellectualistic presences, presences which constitute a great limitation. Remains evident, however, the Stirnerian theme of the union of egoists. These problems are general problems of anarchism, being absurd to consider them as the heritage of the individualist current, which, precisely because of its particular position within the movement, and the particular presence of some intellectual elements, has produced absolutely inadmissible statements, such as those relating to property. Rightly a reactionary, Ettore Zoccoli, wrote, with his insight from the prosecutor of the King: “The distinction that is usually made between anarchist individualism and anarchist communism is, for the most part, illusory. The starting point is always the same – to awaken in the individual a consciousness of extra-legality, to the point of allowing him to conceive every individual act, regardless of the sanction that awaits him in the order of the established society. That the individual, then, assume as a result of his action to have contributed to the achievement of the most unrestrained personal autonomy, or the consolidation of the fundamental foundations of a communist order future, it matters little. (The anarchist groups in the United States and the work of Max Stirner, Modena 1901, pp. 165-166).
This note by Zoccoli is interesting for many reasons. First, indeed the distinction between anarchist individualism and anarchist communism is based on an inaccurate assessment of the concept of “individual”. Second, anarchism tends precisely to awaken in the individual the consciousness of extralegality. The pejorative sense given to this by the very concerned magistrate should not disturb us. If legality is that of exploitation and genocide, if legality is that of dictatorship in the name of a leader or in the name of an idea, however beautiful, then the awakening of the consciousness of extralegality means the awakening of the commitment to destroy the legality of death, to build that of life, a new legality without laws, a new dimension without flags and without borders, without masters and without exploited. Third, there is no difference, once the revolutionary consciousness-raising takes place, whether one acts in the individualist or in the communist perspective, at least there is no difference from the point of view of the individual decision, which requires the same process of maturation and conviction or, if you want, of self-determination, although there are differences of a strategic nature.
The concerns of anarchist organizers, especially those who affirm the need to overcome the determinist positions through a use of voluntarism, are directed to overcome the obstacle of dissociation of the revolutionary forces, atomized, in the face of monolithic resistance of employers. Errico Malatesta writes: “Since man cannot and does not want to live in isolation, since he cannot become a man and satisfy his material and moral needs except in society and with the cooperation of his peers, it is fatal that those who have the means or the conscience developed enough to organize themselves freely with those with whom they have common interests and feelings, suffer the organization made by other individuals, generally constituted in class or ruling group, in order to exploit to their own advantage the work of others. And the millenary oppression of the masses by a small number of privileged people has always been the consequence of the incapacity of the majority of individuals to agree, to organize with other workers for production, for enjoyment and for the eventual defense against those who wanted to exploit and oppress them”. (Organization in The Awakening, October 15, 1927).
In Malatesta, organizational concern is something central, with the aim of clearly building a grassroots movement capable of shaking up power. He represents, in a certain sense, a solution resulting from the overcoming of a contrast. The irreconcilable antithesis is between the individualist conception, represented in France by Armand, and the determinist conception, represented by Kropotkin. It is precisely his thesis on voluntarism that puts Malatesta in this interesting position. This is what he wrote in 1921: “We confess our preference for those who want to do too much too soon, as opposed to those who always want to wait, who purposely let the best opportunities pass by and, for fear of picking an unripe fruit, let everything rot”. (“Umanità Nova”, September 6, 1921). Elsewhere, in 1922: “We want to make the revolution as soon as possible”. (“The Awakening”, December 30, 1922). And again, in 1926: “Our task, therefore, is to make or help make the revolution by taking advantage of all the opportunities and all the forces available: to push the revolution as far forward as possible not only in destruction but also and above all in reconstruction, and to remain adversaries of any government that may come into being by ignoring it or fighting it as much as possible. (“Thought and Will,” June 1, 1926).
We therefore have an individualist conception that proposes the absence of organization – within certain limits – and an organizational conception that instead seeks it out and designates its characteristics. Ultimately, however, from this point of view, there is not much difference between the two conceptions, because, as we have said, the individual is also an organization, so it is natural that individualists also speak of organization (association), inspired by Stirner and his “union of egoists”.
Starting from this perspective many things are clearer. First of all statements such as those of Gino Cerrito: “The names of Max Stirner and Benjamin Tucker are deliberately ignored among the classics – even if the anarchists used their works for the particular anti-authoritarian vigor that characterizes them – precisely because of their ephemeral and marginal influence on the specific movement. (The international anarchist movement in its current structure, in Anarchists and anarchy in the contemporary world, in “Proceedings of the conference sponsored by the Fondazione Luigi Einaudi”, op. cit., p. 163), no longer have a reason to be. Traditionally insoluble problems, such as the killing of Umberto I, become more accessible. In the latter case, what’s the point of asking, as has always been done, if Gaetano Bresci was alone or had a precise mandate from Paterson’s comrades? An unfortunate booklet, by Arrigo Petacco, published by Mondadori, confidently indicates that Bresci had been sent by the American anarchists to avenge the massacre committed by Fiorenzo Bava Beccaris. Useless chatter. Let’s assume that Bresci, having counted his savings, buys a ticket (mind you one-way!) to Italy and, along with the ticket, a nice gun. An upright worker and a beloved son, Bresci made the crossing and, seizing the opportunity of the gymnastic games in Monza, shot down the bloodthirsty monster who held the title of “good king” and who had promoted Bava Beccaris to general for the massacre in Milan. In fact, the political analysis that led Bresci to the attack and the killing of the king was correct. It could well be formulated by a more complex organization, such as the anarchist movement, instead of being implemented and predetermined by a single individual. The psychological and political moment was well captured. The popular masses reacted positively, excluding the bourgeoisie, this is natural, and the process had to resort to measures of great emergency to prevent riots and uprisings. In prison, after just two years, Bresci was suppressed, in order not to feed temptations of any kind in the people. In the killing of the “good king”, therefore, no difference between the action of an organized movement and the action of a single anarchist who professes or not individualist.
On the contrary, it can happen that the act of the individual is counterproductive – for the purposes of propaganda and the penetration of the idea in the masses – because the political analysis that led to the accomplishment of that act was insufficient or because the moment was badly chosen. But, what is to say that such a mistake could not also be made by a movement or a representative of a movement? Perhaps that Kropotkin’s acceptance of the war, on the occasion of the offensive against the Central Empires, was not a serious theoretical and tactical error? Perhaps that the participation of the Spanish anarchists in the republican government was not another theoretical and tactical error?
We must therefore conclude that there is no real barrier between anarchist communism and individualism, precisely because the concept of “individual” precedes and coagulates an organizational embryo a priori.
Another major obstacle remains. Individualist anarchists accept an embryo of private property. This time, too, Stirner’s thought played its role. For the German philosopher, in fact, it was not important to achieve freedom (a very complex matter in a developed society like the present one), understood in terms of freedom from need, i.e. liberation from economic exploitation, as important as the liberation of individuality, i.e. the substance of the self itself. “I am free of that with which I am free.”
An individualist anarchist writes in this regard: “Unlike communist anarchists, individualist anarchists do not regard private property as the cause of misery and oppression, since by private property must be understood the possession of the means of subsistence, clothing, tools, machines, soil, subsoil, and their dependencies, provided that they are exploited by the individuals or associations of individuals who hold them. (Déclaration de l’Association des Anarchistes Individualistes Allemands, Berlin August 12, 1910. In appendix to Les différents visages de l’Anarchisme, op. cit.).
Here lies a very interesting thesis, the one that clarifies the difference between possession and property. While anarchism denies private property, and even individualist anarchists deny it, in spite of the wordplay that has been built on it and in spite of the interest of the usual troublemakers who have done everything possible to make things even more confusing than they are, on the contrary, it has never denied possession.
The distinction between possession and ownership has been the source of many misunderstandings and not a few exploitations. It is clear that man cannot live without “possessing” the bare minimum. It is less clear that he cannot live without property. Owning oneself, as an act of becoming conscious of oneself, of one’s possibilities and of one’s class situation, is the first element of the revolutionary process. And, in fact, the lack of something that is intimately ours, its estrangement, causes us deep pain. When the capitalist, by exploiting us, takes away the product that belongs to us, we suffer and feel the alienation.
The sphere of possession, therefore, belongs intimately to man, that is, it is part of those things and forces that characterize him intimately, that complete him, making possible for him the development of will, memory, and consciousness. The sphere of property, on the contrary, belongs to the reality external to man, that is, to what he has and not to what he is, and it has a meaning in relation to the state and changes of the individual in relation to the states and changes of other individuals and groups.
To give an example. My books are my possession, they are part of myself, because they complete and perfect my personality. By owning them I contribute to owning myself. If I were to sell them, because of the need for an even more urgent and biologically urgent possession (hunger), I would be deprived of something, and I would suffer from this deprivation. What counts, in the evaluation of my possession, is not the commercial value of the books, but what they mean to me, that is, the fact that they are “my possession”. On the contrary, a piece of land, bank notes, gold, or – to stay on the subject of books – a thousand copies of the same book, are my property. They do not cause me pain in the event of alienation, i.e. sale, indeed the pain and annoyance would be in the event that, for one reason or another, they cease to have commercial value. In other words, what distinguishes the value of the asset I own is its current market value. I will always be interested in the possibility of selling it, in order to obtain the money I need to have the objects I want to own because they are able to satisfy certain needs. I would be truly distressed if I could not sell the thousand copies of a book that I own, because I would not know what to do with that mountain of paper. Similarly, in the case of a piece of land, I would be saddened to know that it no longer had commercial value because then it would no longer be an alienable asset (my property), but only an asset in my possession, and I might not even like it, whereas in the previous case I liked it anyway because, at any time, I could sell it and get the money to buy the asset whose possession I needed.
Thus writes Ferdinand Tönnies: “For the analysis of this antithesis the dual category of organ and instrument is again useful. Possession can be conceived as organic and internal property, and the estate (i.e., property) can be conceived as mechanical and external property. Considered from a purely psychological point of view, the former constitutes an extension of one’s real being, and is therefore necessarily itself a reality: it reaches its most perfect form when it is something individually alive, or is constituted by it. On the other hand, the psychological value of heritage consists in the enlargement and increase of the objects of its thought, as possibilities of action pertaining to it. As an entirely ideal nature in and of itself, it finds its best real expression in things which represent and signify – as realization – only the subjective possibility of their appropriate use. Such is the use and enjoyment that defines property. Possession – according to its normal idea or concept – is thus at one and interwoven with its subject and the life of that subject, but it possesses at the same time its own life and qualities, which express it in various ways. It therefore constitutes a natural unity and is indivisible, inalienable and inseparable from its subject except against his will, by compulsion, opposition and pain. In contrast, patrimony is conceptually represented as a mass and sum of individual things, each of which represents a certain quantity of force capable of conversion and realization in individual enjoyments. Hence these quantities must be, according to wishes and purposes, divisible and composable at will, and moreover not simply alienable but intended to be alienated.” (Comunità e società , tr. it., Milan 1963, pp. 225-226).
The basic concern, on which the whole debate around individualism has hinged, a debate that has often generated incredible misunderstandings, has been to shift the concept of “possession” towards the concept of property, involving everything in a condemnation that is meaningless. The thing would be quite logical, instead, in case all the discourse was done in the name of a party. Then it would be legitimate to condemn the possession of the individual (in conjunction with property), since the individual, as such, does not possess himself, does not have qualifications that characterize and signify him, but is characterized and signified by the party.
The structure of society, says Stirner, is its will, and this will is, as a rule, called law. Its foundation is given by the dominion that society exercises, in fact, over individuals.
His concerns are aimed at exposing how much hypocrisy is hidden under the mantle of “everyone’s right”. This is how the individual is forced to defend a right, a “state of affairs”, an “order” that do not belong to him, that are the property of the “sultan” and not his property, and he is pushed there with the excuse that they are “rights” that he is entitled to, and that he has fought for those rights.
Thus writes Stirner: “It is said that punishment is the right of the offender. But impunity is also his right. If the enterprise does not succeed, it is right that it should be so, and if it succeeds, it is just the same. Everyone has what he deserves. If one throws himself headlong into dangers and falls victim to them, we will certainly say that it is right that he ended up like that, that he had it coming. But if he overcomes the dangers, that is, if his power is victorious, then he is right, he is within his rights. If a child plays with a knife and cuts himself, it is right that it should be so to him; but if he does not cut himself, it is right just the same. If what the delinquent is risking really happens to him and makes him feel bad, it is right that it should be so: why did he risk it, if he knew the possible consequences! But the punishment we inflict on him is only our right, not his. Our right reacts against his and he ‘receives a wrong’ because -we have the upper hand.” (U, p. 145). Debating right is one of the characteristics of bourgeois virtues. Eating each other and arguing over the best way to bury the bodies of the vanquished. Stirner wants to get us to understand how only the concrete use of freedom, the direct use of it, can make individuals and peoples free, any other way of talking about freedom is always reactionary. A little earlier he had said: “If you take enjoyment, it is your right; but if you only covet it, without taking it, it will remain what it was before: a ‘right deservedly acquired’ by those who have the privilege of enjoying it. It will remain his right, just as it would become yours if you took it.” (U, p. 142).
The “power” to do otherwise than as determined by “law,” that is, by the will of society – a will that we have seen is always dominant – is a challenge to order, a challenge that can be launched by all those who feel capable of it. Once they are capable of doing so, they are also authorized to do so, since moral terrorism lies on the other side, that is, it depends on the unilateral and repressive decision to fix, for everyone, an order of things that everyone has not consciously and voluntarily accepted.
If this order of things were the best possible, the realization of that ideal society in which there are no exploiters and exploited, then there would be no sense in the problem of agreeing with the decisions of society, because these, being the best possible, would be automatically acceptable and accepted by all, being, by definition, inconceivable someone who acts, of his own will, against his own interest, that is, who acts consciously to limit and coerce his freedom. But things are exactly the opposite. The decision of society is unilateral because it is repressive, and being repressive, it cannot but be unilateral, that is decided by the class that has made the most profit. The rest have no right, because they do not possess the means to enforce this right. In the event that, individually, he decides to realize his right, he places himself “outside” the rules of society itself, that is, he is a “deviant”.
A certain individualist iconography of the past has developed the thesis that the deviant, in the above sense, is a kind of superman, an above-average being, capable of trampling on the rules of the game. Artists, through their efforts, have reinforced this iconography. Many critics, not very conscientious, have suggested that only that was the figure of the individualist denier of the norm.
Today we know that the processes of social control and the elaboration of the scale of values are much more complex, just as the emergence of large strata of deviants is a phenomenon that cannot be traced back to the sole desire of some individuals to place themselves beyond the “law” of society. We are faced with the intersection of two acting forces: one coming from above and attempting to marginalize whatever cannot be placed within the framework of salary, and another coming from below and rejecting this marginalization and organizing itself to live a “different” life. Here we can grasp a moment of mass voluntarism that realizes those Stirnerian intuitions, diluted in an exacerbated decadent nihilism, by certain exegetes of the end of the century. This does not mean to deny the aesthetic moment of the refusal of the massified and nullifying life, on the contrary it means to underline it, but not as a privilege of the single person, a rare exception of almost superhuman will, but as a massive capacity of a wider and wider will that starting from the bottom of the marginalization seeks its way to freedom.
According to research on the subject, the concept of deviance includes not only acts and behaviors that are condemned and repressed by society on an ongoing basis, but also all those behaviors or “attitudes” that are “different” however heterogeneous they may be.
The theory of deviance studies, therefore, not only the so-called criminal behaviors, but also those that are different (homosexuality, non-conformist sexual mores, lifestyles far from the norm, drug use, “extremist” cultural and political positions, etc.). The concept of “normality” is one of the pillars of exploitation. Massive ideological processes intervene in it that often end up causing confusion even in attempts to read it outside the specialists’ environment. (Cfr. T. Pitch, La devianza, Firenze 1975, p. 6).
The material available is that which is produced by the cultural institutions of power. The empirical choices of research are conditioned by the basic decision, typical of an advanced capitalist society such as the American one, whereby deviant behavior (violation of the rule of custom), in a certain social environment (the one to which the researchers belong), is confused and coincides with criminal behavior in the strict sense (violation of the criminal code). It is the same repressive society that fuels this confusion. The under-proletarian, the underemployed, the migrant, the unemployed, the illiterate, etc., end up being on the same cultural level as those who – literate and cultured – have consciously accepted to behave in a “different” way. Both these social groups feed the whole of the minority that is criminalized by the action of the repressive power.
It is therefore clear that when the sociologist is interested in the problem of deviance, he feels the need to make a distinction, but does not do so, preferring to disperse himself in the atomistic investigation of individual cases, rather than overcome the wall of ideological fog that deforms everything.
Official theories of deviance can be divided into four categories: a) Deviance as behavior that diverges from the average of standardized behaviors (statistical abnormality). b) Deviance as behavior that violates the normative rules, intentions, or expectations of social systems. c) Deviance as a contrast between what the victim should expect based on his or her social position from a certain actor’s action, and the actor’s behavior. d) Deviance as a property conferred on a particular form of behavior by people who come into direct or indirect contact with it.
We have, therefore, the first three definitions that give the act or the person who acts intrinsically deviant characteristics, and the fourth that takes into account the processes by which, in a specific situation, we come to define deviant behavior. The first three definitions assume that human behavior is distributed in a continuous manner, from which the extremes (to the right and left of a hypothetical curve) are deviant. It is precisely with the second definition that emerges the concept that as deviant behavior should not be understood every behavior that deviates from the norm, but only that which can attract sanctions. Regarding the third definition Richard A. Cloward and Lloyd E. Ohlin write: “Every deviant act imports the violation of social rules governing the behavior of participants in a social system. It consists of a behavioral transaction in which the actor violates the rights of the victim himself. The main characteristic of a deviant act, in other words, is that it does not correspond to the behavior that the victim is led to expect from others based on his or her social position.” (Theory of Delinquent Gangs in America , tr. it., Bari 1968, p. 4).
For the fourth definition, it has been written that “the only way an observer can tell whether a given type of behavior is deviant or not is to learn something about the standards of behavior of the people reacting to it.” (K. T. Erikson, Wawsard Puritans. A Study in the Sociology of Deviance, New York-London 1966, p. 6).
The fundamental theories that employ the concept of deviance and the related concept of social control are the integrationist orientation and the conflict orientation. The difference lies in the different emphasis on the mechanisms of stability of the system and the processes that ensure its change. The first theory emphasizes the integrative functions performed by culture, education, conformity to norms, and the combination of role expectations in a situation of consensus to certain values. The second emphasizes the mechanisms of social dynamics, pointing to conflicts as a mechanism that updates institutional structures, making possible the change of the social system itself.
According to Merton, the most important exponent of the integrationist orientation, deviant behavior is not due to biological or instinctual impulses badly repressed by social control, but must be considered as a normal response to certain pressures coming from the structure of society. He writes: “Our first objective will be to discover in what way certain social structures exert a definite pressure on certain members of society, so as to induce them to non-conformist rather than conformist conduct. If it becomes possible for us to identify groups which are especially subject to such pressures, we may expect to find in these groups a rather high degree of deviant behavior, not because the human beings who make up these groups have special biological tendencies, but because they react in a normal way to the social situation in which they find themselves.” (Theory and Social Structure , vol. III, tr. it., Bologna 1971, pp. 298-299).
On the basis of these premises, Merton develops an analysis that has been defined as “medium-range”, that is, an analysis that sets aside the possibility of a general theory of cultural structure and social structure, limiting itself to dealing with a partial problem in order to achieve supposedly more concrete results. To this must be added that the concentration of the analysis on the disjunction between the cultural structure (constituted by the aims prescribed by the social norm) and the social structure (different conditions of accessibility to social means) makes one neglect the analysis of the relationship between culture and society, and, specifically, “the indication of the social groups in whose interest the aims are dictated and the processes through which they are shared or made to be accepted by other groups”. (L. Saffirio, Introductory Essay to R. A. Cloward and L. H. Ohlin, op. cit., pp. XV).
In conflict theory, the concept of deviance is precisely the starting point. Thus it is that Lewis Coser, in research on the functions of deviance, states that crime and deviant behavior in general (difference is maintained) are not always dysfunctional for the group, indeed their occurrence leads to greater moral and ethical cohesion around the norm violated. (Some Functions of Deviant Behavior and Normative Flexibilily, in The American Journal of Sociology, vol. LXIX, no. 2, September 1962).
With Ralf Dahrendorf, conflict is at the heart not only of the dynamics but also of the equilibrium of advanced capitalist society. Only that these analyses, such as Austin T. Rurk’s, with respect to the political mechanism of criminalization, operate a profound abstraction that ends up isolating the situation of conflict into something detached from reality, a situation of conflict determined by a contrast between “parties” that, in the final analysis, are considered as equivalent. In this regard, Pitch rightly writes: “It is evident, even here, the impossibility of an effective interpretation of the change, since certain links are not recognized, while the abstractness of the situation examined in fact leads this theory of crime and deviant behavior within an attempt to interpret the political-juridical mechanisms that, unable to grasp the real contradictions of the system, remains dangerously ideological”. (Deviance, op. cit., pp. 113-114).
Nor would a deterministic parallel between individual dissociation and social dissociation hold up, understanding the latter as an extension of the former, as a projection, in the field of interpersonal relations, of traits of deviant individuals. In fact, one might wonder why the young person from the lower classes, who has to postpone less than others his entry into the adult state, feeds more the phenomenon of juvenile deviance. This question would be unanswerable if we did not resort to a qualitative leap in method, from internal contradictions (even if placed in some objective relation with external phenomena) to external contradictions. Thus, if the general situation of society, torn apart by capitalist relations, produces specific external contradictions of particular relevance and such as to greatly increase the adolescent’s discomfort, then the conflictual relationship will be seen not only through the “interpretative” or motivational fact of an analytical situation, but through the “globalizing” fact of a historicized situation.
The relationship between deviance and the lower strata of the social structure is investigated with an evaluation of these “lower strata” that is linked to parameters that are not always constant. The result is that the researcher’s concept of the “lower social stratum” is not something objectively scientific, although it is considered as such. It is an ideological intrusion like any other, from which social research on the problem of classes is not immune. In reality, the so-called “lower” classes are in continuous modification, since it is not possible to locate them definitively because deterministically they do not correspond to certain measurable requirements. Once again, it is precisely the lack of historical sense that leads various psychological analyses back to that bourgeois individualist atomism that risks not capturing the exact correspondence of certain phenomena.
Deviance as a phenomenon typical of the lower classes, as a fact resulting from a cultural conflict, is John Millar’s interpretation: “Generally speaking, schools tend to see the future of lower-class youth in terms of only two capital alternatives: an essentially lower-class way of life and an essentially middle-class one. A third alternative-which is entirely in the order of possibility in most cases-would be to prepare the young for a lower-class but obsequious way of life.” (Quoted by R. Canestrari and N. W. Battacchi, Structures and Dynamics of Personality in Juvenile Antisociality, Bologna 1965, p. 169). This thesis identifies two cultures corresponding to the essential distinctions of social stratification, one of the two, precisely that of the dominant class, has been elevated to official culture, the people trained in the other culture have a personality at odds with the basic state of society (or rather, of the dominant class) which is also considered the “legal” one.
In this interpretation, the dimension of conflict is identified as external, while the only one considered valid is the dimension of the intrapsychic, that is, that of the conflict between opposing internalized instances.
Concluding on these theoretical positions, one must reject not only the methodological premise, but also the claim that deviance corresponds to a characteristic of dissociation and therefore disorganization. That external aspect of disorganization that emerges, on a personal level, in the individual that capitalist society defines as “deviant”, corresponds to a not inconsiderable defensive and compensatory elaboration, against frustrations, an elaboration that arrives, in the case of awareness, at a vindictive attitude towards society. Not differently at the class level. The exploited, who are radicalized and criminalized by a process of modification within the destruction of the relations of production, while remaining disorganized, indeed, often ghettoized, can develop, against the frustrations caused by living in those conditions, a kind of common cultural front, against the dominant society that oppresses and erects the ghetto.
Behind all theories of deviant behavior is the idea of social control, the role of this control. If two people want to do the same thing and only one succeeds, the reason may be that different controls have come into action (fear of punishment, conscience, etc.). Social control is dependent on two variables: an impulse (hostile, destructive, aggressive, accusatory, “deviant”, etc.), and control (which prohibits the manifestation of the impulse). The outcome depends on the clash of these two variables. The stronger the control, the more difficult the deviance. There are theories that explain deviance as variation in the impulse, others as variation in control.
A plurality of levels emerges within society, including the difference between “deviant individuals” and “healthy individuals”. The former are placed by the powers-that-be in very precise labels, prepared by sociologists and other wizards at the service of the masters: difficult children, neurotics, psychotics, suicides, criminals, sexual perverts, alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes; the latter receive a single label: “socially interested” or, better still, “healthy”. Thus the “healthy” man is the one who accepts his role with “style,” which would then be a kind of realistic maturity.
Going back, by parallel planes of reasoning, to Hegel, we have his theory of the plurality of planes within modern society, his clear opposition between civil society and the state, whence the fragmenting of the community resulting from the specialized activity of politics which is opposed to the generic activity of private life. From this duality we derive a philosophical model of the contradictory duality of modern man in his world.
In his defense of John Brown, Henry David Thoreau wrote: “The enemy is within us. There are no walls separating us from him, for the enemy is this sort of almost universal inertia of head and heart, this lack of vigor in man, which are effects of our vice: from which come terror, superstition, bigotry, and all slavery. We are but mannequins mounted on an empty carcass, and have faith instead of a heart.” (Plaidoyer pour John Brown , in La désobéissance civile, tr. fr., Paris 1968, pp. 128-129). This is 1859, in the United States, at a time when the political struggle over slavery is at its height. On October 19 at Harper’s Ferry a bomb explodes. The man responsible, John Brown, an abolitionist and militant revolutionary, is wanted by all the sheriffs in the area. He organizes an armed band of 22 men, whites and blacks, with whom he prepares for guerrilla warfare and begins by attacking the federal arsenal of Haper’s Ferry in Virginia. Its purpose is to steal weapons and distribute them to the Negro slaves in the Southern states to foment revolt. The attempt is unsuccessful and Brown is executed in Charlestown, Virginia. In a letter dated December 2, 1859 even Victor Hugo intervenes in favor of the rebel about to be executed.
This story is important, both because of the place it occupies in the history of guerrilla warfare, and social banditry, and because it was an anarchist individualist, Thoreau, who defended Brown, who has come back into fashion in recent months  in Italy as a result of the spontaneous and self-managed struggles that have taken place in some large cities, such as those related to the self-reduction of the price of urban transport tickets and those related to the self-reduction of telephone bills.
There are many reasons why a rebel breaks away from the masses by challenging authority. The consciousness that something different has matured, that a limit has been exceeded, that what could be endured has been endured. Man has the fundamental characteristic of modifying his own attitudes, his own convictions. In this way, he can face risks that before he considered completely unthinkable, submit to efforts that exceed his own physical strength, succeed in daring enterprises, discover new solutions. Conformity kills initiative and, with initiative, it also kills life.
The rebel places himself in a social perspective and lives this perspective in an empowered form through his experiences and mistakes, coming to build a libertarian life and dimension for himself. He is not an exceptional man, outside the popular mythography, he is just a man who recognizes the moral obligation to live free (or, at least, to try to live free) and accepts the main consequences.” (Cf. R. P. Wolff, In Defense of Anarchy , tr. it., Milan 1973. J.-J. Rousseau, On the social contract or the principles of political law , English translation, Bari 1948, in particular book I, chap. 6. J. Rawls, Justice as Fairness, in Philosophy, Politics and Society, second series, edited by P. Laslett and W. Runciman. F. Torre, L’educare alla ribellione, Ragusa 1964).
Thus Thoreau: “If injustice is inseparable from the governmental mechanism, there is nothing more to be done…. If injustice is the crank, the rope that enables the movement, it is time to ask ourselves if small remedies are not worse than evil, if this governmental machine, by its nature, does not want to make us the instruments of its own injustice: then, I say to you, break the law!” (La désobéissance civile, op. cit., p. 74).
The revolutionary doctrine of freedom tends to awaken in the individual the consciousness of extra-legality, tends to transform his rebellion from something unconscious into something thoughtful and conscious. Often the rebel lets himself be overwhelmed by the needs of the moment, by the immediate prospects of success or the resolution of just one of many problems. His knowledge is often very limited: strategy, survival technique. It is very difficult for him to carry out a revolutionary analytical elaboration and to clarify the real causes that determine the very act of rebellion.
A brigand who fought for the Bourbon, after the unification, replied to a lawyer who was his prisoner, who asked him questions, that his fight was not at all in favor of the old king, as when he fought alongside Garibaldi was not for the new king who was to replace him: his fight was for himself and for a society more or less vague on the form of the “good, old society of the past. (Cfr. F. Molfese, Storia del brigantaggio dopo l’Unità, Milano 1966, p. 230). The inability to see the political problem is mixed with a suspicion for any novelty that never comes to become a real support of repression. In the rebel there is a personal ethic, resulting precisely from the autonomous life that has been chosen, which prevents him from acting against the weak and against the exploited.
In all this discourse we must understand each other well. Whoever dreams of revolutionary projects ordered and codified a priori, legitimately fears and hinders any attempt of the mass of the exploited, especially of the most backward and ghettoized strata, to advance – with the available means – on the road to liberation. From his point of view, this type of revolutionary considers it dangerous to give space to these “rebels”, because the consequences that may result are not very predictable. Better to rely on the safe, better to give space to the working class, the only one monolithically capable of solidifying that class consciousness on which to build the revolution. All this reasoning has only one defect: it is schematically idealistic.
With his usual terminology Stirner denounces the danger when he speaks of the party: “A party, whatever its nature, cannot but demand a profession of faith. The principle of the party, in fact, must be believed by its members, who must not doubt it or question it: it must apply to them as a certain and indubitable thing. This means that one must give oneself to a party body and soul, otherwise one is not really a party man, but instead more or less an egoist. If you raise a doubt about Christianity, you are already no longer a true Christian, you have already partly overcome it, because you have been so “impudent” as to call it to judgment before the tribunal of your egoism. You have sinned against Christianity, which is a party matter (in fact, it is certainly not a matter for the Jews, who constitute another party). Lucky you if you do not let yourself be intimidated: your impudence will help you to conquer your own individuality.
“Should the egoist never, then, take party? Of course he can, but he will never allow himself to be taken over by the party; on the contrary, he will be the one to take the party. The party will always be, for him, only a part, a game: he is of the game, he takes part.” (U, p. 176).
Belonging to the orderly ranks of an illusory revolutionary group imposes the acceptance of a party vision of acting for liberation. This acceptance ends up conditioning those who put it into action, it ends up making them enter the realm of “legality”. There is no doubt that the illegality of a party, today, will be the legality of tomorrow, or was the legality of yesterday. Those who are against parties are always in illegality as long as legality and the repressive forces that justify and make it possible exist. Stirner continues: “The penal code subsists only by virtue of the sacred and perishes by itself from the moment that punishment is abandoned. Today, attempts are being made everywhere to establish new penal laws, but without giving any thought to the very concept of punishment. Yet it is precisely punishment that must give way to satisfaction, which in turn must not aim at satisfying law or justice, but at satisfying ourselves. If someone does something to us that we do not want to suffer, we will break his violence and assert our own: against him we give satisfaction to ourselves and we do not fall into the foolish error of wanting to give satisfaction to the right (to the spectrum). Not the sacred must defend itself from man, but man from man, just as God no longer defends himself from man, as happened in the past (and sometimes still today), when all the “servants of God” gave him a hand to punish the blasphemous, in the same way in which they still put their hands at the service of the sacred. This dedication to the sacred also has the consequence that the people, without any personal, living participation, limit themselves to handing over the offenders into the hands of the police and the courts: it is an indifferent submission to the authority that “will certainly know how to administer the sacred in the best way”. The people are itching to stir up the police against everything that seems immoral (and often just unseemly) to them, and this angry zeal of the people for morality protects the institution of the police better than the government ever could.
“The egoist has so far asserted himself by crime and has mocked the sacred: the break with the sacred (or, rather, of the sacred) may become generalized. A revolution does not return, but a – violent, merciless, shameless, unconscious, proud crime already roars in distant thunder: do you not see how the sky darkens into a silence full of foreboding?” (U, p. 179).
How many useless and stupid comments has this step caused! Stirner’s logic is consequential. If the realm of legality is that of order, the realm of disorder and freedom is that of illegality, that of crime. The greater this crime, the stronger and more significant the affirmation of freedom. And to be freedom in the true sense of the word, freedom for all beyond the schemes, must be, first of all, “my freedom”. Only then, in front of the greatest crime – the killing of the father, psychoanalysts would say – the wall of global repression breaks down, and in the sky “full of omens”, in the sky of sacredness, the clouds of the revolutionary storm appear.
George Claude Etiévant, on January 16, 1898, attacks two policemen with a dagger and then fires a pistol at a third. To the jurors he will declare: “I don’t care about life, for me it is only made up of misery. I understand that you gentlemen jurors care about it, and the same for you, Mr. Attorney General, but for me, it is indifferent, so I ask you not to grant me extenuating circumstances. He is sentenced to death, then the sentence is commuted to hard labor, he dies after a few years of special treatment. (See “Gazette des Tribunaux” of June 16, 1898 and L. Galleani, Il processo di G. Etiévant, Rome s.d.).
Ernest Cœurdeory wrote: “On my own account I would rather suffer all my life in revolt than in slavery; at least I am not forced to despise myself. Jesuits and slaves will say I am mad with pride, I swear I am only mad with freedom! Cursed be he who remains impassive before the social storm! Throw him overboard, get rid of a useless burden, the crew advances, invoking Columbus, William Tell and Vasco da Gama!” (Jours d’Exil [1854-1855], vol. I, Paris 1910, p. 38).
And Severino Di Giovanni, in a letter dated January 10, 1929: “To live monotonously in the mouldy hours of ordinary people, of the resigned, the accommodated, of convenience, is not living, it is only vegetating and carrying around a shapeless mass of flesh and bones. To life one must offer the exquisite elevation of rebellion of arm and mind.” (Quoted in O. Bayer, Severino Di Giovanni. The Idealist of Violence, tr. it., Pistoia 1973, p. 37).
Here is an excerpt from the last letter of Holger Meins, who died during a hunger strike in the prison of Wittlich in Germany: “The only thing that counts is the struggle, now, today, tomorrow… everything else is shit. Every new struggle, every action, every clash brings unknown lessons. Experiences, that’s the development of struggles…. Fight, win, fight again, win again, that’s what renews the way of fighting, until the final victory… Either way, everyone dies. The problem is only to know how and why one lived, and the question is clear: to fight against the pigs as a man for the liberation of man.” (The letter was published in “Der Spiegel” of November 18, 1974).
The caution with which traditional libertarian organizations have often approached the struggle of the marginalized, and the very frequent attempt to isolate some examples of this struggle, reducing it to the terrorist extremism of a few misfits, is compared and related to the caution of Marxist authoritarian organizations, linked to the old assessments of the underclass.
Gino Cerrito wrote: “Often the anarchist is, before a serious preparation, a wrecker of society. In this capacity he forgets that its purpose is the establishment of a new society, to which he can not look at conforming his acts and his ideas. It is precisely at this point, at this negative moment that Sorel, Panunzio, and Labriola can easily influence him; it is at this negative moment (the moment of long hair, of the bow tie, and of the big hat) that he tries to introduce into the Movement ideas that are not anarchist, that he takes an active part in the doctrinaire syndicalism of Marxist origin, that he reads Nietzsche, Stirner, and that he poses as a philosopher, that he becomes a worshipper of the ego”. (Dall’insurrezionalismo alla settimana rossa, Florence 1977, p. 30 in note). A thesis that seems to us rather partial is thus reinforced. That many ideas of Georges Sorel and Sergio Panunzio are not anarchist is a clear fact, that most of the ideas of Antonio Labriola are not clearer still, that with some of the thesis of Nietzsche you can build what you want everyone knows, after the experience of the Nazi collages, this does not take away, however, that you can not talk about a clear separation between anarchism and concerns about the individual, if you do not want to go in the arms of those dangerous attitudes that characterize the authoritarian Marxists. Here you do not want to condemn anyone. One only wants to point out a danger.
In the following passage of Luigi Fabbri, reported by Cerrito himself in the book cited in support of his thesis, we read: “In the moments of greatest persecution against the anarchists, it happened that all the displaced people of today’s society have seriously believed that anarchy was what the bourgeois newspapers were describing, something that fit quite well with their extra-social and antisocial habits. The fact that they were, but for different reasons, like the anarchists in a state of continuous rebellion against the constituted authority, allowed the misunderstanding to remain and grow”). (Bourgeois influences on anarchism, in “Il Pensiero”, l August 1906. Quoted in: From Insurrectionism to Red Week, op. cit., p. 26).
When Fabbri speaks of “terrorist and expropriating groups and gangs”, he does so with the same intentions as any party official who sees his own structure in danger and, in such a situation, shouts out loud.
Marxism, a typical product of the moral mentality of the bourgeoisie, has insisted a great deal on this point, rejecting the underproletariat at the margin of the revolutionary discourse, looking at it with suspicious eyes, carefully wiping its hands when it found itself touching it. “The under-proletariat, this passive rot of the lowest strata of society, which as a result of a proletarian revolution is thrown here and there into the movement, will be more willing, given all its conditions of life, to allow itself to be bought off for reactionary ends.” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party , tr. it., Turin 1970, p. 114). “24 battalions of mobile guards, they belonged for the most part to the underproletariat, which in all the great cities forms a mass clearly distinct from the industrial proletariat, in which are recruited thieves and delinquents of all kinds, who live off the refuse of society – people without a definite trade, vagabonds gens sans feu et sans aveu, differing according to the degree of civilization of the nation to which they belong but who never lose the character of the lazzaroni.” (K. Marx, The Class Struggles in France from 1845 to 1850 , tr. it., Rome 1962, p. 127). “The underproletariat, organized [by Louis Bonaparte] included ruined ruffians, of equivocal means of existence and origin; Alongside corrupt adventurers, the dregs of the bourgeoisie, there were vagabonds, soldiers on leave, forced laborers out of the bath, convicts breaking their banns, rascals, scoundrels, lazzaroni, cutthroats, ciurmatori, bari, pimps, postmaster, porters, men of letters, street musicians, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars, in a word, the whole confused, decomposed, fluctuating mass, which the French call the ‘bohemian'”. (K. Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte , tr. it., Moscow 1947, p. 77). “The under-proletariat, this bunch of disqualified elements of all classes, which plants its headquarters in the great cities, is the worst of all possible allies. It is an absolutely venal and absolutely impudent rabble. If the French workers, in the course of every revolution, wrote on the walls of their houses: Mort aux voleurs! and even shot some of them, this did not happen because they were full of enthusiasm for property, but because they were rightly aware that it was necessary above all to keep away from this gang.” (F. Engels, The Peasants’ War in Germany , tr. it., Rome 1949, p. 15).
It would seem to read the most inflamed with sacrosanct faith of the preachers of all religions. The fact is that bourgeois morality speaks through these lines, morality that is in this way transmitted to the Marxist revolutionary vanguards, in order to build a qualified minority, capable of taking the reins of the movement and laying the foundations of the future exploitation of the people in the name of the people itself. If one examines carefully the above quotations, one will see how Marx and Engels let themselves be carried away by their usual polemical eagerness and did not realize that they were putting together more stuff than necessary, soldiers and forced labourers, cheats and ragpickers, pimps and knife grinders, post house keepers and tinkers, cutters and porters. But the problem is not accidental, for a man of Marx’s intelligence and preparation, it is the fact that porters, tinsmiths, knife grinders, ragpickers are unskilled workers, not having a fixed job, while convicts, cheats, ruffians, and postmen are completely out of the question, they are beings that must be put directly to the wall, to avoid complications. But the juxtaposition exists: not only is there no serious (Marxistically speaking) materialistic attempt to understand the situation of these “delinquents”, but even honest workers, according to the same bourgeois canon, just because they respond to the Marxist schemes of the proletariat, are forced into categories to be set aside. Engels quotes the phrase: “Death to thieves”, written on the walls of Paris by French workers during the Commune, but does not tell us what could have been done if the Parisian revolution of 1871 had been able to overcome the moral obstacle of the “sacred right of property” and had opened the coffers of the Bank of France, financing a revolution that had all the credentials to succeed.
In some Marxists who are more conscious of the true social reality and less attached to the party’s ecclesiastical scheme there emerges the feeling that something is decomposing in the classical hypothesis of the proletariat. “It should be noted here that certain strata which arise from the proletariat, the workers who because of special training and qualification are indispensable, are better paid, and in this way constitute a working-class aristocracy, approach these lower strata of the intelligentsia and present some of its traits.” (A. Pannekoek, Die taktischen Differenzen in der Arbeiterbewegung, Hamburg 1909, p.115).
The most serious trouble is that the thesis is not only the literary birth of the fathers of the Marxist Church, but in a certain way corresponds to a common feeling in the masses, a feeling, like many others, of corporate origin which, for precise interests, is not fought by the reformists. The collaborationism of the latter prevents an action that would bring the power in front of situations of conflict not always recoverable.
How different is the position of Cœurderoy, who sees clearly the situation of “real” crime and that which the bourgeoisie, in its own interests, persists in indicating as criminality. “Beware above all, Proletarian! of marking with the stigmata of infamy your brothers whom they call thieves, murderers, prostitutes, revolutionaries, convicts, infamous. Cease your curses, do not cover them with mud, save their heads from the fatal blow. Don’t you see that the soldier approves of you, that the magistrate calls you to witness, that the usurer smiles at you, that the priest claps his hands at you, that the cop excites you? Rehabilitate the criminals, I tell you, and you will rehabilitate yourself. Can you not know if tomorrow the insatiable greed of the rich will force you to steal that piece of bread without which you would starve? If the proletariat does not want to die of misery or starvation, it either becomes the thing of others, a torture a thousand times worse than death; – or it rises up together with its brothers, or, finally, it rises up alone if all the others refuse to share its sublime resolution. And this insurrection, they call a crime. And you, his brother, who condemn him, answer me: have you ever seen death so closely to throw the stone at the poor man who, feeling the horrible grip, thrust the dagger into the belly of the rich man who prevented him from living?” (Jours d’Exil, op. cit., vol. I, p. 39).
The construction of freedom is the longest road out of exploitation. Acceptance of compromise and the illusion of a future (only apparent) freedom is the shortest road. The choice of the latter solution is seen by Stirner as a weakness. But on this term one must understand oneself. It is not the force of beauty or race, the force of gesture or (artistic) product, but it is the force of consciousness, it is the force of will that is considered by Stirner. His aesthetic concern, as overcoming the ethical asphyxia marked by Kantian rigorism that had contributed to the foundation of the earthly affairs of the Prussian empire, is a vision of life as will, as a force of conscience. “I safeguard my freedom – Stirner affirms – towards the world in the measure in which I appropriate the world, that is, “I conquer it and take possession of it” by making use of any force or power: persuasion, prayer, categorical request, indeed even hypocrisy, deception, etc.; in fact, the means I employ for this depend on what I am. If I am weak, I possess only weak means, such as those mentioned above, which are nevertheless sufficient to appropriate a good portion of the world. Deceit, hypocrisy and lies seem, however, worse than what they are. Who would not deceive the police, the law, who would not quickly assume, on meeting a cop, an honest air of respect for the law, with the intention of hiding some illegality committed, etc.? Whoever didn’t do it was doing violence to himself: he was weak for – reasons of conscience: I know that my freedom is already limited if even with respect to a person or thing I cannot impose my will (whether it be a being without will, such as a rock, or one endowed with will, such as a government, an individual, etc.); I deny my freedom if it is a person or thing I cannot impose my will.I deny my individuality if, in the face of the other, I renounce myself, that is, I give in, I desist, I concede and submit, in short, I let myself be carried away by resigned dedication. In fact, it is one thing for me to stop behaving as I have done up to now because I realize that I am not achieving my goal in this way, and so I abandon the wrong path, and quite another for me to allow myself to become a prisoner. I get around the obstacle of a rock until I have enough dust to blow it up, and I get around the obstacle of the laws of a people until I have gathered enough energy to overthrow them. For the fact that I cannot grasp the moon, must it be as “sacred” to me as Astarte? If I could grasp thee, I would indeed do so, and if I found only one means of reaching thee, thou wouldst not frighten me! O elusive moon, you will remain elusive for me only until the moment when I will have acquired the power to grasp you, and then I will call you mine; I do not surrender to you, but wait patiently for my hour to come. Although for now I resign myself to being powerless over you, I do not forget you!
“Strong men have always done this. If the “resigned” had raised an untamed power to their sovereignty and had worshipped it, claiming the veneration of all, here came some wild child of nature who would not submit and drove the adored power from its unattainable Olympus. He cried out to the sun in its course, “Stop!” and caused the earth to turn: the “resigned” had to let him do it; he turned his axe against the sacred oak and the “resigned” were astonished that he was not consumed by a heavenly fire; he drove the pope from the throne of Peter and the “resigned” could not prevent it; he demolished the trade in indulgences and the “resigned” shrieked, but in the end they would have to stand down, defeated.” (U, p. 125).
It seems important to examine not so much the generic meaning that the work of Stirner has had in the international anarchist movement, determining and justifying theoretically that current that is defined as individualist, as the concrete presence of Stirner’s thought within the various components of the movement, not excluding the anarchist communist component that, in a certain way, has felt this theoretical presence.
Not everyone agrees with this thesis. George Douglas Howard Cole, in the second volume of his History of Socialist Thought. 1850-1890 , writes: “In this book we are not concerned with the individualistic variety of anarchism except when it conflicts with the other. Manifestly it has nothing to do with socialism.” (Tr. it., Bari 1972, p. 387).
Much more exact is the position of Errico Malatesta, quite important to fix the relationship between communist and individualist anarchism. “Individualists suppose, or speak as if they supposed, that communists (anarchists) want to impose communism, which of course would put them absolutely out of anarchism. Communists suppose, or speak as if they supposed, that individualists (anarchists) reject any idea of association, they want the struggle between man and man, the domination of the strongest (there have been those who in the name of individualism have supported these ideas and worse, but they cannot be called anarchists) – and this would put them outside not only anarchism, but humanity. In reality communists are such because in freely accepted communism they see the consequence of brotherhood and the best guarantee of individual freedom. And the individualists, those who are truly anarchists, are anti-communists because they fear that communism would subject individuals nominally to the tyranny of the community and in reality to that of the party or caste, which, With the excuse of administering, they would be able to seize power and dispose of things and therefore of the people who need those things – and therefore they want each individual, or each group, to be able to freely exercise their activity and freely enjoy the fruits in conditions of equality with other individuals and groups, maintaining relations of justice and fairness with them. If this is so, it is clear that there is no essential difference”. (“Thought and Will,” July 1, 1924).
Roughly speaking, there is no anarchist critique of Stirner’s work directed at denying its intrinsic libertarian significance. Even taking the theorists closest to a real anarchist reformism, one never reads something “against” Stirner, when they take the argument of the “history” of anarchism, or when they address a concrete problem of political practice, at most one can read something against an extreme individualist interpretation of anarchism, an interpretation to which a special way of reading The Only One can lend foundation.
It should be borne in mind, moreover, that when speaking of the critique of anarchist communism to Stirnerian conceptions, it is necessary to distinguish two “types” of scholars who devote themselves to research on the classics and problems of anarchism, the bourgeois scholars (and now there is an inflation of university professors who put their noses into anarchist theories) and the militants who, between breaks in their political activity, find time to devote themselves to historical research on the movement. This distinction is not insignificant. In fact, when we speak of historiography of anarchism we refer to historical research and theoretical insights made by the militants: the bourgeois researchers, although interesting, are always considered with suspicion. It can not be otherwise, since, as anarchists and materialists, we reject the objective conception of scientific research. In this sense we can find someone who tells us, with professorial arrogance, that Stirner can not be considered an anarchist thinker, that he is certainly the founder of the petit-bourgeois and reactionary ideology, but these are people who are outside the anarchist and revolutionary movement, who know Stirner’s theses by hearsay and do not live, every day, in the reality of the struggles, the concrete evidence.
An anarchist will never admit the extraneousness of Stirner to anarchism. If he has read The Only One will have found there, more or less, the essential points of anarchist doctrine, albeit in a philosophical formulation that is no longer fashionable today. If you have not read it, will certainly have found, in any anarchist group with which he came into contact, someone or something that has spoken of Stirner: some action, some perspective of struggle.
These are facts that can not be grasped by those who live outside the movement. And it is in this sense that those “fictional” works that are then passed off as research on anarchism are constructed: the work of George Woodcock is a text. (Anarchy. History of ideas and movements libertarian , tr. it., Milan 1966).
Considering Stirner, the anarcho-communists of “Noir et Rouge” write: “Without following him to the end, it must be recognized that his critique of the state and society is valid for all anarchists, and still retains its vigor and scope today.” (C. Vidal, L’individualisme, in “Noir et Rouge,” no. 26, 1977, p. 10).
Here is the critique that this journal makes of Stirnerian individualism and the tendencies that depart from it. Like all anarchist conceptions, individualist conceptions have great diversity among them. For example, Emile Armand states that association is a brake, while for Han Ryner the free development of the individual is possible only if it is simultaneous with that of others, so the latter type of individualism is closer than the former to the positions of anarchist communism.
Other differences may be these: while Armand founds his individualism on the will to pleasure, Ryner founds it on the will to harmony, clearly opposing Nietzsche’s will to power. Differently, Eugene Relgis will speak of a humanitarian will. (The texts of these authors are many, we quote for orientation: E. Armand, Anarchist Individualist Initiation , tr. it., Florence 1956. H. Ryner, Le Petil Manuel lndividualiste, Brussels 1903. E. Relgis, L’umanitarismo e il suo significato, tr. it., Turin 1964. E. Relgis, Princìpi umanitaristi, tr. it., Torino 1969).
But the weaknesses of the individualist theme are with respect to the “global” conception of what they call “individualist society”. Let us examine the problems of production (profit and product), distribution (exchange) and the general framework of the economy of this individualist society.
1) Profit. Each individual worker personally owns the profit which comes from production. This is easy if it is a leather or a spear, but difficult if it is a power station or a branch of the subway. Here, some individualists resort to a juridical trick: the worker possesses a representative, transferable title to his profit. But it can be seen that this is a trivial fallback. The legal title, in itself, is nothing. Its value is given by the authority that enforces it and assigns more or less severe punishment to those who do not take it into due consideration. In international trade, today, there are transport documents, representative of the goods, such as bills of lading, which assign to the owner the ownership of the goods, but their validity is strictly based on the laws and the police who enforce the laws. In a society of individualists such a document would have no validity.
2) The product. Participation in production is a voluntary decision by the worker, but production itself is not an “individual” fact, but a collective one. The product must therefore belong to several producers and several consumers: it is a collective product with a social purpose.
3) Exchange. The problem of exchange arises both between individuals and between voluntary associations of individuals. But whoever says exchange also says “value” of the products exchanged, which can be fixed on a relationship (reason for exchange), direct (barter) or on the basis of a common denominator which reduces the multiplicity of reasons for exchange (currency). But the only common value recognized by individualists, as on the other hand also by Marx, is “work”, crystallized in the product. But, then, we do not understand the statements of some individualists (for example, Armand) who attribute to free associations of producers the task of regulating value, thus introducing the concept of competition. The idea of value determined by competition, whether it is qualified as free or not, is incompatible with that of labor-value. To accept the idea of competition is to accept one of the bases of capitalism, even if the capitalist enterprise has given way to associations of producers.
4) The big picture of economics. The individualist economic conception is economically regressive. It implies the return to the small agricultural or artisan property. The fact of association does not change anything in the economic problem, as long as the craftsmen associate themselves, each one remaining the owner of the individual means of production.
These conceptions are: on the one hand a kind of smiling Arcadia, on the other a kind of tenth-century economy, improved with the prospect of a theoretical hook to the great economic circuits of today. These theses can be legitimately derived from Stirner, and later individualists have done this work, taking it to extremes. Taken as a whole they are to be discarded immediately, just as, taken in its rarefaction, individualism is to be discarded, because it easily aborts in the cult of the hero and the myth, in the will to power and the irrational.
Individualists view the individual as living poorly in the society of oppression, not as part of a class of oppressed, but as an individual, an individual who does not share the repressive mechanism. If anything, the next step, the step toward class analysis, is left to a second instance of the analysis, not posed a priori. This involves anti-militarism, anti-statism, etc., all of which have great practical value as a defense and attack by the individual and as a means of developing oneself against the society that tends toward repression and massification.
What is important in the individualist conception is the refractory attitude, the violent rupture, the refusal to accept a logic of consumption and numbness desired by power. In a world like today’s, revising the Stirnerian conception, with all the limitations that it entails, without allowing oneself to be lassoed by the intellectual readings of some individualist theorists, is something of great importance. Very often, however, both in the criticism of the anarchist communists and in the responses of the individualists, there has been instead of the necessary charge of sympathy and understanding, an unjustified polemical rancor. Ultimately the struggle of anarchists, of all anarchists, is a common struggle against capitalist individualism (egoism), for the formation of an egalitarian, humane society (association), a society of justice and freedom, a libertarian socialist (and communist) society. Anarchists are not anti-social, they are not against society in general, but they are against this kind of society.
But these conceptions can certainly be considered as the result of a very large number of experiences, of multiple value and meaning. At the time of Stirner’s efforts, which led to The Only One, the situation was much less mature. Stirner’s volume had almost the effect of a bomb.
As early as 1847, just two years after the publication of The Only One in Germany, a critical intervention on Stirner was published in France. It is just a few pages, remarkable as an example of reactionary reading, due to Saint-René Taillandier: “That a pen was found to say such things, to write them with such cold blood, with such correct elegance, is an incomprehensible mystery. One must have read the book to be convinced that it exists. One of our writers has said: when the German spirit is not in the clouds, it crawls. Stirner took it upon himself to justify these severe words; it is impossible to drag lower this noble German spirit which so many poets and metaphysicians had brought closer to the infinite. How to make a French reader understand this exaltation of nothingness? As long as Stirner attacks every kind of ideal, this impossible struggle gives to his thought a kind of poetry; it is in him the audacity of the warrior, and the mad recklessness of his enterprise hides what is vulgar under his doctrines. Now that his battle is won, that he celebrates the freedom won, the squalor of his thought appears in full nakedness. Imagine the consequences which this situation of the individual left alone on the ruins of the moral world contains; Stirner does not forget a single one. These results, the mere thought of which fills you with dread, make him rejoice. He glorifies egoism as others have glorified devotion. We dispense with the exposition of this picture. One of Stirner’s finest achievements, what he calls his good news, is that the rule of duty does not exist and that, therefore, there is no possibility of breaking it. Who makes the sinner: the moral law. If this law did not tell him: it is good to do this and bad to do that, all our actions would be equally good. No more evil, no more sin, no more crime. Admirable depth of the new science. Feuerbach can be happy to have destroyed impiety by founding atheism.” (De la crise actuelle de la philosophie Hégélienne. Les parties extrêmes en Allemagne, in “Revue des Deux Mondes,” Paris 1847, p. 262).
We have to go to 1887 for another contribution, that of Theodor Funck Brentano, who this time faces the problem from a specifically philosophical side. (Les sophistes allemands et le nihilistes russes, Paris 1877). A few years later came the work of Constantin Gherer (Max Stirner ou l’anarchie de la pensée. L’Ere nouvelle, Paris 1893) and that of Henri Lichtenberger (L’anarchisme en Allemagne. Max Stirner, in “La nouvelle revue,” July 1894, pp. 235-241). These are writings that examine Stirner’s anarchism.
But the philosopher’s thought filtered through quite different and otherwise effective ways. Militants of German origin themselves were spreading Stirner’s ideas, in an elaborate form for concrete propaganda. Switzerland was one of the points of passage for these ideas. Wilhelm Marr, for example, during his stay in Switzerland, before the degeneration of his views on anarchism, did propaganda work along these lines. Another sorting point was London. Here, for example, Johann Most started the publication of “Die Freiheit”, which would then continue for almost thirty years in different places.
In 1900 came out simultaneously in France two translations of The Only One, one of Lasvignes, for the editions Stock, the other of Reclaire, for the “Revue Blanche”. Armand preferred the first, of which he edited a re-edition in 1948, with a preface by him and Fernand Planche. But Stirner’s influence went in other directions. Before the beginning of 1887, there had been some quite sensational popular protest movements in Roanne. During the strike of 4,000 weavers, a worker had fired a revolver at his boss, wounding him in the face: he was sentenced to eight years of forced labor.
In the industrial and mining region of Montceau-les-Mines and Creusot, a mysterious gang acted at night, with a series of bombings preceded by threatening letters addressed to the mayor, the priest, and the notary. The twenty-three people arrested were all labourers and miners, of whom only five had a short criminal record, with a maximum of one month in prison.
Extinguished (according to the Attorney General had to throw cold water on the boiling labor unrest) with sentences of one to five years in prison the gang dynamiters, the attacks begin again systematically. While the previous dynamiters did not declare themselves, during the execution of the attack, as anarchists, these do so, using names that are a whole program: “Hungry”, “Dynamite”, “Suppression of the bourgeoisie”, “Revolt in hand”, etc..
At the beginning of 1885, thirty-two defendants appeared before the court: sentences, this time, ranging up to twenty years of hard labor, with a minimum of five years.
From this moment the era of individual attacks begins. Clément Duval, Vittorio Pini, Emile Florion, François-Auguste Kœningstein called Ravachol, Auguste Vaillant and many others bring the anarchist problem continuously on the front pages of all French newspapers.
For their part, the anarchist newspapers do the work of convincing towards this type of propaganda with the facts, towards these achievements. “La Révolution Sociale” has a column that bears the title of “Scientific Studies” and teaches how to make bombs and how to use them, how to measure the duration of the various fuses, etc., and one should not believe that this magazine is an exception for being a police fabrication because many others also had the same kind of arguments. These included “La lutte” and “Le Drapeau Noir,” which came out in 1883. “La Varlope,” from 1885 which came out with the very telling subtitle of “Anti-Bourgeois Products.” “La Lutte Sociale,” from 1886, which also had its own “Scientific Arsenal.” The group of the “Panthers of Batignolles”, of which Duval had been a member, went so far as to devote an agenda to the “manufacture of hand grenades”. In 1888, “L’Idée ouvrière” of Le Havre reported the text of a manuscript (no. 23 of February 11-18, 1888), posted on the walls of the city, in which the workers were urged to hang their bosses, the soldiers to kill their superiors, and the people to set fire to, destroy, annihilate and purify. The attack of Sante Caserio and the previous one of Emile Henry marked the end of a period. If Henry’s gesture was striking for the novelty of the objective, Caserio’s was striking for the killing of the man who was the object of the attack: the President of the Republic, Sadi Carnot. A vast operation of repression followed these two facts. The two militant anarchists were executed, almost all newspapers seized, a sensational trial was set up against thirty known anarchists.
“La Révolution Sociale” was the first French anarchist newspaper. It was the work of a creature of the prefect of police in Paris, Louis Andrieux, a certain Serreaux, who introduced himself to Jean Grave and Reclus saying that he was in possession of the inheritance of an old English lady, intended precisely to finance an anarchist newspaper in France. The thing was not very credible, but the need for the newspaper and the lack of money to do it ended up convincing both Grave and Reclus and, later, even Kropotkin and Malatesta. According to a statement by Andrieux himself, the newspaper was better than a telephone line installed in the anarchists’ center of operations. In fact, the newspaper not only served to indicate the various groups and sympathizers, but also served as a provocation with its violent speeches. As you can see, the police always use the same means. The column “Scientific Studies” begins with the number 1 of September 12, 1880.
One cannot speak, legitimately, of a direct relationship between this type of propaganda and Stirnerism but, in a certain way, there was no small influence on the theorizing that promoted that propaganda and those attacks against power.
Clearer the influence on the American anarchist movement, influence exerted through the figure of Most, the great German anarchist agitator.
The anarchist tradition in the United States, about the year 1882, when Most landed in that country, was many decades old, and was characterized by the figures of individualism-Josiah Warren, Stephen P. Andrew, William B. Green, Lysander Spooner, Ezra H. Heywood, Charles T. Fowler, Benjamin R. Tucker, and several others. These anarchist thinkers and activists, starting from the work of Robert Owen and Charles Fourier, carried out and implemented a number of initiatives, among which excelled the “Time Store” of Warren (where he sold and bought goods according to a price fixed in relation to the time taken to produce them). The diffusion of Warren’s ideas took place through his books and with the newspaper “The Peaceful Revolutionist”, which came out from 1833 in Cincinnati.
In 1879 Warren died, he was succeeded at the head of the movement Tucker, who developed his ideas in fierce opposition to the anarcho-communism of Kropotkin and Johann Most. Meanwhile, the phenomenon of Italian emigration to the United States, which took the form of large movements en masse, gave rise to a new strand of the anarchist movement in North America. After the unification of Italy, this flow will continue to grow: from 119,000 emigrants in 1860, 217,000 in 1890, 681,000 in 1910, up to 872,000 in 1913, the peak. (See R. Cappelli, L’emigrazione anarchica italiana negli U.S.A., in “Volontà”, November-December 1971, pp. 441 et seq.)
The composition was markedly characterized by the presence of skilled workers, driven by a promise of economic improvement, almost all of whom came from the North, until the 1890s. Of unskilled workers, coming from the South, driven by hunger and misery, after the 1890s.
In greater difficulty, this second wave ended up being driven by quite a few exponents of the first wave, more politically aware, most of them workers with previous experience of struggle.
Another reason played in favor of the presence, in this group, of anarchist militants, namely the repression unleashed in Italy for the facts of the Matese (1877), for the attack of Giovanni Passanante (1878) and other subsequent bombings.
But this group of Italian anarchists, once settled in the United States, failed to bond with the old local individualist movement, not so much because the latest arrivals were Kropotkinians or Malatestians, while the old American anarchists were individualists, but because they immediately found themselves at odds on the problem of revolutionary violence.
The contrast became more serious with the coming to the United States of Most, in December 1882, just released from prison in Germany, where he had served a sentence of almost two years for an article published in his newspaper, an article in which it was hoped – on the occasion of the killing of Tsar Alexander II of Russia – the violent death of all monarchs of other countries. Upon his arrival in the United States, Most held a triumphant tour of conferences.
Meanwhile, from July 14 to 20, 1881, there was in London the International Anarchist Congress. In this congress were approved in all two resolutions: the first aimed at establishing an international office, based in London, intended to facilitate relations between all federations, with minimal attributions, because the teaching of how things had gone with Marx was still burning (see “La Révolution Sociale”, No 34, August 7, 1881), the second was the recognition that the “propaganda of the fact” was the only effective means of action to emancipate the workers. This congress officially marks the beginning of the era of attacks.
Bearer of the theses of Congress in the United States, Most opens the era of direct action in that country as well. Cerrito, who addressed this issue (Sull’emigrazione anarchica italiana negli Stati d’America, in “Volontà”, July-August 1969, p. 269), does not mention the Stirnerian component of Most’s thought. Roberto Cappelli does the same in the cited study (L’emigrazione, op. cit., p. 441), limiting himself to indicating Most’s activity.
But, unquestionably, even if we limit ourselves to an examination of the Religious Plague alone, Stirner’s influence on Most is obvious. Die Gottespest und Religionsseuche, his most famous writing, first came out in New York in 1883. We know that up to 1887 were recorded twelve editions only in the United States, after it is not possible to count them. We know however of a reprinting of the twelfth edition done in 1893. Translations are countless. The first Italian translation came out in Geneva in 1888, a reprint was made in 1901, always edited by Luigi Bertoni. We also know an edition of 1892 (Marsala), one of 1964 (Ragusa) and the recent UTET, included in the volume The Anarchists, vol. I, Turin 1971, edited by Gian Mario Bravo, pp. 787 et seq.
Speaking of Most, in his Introduction to L’unico, Zoccoli wrote: “Thus it happens that the fundamental substance of such writings is, much more often than one might think, drawn from the work of Stirner, who is one of these centers, and perhaps the main one”. (Introduction to the third edition of L’unico, Turin 1921, p. XVI). Years earlier, the same author had written: “The posthumous resurrection [of Stirner] that has been made in recent years has been, in the doctrinal circles of anarchy, the spark that aroused a great flame of enthusiasm”. (I gruppi anarchici negli Stati Uniti e l’opera di Max Stirner, Modena 1901, p. 27). Gian Maria Bravo is also of the opinion that Most re-presented some of Stirner’s theses: “He can be compared to Stirner; on the other hand, his Stirnerism was popular, low-brow, not content-oriented but rather flourished with a language of an extraordinary violence, which therefore shows a much greater effectiveness than the “master” of the past, even if it sometimes borders on vulgarity”. (Introduction to J. Most, in The Anarchists, op. cit., p. 779).
The reader will recall that in the previous pages we have already seen how Taillandier accused Stirner of “vulgarity,” the same accusation Bravo makes against Most: the trite epithets of the bourgeois, through the centuries, shake hands.
In 1901 Most is imprisoned another time for an article deemed “seditious” made on the occasion of the assassination of President William McKinley. In 1906 he dies.
In 1891, a translation of a chapter of Mackay’s work, Die Anarchisten. Kulturgemalde aus dem Ende des XIX Jahrhunderts, the one dedicated to the condemned to death in Chicago. The booklet was immediately translated into French, English, Irish, etc.. Proof, this, of the spread of Stirnerian writings. (J. H. Mackay, Die Tragödie von Chïcago. Zur Erinnerung an den 11 Nov. 1887, Cincinnati 1891).
Let’s go back to the Italian presence that had been fortifying itself in the town of Paterson, New Jersey.
The first Italian anarchist group in the United States seems to me to have been the Carlo Cafiero group of New York, formed in 1885 by Luigi Zaganelli. (L. V. Ferraris, The assassination of Umberto I and the anarchists of Paterson, in “Historical Review of the Risorgimento”, Rome, January-March 1968, p. 48). Then developed the various propaganda activities of Francesco Saverio Merlino (around 1892) and Pietro Gori (1895), marking a great development of the whole movement. The political characteristics, up to this point, are those of anarchist communism of Kropotkinian tendency. (See L. Fabbri, L’organizzazione anarchica. Report presented at the Italian Anarchist Congress of Rome [16-20 June 1907] and the International Anarchist Congress of Amsterdam [24-31 August 1907], Genoa 1971). But, soon, within the newspaper “The Social Question” arise divergences. About this periodical Zoccoli writes: “[In it] the Paterson group is catechized with the almost slavish exegesis of a theoretical work, written half a century ago, by a German philosopher who died in ’56 and to which his contemporaries did not pay any attention” (I gruppi anarchici negli Stati Uniti e l’opera di Max Stirner, op. cit., p. 27). Of course, we can not subscribe to this statement, however, the fact remains that alongside the organizational thesis emerge those anti-organizational, which becomes proponent Giuseppe Ciancabilla, after leaving “The Social Question” and founded “L’Aurora”.
The Stirnerian component is almost never on a literal level, it is subterranean infiltration cohabiting with very different ideas, such as precisely those of Kropotkin.
This is what the “Subversive Chronicle” wrote: “The federalists [organizers] in their “parliaments” that they call “congresses”, with their deputies and delegates, what do they do if not programs, regulations and laws? Since programs, agendas, etc., approved by a majority, are, for the opposing minority, true laws to which that minority is rebellious”. (A. Colonnesi, Liberamente!, in “Cronaca sovversiva”, May 21, 1904). Within the controversy there was also a pistol shot, during a rally, against Malatesta. (M. Nomad, Rebels and Renegades, New York 1932).
It was now the beginning of the century and Stirner’s main book was known in the United States. In this regard, Giovanna Licheri points out: “Moreover, right at this time [the beginning of the twentieth century], particularly among anarchists [in the United States], Stirner’s theory of the Unique spread, seen, however, through the lens of Nietzsche’s literary aestheticism.” (The ideological position of “The Gathering of Refractories,” in “Will,” September-October 1971, p. 390).
But already in 1894 the propaganda of the fact is now at the end. In 1900, the attack of Gaetano Bresci finds a structure of the international anarchist movement not able to fully justify his act. Jean Grave writes on “Les Temps Nouveaux”: “Revenge is sterile. Apart from the passing satisfaction of seeing one of the masters on the ground, it does not repair the evil done, it does not prevent the powerful who remain from continuing it.” (No. 16, August 11-17, 1900). As can be seen, the oars in the boat had already been pulled.
The new French wave is constituted by the illegalist tendency. The figures of Marius Jacob and Jules Bonnot stand out: they carry out a series of actions of “social recovery”, that is to say expropriation, which propose to the whole movement the problem of theft and individual revolutionary recovery. The Stirnerian foundation persists. The struggle of the individual is that of the rebel who fights against the social structure that oppresses and robs him by his mere presence. Unfortunately, as usual, a lot of literature has been made on this subject that has ended up cheating a lot of the reality of things.
The organ of illegalism and individualism was “L’anarchie”, which began publication on April 13, 1905, on the initiative of Albert, known as Libertad. Paralytic, deformed, but with a beautiful head and burning eyes, Libertad is always at the head of all the parades of Parisian strikers. His actions soon become a nightmare for the police. The illegitimate son of a high government official, he comes from an orphanage and will die on the pavement bludgeoned to death by the police. Around his figure of theorist and animator will form a group of individualists who on the one hand will facilitate the actions of the gang Bonnot, and on the other will create a movement of thought that will have a significant influence on the future development of French anarchist thought. Armand, Victor Serge, André Lorulot and others, were all collaborators of that strange figure of a paralytic who dragged himself through the streets of Paris wrapped in his black blouse of typographer, continuously followed by two officials of the Political Office of the Prefecture.
Reading the writings of Libertad one is impressed by the closeness of his conception of anarchy to that of Stirner. In the pamphlet La Liberté he writes: “To move towards freedom, we must develop our individuality. – When I say: going towards freedom, I mean going towards the most complete development of the individual”. (La Liberté, Paris s. d. [but circa 1928], p. 3).
In other ways, a quarter of a century earlier, the work of Mikhail Bakunin ended. The problem of the Stirnerian presence in the work of the Russian revolutionary is not a simple one, at least if we want to exclude easy and superficial conclusions. It cannot be denied, however, that in the vast activity of Bakunin, which by itself constitutes a much more complete and precise elaboration of his political writings in the strict sense, a leading role is played by the element of revolt. Certainly, at least in his youthful years, something of that “demonic” spirit that animates Stirner’s book had to pass through Bakunin as well. In his writing on Feuerbach, Engels writes: “Finally came Stirner, the prophet of today’s anarchy, – Bakunin took much from him, – and overtook the sovereign ‘self-consciousness’ with its ‘only’ sovereign.” (Ludwig Feuerbach and the Landing Point of Classical German Philosophy , tr. it., Rome 1969, p. 27).
Those who know Bakunin’s main writings, those who know his revolutionary activity, know that he fought on many fronts and developed his analyses on many problems, but they also know that, during his life, the value given to the individual remained immutable in him, a conception that he had clear since his youth, since his first contacts with the young Hegelianists and, in particular, with Arnold Ruge.
In his first work, published under the name of Jules Elysard in Ruge’s “Deutsche Jahrbücher,” he writes: “Come to your senses at last, gentlemen, and tell me truthfully whether you are pleased with yourselves and whether it is possible for you to be so. Do you not all, without exception, seem to be the sad and miserable ghosts of our sad and miserable age? Are you not full of contradictions? Are you whole men? Do you really believe in anything? Do you know what you want and above all are you capable of wanting something? Has not modern thought, this epidemic of our age, left only one part of yourselves alive, has it not penetrated you to the very depths, paralyzed and broken you? In truth, gentlemen, you must confess that ours is a miserable epoch and that we are its even more miserable children.” (The Reaction in Germany , tr. it., Ivrea 1972, p. 65).
This thesis is very close to the classical problematic of the left Hegelians, who try to base themselves on a revolutionary interpretation of Hegelism. But in it there are hints that cannot be attributed by weight to the “official theme” of that group, and that closely resemble Stirner. Only that The Only One, in 1842, had not yet come out, while the essay on education had been published. In other words, the ideas of The One were not yet in “official” circulation, but they must have been known to the group of young Hegelians. This is certainly not enough to document a direct influence, since Bakunin’s German years, of Stirner on the Russian revolutionary, but it is still something.
The problem of revolt and the individual, as we have said, will accompany Bakunin throughout his life. In State and Anarchy , the fundamental text of his maturity, he writes: “A popular uprising, violent, chaotic and ruthless by nature, always supposes great sacrifices for the people and losses in material goods for others. The masses of the people are always ready for these sacrifices; they constitute, moreover, a force all the more brutal, savage, capable of performing feats and achieving apparently impossible objectives inasmuch as, possessing only a few things or even nothing at all, they are not corrupted by the instinct of property.” (Tr. it., in Opere completes, vol. IV, Catania 1977, p. 47).
And elsewhere, again Bakunin: “The pressure of society on the individual is immense, and there is no character so strong or intelligence so great that it can be said to be safe from the blows of this influence, as despotic as it is irresistible. The revolt against this natural influence of society is much more difficult for the individual than the revolt against organized society, against the State, though it is often just as inevitable. Man’s radical revolt against society would be just as impossible for him as revolt against nature. Not so the State, I do not hesitate to say that the State is evil, but an historically necessary evil, as necessary in the past as its complete extinction will be sooner or later, as necessary as the primitive bestiality and the theological ramblings of men have been. The State is not society, but is only a historical form as brutal as it is abstract.” (Liberty and Revolution , tr. it., Rome 1968, p. 37-38).
Attack on the State, then, not to destroy all forms of coexistence, not for blind and absolute individualism, but, as for Stirner, for the creation of a future society.
Bakunin’s critique of authoritarian communism is also related to Stirnerian insights. “I detest communism, because it is the negation of freedom and because nothing human can be conceived without freedom. I am not a communist at all, because communism concentrates and converges all the powers of society in the State, because it necessarily leads to the centralization of property in the hands of the State, while I want the abolition of the State, the radical eradication of the principle of authority and protection of the State, which, under the pretext of moralizing and civilizing men, has so far enslaved, oppressed, exploited and depraved them.” (Quoted by D. Guérin, Anarchism from doctrine to action, tr. it., Rome 1969, pp. 19-20).
This is also Stirner’s critique, with the added conclusions of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, seen, however, through the perspective of free association.
Daniel Guérin writes: “Anarchists are unanimous in subjecting “authoritarian” socialism to severe criticism. Stirner accepts many of the premises of communism. But with this corollary: if, for the defeated of the present society, the profession of communist faith is a first step forward on the road to total emancipation, they will not be completely “disalienated”, they will not be able to actually enhance their individuality except by overcoming communism. Bakunin develops this critique of communism.” (Ib., pp. 18-19).
The influence of Stirner’s ideas took on a more specific, though less productive, character in some German thinkers: Karl Vogt, Edgar Bauer (Bruno’s brother) and Ruge himself. Max Nettlau writes: “This ancestry [of libertarian ideas in general and Stirner’s in particular], in fact, existed in the years before 1848 in some who knew Max Stirner and Proudhon and was accentuated when the defeat of the hopes of the German and French political revolutions of 1848-1849 began, and especially after the glaring demonstration of the incapacity and impotence of liberal and democratic parliamentarianism.” (Brief History of Anarchism , tr. it., Cesena 1964, p. 63).
In 1850 in Berlin was published a newspaper the “Abendpost” of anti-state imprint, very similar, as a political line, to that of Anselme Bellegarrigue, which was published in Toulouse since March 1849. It advocated non-interventionism, but without specifying how the social problem could be solved in the field of production.
In 1849 Bruno Bauer’s brother brought out a newspaper entitled “Die Partien”, published in Hamburg, with anarchist tendencies but very moderate in substance (perhaps the fact that he had recently spent three years in prison was not a good starting point for making such a newspaper).
Also in 1849 Ruge manifests a rapprochement to the anarchist position by writing in favor of “self-government of the people,” as Nettlau has noted. (Ib., p. 64).
It would remain to point to Marr’s work, were it not for the ugly end of its author. (Anarchy or Authority , is found translated in The Anarchists, vol. I, edited by G. M. Bravo, op. cit., pp. 681 et seq.).
Also in Germany, the continuators of German anarchism will be Karl Eugen Dühring and Gustav Landauer, but we are already far from the initial climate influenced by Stirner.
In the meantime the movement had other experiences, other teachings of the past were put to use, other men engaged power in an irreducible struggle, other theories were criticized and developed.
Immediately after Bakunin’s death all this work intensified. We re-examine Proudhon’s theses, according to which the revolution of 1948 had had a bourgeois matrix, an exact thesis but which, at that time, threw into confusion those who sought the path of a united front of all progressive forces against reaction. Today, especially after the Stalinist experiences, we are convinced that Proudhon was right, but this does not mean that not developing a critique of his thesis after 1876 would have been a very serious mistake.
In April 1877 Malatesta, Carlo Cafiero, Pietro Cesare Ceccarelli and others carried out the “insurrectional event” of the Matese. Three years later Kropotkin will write: “The permanent revolt, by means of the word, the writing, the dagger, the rifle, the dynamite, everything that is not legal, is fine with us”. (Le Révolté, December 25, 1880). And elsewhere: “In the midst of the lamentations, the chatter, the theoretical discussions, an act of rebellion, individual or collective, is produced, summing up the predominant aspirations. It is possible that at first the mass remains indifferent. While admiring the courage of the initiating individual or group, it is possible that at first glance they will follow the wise, the prudent, who hasten to brand this act as “madness” and to say that the “madmen, the hotheads, compromise everything”. They had so well calculated, the wise and prudent, that their party, slowly continuing its work would arrive in one hundred, two hundred, three hundred years slowly continuing its work, to conquer the whole world; and here is that the unexpected meddles with it: the unexpected, of course, is what has not been foreseen by them, the wise and prudent. Anyone who knows a little bit of history, and has a brain, however unbalanced, knows perfectly well that the theoretical propaganda of the Revolution is necessarily translated into fact, long before the theorists have decided that the time to act has come: however, the theoretical wise men are indignant against the madmen, they excommunicate them and anathematize them. But the madmen found sympathy, the mass of the people secretly applauded their audacity and they found imitators. As the first among them go to populate the prisons and the baths, others come to continue their work, the acts of illegal protest, of rebellion, of revenge multiply”. (The Spirit of Rebellion , tr. it., Bari 1955, p. 7).
Kropotkin would later sufficiently modify these positions of his from the Swiss period, but the fact remains that, in his time, they were of no little importance in coordinating those instincts of revolt which were taking shape everywhere. Most, with equal polemical ardor and revolutionary eagerness, did the same job. (See Zur Geschichte der “Freiheit”, in “Freiheit” from June 20 to October 3, 1896).
All these experiences will have their weight when the anarchists will reapproach, after the period of the “propaganda of the fact”, the mass union organizations, when they will resume the work of the internationalists and allianceists. Stirner too had posed, as we have seen, the relationship between his “individual” and the mass, between the struggle that the individual conducts for his own liberation and the liberation of the masses, and had ended up opening a breach within the monolithic structure of individualist egoism, to bring in the perspective of the union of egoists. Zoccoli writes: “Stirner sensed that only in this sense could his doctrine have a practical reflection; and the rigid individualism in which it seems that all his doctrine is based suddenly breaks through in order to insinuate itself as an imperative of action for an entire social class, that is, for the proletarian class. Stirner, in the moment in which he proposes this combination of forces, pays a necessary debt to the whole current of thought of the Hegelian left from which he derived, showing that just as it was possible to draw from it the individualistic premises as a preparation for his egoism, so it was also possible to draw from it those same consequences which will then find a more organic elaboration in the writers and in the later movement of revolutionary communism. The composition, or if you want to say, the parallelism, in the thought of Stirner, these two directions, if it explains the slight influence exercised with respect to the enucleation of those revolutionary tendencies that twenty years after the appearance of his work put head to the International, it also explains how it resumes, if not the upper hand, at least one of the first positions when that International differs and hand in hand giganteze the phalanx organized anarchy. No other theoretical writer of anarchy today exercises this double effectiveness.” (Anarchy. The agitators, ideas, facts , Milan 1949, pp. 411-412).
This interesting notation is confirmed by what Victor Roudine had to write in his Introduction to the 1922 Social Publishing House edition of The One and His Property. “Certain critics have noted the ‘sympathy’ of the author of The One for the ‘humble’; but no one has seen that that book is directly addressed to the working class, and that it would otherwise be incomprehensible. Stirner, in general, has accumulated in his work so many difficulties of a methodological order that a great deal of work is needed for a somewhat conscientious criticism. His “I