Beyond the Max

part two

Part one of the review of The Unique and Its Property, by Max Stirner, focussed on the positives. Part two is a critic of the negatives. Stirner’s views have much to commend them, and then at times, he misfires terribly by only seeing half the picture. That’s a dangerous perspective. Being right, but only half right, does two very perilous things to an argument. It makes it hard to refute because it’s partly correct. But remember, in logic if part of a statement is false, the entire statement is false. The second blow is a more serious problem. It allows readers to take his missteps out of context and read them as the whole message.

But the real means of payment remains, as always, capability. With what you have “in your capability” you pay. Therefore, think about the expansion of your capabilities.

In saying this, one is still right there in with the slogan : “To each according to his capability!” Who’s supposed to give me according to my capability? Society? Then I would have to put up with its estimation of me. Rather, I will take according to my capability.

I object to his use of the word “take.” It implies grabbing for all you can get without regard for others, without regard for the social, not society’s, response. It says in a manner, lie, cheat, and steal. There is no need to take, but “to hold” or “to keep” according to one’s capability. One’s power, autonomy, and capability is what most people give up and allow others to take. This is where the victim fails, yet this doesn’t justify the unjust taking of others’ capabilities. It doesn’t justify exploitation.

Everything belongs to everyone!” This proposition comes from the same empty theory [communist theory]. To each belongs only what he is capable of. If I say: The world belongs to me, that too is actually empty talk, which has meaning only insofar as I respect no alien property. But to me belongs only as much as I am capable of, or have the capability for.

A person isn’t worthy of having what he allows to be taken from him out of weakness; he isn’t worthy of it, because he isn’t capable of it.

Why do people allow their capabilities to be taken from them? It can be argued, as Stirner does, they don’t deserve ownership and autonomy because they’ve capitulated their own. That is true enough, but only half the story. It still requires the thief to steal it. It still requires the cheat to convince them to abandon their own. It may be in my power to swindle others, but to reiterate from part one, it’s not in my best interest. It destabilizes social networks. It creates distrust and incites reciprocal lying, cheating and stealing. It is not in my best interest to be constantly looking over my shoulder. It is not in my best interest to be on guard for retaliatory attacks on myself.

One needs to take, hold ownership of oneself. And we need to take ownership of everything. When the world belongs to me, I have responsibility for it, as everyone else does also. Stirner berates this position in contradiction to his other statements. He fails to see the whole picture of his own ownership and egoism.

People have raised a tremendous uproar over the “thousand-year wrong” that the rich are committing against the poor. As if the rich were to blame for poverty, and the poor were not equally to blame for riches! Is there another difference between the two than that of capability and incapability, of the capable and the incapable? Of what then, does the crime of the rich consist? “Of their hard-heartedness.” But who then has supported the poor, who has provided their nourishment when they were no longer able to work, who has given alms, those alms that even have their name from kindheartedness? Haven’t the rich always been “kindhearted”? Aren’t they “charitable” to this day, as poor-taxes, hospitals, foundations of all sorts, etc., prove?

But all that is not enough for you! They are undoubtedly then supposed to share with the poor? Here you demand that they should abolish poverty.

Oh yes, it proves, absolutely, the “kindheartedness” of the rich and their condescending “charity.” It proves the complacence of the poor for allowing their exploitation. And it proves the opposite; the guilt of the rich for their exploitation and their attempt to exculpate their guilt with charity. Had the rich any respect for others, they wouldn’t have lied and plundered their way to riches. The road of respect is bidirectional. Oh yes, the rich, because they have the power, and continue to play the “I know better than you,” and the “I am better than you” cards, and force their “better” on others with police and armies, they do have responsibility to end poverty. They need to give back, not give up, the excesses they have taken and never earned with their “capabilities.” They need not give up themselves, they need to give up what they have gained by theft and deception.

Ceaseless self-promotion doesn’t let us take a breath, to come to a peaceful enjoyment; we don’t take pleasure in our possessions.

But the organization of work affects only such work as others can do for us, butchering, tillage, etc.; the rest remain egoistic, because no one can, for example, produce your musical compositions, carry out your painting projects, etc., in your place: Nobody can replace Raphael’s works. The latter are the works of a unique individual, which only he is capable of achieving, whereas the former [ordinary workers] deserve to be called “human”: because what is one’s own in them is of little importance, and just about “any human being” can be trained for them.

Stirner has missed, or ignored, the fact that those ordinary, everyday jobs “of little importance” are quite the opposite. They are far more important than Raphael’s paintings. He fails to acknowledge how crucial those simple jobs are to daily life. They may be ordinary, and may not require special knowledge or extensive training, but a Raphael painting can’t keep you warm or fill your stomach. He fails to see that a Raphael can be copied, faked and imitated by “any human being” trained for it. He fails to apply his own egoism to others.

He states, “society brings forth no one who is unique.” If Stirner is suggesting only Raphael-types are unique, he’s half wrong again. Everyone is unique. And society does in fact bring forth extraordinary persons. We are all products of our whole environment. It would be impossible for any extraordinary person not to be a product of countless influences including society. A perspective on daily needs places value not simply on the superfluity of pretty paintings or evocative music created by persons of specialized talent, but also appreciates and respects the regular, boring jobs of the unique individuals that keep the world turning, those who provide the others with various talents the time for pursuing their specialties.

. . . and then he goes on in this vein—

We slave away twelve hours a day in the sweat of our brow, and you offer us a few pennies for it. Then take the same for your labor too. Don’t you like that? You imagine that our labor is richly paid with that wage, while yours, on the other hand, is worth a wage of many thousands. If you didn’t make yours so high, and let us make better use of ours, we would no doubt, where circumstance required it, bring about even more important things than you for the many thousands of dollars; and if you were only given wages like ours, you would so be more diligent to get more. But if you do something that seems to us ten and a hundred times more valuable than our own labor, well then you’ll also get a hundred times more for it; on the other hand, we also think to produce things for you, for which you will employ us at higher than the usual daily wage. We will come to terms with each other when we are agreed on this, that neither any longer needs to donate to the other.

Are we supposed to hire out below rates, so that you can live in luxury? The rich man always puts off the poor man with the words: “What is your need to me? See to it, how you make your way through the world; that’s your affair, not mine.” Well now, let’s let it be our affair then, and not let the rich pilfer from us the means that we have for utilizing ourselves. “But you uneducated people really don’t need as much.” Now, we’re taking a bit more so that we can get the education that perhaps we do need. “But if you bring the rich down in this way, who then will still support the arts and sciences?” Oh, well, the crowd must do it; if we come together, that gives a nice little sum; and anyway, you rich now only buy the most insipid books and maudlin pictures of the Mother of God or a pair of nimble dancer’s legs.

Whose side is he on? He’s on the side of the individual, the egoist. He confuses his argument in one breath by blessing the rich for being capable and blames the poor for not being capable, then in the next breath, blames the rich for taking more than they’re worth and being unfair to the workers. He clearly indicates the undervaluation of service labor, and the gross overvaluation of the ruling privileged. The unfortunate state of society is that both sides are to blame.

Can the state perhaps awaken such confident courage and such strong self-esteem in the servant? Can it make a human being feel himself; can it even just allow itself to set this goal for itself? Can it want the individual to recognize his worth and to utilize it?

Good questions. Answers? He follows these questions with pages of what smacks of self-help babble—just as fuzzy, just as half-full. I was hoping for some good conclusions. They never materialize. I suspect he considers the questions answered. He’s clear on his view that neither government nor society can serve the egoist; that the egoist is anathema to them; that government cannot tolerate the individual. Yet still, throughout the book, I’ve had frequent difficulty with deciphering what he is stating as his position, and what is the opposing position. He mish-mashes his thoughts together, going from one to the other and back again. It’s like watching someone playing ping-pong against himself. This puts a huge strain on the reader and it weakens his stand. I think the main problem is his rambling and redundancy. As the book progresses, his thoughts never progress. He keeps hashing out the same rant. Next in line is the indefinite and inconsistent definitions of his terms. He needed a good editor to slash out the crap and make him write with clean, unambiguous clarity. Instead of distilling his thoughts down and letting them age into golden brandy, they’ve just turned to vinegar.

Perhaps I’m too hasty in my judgment. Then he continues with this—

Now how about if we changed things a bit and wrote: perjury and lying for my sake! Wouldn’t that be to recommend every despicable act? It certainly seems so, but in this it is altogether like the “for God’s sake.” Because hasn’t every despicable act been committed for God’s [or king‘s or country‘s] sake, all the scaffolds filled for his sake, all the dulling of the mind introduced for his sake? And still today don’t they bind the minds of tender children through religious education for God’s sake? Didn’t they break sacred vows for his sake, and don’t missionaries and priests go out every day to get Jews, heathens, Protestants, or Catholics to betray the faith of their fathers for his sake? And that’s supposed to be worse [than] “for my sake?” What then does on my behalf mean? Here people immediately think of filthy profit. But the one who acts from love of filthy profit indeed does it on his own behalf since in any case there is nothing that one does not do for his own sake, among other things, everything done for the glory of God; but because he seeks profit, he is a slave of profit, not beyond profit; his is one who belongs to profit, to the moneybag, not to himself; he is not his own.

and one closing quotation—

The press is my own as soon as I myself am my own, a self-owned individual: the world belongs to the egoist, because he belongs to no power in the world.

The press is my property from that moment when for me, nothing any longer goes above me; because from this moment on, state, church, people, society, and the like, cease, because they owe their existence only to the contempt I have for myself and they come to an end with the disappearance of this contempt: they exist only when they exist above me, only as powers and power-holders. Or can you imagine a state whose inhabitants all make nothing of it? It would as surely be a dream.

I can imagine it. I know it would as surely be a dream.

As solutions are not forthcoming, though, it is probable that they cannot be so.

see part one : To the Max

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