Skye Nettleton - Loving Egoistically and the philosophy of Max Stirner
Delivered 21 Feb 2007

Who was Stirner?

  1. 1806-1856, German.

  2. Went to Hegel's lectures in Berlin.

  3. Hung out at a wine bar called Hippel's with other philosophers & intellectuals (not unlike Philorum!) including Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels.

  4. Worked at a young girls' school until controversy over The Ego & His Own (Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum)

  5. Made some money out of Der Einzige but once that ran out, he lived off his wife's inheritance then borrowed money and could never pay it back and ended up in debtor's gaol a couple of times.

  6. Married twice.

    1. Once he saw his 1st wife naked accidentally and reportedly could never touch her again.

    2. 2nd wife described him as a very sly man who she neither respected nor loved and claimed their relationship together was more a cohabitation than a marriage.

  7. End of his life.

    1. Miserable life.

    2. Pretended to be mad and committed himself to a very comfortable mental institution where someone would cook & clean for him.

    3. While out walking in the gardens one day, stung by a wasp & died.

Stirner's influence

  1. Simone de Beauvoir & Jean-Paul Sartre, e.g. creative nothingness.

  2. Nietzsche.

  3. Camus - section on Stirner in the Rebel (often left out of English translations)

  4. Husserl - once warned against the seducing power of Der Einzige

  5. Mussolini.

  6. Marx & Engels dedicated 300 pages in "The German Ideology" to attacking Stirner.

  7. Feminists - empowerment of the individual regardless of sex.


  1. Called the "Nihilistic egoist", anarchistic and manipulative because he promotes a life of unbridled egoism.

  2. Atheist existentialism because.

    1. Rejects any cause, value or moral that is not a person's own:

      Away with every cause that is not wholly and entirely my cause! Do you think that my cause must at least be "the good cause"? Good and evil indeed! I am my own cause, and I am neither good nor cause is neither the divine nor the human, it is not true, the good, the just or the free cause, but simply mine, and it is not anything general, for it is unique, as I am unique. Nothing is more than myself.

    2. World is meaningless. Rejects pre-determinism - we are a creative nothingness, which means we start out as tabula rasa and create our own meaning out of the things around us.

      Your world reaches as far as your capacity to grasp it and what you grasp exists through your very grasping of it.

Key concepts

  1. Power (not freedom like Sartre & Beauvoir)

    1. 'Freedom' is a pyrrhic victory if one does not have the power to act freely.

    2. Issue is then what one has the power to be or do.

    3. You always have power over your own existence and being.

      What clings to you you have accepted; it is your choice and your pleasure.

  2. Frivolity

    1. Goal of life is to discover your frivolity.

    2. Fulfilling life is squandered & enjoyed.

    3. Use life up like a burning candle.

    4. Personal satisfaction is paramount.

  3. Possession

    1. Enjoyment maximised by using the power to appropriate.

      My power is my property. My power gives me property.

    2. One desires something only for its use or as a means to a pleasing end.

      For how we toss things about is the affair of our option, our free will: we use them according to our heart's pleasure, or, more clearly, we use them just as we can

  4. Unique One

    1. The Unique One is Stirner's model of the egoistic individual.

    2. The Unique One is totally alone in the world.

    3. No possibility of "connecting" with another.

    4. However, solitude is to be cherished because obligations to others suffocate the individual.

      If you are connected, you cannot leave each other; if a "tie" clasps you, you are something only with another.

    5. No responsibility or accountability to others.

    6. Other people are only property to be used.

      An interesting or uninteresting object, a useable or unusable person.


  1. Even with all this selfishness and using other people, romantic love is still possible.

  2. What is egoistic love?

    • Unique One loves another when he/she enjoys certain qualities that the lover demonstrates in a high degree.

      In you, I discover the gift of making my life agreeable, therefore I choose you as a companion.

    • The Unique One loves another person just as one loves chocolate or wine.

    • However, the love isn't an unconditional love of the whole person. You can still love the taste of a wine, even if you don't love the bottle it comes in (which is nevertheless an essential component of the wine). If the wine turns sour, you no longer love the wine. Similarly, if the loved one changes and loses the qualities you love, then your love for the person ceases.

  3. Goal of romantic love for the Unique One.

    • To appropriate the Other for one's own pleasure and enrichment.

      I can love, love with a full heart, and let the most consuming glow of passionburn in my heart, without taking the beloved one for anything else other than the nourishment of my passion, on which it ever refreshes itself anew.

  4. Dangerous & hurtful? Not necessarily...

    • Still allows for all the things traditionally associated with romantic love that are not, on the surface, of direct/ immediate benefit, e.g. giving, sharing.

    • Do these things because expect something better in return - happiness of the loved one brings greater satisfaction than the immediate sacrifice.

      I can deny myself numberless things for the enhancement of his pleasure, and I can hazard for life, my welfare, my freedom. Why, it constitutes my pleasure & happiness to refresh myself with his happiness and his pleasure.

    • Still can choose monogamy - if expected anguish from hurting the lover is greater than the expected pleasure from relationships with others.

    • Can still be caring & compassionate - but recognise that it is always for your sole benefit:

      If I see the loved one suffer, I suffer with him, and I know no rest till I have tried everything to comfort and cheer him; if I see him glad, I too become glad over his joy...But, because I cannot bear the troubled crease on the beloved forehead, for that reason, and therefore for my sake, I kiss it away. If I did not love this person, he might go right on making creases, they would not trouble me; I am only driving away my trouble.

    • Can still be altruistic & charitable - recognise benefits one gains from doing altruistic things (even if it is just a 'nice feeling' or personal satisfaction from the sacrifice) and removes the hypocrisy of people who deny that they get nothing out of being charitable.