Max Stirner's Ego As Spook

Some say that a writer's ideas should be separated from his life. Unfortunately, when you're dealing with ideas which are highly individualistic, we have little option but to assume that the laboratory of that writer's ideas was his own life.

Max Stirner turns the idea of the ego and property themselves into metaphysical principles. The ego, often regarded in psychology language as a terrible master, is reified as the center by which property is appropriated and into which meaning and value appear from and disappear into. Stirner declared, 'All things are nothing to me,' and that the world is full of 'spooks' or 'fixed ideas.' Not only is the world full of these spooks, but according to Stirner, it is haunted by them.

This idea seems radical at first, until we tease its utility from its actual content. One could, admittedly by a stretch, say that Christ uttered a perfectly Stirnerian claim when he said, 'I and the Father are one. No one comes to the Father except through me.' How could Christ claim divinity, or even sonhood, if he didn't locate himself in relation to a heavenly father? A son has no value as a son without a father, and vice versa. One might even say Christ appropriated this father as his own property, subordinating all involved values to the ego.

For Stirner, the root of all values arising from dynamic approximation is the ego. Since the ego is not the same ego unilaterally from person to person, it is not the same as Hegel's 'Absolute' or 'spirit.'

Stirner's spooks are not in a category like the 'bonds' or 'attachments' of Buddhism, for there remains no particular objective reason that any of these things can't be appropriated as property like anything else.

The ego is often thought of as a prison in common language and in many spiritual systems. Whether or not one disagrees, Stirner's lived philosophy most certainly earned him a place in debtor prisons for the last part of his life. His fate was similar to De Sade; another thinker who reified the means by which one could maximize one's self interest in the moment through some other agent, which was, in his case 'nature.' What writers like De Sade and Stirner end up doing, ultimately, is justifying the activities which sacrifice one's time preference for their own sake, thus ironically eliminating their chance to continue carrying out these same activities. They get stuck in a loop, closing the circle of experience in constant orbit around an orgasm that is never enough, since no pleasure has meaning outside of itself.

What Stirner didn't do, ultimately, was continue the work of identifying spooks and carry it to its furthest conclusion: that the ego is a spook as well. Throughout his seminal work, The Ego and Its Own, Stirner talks about individual limits varying from person to person. But if one has a limit, what exactly is acknowledging this limit? Is it the ego? And if it's the ego, by what principle is this limit encountered and annunciated as something to be measured in order to maximize the ego's domain? Ultimately, the ego fails to have a final say. It must be cast aside to wherever the other spooks are thrown when all things become nothing.

If Stirner had gone further he would have, perhaps, ended up in the territory of eastern mystics, where the ego is only the last formidable opponent on the way to absolute liberation--the final bit of glue which holds all illusions together.

Where Stirner's ego recognizes only limits and attainable property's, one who goes beyond the ego then has the opportunity, not only to be aware of one's own impotency, but to identify with that which is beyond limits, holding all truth together, thus maximizing potency by casting off the imprisonment of all false reifications.