Most political movements make some sort of appeal to an imaginary primordial condition which their ideal future resembles. For communists, there is primordial communism. For fascists, there is ur-fascism. For anarchists, you get the old line about how humans were anarchists for thousands of years before washing machines and Ford came along. Conservativism is built on the very idea that things should be codified to be what they were before revolutionary feeling and enlightenment values. On the other hand, liberalism tries to align man’s social and economic activity to a scheme which it considers more natural than the institutions of old that it helped topple.
But none of these political movements can stand up by themselves against Max Stirner’s philosophy. The narrator of Ernst Junger’s novel, Eumeswil (who spends a significant portion of the book comparing his own philosophy to Stirner’s) boiled Stirner’s thought down to this very simple formula to which every thing and every concept in the entire universe must subordinate itself in the end:
1. That is not my business.
2. Nothing is more important than I.
There has to be more, right?
Nietzsche didn’t go this far for all his pretenses to transvaluate all values. He had to go and create supermen and eternal returns (or, if not create them, then lift them from Goethe and the pre-Socratics) just to affirm the life he so insisted was worth affirming. Buddha insisted that ultimate truth lies outside of suffering, but paradoxically posited that life itself (that is, literally all that we know) is suffering. For Stirner, one may keep one’s suffering or meditate it away if one so chooses. That is one’s own business. If one wanted to keep one’s contempt or love of life, that is also one’s business. One could only ever make oneself a slave to some Nietzschean moral hygienic scheme at the end of the day - not glean it from reality as an inevitably viable response to nihilism. Nietzsche only ever announces that gods are dead. Stirner actually eats them (chews them, extracts their essential nutrients, digests and shits them). But the important thing is the formula. It is the Stirnerian mantra and it is all you really need to know. To read his work is to read clever re-phrasings of that formula for hundreds of pages.
Wait… I seem to hear some anarchist bleating in the distance. I seem to hear discursive appeals to the authority of the text. The thousands of cries of madmen haunted by an ology.
But what of his rejection of the state?
What of his rejection of capitalism? Of socialism? Of monarchy and government?
What of his endorsement of the Union?
What of his contempt for God, Christianity and religion in general?
The education system?
This is all smoke and mirrors. A careful reading of Stirner (but not too careful, not too lofty of a reading) will lend one the conclusion that Stirner must not only criticize those ideas which he holds in contempt as though it were possible for anyone to do so, but that one must also be able to hold any and all concepts in contempt in the same manner. Anarchists, historically, have had a monopoly on the politicization of Stirner’s thought - prey to the delusion that a true commitment to its dialectic would lead inevitably to anarchism. The anarchists merely got stuck in his ironic sap. They took his examples to be analogous to his formula and took him at his word; a word he is always quick to transcend with his own formula in order to make an example of his own language.
One could just as soon posit a fascist Stirnerite. In fact, Il Duce himself was fond of Old Cantanker.
Certainly, Mussolini has no more nor less claim to Stirner’s philosophy than anarchists do. As a matter of fact, Stirner’s philosophy, though making an example of humanism and liberalism, do not deny them as possible properties to attain for the Unique.
What is denied, rather, is that any of these things can finally claim to subordinate the interest of the Unique. The answer, in each and every case, no matter the concept, no matter the ideology, no matter how sacred, is that there is nothing the Unique One cannot deny or accept on his own terms.
This would, naturally, have to include anarchism. Stirner’s philosophy certainly allows for anarchism, but anarchism is no more an inevitable conclusion of his philosophy than Anabaptist theology would be. In the language of the Unique, both are spooks until they become my property.
Nevertheless, anarchists have claimed Stirner’s philosophy as their own, as their property, which certainly falls within the possibility of that very philosophy. They can and have done with it as they like, as is their business, but nevertheless, one seldom sees them put their anarchism aside. It is a natural extension of their worldview. It is the default cosmic neutrality which they must ever honor with consistency and rigor if they are to be counted among their fellows, or if they are simply to maintain a sense of identity.
Stirner cannot be one of their prophets, one of their founders. He can be, at best, an inspiration. Keeping him within the domain of inspiration is precisely where he belongs, anyway, paradoxically, whether one falls for the spook of an ideology or not. For if one was not subordinate to an ideology but simply wanted to use it as one’s property, one would have to keep a philosophy which informs it subordinated to the realm of ‘my property’ as well (Stirner’s philosophy). On the other hand, if one is an anarchist first and a Stirnerite second, then one already commits to the position that Stirner is not complete without the cushion of ideology.
Ironically, just as Stirner’s work offers us a warning that we act from our self-interest even when we think we are acting in the service of some higher idea, turning his very philosophy into an ideology with a specific political trajectory (anarchism) ultimately creates the conditions for a new higher concept which ultimately serves to satiate one’s ego indirectly, that is to say, by appealing to the authority of another.