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+5 votes
I've seen Max Stirner name-dropped a fair amount, but I don't have a good grasp on how his ideas have influenced the contemporary anarchist milieu, particularly in regards to the issue of property.  Should his advocacy of 'the right of might' be understood as a statement of the only right to property that can tangibly exist, or as a statement of what is desirable? (or both/neither/am I missing the point?) And how have his ideas on property influenced contemporary anarchist writers?
by (6.3k points)

2 Answers

+4 votes
i lol at the people who know stuff but don't think they know enough.
i am one of them.
so i haven't read stirner, and the people who have read him the most say that no one else understands him. this makes it challenging to address this kind of question. but maybe if i answer this, other people will say "hunh, that's dumb. i can do better than that!"

the most interesting (to me) interpretation of stirner has to do with our lives being our own. i think that it's a weakness of english (and maybe german?) that it's hard to talk about these concepts without using property language, and my sense is that it's not property that he cares about, but the sense that we can choose how we interact with anything in our lives to make it work for us (work is another unfortunate word, here). things can be bad, but we can make them be good or at least better by choosing to interact with them in a way that makes us more who we want to be.

TL/DR: property is not the important thing about stirner's thought. it's a distracting word from what he really cared about, which is that we can control much more of our lives (or perceptions) than we usually realize.

that doesn't really answer the question of how it has influenced modern anarchy, but i'm not sure i would talk about modern anarchy anyway. i would say that there is a thread of egoist @ that relies entirely on stirner, and that mixes some with some insurrectionary anarchists and some nihilist anarchists, but not with all.
by (53.1k points)
i agree completely - language seems to get hugely in the way of understanding when the concepts get complicated. as i have always found with stirner and his translators/interpreters.

when i was a teen, a good friend turned me onto a book called "marx for beginners" (it was the first of that series i think). that book did a great job of explaining some fairly complex ideas using very approachable language and comic-like drawings. although i never became a marxist, it definitely planted the seeds of anti-capitalism that eventually became my anarchist perspective.

i would LOVE to see a similar approach to stirner and his ideas.  there must be some way to explain key stirner concepts (own-ness, property, etc) that actually makes sense to folks that cannot quite get the point when reading current translations - like me.

"the people who have read him the most say that no one else understands him"

indeed. seems a bit patronizing. anyone whose interpretation disagrees with their own interpretation is dismissed as either having completely misunderstood, or for consciously trying to mislead. maybe they are right, but i don't quite understand their basis for assuming they have a monopoly on accurate interpretation of something written > 150 years ago.
+4 votes
This is an interesting question, but i might be taking it in a bit of a different direction than you intended.

As regards to his use of property, the way he used it is rather important.  It does not strictly mean commodities or arbitrary designations of land, the way it is used in society, and reflected in most anarchist discourse, though it can include these things.  His use of property is much more general than that, and really comes to include all things, people, concepts, etc. that a person uses and interacts with.  It might seem a bit weird to talk about friends as property, but if you can get past this linguistic objection, there's some interesting stuff to be found.  Let me quote a little bit from Stirner, please excuse the length:

"World is only what he himself is not, is in a relationship with him, exists for him.
Everything turns around you; you are the center of the outer world and of the thought world.  Your world extends as far as your capacity, and what you grasp is your own simply because you grasp it.  You, the unique, are "the unique" <p><i>only together with "your property."</i></p>
Meanwhile, it doesnt escape you that what is yours is still itself <p><i>its<i/></p> own at the same time, i.e., it has its own existence, it is the unique the same as you.  At this point your forget yourself in sweet self-forgetfulness."
-p.63, Stirner's Critics

The paragraph following the last one I quoted is one of the most interesting that I've read by Stirner, but it's a bit off topic form this question so I'll continue.

Given this, and parsing through the language of his time, his concept of property is quite expansive and dynamic.  At first reading, and especially out of context, or in the case of this citation, without the last paragraph, it's a bit weird and incomplete.  Another thing is that I think a lot of people read Stirner, when he speaks about property, force, usage, etc., with what they see as an implied value or morality, but i think that is a huge mistake.  When he says, "Everything turns around you; you are the center of the outer world and of the thought world" I dont think he means "I am the best and most important thing to ever exist and the universe morally revolves around me and shows that I am of great value, but he's more just describing what it means to be a body in the world - that you don't experience the world as anyone else but yourself, your bodymind.  You are, quite literally, the center of your world.  

And so now the "right of might".  I think that the idea that Stirner is putting forth a morality based upon physical strength is kinda ridiculous, but maybe I got it all wrong.  I read this more as simply "Might Is."  This meaning that he's giving an answer to the question, "If we see someone take something, from another person or not, how do we make sense of it in a non-moral way?" - that is not to say that we cant dislike it or do nothing about it, but we refuse to say "that's wrong" in the moral, or even ethical, sense of the word, - a value system that we would wish to apply to society or the world, or even anyone else.  It is at the same time non-moral and non-relativistic (relativism implies that we cannot judge or act upon anyone in response to their actions because they have a different culture and value/moral form).

I would say his ideas about property have not been very influential to many anarchists besides egoists and nihilists.  His language I think has been just enough of a thing to point at and gasp in horror to discount him among most anarchists, that is, I think, because they understand at least generally that the corpus of his work is hostile to their programs or new moral forms, especially insidious are those who count themselves as anti-political but fail to break down moral and political forms and instead erect new ones.  So, instead of actually dealing with his work, his critics just throw out things like "might makes right" or "he only sees people as utilities" and there goes Stirner into the annals of history.

Let me know if this helps, or if other people have interpreted his writings in a different way.

Edit: I want to just add a little bit more about property.  Because Stirner's use of the word property is so much different than the conventional usage (marxist, or more generally economic) it's hard to really compare his usage to others, because although there is some overlap, in a lot of ways it is tackling a totally different concept.  It's not unrelated, but takes the original thinking about the idea of "ownership" in a totally different path than the "political-economy" one.  Where Marx went with the labor and commodity, Stirner went with the amoral/non-legal individual.  I hope I'm not making this seem more confusing, but I'm finding a hard time coming up with language that accurately and fully describes the ideas while being succinct
by (2.3k points)
edited by
what is the code for italics, im dumb