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Before Marcuse and Laing, before Heidegger and Sartre, even before Freud, the way was prepared for the anarcho-psychological critique of economic man, of all codes of ideology or absolute morality, and of scientific habits of mind. First published in 1974, this title traces this philosophical tradition to its roots in the nineteenth century, to the figures of Stirner, Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, and to their psychological demolition of the two alternative axes of social theory and practice, a critique which today reads more pertinently than ever, and remains unanswered. To understand this critiqu. Read more...
Abstract: Before Marcuse and Laing, before Heidegger and Sartre, even before Freud, the way was prepared for the anarcho-psychological critique of economic man, of all codes of ideology or absolute morality, and of scientific habits of mind. First published in 1974, this title traces this philosophical tradition to its roots in the nineteenth century, to the figures of Stirner, Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, and to their psychological demolition of the two alternative axes of social theory and practice, a critique which today reads more pertinently than ever, and remains unanswered. To understand this critiqu
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ROUTLEDGE LIBRARY EDITIONS:
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE

BREAK-OUT FROM THE CRYSTAL PALACE

BREAK-OUT FROM THE
CRYSTAL PALACE
The Anarcho-Psychological Critique: Stirner,
Nietzsche, Dostoevsky

JOHN CARROLL

Volume 1

LONDON AND NEW YORK

First published in 1974
This edition first published in 2010
by Routledge
2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN
Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge
270 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016
This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2011.
To purchase your own copy of this or any of
Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collection of thousands of eBooks
please go to www.eBookstore.tandf.co.uk.
Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business
© John Carroll 1974
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by
any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now
known or hereafter invented, including photocopying
and recording, or in any information storage or
retrieval system, without permission in writing from
the publishers.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the
British Library
ISBN 0-203-09267-8 Master e-book ISBN

ISBN 10:0-415-56149-3 (Set)
ISBN 10:0-415-56222-8 (Volume 1)
ISBN 10:0-203-09267-8 (ebook)
ISBN 13:978-0-415-56149-5 (Set)
ISBN 13:978-0-415-56222-5 (Volume 1)
ISBN 13:978-0-203-09267-5 (ebook)
Publisher’s Note
The publisher has gone to great lengths to ensure the
quality of this reprint but points out that some
imperfections in the original copies may be apparent. The
publisher has made every effort to trace copyright holders
and welcomes correspondence from those they have been
unable to contact.

Break-Out from the Crystal Palace
The anarcho-psychological critique:
Stirner, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky

John Carroll
Department of Sociology, La Trobe University, Australia

Routledge and Kegan Paul
London and Boston

First published in 1974
by Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd
B; roadway House, 68–74 Carter Lane,
London EC4V 5EL and
9 Park Street,
Boston, Mass. 02108, U.S.A.
This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2011.
To purchase your own copy of this or any of
Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collection of thousands of eBooks
please go to www.eBookstore.tandf.co.uk.
© John Carroll 1974
No part of this book may be reproduced in
any form without permission from the
publisher, except for the quotation of brief
passages in criticism
ISBN 0-203-09267-8 Master e-book ISBN

ISBN 0 7100 7750 5 (Print Edition)
Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 73–89193

For my parents

Contents

Acknowledgments
1
2

3

4

5

viii

Introduction: liberal-rationalism and the progress model
The critique of ideology
The origins of anarcho-psychology

1
12
12

The antichrist

14

The immoralist

22

The existentialist

31

The anarcho-individualist and social action

39

Stirner and Marx

49

Nietzsche

70

The critique of knowledge
The critique of absolute truth

82
82

The critique of empiricist, positivist truth

89

Irrationalism

96

Critique of Nietzsche’s theory of knowledge

99

The critique of homo economicus
Stirner’s redefinition of property

108
108

Dostoevsky’s critique of utilitarianism and socialism

117

Some notes towards a psychology of homo economicus

124

The critique of the undialectical progress model

133

Conclusion
Bibliography

137
143

Name Index

148

Acknowledgments

I am indebted to Nigel Eastman, Anthony Giddens, Robert Marks, Peter Steele, Werner
Pelz, Rainer Ruge, and John Hooper for various suggestions. This work was written as
a doctoral dissertation for the University of Cambridge; it would not have been possible
without the support of the Faculty of Economics and Politics. I owe my deepest gratitude,
however, to George Steiner, who was much more than an academic supervisor for me. The
entire project, from its initial formulation to its final detail, bears the stamp of his patient
criticism and encouragement, applied with a rare sensitivity to the vicissitudes which beset
the life and work of a research student.

1
Introduction: liberal-rationalism and the
progress model

1
This study stands primarily as an essay in morals. It is governed by Nietzsche’s contention
that the moral intentions of every philosophy constitute the real germ of life from which the
whole plant has grown. Hence, although the investigation broaches psychological, social,
political, and economic, as well as philosophical, problems, its driving thrust is towards
the question of ultimate values. At stake throughout the discussion is the question of how
men conceive of whether what they do is good or evil, and what this means. Attention is
focussed on the psychological role that their action, and in turn their evaluation of it, plays
for them personally. An essay in morals concerns itself with the quality of what men do,
with the metaphysical essence of human theories and practices. This study is at the same
time an excursion in intellectual or cultural history.
Three different intellectual traditions, each of which developed fundamentally during
the nineteenth century, have supplied contemporary Western civilization with its key social
images of man. These traditions have exerted in their different ways a decisive and enduring
influence on patterns of behaviour and social structure. First, there is the British, liberal,
utilitarian, rationalist social philosophy which sprouted from the roots of the school of
Political Economy, and provided the emerging industrial society with its guiding ideology.
Second, there is the Marxist socialist tradition. Third, there is the tradition with which this
study is centrally concerned, one whose principal interests are psychological and whose
political orientation is anarchist. The first two traditions are well known; the third has been
completely neglected by modern philosophers and intellectual historians alike.
This study will defend the proposition that what is referred to here as the ‘anarchopsychological tradition’ developed in Europe between 1840 and 1890 as an original
and coherent theory of human action. It prepared the way for Freud’s work, and for the
subsequent modern interest in inner ‘psychological man’. It also provided a theoretical
representation of the habits and values, although often unstated, of individualist types such
as the artist, the bohemian, l’homme de lettres, and the student. Finally, it played a crucial
role in the emergence of the existentialist tradition.1
We are faced from the outset with the methodological problem of what constitutes an
intellectual ‘tradition’. No problem would arise if it were possible to set down clearly
and distinctly a list of characteristics which define anarcho-psychology. Cultural history,
however, is amenable to such a strategy only at a futilely superficial level, an assertion
which this study as a whole will substantiate. What has been called ‘tradition’ is more
accurately termed ‘perspective’. The initial proposition states that a group of individual
thinkers developed a new perspective on man’s estate; they posed, largely independently
of each other, a series of questions which had not hitherto been considered; it is the radical
nature of anarcho-psychological questions which stakes out the ground common to its

2

Break-out from the Crystal Palace

theorists, and makes it worthy of investigation. These thinkers do not found a tradition in
the sense of an elaborated canon of principles which is then handed down and developed by
the next in line. (Moreover, this study is not especially concerned with questions of direct
influence of one theorist on another, or with the particular social or economic background
from which any of them came.)
A metaphor, allowing for generous poetic licence, illustrates the methodological strategy
to be followed. It is as if there were three dominant mountains in a perpetually cloudcovered range. The task is to map one of them by climbing it, and hopefully thereby get a
clearer impression of the range as a whole. In order to fix bearings it becomes necessary
to take sightings of the other two mountains from different perspectives during the ascent.
Most of the time, however, is absorbed in close examination of the terrain which is covered,
aided by comparisons with corresponding areas which become visible on the slopes of the
two alternative mountains.
Three organizing principles are employed in reconstructing the genesis and some of the
consequences of the anarcho-psychological perspective. First, the claim is made that before
Freud this perspective had three outstanding exponents: Max Stirner, Friedrich Nietzsche,
and Fyodor Dostoevsky, whose written works form the primary data of this study. Second,
as mentioned, anarcho-psychology is treated as one of three competing world-views. The
latter section of this first chapter is devoted to sketching the leading characteristics of the
first body of social theory, that which is termed ‘liberal-rationalism’ and identified with an
assumption of linear social progress and the utilitarian model of homo economicus. This
tradition has been referred to popularly in so many vague and indiscriminate ways that it
was felt necessary to spell out with some precision how it is understood here. Discussion
of the aspects of the Marxist socialist tradition which are germane to anarcho-psychology
fits naturally into the second chapter on ideology, where one section treats Marx’s lengthy
critique of Stirner. This section aims to clarify the issues which separate a radical anarchist
psychology from a radical socialist sociology.
Third, the study is divided into three main chapters, reflecting the distinctive lines of
critical anarcho-psychological argument which are levelled against existing patterns of
social and economic morality and behaviour. The three organizing principles conjoin. The
first anarcho-psychological argument, its critique of ideology, has as particular components
a critique of liberalism and a critique of socialism. The second argument, the critique of
knowledge, directs itself specifically against rationalist and empiricist assumptions. It also
traces the nature and plausibility of an irrationalist epistemology. The third argument, the
critique of homo economicus, sets itself in opposition to the materialism at the root of both
utilitarian and Marxist traditions.
Although this work bears the formal structure of an historical investigation, it is not
essentially concerned with the past for its own sake, for what really happened. It is history
only in the sense of Hegel’s reflection: ‘We have, in traversing the past—however extensive
its periods—only to do with what is present.’1 What must be stressed is that the work that
1

The claims of fascism and conservatism to be political philosophies significant in such a schematization are rejected on the grounds, firstly, that fascism in its full ramifications is no longer of central
social concern, and secondly, that conservatism too, for better or worse, plays at most a marginal
role in the political imagination of our time. Moreover, neither has been connected with the growth
of intellectual disciplines like sociology and psychology which cannot today be excluded from any
discussion of political ideas.

Introduction: Liberal-Rationalism and the Progress Model

3

follows is the issue of a need to illuminate the present, to penetrate, and thereby gain some
understanding of, a complex of social problems that are vitally contemporary. Although
there will be little overt reference to the present, the argument is loosed from its primary
context if one forgets that ultimately its thread unravels in an attempt, by the author, to
clarify his own image of redemption. Implicit here is the contention of Walter Benjamin,
in his theses on the philosophy of history, that our view of the past, which is the concern of
history, is indissolubly bound up with our image of redemption, and thereby our personal
image of happiness.2
There is no contradiction in writing an essay in morals in the form of an intellectual
history. The past is the only terrain open to us when we are in search of clues to our present,
for we are usually lost in our own time, being too absorbed in its infinite detail to gain
much perspective. The more we understand about the aspects of the past which interest
us the more adequately will they map the complexities of our own condition. Moreover,
investigating the past is a means of discovering the path along which we have travelled,
as a culture, as a society, and finally as individuals; this may help us to understand a little
better where we have arrived, that is, where we are now.
This account of the investigation that follows raises at once the problem of objectivity,
of what scientific status the work may claim. No historian can faithfully recreate the
past. Every attempt at writing history is conditioned by what Max Weber called ‘valuerelevance’: it cannot claim objectivity outside the bounds of the author’s specific cultural
orientations and some of his specific psychic dispositions.1 What this means is that the
range of objectivity is governed by the degree of truth contained in the assumption that I,
an intellectual historian, am forced to make, the assumption that I myself am so thoroughly
coloured, in my interests and perceptions, both by problems common to all men and by my
own time, that my driving concerns will be communicable and of general interest.
The investigation proceeds necessarily by simplifying and stylizing ‘reality’. Following
Kant and later Weber, the human scientist selects out of an infinity of possible perceptions
what is significant to him in a reality which is the effect of an infinity of determinant causes.
He accepts that description can never be exhaustive. And, while there is an objective reality
of verbally transmissible ideas, entities, and events, no study can be free of subjective
factors. It would not be possible in 1973 to present the thought, for example, of Max Stirner
with the precise inflexions that he intended in 1844. Indeed, what is presented is not Stirner
himself, but my reading of Stirner, with its own coherencies and its own stresses.
Nevertheless, historical propositions do provide objective orientations in a sense other
than that they are communicable at a certain time within a certain culture. For the historian
of ideas, original texts and information about the situation in which they were written and
received constitute a framework within which the propositions can be discussed. Some of
the propositions tendered here are open to falsification by empirical historical evidence.
1 Hegel: The Philosophy of History (from students’ lecture notes), trans. J.Sibree, 1956, p. 79.
2 Walter Benjamin: Illuminationen, 1961, pp. 268–9.
1 Max Weber: The Methodology of the Social Sciences, ed., 1949, pp. 76–85. These essays are taken
as read. It is not within the ambit of this study to take up the question of hermeneutics as it was
posed by Dilthey, nor to enter the debate on methodology which has been at the core of German philosophy and sociology since his time, and has continued into our own with the work of
Habermas. Let it suffice to add that this study is conceived of as belonging to the Geisteswissenschaften, as Dilthey defined the human or cultural sciences.

4

Break-out from the Crystal Palace

The study as a whole claims objectivity also in respecting the logical criteria of clarity,
consistency, and coherency within its own terms of reference. The difficult question is what
precisely are these terms of reference. The most an intellectual historian can achieve at this
point, once he has stated what seem to him to be his goals and his method of approaching
them, is to proceed self-critically, examining the presuppositions of his work as it evolves.
To facilitate this operation one chapter is devoted here to the anarcho-psychological critique
of knowledge; it attempts to clarify the terms of reference.

2
The progressive secularization of the religious quest for truth forms the mainstream which
governs the flow of all intellectual currents in Europe over the last three centuries. The
image of human redemption is recast so that traditional routes for spiritual pilgrimage
are transformed into a single path leading towards the goal of rationality. Rationality in
its most general terms simply signifies order, in the sense either of cognitive meaning or
of technical control over the human and the natural environment. Reason is many-sided:
the concept at the centre of Hegel’s philosophical system has little ostensibly in common
with the rationality presupposed by the hypothetico-deductive scientific model, and neither
may be relevant to the practical activities of a group of people trying to rationalize a social
structure in which they can live in tolerable harmony. But, in spite of the many-sided nature
of Reason, one only of its ministering traditions has held sway over the development of
modern Europe.
The intellectual achievements of the eighteenth century reflected an increasingly
pervasive concentration on the rationalistic model which gained its paradigmatic statement,
and celebrated its greatest triumph, in the field of Newtonian physics. In particular, the
Enlightenment movement in both France and Scotland sought to take the model outside the
bounds of the natural sciences and apply it to the general study of the human condition.
However, it was only late in the eighteenth century that the endeavour to embed social
theory in hypothetico-deductive methods became more than the enthusiastic gesture
typical of the French philosophes. It is significant that systematic social theory should have
first appeared in Britain, where the advanced state of both governmental and industrial
institutions provided an empirical basis for an economic theory incorporating progress
assumptions. Moreover, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1775) not only founded
economics as a science (the significance of the Physiocrats is slight, beside that of Smith),
but provided the example which inspired Bentham to extrapolate Newtonian methods into
other spheres of social investigation. This section is devoted to outlining the principal
ideas founding the world-view, here named ‘liberal-rationalism’, which grew out of the
application of the rational-empirical techniques of the natural sciences to the analysis of
man in society. Thereafter, the central concern of this study will be to examine a competing
social theory, one drawing on an alternative notion of rationality, one which, moreover, at
times repudiates Reason altogether.
The liberal-rationalist thesis finds its apogee in the works of Jeremy Bentham. Although
many of its prominent themes are traceable back to other eighteenth-century philosophers
such as Hume, Condillac, Helvétius, Priestley, Smith, and Condorcet, it was Bentham who
organized them and built them into a coherent, systematic body of theory—the utilitarian
ideology. The principal texts for the following summary of the tenets of liberal-rationalism

Introduction: Liberal-Rationalism and the Progress Model

5

are Bentham’s An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789) and
Elie Halévy’s study of the corpus of his work, its origins, and some of its influences—The
Growth of Philosophic Radicalism.
Virtually all of the implications of liberal-rationalism which will be examined in the
following chapters have their source in the type of rationalism which was fundamental to
Bentham’s purpose. His ambition, one which has infected all but few subsequent social
scientists, was to become the Newton of society and its problems—economic, social,
political, and legal. He wanted to establish morals as an exact science,1 to withdraw it
from the control of feeling and subject it to the rule of reason. The fantasy articulating this
ambition was that of man as l’homme machine, La Mettrie’s image (1748) of man reducible
through scientific investigation to determined conditions. By projecting this image as an
ideal into the future Bentham created the inspiration for economic planning, for ‘social
engineering’ as we know it today.
Care is necessary in elucidating Bentham’s principles so as to distinguish what he
discusses with the individual and what with society as the frame of reference. For Bentham
the individual is wholly egoistic, he seeks pleasure and he seeks to avoid pain.2 There is
no human morality except the one which identifies good with pleasure and evil with pain;1
morality is the act of being happy.2 Hence we arrive at the fulcrum of the system, the
principle of utility:3
That principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to
the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party
whose interest is in question. [‘Benefit’, ‘advantage’, ‘pleasure’, ‘good’, and ‘happiness’
are synonyms.]

To this point we have précis’d a simple and unambiguous, individualist philosophy of
hedonism or eudaemonism.
Bentham’s first intention in discussing the social body is his ubiquitous Newtonian one,
to quantify and to sum. Thus:4
The interest of the community is…the sum of the interests of the several members who
compose it.

For Halévy herein lies Bentham’s individualistic postulate; it complements his rationalistic
postulate.5 The basic unit of analysis is the individual; society is atomized, it is an aggregate
of individual members having no ontological reality of its own. Bentham would face no
problem here, where he moves from the one to the many, if he held to a ‘principle of fusion
of interests’ in community, whereby each individual feels sympathy for his neighbour’s
interest, or alternatively a ‘principle of natural identity of interests’, which postulates that
somehow individual egoisms harmonize and automatically bring out the common social
1
2
1
2
3
4
5

Elie Halévy: The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism, trans. Mary Morris. 1934, p. 12.
Jeremy Bentham: An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, 1907, ch. 2.
Bentham, op. cit., ch. 2, XIV–XIX.
Halévy, op. cit., p. 477.
Bentham, op. cit., ch. 1, II-III.
Ibid., ch. 1, IV.
Halévy, op. cit., p. 500.

6

Break-out from the Crystal Palace

good.6 However, holding to more Hobbesean beliefs he rejects these utopian assumptions
in favour of a ‘principle of the artificial identification of interests’, under which it becomes
necessary to have a legislator, and a means of sanctioning his laws, in order to enforce a
harmony of egoisms. Hence, through law, the private interest is brought into coincidence
with the public one. The legislator, whose sole function is to maximize the pleasure of
the society as a whole, applies the ‘pleasure-pain calculus’, a matrix into which are fed
numerical indices of the emotional significance of the individual’s response to any event
or series of events.7
A number of assumptions are necessary if pleasure and pain are to be quantified. The
first case of the rationalistic postulate is that each portion of wealth is connected with
a corresponding portion of happiness. This can be appropriately termed the economic
assumption: it is an axiom, if usually unstated, of economic theory since Adam Smith.
The second case of the postulate asserts that the individual is the best judge of his own
interest; in other words, in the sphere of the socio-economic he acts ‘rationally’—in his
own ‘real’ interest.1 This rationality in terms of the one self does not necessarily coincide
with societary rationality—the maximizing of pleasure for the many. Hence, the social
reformer, cognizant of both systems of rationality, draws them into harmony by means of
rational laws—rational again in the utilitarian sense, this time of minimizing pain.
In the specific area of economic behaviour Bentham avoids the problem of generalizing
from the one to the many by assuming, like Adam Smith, a principle of the natural identity
of interests.2 This principle, taken with the postulate of the self-determining individual,
establishes the philosophical basis for laissez-faire economics: when the individual is
aware of his own interest, which in turn harmonizes with the general social interest, then
the system is self-operating and needs no external control.
Although Bentham himself should not be placed too specifically within the laissezfaire framework, for he knew that it is rarely that egoisms will naturally harmonize, his
predominant ambition did remain to turn society by means of legislation into a predictable,
well-ordered economic system; he did, moreover, find the paradigm for legal and social
science in Adam Smith’s system of Political Economy. As a consequence we can pertinently
signify the object of his researches, the idealized goal of his reforms, as homo economicus.
The pleasure-pain principle founds a materialist doctrine; fulfilment is conceived of in terms
of economic sufficiency for all. It was inherent in the frame of mind which produced the
utility calculus, and in the working structure of that calculus itself, that the only parameter
on which it would operate was money.
In 1787, two years before the publication of Bentham’s principles, James Watt perfected
his steam engine. As the first man to apply technological principles concerning heat and

6
7
1

2

Ibid., pp. 13–15.
Bentham, op. cit., ch. 4.
Halévy, op. cit., p. 99. This postulate is allied to the more practicable formulation of the utility
principle, in terms of which pleasure and pain do not have to be strictly quantified: ‘Act so as
to ensure, as far as you can, that people get what they want, according to their own preferences’
(John Plamenatz: Man and Society, 1963, vol. 2, p. 12).
Halévy, op. cit., p. 149.

Introduction: Liberal-Rationalism and the Progress Model

7

mechanical energy to large-scale work problems he effectively bridged the gap between
Newtonian models and man’s practical struggle to control his environment. Although
Bentham may have seen the outlines of his social theory in Smith’s economic model, it
was the self-regulating machine, as it was being constructed and used for the first time,
which more closely embodied the image of his ideal society—one which would ‘work like
clockwork’. The hope that society, even man, would one day run like a well-lubricated
machine was to receive repeated analogical reinforcement from nineteenth-century
technological innovation. Technology did more than provide symbols for some of the
prominent intellectual concerns of the age, it invested them with added vigour and the
uniquely inspiring sense of pioneering a revolution of a significance unprecedented in
history. Thus the thermostat, patented in 1831, the invention which made possible the
control of temperature in now completely self-regulating processes, revealed symbolically
the ‘cybernetic’ role that legislation was intended to play in Bentham’s social system—a
pressure valve to be used as a last resort when the mechanism becomes overheated.1 The
patterns of contemporary ideology could not remain immune to the urgent, turbulent
forward-thrust engendered by technological, industrial progress.
If Bentham’s system could operate ideally there would be no ethical problem; through
legislation what ought to be the case would become what is the case, with both defined by
the principle of utility. However, this could not be, even in a rational-utilitarian universe, as
Bentham himself realized; it would be logically possible for the calculus, in being applied
to choose between alternative courses of action, to accord them equal quanta of happiness.2
Bentham supplies the ‘happiness enumeration principle’ for this eventuality, according to
which the happiness of the greater number of people is preferred to that of the lesser.3 But
utility theory cannot arbitrate in this manner; it cannot affirm or deny such a principle.
Bentham has been forced to introduce an extraneous moral judgment.
There is a second problem to which he also admits. Many situations in which Benthamite
legislation will be necessary are not amenable to pleasure and pain being quantified in
money terms—for example, aspects of crime and punishment. Bentham assumes that value
can somehow still be assessed, and indeed he devoted much of his energy to establishing
precise categories for this process of measurement. Nevertheless, he writes:4
It is not to be expected that this process should be strictly pursued previously to every moral
judgment, or to every legislative or juridical operation. It may, however, be always kept in
view.

Nothing characterizes the movement Bentham started, or the nature of the influence it was
to exert in other intellectual spheres, in politics, or in the development of economic theory,
1

2

3
4

The tendency, growing through the nineteenth century, for the social sciences to adopt the language of
the mechanical sciences finally infected even such a ‘non-economic’ discipline as psychoanalysis.
It is worth noting a striking technological analogue for the ‘utility calculus’. During the 1820s
Charles Babbage was developing the calculator/tabulator which would eventually make Bentham’s
calculus a real possibility; in 1834 he invented the principle of the analytical engine, the prototype
for the automatic computer of the twentieth century.
Halévy, op. cit., p. 501.
Bentham, op. cit., ch. 4, VI.

8

Break-out from the Crystal Palace

more than the sheer optimism with which the principles of science (here the definition
of precise categories within which to assess behaviour quantitatively) were applied to
social life. At its root this optimism was founded on an unassailable faith in the possibility
of human melioration and progress. The seminal statement of the progress thesis was
Condorcet’s L’Esquisse d’un tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit humain (1795).
Condorcet, influenced by earlier, more crude progress ideas such as those of Turgot,
developed Enlightenment optimism into a linear model of history. In his view barbaric,
savage, primitive society through the application of human reason over many centuries had
finally attained a state of civilization which was enlightened, free, and little burdened by
prejudice;1 civilization, moreover, would continue to be infinitely perfectible. Bentham’s
progress assumption is more specific; he believes that an expansion in knowledge, and
a greater sophistication in the tools for analysing social action, prepare the way for a
realizable increase in human happiness.2
Bentham’s utilitarianism was not explicitly a form of liberalism. Indeed his philosophy,
as Halévy has pointed out, is written for the restrictors of man’s liberty, for the legislators
and politicians.3 He did not seem convinced that liberty, as John Stuart Mill was
to conceive of it, represents a goal of human activity; if it is, then it is one very much
secondary to that of security.4 Liberty and happiness were not coextensive for Bentham.
Nevertheless, Mill’s treatise On Liberty (1859) articulated themes which had been implicit
in the utilitarian tradition from the beginning. Bentham had emphasized that laws reduce
liberty; moreover, while still pinning his argument to the framework of utility theory (in
this case with the implication that constraint immediately effects an increase of pain), he
deduced that legislation should be kept to a minimum.1 Implicit here is Mill’s assertion that
community encroachment in the sphere of action of the individual is warranted only when
that individual acts contrary to the interest of the community; liberty is thus characterized
as ‘freedom from’. Bentham is a liberal in principle in that he accepts man as he is, and
wants to help him be his own best judge; in practice he is far less liberal, for his calculus
and his social plans imply a paternalism antithetical to any libertarian ethic. Mill was more
sceptical than Bentham about the universal application of the utility principle, but not on

1
2

3
4
1

Condorcet: The Progress of the Human Mind, trans. June Barraclough, 1955, p. 173.
A view popularly held in English art circles in the first half of the nineteenth century (for example
by Charles Eastlake) was that the example of scientific progress could be carried into painting;
a new age in which paintings would not merely be different but would be greater than all their
predecessors had opened. (Even Hegel, in his lectures on aesthetics, denies the validity of such
comparative value judgments.)
Halévy, op. cit., p. 74.
Ibid., p. 84, and Gertrude Himmelfarb: Victorian Minds, 1968, p. 77
Bentham’s model prison, the Panopticon, was an authoritarian, hideously mechanical institution,
allowing no regard for the emotional—in particular, pleasure—needs of the prisoners; it clearly
contravened his principles. His personal ambitions have been shown to be incompatible with the
circumspect application of the pleasure-pain calculus (Himmelfarb, op. cit., ch. 2: ‘The Haunted
House of Jeremy Bentham’). In defining the liberal-rationalist tradition of ideas we are interested
only in its strongest formulation, and consequently bypass whatever aberrations it may have sustained, reserving judgment as to whether they are its necessary effects.

Introduction: Liberal-Rationalism and the Progress Model

9

the grounds of its inbuilt authoritarianism. Happiness for him was ‘much too complex and
indefinite an end to be sought except through the medium of various secondary ends’.2
But, as we noted, Bentham also had been forced to introduce ‘secondary ends’, or, more
correctly, extraneous moral laws, values set up in their own right.3 Mill’s principle of liberty
has this status: while it is reducible to the utility ethic, such reductionism undervalues the
moral force invested in it.4
Bentham believed that all social phenomena are reducible to laws: the laws of the
social world are explicable in terms of the ‘laws of human nature’.1 Here, particularly, the
English tradition of Philosophic Radicalism was echoed in the work of Auguste Comte.
Positivism also was established as the science of society, whose problems were seen as
being amenable to solution by Newtonian methods. Comte also drew on Condorcet’s
‘progress’ assumption, believing that his sociology, by comprehending society as a totality,
could be used to accelerate its progress. While the positivist criticized the utilitarian for
applying the deductive method to study something which was so complex that it could
be adequately grasped only by statistical techniques,2 his empiricism was rationalist in
our sense (that is, not strictly limiting the definition to analysis by means of the deductive
method). The positivist placed ultimate faith in man’s power of reason, and in the existence
of an underlying order in nature and society, which could be revealed by means of this
greatest of human faculties and its inductive applications.
One last important element was added to this tradition in 1859, the year of Mill’s On
Liberty and Darwin’s Origin of Species, in a book which at once encompassed the themes
of Philosophic Radicalism and summed them up—Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help. Smiles
reinforced Mill’s emphasis on individuality and self-culture, and developed the laissezfaire ethic by recounting the lives of men who through the virtues of perseverance, energy,

2
3

4

1
2

Mill on Bentham and Coleridge, ed. and intro. F.R.Leavis, 1967, p. 90.
Running parallel to the difficulties which the utilitarian tradition was finding over the ethical question
of ultimate ends—in essence, whether the utility principle was adequate to generate a total theory of
social action—was the thermodynamic debate. In 1874 Carnot had enunciated the principle of the
reversible cycle of heat flow which was eventually to make possible the internal combustion engine;
but, at the same time, he had laid the way for the second law of thermodynamics—the concept of
entropy. The old principle, that of the conservation of energy, had in effect answered the question of
whether human life would maintain itself, by postulating an equilibrating tendency in heat and energy
flow; it was now complemented by the gravely pessimistic view that heat is constantly dissipated, that
the universe is running down—the antithesis to the Darwinian optimism that the human race becomes
stronger through natural selection. This scientific pessimism was later to be mirrored in the social
philosophy of Nietzsche, Pareto, and Freud, in their profound doubts about the possibility of human
progress.
Mill records in his Autobiography how he moved away from the purely rationalistic utilitarianism
of his upbringing after his mental breakdown; he stresses the influence of his wife in his later writings, especially On Liberty, an influence which brought with it the balance of humanity and feeling
rather than reason.
Halévy, op. cit., p. 433.

10

Break-out from the Crystal Palace

thoroughness, honesty, thrift, self-reliance, and common sense—in short self-help—
achieved the economic and status goals they set themselves. Utilitarianism had found its
portrait gallery of heroes, inscribed with a vigorous exhortation to all men to strive in
their image; this philistine romanticism established the bourgeois hero-prototype—the
penniless office-boy who works his way to economic fortune and thus wins his way into the
mercantile plutocracy. Smiles’s pragmatic individualism, which is utilitarian in its ethos
(even culture must be useful),3 is balanced by an altruistic devotion to society, its welfare
and its progress.
E.P.Thompson writes: ‘Methodism and Utilitarianism, taken together, make up the
dominant ideology of the Industrial Revolution’.4 Smiles’s book is a definitive example of
the fusion of utilitarian philosophy and the Protestant ethic. Puritan strains underpin SelfHelp: man must find his lawful calling and work at it industriously,5 abiding in his leisure
time by the laws of thrift and self-restraint;6 time, in anticipation of F.W.Taylor’s ‘scientific
management’, must never be wasted.1 Although Smiles criticizes miserliness and praises
cheerfulness,2 he places such emphasis on perseverance as to devalue natural ability and
unmoralized passion; he is suspicious of genius and goes so far as to say with approval of
Joshua Reynolds: ‘He would not believe in what is called inspiration, but only in study and
labour’.3 Self-Help is a pungent exhortation to be moderate in all spheres but one, and there
to dedicate one’s energy wholesale to one’s chosen life-task or vocation.
Asa Briggs notes that few books have reflected the spirit of their age more faithfully
and successfully than Self-Help; it sold 20,000 copies in its first year, and about a quarter
of a million by the end of the century.4 Like Dr Andrew Ure’s advocatory philosophy of
the machine, the manufactured good, and the factory in his Philosophy of Manufactures
(1835), it is one of the key handbooks of industrial Britain on the rise.
I have chosen the appellation ‘liberal-rationalism’ for the complex of beliefs which have
been grouped together here. Whereas the ‘rationalist’ part is clearly justified, the objection
might be raised that ‘liberalism’, especially with regard to Bentham, is only a derivative
aspect of Philosophic Radicalism. However, individualism and laissez-faire (the latter at
least in economics) are foundation stones of utilitarian philosophy, and are as seminal to
Bentham as to the more pragmatically oriented Samuel Smiles. No single term encapsulates
these themes as neatly as Mill’s ‘liberalism’. Finally, the belief in progress depended
not only on the rationalistic assumption that socio-economic behaviour is amenable to
the scientific method, but also on a confidence in the resources of the individual, on the
assumption that he would flourish in a ‘liberal’ society in which there was a minimum of
legislative constraint—that he would progress and take the society as a whole with him.
3

4
5
6
1
2
3
4

Ibid., p. 496.
Samuel Smiles: Self-Help, 1968, p. 212.
E.P.Thompson: The Making of the English Working Class, 1968, p. 441.
Smiles, op. cit., p. 200.
Ibid., pp. 189–91.
Smiles, op. cit., p. 26.
Ibid., pp. 201, 241.
Ibid., p. 208.
Asa Briggs’s introduction to the 1959, centenary edition.

Introduction: Liberal-Rationalism and the Progress Model

11

To delimit this ideological tradition strictly according to the principle of utility would be to
blunt its philosophical significance; accordingly, the term ‘utilitarian’ is unstressed in our
derivation. Liberal-rationalism did attempt to cope with the problem created by the clash
of interests which occurs when the individual enters society; it did so by introducing a
second moral principle, one which in its most influential form was subsumed under Mill’s
concept of ‘liberty’.
Liberal-rationalism is a world-view founded on beliefs in rationality, utility, self-help,
and progress. It was the world-view that cradled nineteenth-century industrialization,
certainly in Britain; out of it came the dynamic concepts through which the ambitions
of the age were focussed—productive force and efficiency, rendement and Triebkraft.1 It
converted undirected, polymorphous activity into purposive action, and thereby invested
the utilization of physical and human resources in industry with new energy. In retrospect,
moreover, it rationalized this transformation as a realization of progress for the whole of
mankind.
Although the anarcho-psychologists developed as individuals and philosophers in cultures
essentially different from Britain in its early stages of industrialization, they all abstracted
virtually the same ideology as the primary target for their attack on the consciousness of
their own time. This ideology, in its most coherent and trenchant form, was the one pieced
together here as liberal-rationalism: it summed up what, in addition to socialist tenets, was
crucially anathema to their multiplex vision of human dignity. The anarcho-psychologists
were not closely acquainted with many of its founding statements (Stirner, the only one to
read English, knew the work of Adam Smith; Nietzsche refers to Comte and Mill about a
dozen times each in his writings, but never at length,2 and he mentions Bentham once; both
Nietzsche and Dostoevsky refer briefly to Herbert Spencer). Nevertheless, they gleaned
its substance from their diverse reading, from what was commonly ‘in the air’ at the time,
from similar standpoints and attitudes held within their own cultural traditions, and, most
significantly, from what they observed as the advance of industrial civilization and its
root idiom. Dostoevsky, for example, was probably not acquainted directly with the work
of anyone specifically mentioned in this section apart from John Stuart Mill and yet he
singled out utilitarianism, scientific determinism, rationalism, and the progress thesis with
devastating insight. Finally, liberal-rationalism became for the anarcho-psychologists the
ominous scaffolding of the establishing order in European society. One of the tasks of this
study is to demonstrate how they used this theoretical tradition as a dialectical opposite
against which to develop their own ideas.

In spite of many necessary parallels, the industrialization of France and Germany took place under
significantly different socio-political conditions.
2
Nietzsche did, however, possess five volumes from Mill’s Werke, which he heavily pencil-marked
1

2
The critique of ideology

The origins of anarcho-psychology
The intellectual historian must set buoys to mark the flood and ebb of particular tides
which run in the ocean of human history. He contributes to man’s understanding of himself
and his social experience by paying the high price of having to accept an intrusive degree
of simplification, even arbitrariness, in his work. Noting that October 1844 stands out
as the inaugural month for anarcho-psychology provides us with a convenient point of
orientation.
It was in this month of 1844 that the first copies of Der Einzige und sein Eigentum
were, most probably, distributed in Berlin. Even the Young Hegelian friends of its 38-yearold schoolmaster author, the shy, retiring Max Stirner, were staggered by what had been
clandestinely written within their midst.1 In the same month, about one hundred miles to
the south, in a small village not far from Leipzig, Friedrich Nietzsche was born.
Anarcho-psychology necessarily had progenitors. Key passages in the work of both
Stirner and Dostoevsky echo Christ’s parables. All of the anarcho-psychologists were to
share the debt that Freud confessed, to the poets of many ages and many cultures. Stirner
and Nietzsche, in this regard, owe much to Goethe. There is a debt to thinkers of quite
different intellectual dispositions; in the case of Stirner, to Hegel and Feuerbach, in the
case of Nietzsche, to Schopenhauer. Strains of a sometimes similar type of psychological
anarchism are to be found in the writings of Charles Fourier. Finally, there is one case of
remarkable anticipation. The placing of William Blake as an Einzelgänger, a man apart
from his time, is supported by the fact of his wide-ranging and intimate kinship with the
figures central to this study, none of whom were acquainted with his work.1
It has been orthodox among intellectual historians, and indeed among a number of
anarchist theoreticians themselves, to regard Stirner as one of the seminal writers in what
is conceived of as the anarchist tradition. He is credited as the father of ‘individualist
anarchism’, as distinct from the ‘mutualism’ of Proudhon, Bakunin’s ‘anarcho-communism’,

1

1

A biography of Max Stirner, an account of the influence that his work has had since 1844, and a
brief assessment of its importance are included in my introduction to Max Stirner: The Ego and
His Own (sel. and intro. John Carroll, 1971). References to Stirner will be either to this edition,
denoted henceforth as Ego, or, in a few cases, to the complete 1912 edition (trans. S.T.Byington),
Ego (1912); See note on p. 178, below.
Nietzsche would have had to qualify his acerbic, dismissive comments on the English and their
psychological obtuseness if he had known Blake’s work. It is André Gide who will establish a
Blake-Dostoevsky-Nietzsche tradition.

The Critique of Ideology 13
or the ‘anarcho-syndicalism’ which has been attributed to Tolstoy and Gandhi.2 His
unrelenting attacks on the structures of social authority, on the State, on political parties,
on educational institutions, place him, as a theorist, unambiguously with the anarchists on
the political spectrum.
What has not been recognized is that Stirner initiates the method of psychological
thinking which has usually been attributed to Nietzsche, the method to be developed most
fully and systematically by Freud. His work has retained its freshness and trenchancy
through time primarily because its radical political analysis is grounded in psychology.
His best aphorisms bear that pungency which Nietzsche was to make his signature, an
incisiveness which marks the accuracy of their probe into the sensitive tissue at the nucleus
of human motivation. The locus of Stirner’s interest is the individual psyche; he investigates
the effects on this psyche of some of the ways men choose in their social context to pattern
their behaviour, and of the manner in which they then conceive of themselves. Der Einzige
is a psychological philosophy of the growth of ego, of self-realization, and as such shares
features with the Bildungsroman. Through its sustained, cyclically progressing monologue,
meditating the vicissitudes of the unique individual, it develops an inner logic akin to that
which endows the novels of character individuation with their fundamental coherence.
Stirner’s psychological anarchism suggests that attachment to ideological and institutional
structures of political authority reflects attachment to deeper and more general frames of
authority. There is implicit anticipation of the notion of the ‘authoritarian personality’.This
perspective indicts as merely ideological those branches of anarchism, and indeed of all
political theory, which fail to take account of the psychology of the need for authority—
its unconscious origins, the nature of the individual’s relationship to particular orders of
dominance. These ideologies operate exclusively in an abstract realm of ideas; they do
not come to grips with social and psychological reality. Stirner’s pursuit of psychological
explanation provides anarchism with a wider rubric.
The deeper and more general frames of authority which constitute the focus of Stirner’s
social critique can be meaningfully collected under the heading of ideology. We define
ideology as any system of ideas about human behaviour and social life, containing its own
moral imperatives, and held in some sense to communicate absolute truth. Throughout our
discussion the term will be used pejoratively: ideology bears, finally, the characteristic
of abstraction, of masking rather than illuminating reality. Marx viewed ideology as
philosophy failed, philosophy detached from the concrete material relationships of
society: political ideas not grounded historio-sociologically. The anarcho-psychologists
select ideology for critique for the contrasting reason that it fails to mediate the domain
of the individual’s self-enjoyment and his self-realization. The first standpoint explicates
ideology as socially determined, the second as psychologically determined: both accuse it
of remaining oblivious to its own determinations. We devote a section later in this chapter
to the conflicting attitudes of Stirner and Marx to ideology.
The works of both Stirner and Nietzsche develop as a critique of existing patterns of
human thought and behaviour; their driving ambition is to provide the key to a revalued
world. The critique operates on the ideological veneers which distort human communication,
2

George Woodcock: Anarchism, 1963, pp. 17–19. These brief general remarks on Stirner’s anarchism are elaborated in the Introduction to Ego; important texts are referenced in its bibliogra-

14

Break-out from the Crystal Palace

which inhibit individual fulfilment and enjoyment, and thereby preclude self-realization.
It is directed at the unconscious causes of the attachment to religious, moral, and political
ideologies, and the effects of the resulting self-deceptions. In its own way, taking ideology
as the primal and generative structure of authority, it is profoundly anarchist; it sets itself
the task of demolishing what it sees as the most powerful ideologies of its own period in
history.
The first distinctive anarcho-psychological argument, the critique of ideology,
is developed by Stirner and re-echoed, in part amplified, by Nietzsche. This study
concentrates on Stirner on the grounds that his work precedes that of Nietzsche and has
been curiously neglected in the subsequent history of European thought. Some sense of the
remarkable degree to which there is anticipation will be conveyed by footnoting passages
from Nietzsche germane to the text proper. A concluding section discusses the advances
Nietzsche makes on the critique he takes up.

The antichrist
Both Stirner and Nietzsche chose Christianity as the first specific target in their critique of
ideology. They represented the Christian religion and its moral imperatives as the ideology
which had exerted the dominant influence over the long cultural development of Western
society, and even over their own time. There was no more vivid example of the power that
a body of ideas could generate and command.
We introduce the general critique of ideology through the specific case of Christianity,
and Stirner’s analysis of its psychological origins in the individual personality. Nietzsche’s
assault on Christianity is at most of its key points identical. To play the opening moves of
one’s philosophy as a gambit against Christianity in the 1840s was to follow the tradition of
the radical neo-Hegelians of the period.1 For that matter Hegel, who left his views on religion
in a highly ambiguous state, had oriented much of his early writing around reinterpreting
the Gospels.2 David Friedrich Strauss took the initiative in the secular critique of the New
Testament with his Das Leben Jesu, a book appearing in 1835, which is best described as
humanizing Christ.3 Strauss developed two major themes: that myth played a significant
role in the Gospels, and that not only Jesus but all mankind embodies the union of human
and divine nature. Bruno Bauer followed with his Posaune des jungsten Gerichts über
Hegel den Atheisten und Antichristen. Ein Ultimatum (1841) and, most influentially, his
three-volume Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker (1841–2). Bauer, with
painstaking and often pedantic logic, denied the historicity as well as the divinity of Christ,
and ascribed to the Gospels the status of any other mythology—philosophy rather than
history.4
1
2
3

4

E.g., William J.Brazill: The Young Hegelians, 1970, ch. 1.
Walter Kaufmann: Hegel, 1966, ss. 8–10.
Sidney Hook: From Hegel to Marx, 1950, pp. 82–7.
David McLellan: The Young Hegelians and Karl Marx, 1969, pp. 1–4, and Brazill, op. cit., ch. 3.
Hook, op. cit., pp. 89–97; Brazill, op. cit., pp. 186–92. The prolific Bauer published a spate of books
in the next two years on associated themes: Die gute Sache der Freiheit (1842), Die Judenfrage
(1843), and Das entdeckte Christentum (1843), the last of which McLellan refers to as ‘probably the
most violent attack ever launched on Christianity’ (McLellan, op. cit., p. 33).

The Critique of Ideology 15
The rising wave of speculative impiety was not to go unchecked for long. In February
1841, the king called the aged Schelling to Berlin to rout out, in his own words, ‘the
dragon-seed of Hegelianism’, and to restore the intellectual authority of the church5 (it was
a shrewd choice, for Schelling had borne no little rancour against the Hegelian tradition
ever since its ideas had eclipsed the popularity of his own philosophical system, many years
earlier). The first lectures were given in November on ‘The Philosophy of Revelation’, and
an enthusiastic audience included Engels, Bakunin, Turgenev, and Kierkegaard. But in
spite of the king’s efforts an event of great importance not only for radical theology, but
for the future of all critical social thought, had occurred in April of the same year, 1841:
Ludwig Feuerbach had published his Das Wesen des Christentums. It is necessary to give a
brief sketch of his breakthrough as his ideas form the most significant post-Hegel influence
on Stirner.1
Feuerbach follows Hegel in reinterpreting Rousseau’s notion of alienation. He applies
it to the sphere of religion, in which he sees man abdicating his own powers and qualities,
and transposing or displacing them, and thus his essential self, on to an independent,
ineffable god beyond the world of the human. Religion, like speculative philosophy, he
argues, makes the divinity primary—the subject—and predicates the qualities of man as
its attributes.2 It makes ‘real beings and things into arbitrary signs, vehicles, symbols, or
predicates of a distinct, transcendent, absolute, i.e. abstract being’.3 Thus ‘God is love’ is a
theology in which man, an insignificant particular, face to face with the universe, is attached
to the abstract predicate, love, and is impoverished and limited before the absolute, God.
In Feuerbach’s words:4
Man—this is the mystery of religion—projects his being into objectivity, and then again
makes himself an object to this projected image of himself thus converted into a subject.

Thus, in a crisis (in fact vacuum) of identity man seeks an invincible alter ego in God.
Man himself, Feuerbach continues, should be the criterion of truth; but this man cannot
be known through the intellect, for empirical existence is proved by the senses alone.5
Here are the first soundings for the subsequent turn against idealism; Feuerbach hints,
in his references to the senses and to a posteriori understanding, at an inadequacy in the
hegemony of Reason. However, he failed to pursue this line, and in the main his attack on

5
1

2
3
4

McLellan, op. cit., p. 27.
It is not our intention to pursue in any detail Stirner’s intellectual roots, except where evaluation of
major strands of his thought might gain thereby. The only important study of the development of
Stirner’s philosophy, Henri Arvon’s Aux Sources de l’existentialisme: Max Stirner, 1954, gives a
thorough account of his indebtedness to his German contemporaries, the Young Hegelians (earlier
studies suffer from lack of available information about the period). Brazill, also, in his detailed
study of the development of Young Hegelian thought, gives a clear impression of how much Stirner borrowed. Moreover, much has been written in recent years about this group, from the point of
view of its influence on Marx.
Ludwig Feuerbach: The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot, 1957, p. 21.
Ibid., p. xi.
Ibid., p. 29.

16

Break-out from the Crystal Palace

religion is conducted on an idealist level—shuffling concepts. It is the idealist Feuerbach,
who simply swaps religion into another part of the equation, whom Stirner is to reject—
Stirner denies the equation in itself.
The highest essence of man is found in the three qualities, will, love, and thought, all
of which can suffuse him with their infinitude, and produce the state of total awe of which
Feuerbach approves as the real religious experience. God is now the divineness of the
attribute. Thus the subject, God, is determined by the predicate—justice, love, or whichever
quality is the essence of the moment—and its rank must be accorded to this predicate
and not to the subject; subject and predicate are transformed into each other. Feuerbach
transforms man into the subject of all equations and appropriates the concept ‘God’ to
describe the feeling of infinite freedom sparked by the union of subject and predicate;
when man is in love, love becomes man. The subject has become the ‘personified existing
predicate, the predicate conceived as existing. Subject and predicate are distinguished only
as existence and essence.’1 Feuerbach makes man the centre of his universe and he makes
his divine experiences, especially those located in interpersonal relationships, the centre
of his humanity. In his work theology becomes anthropology, a secularization of thought
which prepares the way for Marx’s materialist and Stirner and Nietzsche’s psychological
attack on metaphysics.
Stirner develops Feuerbach’s theological framework into a general theory of alienation.
He paraphrases the argument he takes up with the assertion that was later to be widely
attributed to Nietzsche: God is dead.2 It was God not only in the specifically religious
sense, but as a metaphor for any value existing beyond the power of the individual, who had
become obsolete. In particular, Stirner singles out the liberal humanist ideal, the universal
human essence, ‘Man’, as the increasingly dominant substitute for the Christian illusion.
Feuerbach, the philosopher of the new humanism, had not progressed beyond religious
thinking: for Stirner he was the last prophet working within the crumbling Christian tradition.
Stirner himself claims to face forward at the frontier of the post-Christian world.
We consider first the stage of Stirner’s critique of Christianity which he derives from
Feuerbach. At the core of religion is a divided self, longing for what is conceived of as the
‘ideal life’,3 but forced to live in a present which provides inadequate satisfactions. The
Christian chases after an image of himself which is invariably elsewhere, and which, he is
convinced, would be the incarnation of the true and the good life if he could realize it. He
exists at a distance from engaged living, hoping that in death he might, in Stirner’s words,
‘rise again’.1 The consequence is that the religious person, whom Stirner rarely distinguishes
from the Christian, devotes himself to spiritual affairs, and chooses an ethereal vocation
ratified by the supreme ‘fixed idea’, God. The more he does this the more he finds his other
self, his concrete self here-and-now, confronted with narrowed horizons.
Stirner passes beyond Feuerbach in his insistence that not only is the God of religion
a projection of man’s alienated self, but so is every ideal, every cause, every ‘fixed idea’,
for they all entice men into following a spook which is neither of their creation nor within
1
2
3
1

Feuerbach, op. cit., p. 19.
Ego, p. 109. In fact, both Jean Paul and Hegel had already used the expression.
Ibid., pp. 224–6.
Ego, p. 225.

The Critique of Ideology 17
their power. Occupying the central place in this ‘realm of essences, spooks, and ghosts’2
are the moral principles which have derived from Christianity, in particular their guiding
axis—love. The equation ‘God is love’ expresses concern only for the general essence of
humanity; it is another abstraction which devalues the uniqueness of the individual by
matching him against an ideal. Stirner responds: ‘He who is infatuated with Man leaves
persons out of account’.3 Love has become a force superseding the individual’s desires;
Feuerbach’s conception of love abstracts, and hence alienates, the individual from the
loved object.4
Stirner has turned Feuerbach’s argument back against itself. He expands the domain of
the religious to include abstract idealism of the type represented by Feuerbach’s humanism.
Whether the ideal is specifically Christian or not it serves the same psychological function
for the individual. Stirner continues his critique of Feuerbach by defining the religious
man as he who puts his essence above himself.5 In fact, and this has not been recognized,
Stirner spells out in numerous examples the axiom which was to become the lynchpin of
existentialist philosophy, epigrammed from Heidegger’s work by Sartre: existence precedes
essence.6 Stirner illustrates how the individual ego, whose ontological ground is simply the
self-reflection that it itself exists, is fettered as soon as it subordinates itself to qualities or
essences. By conceiving of himself as a Christian, or a pious man, or a compassionate man,
the individual forces himself into conformity with the socially determined image of what
it means to be Christian, or a pious, compassionate man. An essence in this sense gains
meaning only as a common characteristic within a social group; it is significant only as a
social generality. That is, if an essence could be purely individual it could not at the same
time be communicable. Here in the critique of religion are the roots of Stirner’s notably
existentialist subjectivism.
Some of the consequences of Christian ‘love’ are detailed in Der Einzige. He who is
possessed by love ‘persecutes with dull mercilessness the individual, the real man, under
the phlegmatic title of measures against the “unman”’.1 One of Stirner’s implications is
that it has not been the aggression of individuals that has been responsible for the great
atrocities which have marked Western history. Rather it has been groups, moved to fervour
by ideals, acting ‘for God’s sake’ in the manner of the Spanish Inquisition, that have
selected out other groups as being subhuman and persecuted them. Nietzsche puts the
point more generally: ‘Madness is rare in individuals—but in groups, parties, nations, and
ages it is the rule’.2

2
3

4
5
6
1

2

Ibid., p. 56.
Ibid., p. 83. Cf. Nietzsche: ‘The individual [einzelne] hides himself in the general concept “man”’.
(Morgenröte 26—the system used in this study to reference the writings of Nietzsche, Dostoevsky,
and Freud is explained in the opening section of the Bibliography, p. 178–9 below.)
Ego, p. 203.
Ibid., pp. 51–3.
Jean-Paul Sartre: Being and Nothingness, 1969, p. 438.
Ego, p. 196. Cf. Nietzsche’s extensive analysis of rancour and revenge; e.g. ‘How much cruelty
and animal torture has come out of those religions which have invented sin’ (Morgenröte 53).
Jenseits 156.

18

Break-out from the Crystal Palace

Stirner is more concerned with the general question of the nature of idealism than the
commonplace that any idealistic human group is prone to contradictions between the
pledging of its ethical canon and its concrete actions. Similarly, a rationalist Voltairean
critique of religion, such as Bertrand Russell mounts in Why I am not a Christian, and
such as would have been consistent with Bentham’s position, does not interest him. While
agreeing that there is no ‘reason’ for believing in ‘ghosts’, he would add that this, rather
than explaining much about the religious phenomenon, suggests that more penetrating
questions should be directed at the notion of ‘reason’ and the role it plays in human
consciousness and behaviour. His own interest is directed at the hitherto unapproached
question of motivation: what is religion’s psychological function? Stirner was puzzled
by the fanaticism with which men embrace Christianity, the degree to which they could
subjugate their own individualities to its tenets. He was convinced, moreover, that the
Christian religion had become a sickness which, rather than helping man to live, had cut
him off from the possibility of the ‘good life’. Stirner’s psychological approach takes the
individual psyche as the only coherent and meaningful unit of analysis; economic and
social action is significant only in terms of its interchange with this psyche, how it confirms
or threatens it. Thus the external world is differentiated according to whether it generates
ego-enhancing or ego-degrading forces. Stirner sets himself the task, convinced in this
analytic context that human affection founded on enjoyment is viable, of showing that to
cast off the religious chains need not lead to a state of anxious anomie.
Stirner typifies the religious nature as residing in the ‘cleric’. The cleric is afraid that the
flesh and its worldly lusts might gain mastery over him, so he suppresses them, glorifies
the spirit, and devotes himself to good causes.1 His life is regulated and judged in terms of
God, the idealist’s projection of the sinless, perfectly selfless man. Like all great caricatures,
Stirner’s cleric becomes a universal character-type on closer acquaintance; Christianity, in
this critique, is a paradigm for all moral and religious bodies of doctrine; the problems that
confront its priests and the means they employ to cope with them are particular forms of the
general problems which face men when they are orienting themselves to ideals and to values.
Nietzsche was to choose the same character-type (asketische Priester) for the central role in
his Zur Genealogie der Moral: he identified the development of contemporary decadence
with the historical figure of the priest. Julien Benda was to title a highly influential book La
Trahison des clercs (1927): he argued that the hitherto aristocratic, free-willed and strongprincipled intellectual had degenerated into the clerk/cleric.
‘Religion must be ethics, ethics alone is religion.’2 From a net of moral sanctity all
relationships bound by Christian love and friendship gain their sustenance. Stirner analyses
the principle of love as a defence against the forbidding dominance of the world. A particular
feeling is assumed, preconceived, very much in the style of a prejudice; experience, and
tolerance, are cripplingly narrowed in the determination to follow that idea in all its purity,
to posit the idealized feeling as a security against the hostile environment. And as life
becomes less and less inherently enjoyable, as morality saps its spontaneity, as it succumbs

1
2

Ego, p. 80 among many references.
Ego (1912), p. 74.

The Critique of Ideology 19
to the sway of preconceived ideas, the flight to religion becomes the more necessary.
Stirner describes the process, to borrow Freudian terms, of the superego replacing the id as
the dominant psychic function. We note the key passage:3
Henceforth man no longer, in typical cases, shudders at ghosts outside him, but at himself;
he is terrified at himself. In the depth of his breast dwells the spirit of sin.

Here is an anticipation of what psychoanalysis was to detail as the combined process of
identification and introjection. The association of Stirner’s work with the Freudian theory
of repression receives another one of many reinforcements in a characterization it makes
of the final victory of the religious mind. It has occurred when the subject can say:1 ‘The
ugly—for example—makes a repulsive impression on me; but, determined to love, I master
this impression as I do every antipathy.’ Religion thus redefines love, originally a feeling
state, as a moral concept. Spiritual life is sterilely intellectual; it no longer ‘draws any
nourishment from nature’.2
Stirner regards ‘discontent with the present man’ as the fertile breeding ground for
religion.3 This debilitated state of being, in which sensuality is inhibited by a strong-willed
piety, is further consolidated by feelings of guilt:4
But the habit of the religious way of thinking has biased our mind so grievously that we are—
terrified at ourselves in our nakedness and naturalness; it has degraded us so that we dream
ourselves depraved by nature, born devils… The Christian is nothing but a sensual man who,
knowing of the sacred and being conscious that he violates it, sees in himself a poor sinner;
sensuality, recognized as ‘sinfulness’, is Christian consciousness, is the Christian himself.

The religious vicious circle is constituted. Anxiety promotes self-abnegation, which, in
turn, aggravates the comparison with the dogmatic ideal of man and God; this sustains
deeper feelings of guilt and inadequacy and further intensifies the remoteness of the ideal.
It is no coincidence, adds Stirner, that nearly all the great works of mind (Geist) were
created by Protestants—the renunciators of the sensual.5 Christianity has substituted ideals
and concepts for sensual experience.
Stirner distinguishes between individual moral beliefs, which are relatively easy to
overthrow, and the generalized force behind them—morality.6 Morality is taken in two
senses, as the bad conscience itself, the watchdog of mind, and as the energy, the fanatical

3
1
2
3

4
5

6

Ego, p. 57. This, in embryo, is Nietzsche’s derivation of the ‘bad conscience’ (Genealogie II:16).
Ego, p. 204.
Ego (1912), p. 25.
So did Nietzsche, in particular in his analysis of reactive emotion and the slave morality (e.g. Genealogie I:x).
Ego, p. 116; Ego (1912), p. 417. These themes were to become essential to Nietzsche.
Ego, p. 87. Cf. Nietzsche: ‘If one tethers one’s heart severely and imprisons it, one can give one’s
spirit many liberties’ (Jenseits 87), and: ‘The Protestant parson is the grandfather of German philosophy’ (Antichrist 10).
Ego, p. 85.

20

Break-out from the Crystal Palace

zeal, which informs it.7 Consciousness and conscience are closely related; the cleric is
driven to believe in sacred things, to hold to religious concepts, because his conscience
would be unbearable were there no positive goals for him to strive towards.1 In the end the
Christian love-morality produces the Christian proposition that the world is vacuous; the
cleric’s defence against incipient nihilism, against the ‘Christian contempt of the world’, is
the ‘sacred duty’ he has created for himself and to which he has put himself in bondage.2
Stirner here suggests a Nietzschean theme which we will later take up: that the last phase of
intense religious moralizing is concomitant with the rise of nihilism, that both are symptoms
of the same cultural malaise.
Stirner argues that the religious mind copes with anxiety by converting it into ‘sacred
dread’ of the higher being. In effect original sin, the mythological cloak for anxiety, can
thus be expiated in worship and self-abnegation. The vague fears which unbalance man
are thereby explained away as the just punishment for his sinful nature; at the same time
the floating energy which funds the anxiety linked with these fears is transformed into
reverence and honour for the invulnerably divine arbiter, God. Thus anxiety is the catalyst
in the growth of virtue and holiness.3
Stirner lampoons the Christian commandments: the ‘heartlessness’ of the adulterer,
for example, is that he has no feeling for the sacred institution of marriage.4 Christian
enthusiasm and warm-heartedness are not for the person, but for the law and the institution.5
The morality itself is loved, not the experience which it presupposed. Friendship, marriage,
property, indeed all relations between men, become sacred in and of themselves. He

7

1
2

3

4
5

He identifies bad conscience with the weapon of morality in his 1843 article, ‘Einiges Vorläufige
vom Liebesstaat’ (republished in Max Stirner: Kleinere Schriften, 1914, p. 272).
Ego, p. 85.
Ibid., pp. 86–8. For Nietzsche, one of the two worst contagions carried by the ascetic priest is his
‘great nausea at man’, his disgust and contempt for human life (Genealogie III:14); ‘the will to
self-maltreatment provided the conditions for the value of the unegoistic’ (Genealogie II:18).
Ego, pp. 77–8. Stirner’s attack on Christianity reads as an uncannily accurate anticipation of Nietzsche, especially on considering the originality and sophistication of the psychology involved. The
point is strikingly illustrated in Nietzsche’s assessment of his own work in the last chapter of his
last book, Ecce Homo:
Have I been understood?—What defines me, what sets me apart from the whole rest of humanity
is that I uncovered Christian morality… [On Christian morality] That one taught men to despise
the very first instincts of life; that one mendaciously invented a ‘soul’, a ‘spirit’ to ruin the body;
that one taught men to experience the presupposition of life, sexuality, as something unclean; that
one looks for the evil principle in what is most profoundly necessary for growth, in severe selflove (this very word constitutes slander); that conversely one regards the typical signs of decline
and contradiction of the instincts, the ‘selfless’, the loss of a centre of gravity, ‘depersonalization’
and ‘neighbour love’ (addiction to the neighbour) as the higher value—what am I saying?—the
absolute value!… The only morality that has been taught so far, that of unselfing, reveals a will to
the end; fundamentally, it negates life.
Ego, pp. 135–6.
Like many of Christianity’s critics, and in particular Nietzsche, Stirner does not attack the figure of
Christ, but his Church, and its religiosity—see my footnote to p. 221 of Ego.

The Critique of Ideology 21
sums up his own disgust at Christianity’s ubiquitous hold—while the whole world is still
haunted, he affirms with a crafty pun: ‘one free grisette against a housand virgins grown
grey in virtue!’1
Stirner’s critique of Christianity is, at one level, of keen contemporary interest; at another
it is antiquated. In so far as Christianity does provide a prototype for ideology in general,
the analysis endures, as it does in the particular case of humanist idealism. Later we shall
support Nietzsche’s contention that residues of Christian morality pervade socialist and
positivist systems. Stirner and Nietzsche both locate the essence of Christianity in the
clerical type: the cautious, calculating, rigid moralist who is devoted to ideals, principles,
concepts, and numbers, but not to individual people. In our fourth chapter we will discuss
anarcho-psychology’s discovery of the secular embodiment of this type in Benthamite,
utilitarian homo economicus.
What is most impressively radical about Stirner’s method, given his time, is that he
grounds his egoism psychologically. He inaugurates the reconstitution of philosophical
debate as Nietzsche was to further it. He does not address himself to the religious question
of how the divine reveals itself, nor to the philosophical questions of what is true and how is
truth possible. He poses the psychological question: why does man need God, or surrogate
gods such as History, Man and Truth? He does not enquire after the logic of ideology, its
content, but after what it is in man that drives him to create cosmologies within which he
then imprisons himself. He uses the Christian example to examine the deleterious effects of
ideology on its individual adherents, and on the society in which they live.
It is this psychological perspective which distinguishes Stirner from the Hegelian
tradition, and in particular from its all-important method of thinking. The psychology
which Hegel introduced with the category of Angst into Die Phänomenologie des Geistes
remains marginal, unsustained. Later in the same work he disparages psychology.2 More
significant are the psychological strains in Feuerbach’s incorporation of Hegel’s category of
objectification into an analysis of religious alienation. Stirner extends this psychology into
a methodology in its own right. Like Freud he sets out to piece together a theory of human
behaviour, and a model for the whole individual personality, from a series of examples of
highly charged types of action. General theory and particular case develop concurrently,
reflecting and influencing each other. The crucial difference between Stirner and Freud is
that the philosopher of individualist anarchism does not develop his theory systematically;
theory often remains an embryonic shadow behind concrete examples of such phenomena as
evangelizing persecution. General themes and hypotheses are frequently left implicit. One
consequence of this anarchist indifference towards systematic theory is that Der Einzige
gains from a gaiety and buoyancy of style, which in itself adds a dimension to its thesis.
However, there is also the negative consequence that the argument is often impressionistic,
that it is not fully explored: implications which relate to the larger thesis are not spelt out.
Freud’s commitment to developing an explicit and consistent theory helped him to gain
an unmatched degree of psychological purchase on the many-sided complex of human
reality.

1
2

Ego, p. 72.
The Phenomenology of Mind, trans. J.B.Baillie, 1949, pp. 331–3, 349–51.

22

Break-out from the Crystal Palace

A critique of Christianity of the sustained intensity of that levelled by Stirner and
Nietzsche, however insightful the psychology it generated, inevitably reads today as
somehow dated. We cannot conceive of the social and psychological climate that provoked
these fervid anti-Christian writings. This is particularly marked in the case of Nietzsche:
so much of his work is acutely in phase with contemporary cultural problems that the
passion, even fanaticism, of his Der Antichrist strikes a peculiarly alien key. (The historical
significance of this critique is not in question. Indeed, it should not be forgotten that Freud,
who played an instrumental role in the fracturing of the piously Christian superego in
Europe, had been strongly influenced in the 1890s and thereafter by a pervasive climate of
Nietzschean ideas. One of the largest reefs on which organized religion foundered was the
psychology that Stirner helped to pioneer.)
The attack on Christianity has had an enduring impact; it has sustained its capacity to
provoke and to shock, not because of its demolition of one specific example of organized
religion, but because it represents the most incisive, comprehensive, and convincing
argument for ethical relativism in the Western tradition. It will become clearer as we proceed
further that Stirner and Nietzsche’s ‘God is dead!’ condemns as futile what appears to be
a universal human drive—that to discover a consistent, monistic hierarchy of values, or
what Kant called the ‘complete purposive unity’, and identified with God. The demolition
of theology ultimately places in question what may be civilized man’s most fundamental
quest for security.

The immoralist
An ideology is a moral system. It supplies a means of interpreting the social world, as a
coherent assembly of good and evil hierarchies and tendencies. Every ideology is explicitly
or implicitly grounded in a system of values. It thereby provides an ordering of the human
environment which includes imperatives governing how to live and what to do. The critique
of Christianity generalizes into a critique of morality.
We have found the rudiments of a new psychology of human motivation, anticipating
Nietzsche and Freud, in Stirner’s critique of Christianity. These are consolidated in his
profoundly ‘Nietzschean’ attack on moralism. The egoist first as ‘desecrator’ (Entheiliger),
then as ‘immoralist’ (Unsittlicher),1 thus reads Stirner’s formula for the revaluation of life.
As the holy was incompatible with egoism, so is the moral. Before turning to the ‘all
things are possible’ of the immoralist, it is necessary to understand why Stirner reacts so
vehemently against moral action.
1

Stirner follows Hegel in his choice of Sittlichkeit, rather than Kant’s Moralität, to represent
the substance of ethics. Sittlichkeit for Hegel was a total ethics, even ethos, which, although
internalized in the individual, allowed him to relate beyond himself, and thus functioned as the
blood of social interaction (Kaufman: Hegel 6 and 10). Stirner prefers the more organic Hegelian
ethics to that of Kant. But, in essence, he lumps both together: the internalized morality of Hegel is
but a later form, psychologically viewed, of Moralität. In order to refute Hegel, Stirner retains his
language. (It is plain from the text that he intends Sitten in a much broader sense than its common
English equivalent, custom—for example, Ego, p. 64, where derivatives from sittlich are employed
throughout.)

The Critique of Ideology 23
Stirner views ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as artificial indices taken up by individuals to save them
making the difficult choices of life; they neatly divide the activities of man into the positive
and the negative. But, from Stirner’s perspective, which has a long history traceable back
through Hobbes and Machiavelli, the moral law is neither natural nor necessary. The
sceptic, Timon, is quoted in Der Einzige: ‘in itself nothing is either good or bad, but man
only thinks of it thus or thus’.2 Stirner develops this insight in the philosophical framework
created by Hegel and Feuerbach, then translates it into a vision of man who has transcended
morality. He is in the strict sense an ‘a-moralist’; he moves towards a position independent
of, rather than in opposition to, social mores. He is an ‘immoralist’ in the sense that he
identifies with those whom moralists call ‘immoral’, and in the sense in which Nietzsche
introduced this term to describe himself—as an ‘anti-moralist’.
Morality has essentially two undesirable effects. Firstly, it breeds hypocrisy. Man is
entirely self-centred, believes Stirner, but for some reason he often is ridden with guilt, and
seeks to deny his egoism: he achieves this denial through morality. There is the suggestion
that guilt and lack of egoism are associates, and that moral systems are adopted by the
unegoistic to satisfy their constant need to explain, to excuse, and to justify themselves
and their guilt-tainted acts. Stirner prefigures Sartre’s central notion of ‘bad faith’, of the
individual living at a remove from his ‘true self’, in self-deceit. The retort of Der Einzige
is: ‘Just recognize yourselves again, just recognize what you really are, and let go your
hypocritical endeavours, your foolish mania to be something else than you are’.1
A man loves another person not, at the base, to make the other happy, but because
he enjoys the state of loving. This harsh insight was anticipated, characteristically, in the
libertine stoicism of La Rochefoucauld; Nietzsche made it more precise with his aphorism:
‘In the end one loves one’s desire and not what is desired’.2 It becomes a cornerstone of the
anarcho-psychological perspective, and Freud also will repeat it. Its full implication is that
one man never loves another immediately. The person whom he claims to love the most is
the one who elicits from him the deepest or the widest range of desires and passions. He
uses the other as a complementary electrode: he needs him in order to express and realize
himself, in order to experience his own passions. Similarly, when he remembers the past
he does not recall events and individuals directly, but only the desires and hopes that he
experienced through or with them. This is the egoist axiom: it dismisses as psychologically
invalid any view of society which does not take the egoistic individual as the primary
phenomenon, and every other social unit as subsidiary to his desires, however conditioned
or repressed those desires may be.
The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates a theme which is implicit in Stirner. A
man is not loved by those who ought, by all accounts (racial tie, moral belief, and so on), to
love him, but by those who need his love (the alien, the unloved, the Samaritan). Thus love
comes very much by chance: who can predict whether a Samaritan—and why bother to call
him ‘good’? Stirner would ask—will happen along the road at the right time? Moreover,

2
1
2

Ego (1912), p. 28; we recall the almost identical sentiment of Hamlet II:ii:259.
Ego, p. 119.
Jenseits 175.

24

Break-out from the Crystal Palace

the attempt to make love certain, to institutionalize it by turning it into a moral ought, is
self-defeating—the man who tells himself to love will never love spontaneously, the man
who possessively demands love will surely lose it.
The cleric will always pass by the unholy stranger; and why not, says the immoralist
(the cleric’s hypocrisy is another question). No one has a right to another’s love. ‘The
egoist’s love rises in selfishness, flows in the bed of selfishness, and empties into selfishness
again.’3
Stirner is not the prophet of callous isolation in spite of his caustic words; his intention
is to put that focus of much of human hope and philosophy—love—on an honest, concrete
footing. He wants to cut away the bigotry, the desire to appear unegoistic, and preserve the
emotional base of the experience. It goes without saying that:4
If I see the loved one suffer, I suffer with him, and I know no rest until I have tried everything to comfort and cheer him; if I see him glad, I too become glad over his joy…because
I cannot bear the troubled crease on the beloved forehead, for that reason, and therefore for
my sake, I kiss it away.

The great Russian critic and socialist, Belinsky, offered some cautionary comments in 1848
after reading Der Einzige and taking its argument very much to heart:1
It would be juvenile to be frightened of the word ‘egoism’ itself. It has been proved that
a man feels and thinks and acts invariably according to the law of egotistical urges, and
indeed, he cannot have any others. The unfortunate thing is that mystical doctrines have
brought the term into disgrace, giving it the meaning of the caterer to all the base passions
and instincts in man, and we have already become accustomed to understand it in that
sense. The word was dishonoured for no good reason, since it denotes a completely natural,
essential, and, therefore, legitimate phenomenon, and, moreover, includes, as does all that
is essential and natural, the possibility of moral inference.

Now, if it is accepted that all action is egoistic, the problem becomes to distinguish between
different levels of satisfaction. Stirner does this, in effect, by developing a theory of
repression. The important question, he claims, is not how egoistic a man is, but how much
enjoyment he gets out of his life. The desire to appear selfless, the argument continues,
restricts full and carefree satisfaction; the attempt to strike a moral pose subverts, as it
inhibits, man’s sensual resources. The half-hearted egoist is perpetually holding himself
back. Dropping the hypocritical good reasons for behaviour, Stirner believes, will result
in a great liberation of energy and the possibility of a full-blooded, joyful egoism. This
is Stirner’s optimism: it nourishes his hopes for individual, and subsequently social,
melioration. But Nietzsche, who also emphasized a direct connection between, on the one
hand, the rationalizing mind and its concern with the ‘good’, and on the other, flagging

3
4
1

Ego, pp. 201–3.
Ibid., p. 200.
P.V.Annenkov: The Extraordinary Decade, 1968, p. 407. Belinsky’s point here stands as an anticipatory reply to the mystical critique of egoism which Dostocvsky will later develop.

The Critique of Ideology 25
egoism, or, in his own words, a waning Will-to-Power, warned repeatedly that such
optimism is naive and unfounded. As we shall examine, he doubted whether individuals,
or even societies, could do much to reverse their heritage of accumulating guilt.
Morality’s second undesirable effect, according to Stirner, is the repression of natural
instincts. Nietzsche formulates the argument: ‘morality is a way of turning one’s back
on the will to existence’.2 Perhaps the severest debility the clerical type must overcome
is the desire to be moderate in all things. Self-retention, half-heartedness, partial and
premeditated involvement, are all subsumed under the word ‘moderation’. But what is
being saved, concealed from the world? Not a precious self, Stirner replies, for the rich
ego freely expresses itself, ‘gets the value out of itself’. It is the unrealized self, scared of
how naked it will appear when exposed, which withdraws and protects itself by being ‘in
moderation’.1 The selfless one is incapable of placing real value on property, for contact
with object, thought, and feeling is only clinched in his enjoyment of them. Unable to
find a means for self-expression in the concrete sensual world, he turns to the Church.
Stirner regarded his own time as one of transition, ‘no longer vigorous enough to serve
morality without doubt or weakening, not yet reckless enough to live wholly to egoism…’2
Such half-heartedness leads, on the one hand, to hedging spontaneous acts with moral
justifications, and, on the other, to compensating for moral inhibitions by giving vocal
approval to the spontaneous. The moderate man, in this sense, has no natural resources by
which he can distinguish the self-enhancing from the self-destroying act; he is poor in the
midst of his possessions.3
The scars of morality, like those of religion, are not all internal. Hypocrisy is the less
distasteful effect of the rationalization of some types of human behaviour. As in the case
of religious fanaticism, Stirner warns: ‘love becomes crazy by a must taking it out of my
power’.4 Abstract generalities, such as ‘justice’, establish a means of discrimination; they
rationalize aggression against certain groups or individuals. They both stimulate violent
emotions and provide them with a target. Stirner anticipates Nietzsche’s analysis of the
reactive emotion, resentment: he argues that the immoralist individual who follows his
own desires will suffer most at the hands of the envious moralists.5 He states that he would
prefer to be at the mercy of a man’s selfishness than of his ideals about himself.6
Stirner and Nietzsche imply that there is a type of freedom available to man in which
ideology is not dominant, in which morality is adaptable to the needs of the individual:
a state beyond good and evil. One counter-argument, which is stronger than they cater
2
1

2
3

4
5

6

Wille 11.
Ego, p. 210. The most salient trait of Zarathustra’s ‘last man’, the most degraded of modern society’s offspring, is his moderation in all things.
Ego, p. 67.
In his comments on European nihilism Nietzsche associates the triumph of truth, love, and justice
with the ‘preeminence of what is un-egoistic, self-denial, negation of the will’ (Wille 30).
Ego, p. 201.
Ibid., pp. 135–6. Nietzsche’s summing up of the significance of his Morgenröte illustrates how
close he is to Stirner: ‘The decisive symptom that shows how the priest (including those cryptopriests, the philosophers) has become master quite generally…is the fact that what is unegoistic is
met with hostility’ (Ecce Homo III:iv:2).
Ego, pp. 213–14. A theme to be re-echoed by D.H.Lawrence as well as Nietzsche.

26

Break-out from the Crystal Palace

for, runs to the effect that this assumption is psychologically unfounded, that it is utopian
in the repressive sense of serving to awaken unrealizable hopes. The case is put by the
Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. He argues against Christ, who
represents a position identical to that of Stirner, that men do not want this freedom, that
they do not seek to determine their own values. He impeaches Christ for having too little
compassion for man, for failing to respect his choice, which will be for happiness, given
that happiness and freedom are incompatible. The Inquisitor himself chooses to take on
the responsibility of making decisions and determining values; he provides the happier
majority with bread to eat, and miracles to save them from boredom. He would grant the
truth of Stirner’s: ‘You love man therefore you torture the individual man’.1 His defence is
that the will of the majority urges that Christ be killed. The Christ’s response, to kiss the
Grand Inquisitor, is bafflingly and assertively anarchic, in the characteristic sense that little
more can be said about it than that it expresses the individual. It is irrational in that it rejects
the terms of the debate—the Inquisitor’s case, as stated, had been a persuasive one. The
debate founders on the dichotomy which has bedevilled political philosophy since Plato,
that between the one and the many. Christ’s: ‘learn by my example, if you so choose!’ and
his offer of guidance to help others discover their own ethical system, is plausibly realistic
in the case of the one, or the few. But, in the case of the many, the Grand Inquisitor has not
been answered; we postpone further discussion of this pragmatist defence of ideology.
Stirner’s highly flexible aphoristic style is a far cry from the stiff, concept-strictured
writing of Hegel, and even of Feuerbach; indeed, Ruge wrote enthusiastically of Der
Einzige as the ‘first readable book in philosophy that Germany has produced’.2 Stirner’s
critique of morality is at its best in incisive representations of the delusions of the selfrighteous, moral man; for example:3
Show me a sinner in the world still, if no one any longer needs to do what suits a superior!…
You brought the sinner with you in your head, therefore you found him, therefore you inserted him everywhere. Do not call men sinners, and they are not: you alone are the creator
of sinners; you, who fancy that you love men, are the very one to throw them into the mire
of sin, the very one to divide them into vicious and virtuous, into human and inhuman; the
very one to befoul them with the slaver of your possessedness; for you love not men but
man. But I tell you, you have never seen a sinner, you have only—dreamed of him.

Such an exclusive concern for the moral well-being of others is one of the cardinal symptoms
of self-estrangement. The cleric avoids too much introspection in his crusades in case his
deeds fail to match up to his ideal. The egoist, lacking interest in the ‘virtue’ of other men,
looms as a two-fold threat. He destroys the universal importance accorded to moral law
by showing that life independent of it is possible. Secondly, and even more intolerably for
the pious, he manages to do so with shameless enjoyment. The psychology of resentment
points out that the clerical type will view anything egoistical with a peculiarly intense
hostility.1
1
2
3

1

Ego, p. 200.
Brazill, op. cit., p. 215.
Ego (1912), p. 479; Ego, p. 255. Nietzsche titles section 76 of his Morgenröte: ‘Who thinks evil,
makes evil’.
Ego, p. 69.

The Critique of Ideology 27
Where there is a moral mind there has been a moral education. Stirner develops the
implication of his 1834 examination thesis—education should encourage the potential to
become actual, and stimulate unique qualities to develop themselves.2 Education ought
to bring man to himself, not to society, it should teach him to explore his own feelings
and not the imparted responses that someone else considers he ought to experience.3
For this, the 1834 thesis argued, he needs a teacher, a ‘higher man’, to guide him and
inspire him by his example, until the student gains the confidence in himself to reject the
image of authority that is not of his own creation.4 The basis for the true understanding
of another person, for mature relationship, is learnt in the ‘I-I’ (Ich zum Ich) relationship
that is possible between student and teacher. Stirner’s case, one peculiarly relevant for
modern ‘progressive’ movements in education, was extremely radical in pre-1848 Prussia
where the austere paternalism of the school formed an unquestioned axiom of education.
Moreover, its anti-Benthamism is striking: Stirner’s ‘free pedagogy’ finds its antithesis in
the utilitarian school of Gradgrind, whose motto was ‘fact not fancy’, in Dickens’s Hard
Times (1854).
This hope for a sensitive and mature teacher, with whom the children can have personal
relations in which they are treated as equals, is a far cry from the type of moralistic education
in which the students are moulded to fit the bed of the ideal man and his social etiquette:5
Yes, yes, children must early be made to practise piety, godliness, and propriety; a person
of good breeding is one in whom ‘good maxims’ have been instilled and impressed, poured
in through a funnel, thrashed in and preached in… The young are of age when they twitter
like the old.

Stirner believes that in so far as the intention of education is to train the child for a vocation
it is a millstone around his neck. This utilitarian education which endeavours to produce
set types is geared to the belief that each individual has an ordained calling in life, to be
selected and shaped by the social system. Stirner responds: ‘I live after a calling as little
as the flower grows and gives fragrance after a calling’.1 The source of all power is within
man; there is no destiny, vocation, or calling to be realized from without; impression is
significant only when it helps to elucidate expression. Education should be the catalyst
for self-awareness, where ‘self’ is an active, protrusive, ‘in the process of becoming’,
phenomenon. Stirner rephrases his existential ontology:2
My first babble is the token of the life of a ‘true man’, the struggles of my life are the outpourings of his force, my last breath is the last exhalation of the force of the ‘man’.

Stirner’s critique of vocation, of blueprinted action, of externally-determined styles of life
points to a view of progress characteristic of the Bildungsroman, one specifically restricted
to self-realization. Stirner implies that attachment to a rationalistic, teleological notion of
2
3
4
5
1
2

Über Schulgesetze, p. 15.
Ego, p. 75.
Über Schulgesetze, pp. 15–16.
Ego, pp. 84, 75.
Ego, p. 261.
Ibid., p. 230.

28

Break-out from the Crystal Palace

progress indicates the absence of true progress; he whose life does not unfold satisfyingly
under its own momentum is driven to moralize it, to set up goals and rationalize their
achievement as progress.
Education is the strongest weapon available for restricting the questions people ask,
controlling what they think, and ensuring that they get their thoughts ‘from above’, as
Stirner puts it.3 Through education the State has the supreme power of defining its
subjects’ view of the world, for ‘as a rule, people do not think farther than their teachers
have thought’.4 Like the Church, the State fences off certain realms of consciousness as
‘evil’, it selectively programmes the mind by closing off the awareness of entire spheres of
experience.5 (One corollary to this is that a teacher’s freedom is realized simply by making
himself audible.6)
A society invokes morality most vehemently in the sphere of crime and punishment.
Stirner’s anarchic rejection of social definitions of good and evil is a logical extension of
his egoist thesis. What is particularly striking is his opposition to petty theft. He does not
accept the liberal attitude that crime degrades the ‘humanity’ in man (again the meaningless
abstraction). The petty thief is too little an egoist, for he values an object for its prestige
in another’s eyes, rather than for its direct utility to him. He is the most pathetic victim
of society because he accepts its morality and its property valuations: they excite in him
socially legitimized aspirations which he cannot satisfy without breaking other laws.1
There is a deeper psychological current running through Stirner’s analysis of the cleric,
to whose characteristics we can now add the revengeful desire to punish. ‘The Christian
is not owner of his “bad desires” so long as he has to combat them; for him who contends
against vice, vice exists.’2 Here in one short aphorism is the insight that was to form a
cornerstone in the work of both Nietzsche and Freud. He who condemns vice in another
is afraid that the very same vice exists repressed in himself; this fear supplies energy that
can intensify revulsion to the pitch of frenzied persecution, or we might say, following
Stirner’s word-convoluting style, makes ‘vic-ious’ condemnation of the vice. By punishing
the criminal the moral man hopes to dissuade the evil imprisoned in his own breast from
escaping. Fear of self is projected in hatred of the immoral other. Again we have entered
the realm of the unconscious.3
3
4
5
6
1

2
3

Ibid., p. 242.
Ibid., p. 244.
In general, ibid., pp. 242–4; in particular, my footnote to p. 244.
Ibid., p. 245.
Stirner’s immoralism must be differentiated from that fêted as the first literary attempt to incarnate
Nietzsche’s ideas, André Gide’s L’Immoraliste (1902). Gide was absorbed by a different problem.
He sought to infuse behaviour at odds with the mores of his society (e.g. homosexuality) with a
kind of moral respectability. There is nothing full-blooded