Alexander Hope

Idealism and Materialism from the Egoist Perspective

Many Marxists have done a disservice to their analysis of egoism as merely being petit-bourgeois, subjectivist, that it is devoid of objective reality, and that egoism is merely a sub-ideology of that crude individualist anarchism. They have accused egoism of petit-bourgeois behavior without any sort of investigation into the works of Stirner, neither any investigation of what egoists after Stirner laid out. Many Marxists for instance claim that Egoism although it rejects idealist conceptions such as God, Religion etc, is still idealist because it exaggerates the ‘‘individual’’. Mao indeed claims that the difference between Idealism and Materialism are the following: ‘‘Wherein lies the basic difference between idealism and materialism? It lies in the opposite answers given by the two to the fundamental question in philosophy, that of the relationship between spirit and matter (that of the relationship between consciousness and existence). Idealism considers spirit (consciousness, concepts, the subject) as the source of all that exists on earth, and matter (nature and society, the object) as secondary and subordinate, Materialism recognizes the independent existence of matter as detached from spirit and considers spirit as secondary and subordinate.’’[1] — According to Mao furthermore, ‘‘ In the nature of things, the particular and the general are inseparably linked; once separated, they depart from objective truth… To separate the general from the particular, and to view the general as objective reality and the particular merely as the form in which the general exists — this is the method adopted by all idealists. All idealists put consciousness, spirit, or concepts in place of objective reality existing independently from human consciousness… They cannot point out the materialist truth according to which consciousness is limited by matter, but believe that only consciousness is active, whereas matter is only an inert composite entity. Urged on moreover by their own class nature, the idealists then use every method to exaggerate the activity of consciousness, developing this aspect unilaterally… Idealism in economics exaggerates beyond measure a nonessential aspect of exchange,, raising the law of supply and demand to the status of the fundamental law of capitalism… Idealist historians regard heroes as the makers of history. Idealist politicians regard politics as omnipotent. Idealist military leaders practice the methods of desperate combat [p’ing-ming-chu-i-ti tso-chan]. Idealist revolutionaries advocate Blanquism. The diehards say that the only way to revive our nation is to restore the old morality. All this results from exaggerating subjective factors beyond measure…’’[2] — Therefore Mao establishes the following regarding idealism, — that idealism has too, consider spirit, consciousness, conceptions, the subject (Individual) as primary, while matter is merely subordinate to consciousness, secondly, that idealism separates the ‘‘general’’ from the ‘‘particular’’ — for example separating the individual from ‘‘Society’’, thirdly, idealism exaggerates subjective characters, such as the activity of one’s consciousness, the law of liberalism as absolute, the laws of economic supply and demand as absolute, and ‘‘heroes’’ as makers of history.

Mao has clearly outline what makes one an ‘‘idealist’’ as opposed to a materialist, however when the Marxists claim haphazardly that ‘‘Egoism’’ is ‘‘idealism’’ — are they being true to what Mao and other Marxists say about idealism, or are they merely accusing egoism of idealism without investigation. We shall investigate this further in the form of questions and answers.

Question: Do Egoists advocate the Spirit as primary over matter?

Answer: If anyone reads the Ego and Its Own, it becomes quite clear that egoism goes against the ‘‘Spirit’’, we can quote him to verify this, when he says, ‘‘You despise the egoist because he puts the spiritual in the background as compared with the personal, and has his eyes on himself where you would like to see him act to favour an idea. The distinction between you is that he makes himself the central point, but you the spirit; or that you cut your identity in two and exalt your “proper self,” the spirit, to be ruler of the paltrier remainder, while he will hear nothing of this cutting in two, and pursues spiritual and material interests just as he pleases. You think, to be sure, that you are falling foul of those only who enter into no spiritual interest at all, but in fact you curse at everybody who does not look on the spiritual interest as his “true and highest” interest. You carry your knightly service for this beauty so far that you affirm her to be the only beauty of the world. You live not to yourself, but to your spirit and to what is the spirit’s, that is, ideas.’’[3] — Here Stirner highlights exactly the Materialism of Marx and Mao, he is specifically implying that the ‘‘spirit’’ for the egoist is put in the background, while the ‘‘personal’’ or actual material reality, the ‘‘Being’’ is put as the primary focus, this is in line with what the Marxist say, ‘‘That Being Comes before Consciousness’’ — this is what Stirner means by the ‘‘Personal’’ — as his being, that comes before the ‘‘Spirit’’ — Therefore Since Stirner does not advocate for the spirit to be primary over matter, and does the opposite, that of claiming that matter comes before spirit, therefore Stirner in this respect is as materialist as all the Marxists.

Question: Do Egoist argue that consciousness, the subject or concepts come before matter?

Answer: Some Marxists might claim that while egoism does deny the spirit, it is still idealist, because it still claims that human consciousness, conceptions and subject are primary over matter itself, but then again this is a false accusation. First and foremost, the egoist’s mission is to destroy the tyranny of conceptions, in fact what Stirner calls the unique one is not a concept at all, as is explained in Stirner’s Critics, ‘‘What Stirner says is a word, a thought, a concept; what he means is neither a word, nor a thought, nor a concept. What he says is not the meaning, and what he means cannot be said. One flattered oneself that one spoke about the “actual, individual” human being when one spoke of the human being; but was this possible so long as one wanted to express this human being through something universal, through an attribute? To designate this human being, shouldn’t one, perhaps, have recourse not to an attribute, but rather to a designation, to a name to take refuge in, where the view, i.e., the unspeakable, is the main thing? Some are reassured by “real, complete individuality,” which is still not free of the relation to the species; others by the “spirit,” which is likewise a determination, not complete indeterminacy.’’[4] — Therefore Stirner implies, that what we are is not a ‘‘concept’’ — nor can we define ourselves using concepts, this proves to us, that egoism does not give primary importance to ‘‘conceptions’’ at all, but only uses them as a tool to explain things, in the same way, Mao also makes the same argument, ‘‘The source that enables idealism to develop and deepen and gives it the strength to struggle with materialism must be sought in the process of human knowing.. When men think, they must use concepts. This can easily cause our knowledge to be split into two aspects: reality, which is of an individual and particular character; and concepts, which are of a general character… In the nature of things, the particular and the general are inseparably linked; once separated, they depart from objective truth’’[5] — for Marxists, the particular and the general are linked, while for idealists, they are separated from one another, reality consists of individual and particular characters, for example, ‘‘This Horse is brown’’ — which is a true statement of a particular horses, but to say, that ‘‘All Horses walk on four legs’’ is a general conception, which might be bound to be incorrect, since some horses might be impaired and can only walk on three legs. Our knowledge therefore in order to be ‘‘complete’’ must link both the general and the particular, — one might argue that since Stirner is an enemy of ‘‘spooks’’ — that he seeks to destroy the ‘‘general’’ and focus only on the particular, this is incorrect, Stirner merely wants us to realize that the ‘‘general’’ is not part of reality, but rather a conception of reality, to help us understands, the problem of the world, is that many take these ‘‘conceptions’’ as being always true and absolute to reality, which becomes the origin of sacredness, virtues, morality, ideal causes and religion. For Stirner, for instance, ‘‘complete individuality’’ is also a spook, it is also a ‘‘generalized’’ conceptions, because there are many ‘‘complete individuals’’ out there, and each of them are linked together, this is why Stirner does not emphasize individualism, since an individualist philosophy is still not free from the relations to the species, for instance, a ‘‘human being’’ is a generalized term and conception to refer to a species linked together through characteristics that make them very similar to one another. Stirner claims, that these ‘‘conceptions’’ cannot possibly tell us what we really are. Stirner expands on this subject when he says, ‘‘The “human being,” as a concept or an attribute, does not exhaust you, because it has a conceptual content of its own, because it says what is human and what a human being is, i.e., because it is capable of being defined so that you can remain completely out of play. Of course, you as a human being still have your part in the conceptual content of the human being, but you don’t have it as you. The unique, however, has no content; it is indeterminacy in itself; only through you does it acquire content and determination. There is no conceptual development of the unique, one cannot build a philosophical system with it as a “principle,” the way one can with being, with thought, with the I. Rather it puts an end to all conceptual development. Anyone who considers it a principle, thinks that he can treat it philosophically or theoretically and inevitably takes useless potshots against it.’’[6] — the fact that you are ‘‘human’’ does not exhaust all your potential, since the ‘‘human characterization’’ is only a conceptual one, what you are, is ‘‘You’’ or ‘‘You are You’’. This might be Stirner’s way of separating the general from the particular, but Stirner quickly makes an exception where he says, that of course, you as a human being still have your part in the conceptual content of the human being. Therefore, the egoist still develops as a human being in conceptual development, however this is not a materialist development, but a kind of spiritual or conceptual development, the development of words and concepts. Egoists therefore don’t think it’s possible for ‘‘humanity’’ to develop, but rather it is every single individual that develops, which gives rise to the idea that humanity itself may be developing, but this is only an ‘‘idea’’ a concept and a spook. When individuals develop, some individuals, whether they are priests or scientists will claim that ‘‘humanity has progressed’’ but this is false and idealist, it is not humanity that has progressed, but individuals on their own pace. Therefore, we claim, that the development of each individual contributes to the conceptual development of conceptions such as those of ‘‘religion, humanity, masses, society’’ etc, but they develop only as concepts, not as living organism. Stirner like the Marxists therefore has connected the progression of the particular linked directly with the progression of the general. In many ways, Stirner was ahead of his time, he has predated Marx when it comes to the theory of the superstructure and base, he has predated Marx, because he came before him, and emphasized that the General (Conceptual development and concepts) is directly and inseparably linked with the particular (Material Reality). The term ‘‘Unique One’’ although it may seem like another concept, is in fact a non-concept, we must use language in order to communicate with our reader, therefore we must use concepts, but unlike other concepts that have ‘‘conceptual content’’ — the unique one, as a term is void of any conceptual content whatsoever, and therefore cannot develop its content. In this book, we have for long discussed about the Idlers who will take over the world after the age of communism, in many ways, when this happens, everyone will become ‘‘unique’’ — there will no longer be any ‘‘holy causes’’ such as the communist mission or the liberal mission etc, — the term of the ‘‘unique’’ puts an end to all conceptual development, and therefore puts an end to the ‘‘general’’ — society and ‘‘humanism of humanity’’ will no longer exist, and by ‘‘society’’, we don’t mean that a society of people that gather together in union will no longer exist, but rather the fixed nature of society or ‘‘permanence’’ of society will be put to an end. Societies will still exist, but these societies will be a union of egoists, that are only temporary arrangements, meanwhile the societies that we have today have a permanence that make them a dominating feature of our world, in such a manner, that even an individual who seeks to escape society cannot do so safely, — it is an inescapable prison. In the Egoist phase of society, — it will no longer be an inescapable prison, but rather a temporary set of arrangements that are disbanded the moment everyone’s mutual needs are met. Therefore, people will unite in small societies to settle out their needs, once their needs are met, they will break off their arrangement, and they will go their separate ways. In today’s society, we are not allowed to simply break off our arrangement, but we are tied directly to society, in such a way, that without it, we would be ostracized and as a result, we will not survive.

In regards to the question of ‘‘subjectivity’’ — it is often said by Marxists that Egoists are only interested in the ‘‘individual’’ — and that they don’t give attention to objects in reality. This is also incorrect, as the egoist believe in the notion of ‘‘self-mastery or ownness’’ — for the egoist, ‘‘You are both creator of yourself and creature of yourself’’ — therefore, you are both observer of yourself, and the object being observed, you are both a unique individual, but also an object. You are yourself, but you are also owner of yourself as an object. After all, you own your body, and therefore your body is your object, but your body is also you, the subject. Therefore, for the egoist, an individual is both subject and object, both observer and observed. Therefore, the Object and the Subject are linked together.

Question: ‘‘Does Egoism separate the General from the Particular?

Answer: We have already somewhat grappled with this question in the previous paragraph; however, it needs to be expanded upon further. For some Marxists, the egoist separates the individual from society, and studies them separately. This is most incorrect, and another accusation against egoism without investigation, furthermore some Marxists accuse egoism of ‘‘isolationism’’ — of the idea that ‘‘Man is an island’’ — that the individual of egoism does not have any ‘‘relations’’ with the world around him and with society. Let us first disprove the idea that egoists separate the individual from society, — in the following quotation, Stirner remarks, ‘‘Not isolation or being alone, but society, is man’s original state. Our existence begins with the most intimate conjunction, as we are already living with our mother before we breathe; when we see the light of the world, we at once lie on a human being’s breast again, her love cradles us in the lap, leads us in the go-cart, and chains us to her person with a thousand ties. Society is our state of nature.’’ — This is proof against the Marxist accusation. Egoism therefore doesn’t separate the analysis of the egoist individual from that of society, but rather analyzes the individual through the eyes of a society. This is proof that egoism does not separate the General from the particular, does not separate the individual from society. Some Marxists on the other hand accuse egoism as a philosophy in isolation that has no relationship with the real world, that cannot be applicable to the real world, but Stirner remarks the following regarding the egoist and his relations with the material world, ‘‘Where the world comes in my way — and it comes in my way everywhere — I consume it to quiet the hunger of my egoism. For me you are nothing but — my food, even as I too am fed upon and turned to use by you. We have only one relation to each other, that of usableness, of utility, of use. We owe each other nothing, for what I seem to owe you I owe at most to myself. If I show you a cheery air in order to cheer you likewise, then your cheeriness is of consequence to me, and my air serves my wish; to a thousand others, whom I do not aim to cheer, I do not show it.’’[7] — Max Stirner, The Ego and Its Own. The world is described as that object that always comes into our way, at all times and places, therefore the egoist constantly interacts with the material world, we consume the world the quiet the hunger of our egoism, the only relation we have to each other, to ‘‘society at large’’ is that we consider it as our food, the only relation we have to one another is that of usability, utility and use. Here Stirner, highlights the theory of Use-Value, for egoists, even our relations to the means of production are a relation of use-value, since we want to use the machinery, because it would be a benefit to us to mass produce food, clothing, tools etc, even the proletarian’s relation with the bourgeoisie is a form of Use-Value, while the proletariat seeks his wage, or the utility of a wage, the bourgeoisie seek to utilize the proletariat towards the intent of exploiting them and extracting their surplus value to generate profit. Yet, the Proletariat’s hunger is larger than that of the minority bourgeois class. The proletariat no longer see the ‘‘use’’ of serving their bourgeois masters, they want the means of production for themselves. The proletariat have finally realized that simply getting a ‘‘wage’’ is not power, nor are they utilizing the bourgeoisie in some way, they have developed a consciousness that has enabled them to realize, that they are the ones who are being utilized and abused by the bourgeois class, and not vice versa.

Conclusion: ‘‘We have proven once and for all, that egoism is not idealist, and that any idealist accusation come about because of ignorance and lack of study. Egoism upholds matter as being primary over spirit, concepts and subjects. Egoism does not separate the general (Society, Social Class, Concepts) from the particular (Material Reality, individuals). Egoism does not exaggerate subjectivist features, but always holds an analysis of society and the individuals linked together in a set of relationships. Therefore having applied Mao’s criteria of what makes a philosophy idealist, and having found no fault of the kind, therefore egoism is not idealist, but materialist.

[1] Mao Zedong, ‘‘Dialectical Materialism’’

[2] Mao Zedong, ‘‘Dialectical Materialism’’

[3] Max Stirner, ‘’The Ego and Its own’’

[4] Max Stirner, ‘‘Stirner’s Critics’’

[5] Mao Zedong, ‘‘Dialectical Materialism’’

[6] Max Stirner, ‘‘Stirner’s Critics’’

[7] Max Stirner, ‘’The Ego and Its own’’

I am a platformist anarcho-communist, a writer and student of political philosophy, specifically on anarchism.