The Ego and Its Own

The Ego and Its Own (org. Der Einzige und sein Eigentum in German; also translated as The Individual and His Property) is the main work by German philosopher Max Stirner.


Main Ideas

According to Lawrence Stepelewich the book is largely modelled on the work Phenomenology of Spirit by Hegel, who became a great source of inspiration and dispute among the Young Hegelians, a group of Berlin intellectuals with whom Stirner associated.

Max Stirner's philosophy is outlined in more detail in the article on Stirner. In short, the book portrays the life of a human individual as dominated by authoritarian concepts ('fixed ideas' or 'spooks'), which must be shaken and undermined by each individual's self-interest in order for her to act freely. These include primarily religion and ideology, and the institutions claiming authority over the individual. The primary implication of undermining these concepts and institutions is for Stirner an ethical egoism, which can be said to transcend language.

Stirner himself does claim his own "doctrine" of self-interest to be a universal truth or established viewpoint, and likens his book to a ladder you throw away after climbing, a sort of self-therapy.

"Do I write out of love to men? No, I write because I want to procure for my thoughts an existence in the world; and, even if I foresaw that these thoughts would deprive you of your rest and your peace, even if I saw the bloodiest wars and the fall of many generations springing up from this seed of thought — I would nevertheless scatter it. Do with it what you will and can, that is your affair and does not trouble me. You will perhaps have only trouble, combat, and death from it, very few will draw joy from it.

"If your weal lay at my heart, I should act as the church did in withholding the Bible from the laity, or Christian governments, which make it a sacred duty for themselves to 'protect the common people from bad books'. But not only not for your sake, not even for truth's sake either do I speak out what I think. No —

I sing as the bird sings
That on the bough alights;
The song that from me springs
Is pay that well requites

"I sing because — I am a singer. But I use you for it because I — need ears" (The Ego and his Own, p.394)


Although the book has gone through a storied and variegated history of mis-translation and politically-motivated revisionism, the standard English-language edition available today is by Steven T. Byington, an American anarchist. Byington's version of the text is highly imperfect, and reflects the translator's purely political interest in the book; more philosophical and psychological passages are given sloppy treatment, and a few important passages are incomprehensible without recourse to the original German.

Editions have appeared in Danish (Den Eneste og hans Ejendom, publ. 1901, translated by Axel Garde, and with a preface by Georg Brandes), Swedish (Den ende och hans egendom, publ. 1910, translated by Albert Jensen), and Japanese (translated by Jun Tsuji).


The book has been very influential, and is regarded as a classic of existentialism, though it was not recognized as such for a long time.

External link

nl:Der Einzige und sein Eigentum


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