Max Stirner

Political Liberalism




This is one of the most damning critiques of political liberalism ever written. Clearly not everything attributed to liberal thinkers and activists should be discarded, following Stirner's devastating analysis. However, many would agree that the replacement of personal power (the king, the aristocrat) by impersonal ones (the state, the nation, the law) as advocated and historically implemented by liberal parties, has brought about a power more absolute and pervasive than most of those existing in the past. For this reason, the passionate plea put forward by Stirner for the individual, the unique human being, the "egoist" looking after his/her own well-being, is not to be belittled even when it is expressed in a crude language that might repeal instead of attract those who are for the dignity and freedom of the human being.



After the chalice of so-called absolute monarchy had been drained down to the dregs, in the eighteenth century people became aware that their drink did not taste human - too clearly aware not to begin to crave a different cup. Since our fathers were "human beings" after all, they at last desired also to be regarded as such.

Whoever sees in us something else than human beings, in him we likewise will not see a human being, but an inhuman being, and will meet him as an unhuman being; on the other hand, whoever recognizes us as human beings and protects us against the danger of being treated inhumanly, him we will honour as our true protector and guardian.

Let us then hold together and protect the man in each other; then we find the necessary protection in our holding together, and in ourselves, those who hold together, a fellowship of those who know their human dignity and hold together as "human beings." Our holding together is the State; we who hold together are the Nation.

In our being together as Nation or State we are only human beings. How we deport ourselves in other respects as individuals, and what self-seeking impulses we may there succumb to, belongs solely to our private life; our public or State life is a purely human one. Everything un-human or "egoistic" that clings to us is degraded to a "private matter" and we distinguish the State definitely from "civil society," which is the sphere of "egoism's" activity.

The true man is the Nation, but the individual is always an egoist. Therefore strip off your individuality or isolation wherein dwells discord and egoistic inequality, and consecrate yourselves wholly to the true man - the Nation or the State. Then you will rank as men, and have all that is man's; the state, the true man, will entitle you to what belongs to it, and give you the "rights of man"; Man gives you his rights!

So runs the speech of the commonalty.

The commonalty is nothing else than the thought that the state is all in all, the true man, and that the individual's human value consists in being a citizen of the state. In being a good citizen he seeks his highest honour; beyond that he knows nothing higher than at most the antiquated - "being a good Christian."

The commonalty developed itself in the struggle against the privileged classes, by whom it was cavalierly treated as "third estate" and confounded with the canaille. In other words, up to this time the state had recognized caste. The son of a nobleman was selected for posts to which the most distinguished commoners aspired in vain. The civic feeling revolted against this. No more distinction, no giving preference to persons, no difference of classes! Let all be alike! No separate interest is to be pursued longer, but the general interest of all. The state is to be a fellowship of free and equal men, and every one is to devote himself to the "welfare of the whole," to be dissolved in the State, to make the State his end and ideal. State! State! so ran the general cry, and thenceforth people sought for the "right form of State," the best constitution, and so the State in its best conception. The thought of the State passed into all hearts and awakened enthusiasm; to serve it, this mundane god, became the new divine service and worship. The properly political epoch had dawned. To serve the State or the Nation became the highest ideal, the State's interest the highest interest, State service (for which one does not by any means need to be an official) the highest honour.

So then the separate interests and personalities had been scared away, and sacrifice for the State had become the shibboleth [1]. One must give up himself, and live only for the State. One must act "disinterestedly," not want to benefit himself, but the State. Hereby the latter has become the true person, before whom the individual personality vanishes; not I live, but it lives in me. Therefore, in comparison with the former self-seeking, this was unselfishness and impersonality itself. Before this god - State - all egoism vanished, and before it all were equal; they were without any other distinction - men, nothing but men.

The Revolution took fire from the inflammable material of property. The government needed money. Now it must prove the proposition that it is absolute, and so master of all property, sole proprietor; it must take to itself its money, which was only in the possession of the subjects, not their property. Instead of this, it calls States-General, to have this money granted to it. The shrinking from strictly logical action destroyed the illusion of an absolute government; he who must have something "granted" to him cannot be regarded as absolute. The subjects recognized that they were real proprietors, and that it was their money that was demanded. Those who had hitherto been subjects attained the consciousness that they were proprietors. Bailly [2] depicts this in a few words:

"If you cannot dispose of my property without my assent, how much less can you of my person, of all that concerns my mental and social position? All this is my property, like the piece of land that I till; and I have a right, an interest, to make the laws myself."

Bailly's words sound, certainly, as if every one was a proprietor now. However, instead of the government, instead of the prince, The Nation now became proprietor and master. From this time on the ideal is spoken of as - "popular liberty" - "a free people," etc.

As early as July 8, 1789, the declaration of the bishop of Autun and Barrière [3] took away all semblance of the importance of each and every individual in legislation; it showed the complete powerlessness of the constituents; the majority of the representatives has become master. When on July 9 the plan for division of the work on the constitution is proposed, Mirabeau [4] remarks that "the government has only power, no rights; only in the people is the source of all right to be found." On July 16 this same Mirabeau exclaims: "Is not the people the source of all power?" The source, therefore, of all right, and the source of all - power! By the way, here the substance of "right" becomes visible; it is - power. "He who has power has right."

The commonalty is the heir of the privileged classes. In fact, the rights of the barons, which were taken from them as "usurpations," only passed over to the commonalty. For the commonalty was now called the "nation." "Into the hands of the nation" all prerogatives were given back. Thereby they ceased to be "prerogatives" [Vorrechte]: they became ''rights” [Rechte]. From this time on the nation demands tithes, compulsory services; it has inherited the lord's court, the rights of vert and venison, the - serfs. The night of August 4 was the death-night of privileges or "prerogatives" (cities, communes, boards of magistrates, were also privileged, furnished with prerogatives and seigniorial rights), and ended with the new morning of "right," the "rights of the state," the "rights of the nation."

The monarch in the person of the "royal master" had been a paltry monarch compared with this new monarch, the "sovereign nation." This monarchy was a thousand times severer, stricter, and more consistent. Against the new monarch there was no longer any right, any privilege at all; how limited the "absolute king" of the ancien regime looks in comparison! The Revolution effected the transformation of limited monarchy into absolute monarchy. From this time on every right that is not conferred by this monarch is an "assumption"; but every prerogative that he bestows, a "right." The times demanded absolute royalty, absolute monarchy; therefore down fell that so-called absolute royalty which had so little understood how to become absolute that it remained limited by a thousand little lords.

What was longed for and striven for through thousands of years - namely, to find that absolute lord beside whom no other lords and lordlings any longer exist to clip his power - the bourgeoisie has brought to pass. It has revealed the Lord who alone confers "rightful titles," and without whose warrant nothing is justified. "So now we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other god save the one." [First Letter to the Corinthians, 8:4]

Against right one can no longer, as against a right, come forward with the assertion that it is "a wrong." One can say now only that it is a piece of nonsense, an illusion. If one called it wrong, one would have to set up another right in opposition to it, and measure it by this. If, on the contrary, one rejects right as such, right in and of itself, altogether, then one also rejects the concept of wrong, and dissolves the whole concept of right (to which the concept of wrong belongs).

What is the meaning of the doctrine that we all enjoy "equality of political rights"? Only this - that the state has no regard for my person, that to it I, like every other, am only a man, without having another significance that commands its deference. I do not command its deference as an aristocrat, a nobleman's son, or even as heir of an official whose office belongs to me by inheritance (as in the Middle Ages countships, etc., and later under absolute royalty, where hereditary offices occur). Now the State has an innumerable multitude of rights to give away; the right to lead a battalion, a company, etc.; the right to lecture at a university, and so forth; it has them to give away because they are its own, namely, state rights or "political" rights. Withal, it makes no difference to it to whom it gives them, if the receiver only fulfils the duties that spring from the delegated rights. To it we are all of us all right, and - equal - one worth no more and no less than another. It is indifferent to me who receives the command of the army, says the sovereign state, provided the grantee understands the matter properly. "Equality of political rights" has, consequently, the meaning that every one may acquire every right that the State has to give away, if only he fulfils the conditions annexed thereto - conditions which are to be sought only in the nature of the particular right, not in a predilection for the person (persona grata): the nature of the right to become an officer brings with it the necessity that one possess sound limbs and a suitable measure of knowledge, but it does not have noble birth as a condition; if, on the other hand, even the most deserving commoner could not reach that station, then an inequality of political rights would exist. Among the States of today one has carried out that maxim of equality more, another less.

The monarchy of estates (so I will call absolute royalty, the time of the kings before the revolution) kept the individual in dependence on a lot of little monarchies. These were fellowships [Genossenschaften] (societies [Gesellschaften]) like the guilds, the nobility, the priesthood, the burgher class, cities, communes. Everywhere the individual must regard himself first as a member of this little society, and yield unconditional obedience to its spirit, the esprit de corps, as his monarch. More than the individual nobleman himself must his family, the honour of his race, be to him. Only by means of his corporation, his estate, did the individual have relation to the greater corporation, the State - as in Catholicism the individual deals with God only through the priest. To this the third estate now, showing courage to negate itself as an estate, made an end. It decided no longer to be and be called an estate beside other estates, but to glorify and generalize itself into the "Nation." Hereby it created a much more complete and absolute monarchy, and the entire previously ruling principle of estates [Stände], the principle of little monarchies inside the great, went down. Therefore it cannot be said that the Revolution was a revolution against the first two privileged estates. It was against the little monarchies of estates in general. But, if the estates and their despotism were broken (the king too, we know, was only a king of estates, not a citizen-king), the individuals freed from the inequality of estate were left. Were they now really to be without estate and "out of gear," no longer bound by any estate, without a general bond of union? No, for the third estate had declared itself the nation only in order not to remain an estate beside other estates, but to become the sole estate. This sole estate is the nation, the "State." What had the individual now become? A political Protestant, for he had come into immediate connection with his God, the State. He was no longer, as an aristocrat, in the monarchy of the nobility; as a mechanic, in the monarchy of the guild; but he, like all, recognized and acknowledged only - one lord, the State, as whose servants they all received the equal title of honour, "citizen."

The bourgeoisie is the aristocracy of DESERT; its motto, "Let desert wear its crowns." It fought against the "lazy" aristocracy, for according to it (the industrious aristocracy acquired by industry and desert) it is not the "born" who is free, nor yet I who am free either, but the "deserving" man, the honest servant (of his King; of the State; of the People in constitutional States). Through service one acquires freedom, that is, acquires "deserts," even if one served - mammon. One must deserve well of the State, of the principle of the State, of its moral spirit. He who serves this spirit of the State is a good citizen, let him live to whatever honest branch of industry he will. In its eyes innovators practice a "breadless art." Only the "shopkeeper" is "practical," and the spirit that chases after public offices is as much the shopkeeping spirit as is that which tries in trade to feather its nest or otherwise to become useful to itself and anybody else.

But, if the deserving count as the free (for what does the comfortable commoner, the faithful office-holder, lack of that freedom that his heart desires?), then the "servants" are the - free. The obedient servant is the free man! What glaring nonsense! Yet this is the sense of the bourgeoisie, and its poet, Goethe, as well as its philosopher, Hegel, succeeded in glorifying the dependence of the subject on the object, obedience to the objective world. He who only serves the cause, "devotes himself entirely to it," has the true freedom. And among thinkers the cause was - reason, that which, like state and church, gives - general laws, and puts the individual man in irons by the thought of humanity. It determines what is "true," according to which one must then act. No more "rational" people than the honest servants, who primarily are called good citizens as servants of the state.

Whether filthy rich or as poor as a church-mouse - the state of the commonalty leaves that to your choice; but only have a "good disposition." This it demands of you, and counts it its most urgent task to establish this in all. Therefore it will keep you from "evil promptings," holding the "ill-disposed" in check and silencing their inflammatory discourses under censors' canceling-marks or press-penalties and behind dungeon walls, and will, on the other hand, appoint people of "good disposition" as censors, and in every way have a moral influence exerted on you by "well-disposed and well-meaning" people. If it has made you deaf to evil promptings, then it opens your ears again all the more diligently to good promptings.

With the time of the bourgeoisie begins that of liberalism.
People want to see what is "rational," "suited to the times," etc., established everywhere. The following definition of liberalism, which is supposed to be pronounced in its honour, characterizes it completely: "Liberalism is nothing else than the knowledge of reason, applied to our existing relations." [5] Its aim is a "rational order," a "moral behaviour," a "limited freedom," not anarchy, lawlessness, selfhood. But, if reason rules, then the person succumbs. Art has for a long time not only acknowledged the ugly, but considered the ugly as necessary to its existence, and takes it up into itself; it needs the villain. In the religious domain, too, the extremest liberals go so far that they want to see the most religious man regarded as a citizen - that is, the religious villain; they want to see no more of trials for heresy. But against the "rational law" no one is to rebel, otherwise he is threatened with the severest penalty. What is wanted is not free movement and realization of the person or of me, but of reason - a dominion of reason, a dominion. The liberals are zealots, not exactly for the faith, for God, but certainly for reason, their master. They brook no lack of breeding, and therefore no self-development and self-determination; they play the guardian as effectively as the most absolute rulers.

"Political liberty," what are we to understand by that? Perhaps the individual's independence of the state and its laws? No; on the contrary, the individual's subjection in the state and to the state's laws. But why "liberty"? Because one is no longer separated from the state by intermediaries, but stands in direct and immediate relation to it; because one is a - citizen, not the subject of another, not even of the king as a person, but only in his quality as "supreme head of the state." Political liberty, this fundamental doctrine of liberalism, is nothing but a second phase of - Protestantism, and runs quite parallel with "religious liberty.'' Or would it perhaps be right to understand by the latter an independence of religion? Anything but that. Independence of intermediaries is all that it is intended to express, independence of mediating priests, the abolition of the "laity," and so, direct and immediate relation to religion or to God. Only on the supposition that one has religion can he enjoy freedom of religion; freedom of religion does not mean being without religion, but inwardness of faith, unmediated intercourse with God. To him who is "religiously free" religion is an affair of the heart, it is to him his own affair, it is to him a "sacredly serious matter." So, too, to the "politically free" man the state is a sacredly serious matter; it is his heart's affair, his chief affair, his own affair.

Political liberty means that the polis, the state, is free; freedom of religion that religion is free, as freedom of conscience signifies that conscience is free; not, therefore, that I am free from the state, from religion, from conscience, or that I am rid of them. It does not mean my liberty, but the liberty of a power that rules and subjugates me; it means that one of my despots, like state, religion, conscience, is free. State, religion, conscience, these despots, make me a slave, and their liberty is my slavery. That in this they necessarily follow the principle, "the end hallows the means," is self-evident. If the welfare of the state is the end, war is a hallowed means; if justice is the state's end, homicide is a hallowed means, and is called by its sacred name, "execution"; the sacred state hallows everything that is serviceable to it.

"Individual liberty," over which civic liberalism keeps jealous watch, does not by any means signify a completely free self-determination, by which actions become altogether mine, but only independence of persons. Individually free is he who is responsible to no man. Taken in this sense - and we are not allowed to understand it otherwise - not only the ruler is individually free, irresponsible toward men ("before God," we know, he acknowledges himself responsible), but all who are "responsible only to the law." This kind of liberty was won through the revolutionary movement of the century - namely, independence of arbitrary will, or tel est notre plaisir. Hence the constitutional prince must himself be stripped of all personality, deprived of all individual decision, that he may not as a person, as an individual man, violate the "individual liberty" of others. The personal will of the ruler has disappeared in the constitutional prince; it is with a right feeling, therefore, that absolute princes resist this. Nevertheless these very ones profess to be in the best sense "Christian princes." For this, however, they must become a purely spiritual power, as the Christian is subject only to spirit ("God is spirit"). The purely spiritual power is consistently represented only by the constitutional prince, he who, without any personal significance, stands there spiritualized to the degree that he can rank as a sheer, uncanny "spirit," as an idea. The constitutional king is the truly Christian king, the genuine, consistent carrying-out of the Christian principle. In the constitutional monarchy individual dominion - a real ruler that wills - has found its end; here, therefore, individual liberty prevails, independence of every individual dictator, of everyone who could dictate to me with a tel est notre plaisir. It is the completed Christian state-life, a spiritualized life.

The behaviour of the commonalty is liberal through and through. Every personal invasion of another's sphere revolts the civic sense; if the citizen sees that one is dependent on the humour, the pleasure, the will of a man as individual (not as authorized by a "higher power"), at once he brings his liberalism to the front and shrieks about "arbitrariness." In fine, the citizen asserts his freedom from what is called orders [Befehl] (ordonnance):"No one has any business to give me - orders!" Orders carries the idea that what I am to do is another man's will, while law [Gesetz] does not express a personal authority of another. The liberty of the commonalty is liberty or independence from the will of another person, so-called personal or individual liberty; for being personally free means being only so free that no other person can dispose of mine, or that what I may or may not do does not depend on the personal decree of another. The liberty of the press, for instance, is such a liberty of liberalism, liberalism fighting only against the coercion of the censorship as that of personal wilfulness, but otherwise showing itself extremely inclined and willing to tyrannize over the press by "press laws"; the civic liberals want liberty of writing for themselves; for, as they are law-abiding, their writings will not bring them under the law. Only liberal matter, only lawful matter, is to be allowed to be printed; otherwise the "press laws" threaten "press-penalties." If one sees personal liberty assured, one does not notice at all how, if a new issue happens to arise, the most glaring unfreedom becomes dominant. For one is rid of orders indeed, and "no one has any business to give us orders," but one has become so much the more submissive to the - law. One is enthralled now in due legal form.

In the citizen-state [Bürger-Staat] there are only "free people," who are compelled to thousands of things (to deference, to a confession of faith, and the like). But what does that amount to? Why, it is only the - State, the law, not any man, that compels them!

What does the commonalty mean by inveighing against every personal order, every order not founded on the "cause [Sache]," on "reason"? It is simply fighting in the interest of the ''cause'' against the dominion of "persons"! But the mind's cause is the rational, good, lawful, etc.; that is the "good cause." The commonalty wants an impersonal ruler.

Furthermore, if the principle is this, that only the cause is to rule man - namely, the cause of morality, the cause of legality, and so on, then no personal balking of one by the other may be authorized either (as formerly the commoner was balked of the aristocratic offices, the aristocrat of common mechanical trades, etc.); free competition must exist. Only through the thing [Sache] can one balk another (as the rich man balking the impecunious man by money, a thing), not as a person. Henceforth only one lordship, the lordship of the State, is admitted; personally no one is any longer lord of another. Even at birth the children belong to the State, and to the parents only in the name of the State, which does not allow infanticide, demands their baptism and so on.

But all the state's children, furthermore, are of quite equal account in its eyes ("civic or political equality"), and they may see to it themselves how they get along with each other; they may compete.

Free competition means nothing else than that every one can present himself, assert himself, fight, against another. Of course the feudal party set itself against this, as its existence depended on an absence of competition. The contests in the time of the Restoration in France had no other substance than this - that the bourgeoisie was struggling for free competition, and the feudalists were seeking to bring back the guild system.

Now, free competition has won, and against the guild system it had to win. (See below for the further discussion.)

If the Revolution ended in a reaction, this only showed what the Revolution really was. For every effort arrives at reaction when it comes to discreet reflection, and storms forward in the original action only so long as it is an intoxication, an "indiscretion." "Discretion" will always be the cue of the reaction, because discretion sets limits, and liberates what was really wanted, that is, the principle, from the initial "unbridledness" and "unrestrainedness." Wild young fellows, bumptious students, who set aside all considerations, are really philistines, since with them, as with the latter, considerations form the substance of their conduct; only that as swaggerers they are mutinous against considerations and in negative relations to them, but as philistines, later, they give themselves up to considerations and have positive relations to them. In both cases all their doing and thinking turns upon "considerations," but the Philistine is reactionary in relation to the student; he is the wild fellow come to discreet reflection, as the latter is the unreflecting philistine. Daily experience confirms the truth of this transformation, and shows how the swaggerers turn to philistines in turning gray.

So, too, the so-called reaction in Germany gives proof that it was only the discreet continuation of the warlike jubilation of liberty.

The Revolution was not directed against the established, but against the establishment in question, against a particular establishment. It did away with this ruler, not with the ruler - on the contrary, the French were ruled most inexorably; it killed the old vicious rulers, but wanted to confer on the virtuous ones a securely established position, that is, it simply set virtue in the place of vice. (Vice and virtue, again, are on their part distinguished from each other only as a wild young fellow from a philistine).

To this day the revolutionary principle has gone no farther than to assail only one or another particular establishment, to be reformatory. Much as may be improved, strongly as "discreet progress" may be adhered to, always there is only a new master set in the old one's place, and the overturning is a - building up. We are still at the distinction of the young philistine from the old one. The Revolution began in bourgeois fashion with the uprising of the third estate, the middle class; in bourgeois fashion it dries away. It was not the individual man - and he alone is Man - that became free, but the citizen, the citoyen, the political man, who for that very reason is not Man but a specimen of the human species, and more particularly a specimen of the species Citizen, a free citizen.

In the Revolution it was not the individual who acted so as to affect the world's history, but a people; the nation, the sovereign nation, wanted to effect everything. A fancied I, an idea, such as the nation is, appears acting; the individuals contribute themselves as tools of this idea, and act as "citizens."

The commonalty has its power, and at the same time its limits, in the fundamental Law of the State, in a charter, in a legitimate [rechtlich] or ''just''' [gerecht] prince who himself is guided, and rules, according to "rational laws," in short, in legality. The period of the bourgeoisie is ruled by the British spirit of legality. An assembly of provincial estates is ever recalling that its authorization goes only so and so far, and that it is called at all only through favour and can be thrown out again through disfavour. It is always reminding itself of its - vocation. It is certainly not to be denied that my father begot me; but, now that I am once begotten, surely his purposes in begetting do not concern me a bit and, whatever he may have called me to, I do what I myself will. Therefore even a called assembly of estates, the French assembly in the beginning of the Revolution, recognized quite rightly that it was independent of the caller. It existed, and would have been stupid if it did not avail itself of the right of existence, but fancied itself dependent as on a father. The called one no longer has to ask "what did the caller want when he created me?" but "what do I want after I have once followed the call?" Not the caller, not the constituents, not the charter according to which their meeting was called out, nothing will be to him a sacred, inviolable power. He is authorized for everything that is in his power; he will know no restrictive "authorization," will not want to be loyal. This, if any such thing could be expected from chambers at all, would give a completely egoistic chamber, severed from all navel-string and without consideration. But chambers are always devout, and therefore one cannot be surprised if so much half-way or undecided, that is, hypocritical, "egoism" parades in them.

The members of the estates are to remain within the limits that are traced for them by the charter, by the king's will, and the like. If they will not or can not do that, then they are to "step out." What dutiful man could act otherwise, could put himself, his conviction, and his will as the first thing? Who could be so immoral as to want to assert himself, even if the body corporate and everything should go to ruin over it? People keep carefully within the limits of their authorization; of course one must remain within the limits of his power anyhow, because no one can do more than he can. "My power, or, if it be so, powerlessness, be my sole limit, but authorizations only restraining - precepts? Should I profess this all-subversive view? No, I am a - law-abiding citizen!"

The commonalty professes a morality which is most closely connected with its essence. The first demand of this morality is to the effect that one should carry on a solid business, an honourable trade, lead a moral life. Immoral, to it, is the sharper, the, demirep, the thief, robber, and murderer, the gamester, the penniless man without a situation, the frivolous man. The doughty commoner designates the feeling against these ''immoral'' people as his "deepest indignation."

All these lack settlement, the solid quality of business, a solid, seemly life, a fixed income, etc.; in short, they belong, because their existence does not rest on a secure basis to the dangerous "individuals or isolated persons," to the dangerous proletariat; they are "individual bawlers" who offer no "guarantee" and have "nothing to lose," and so nothing to risk. The forming of family ties binds a man: he who is bound furnishes security, can be taken hold of; not so the street-walker. The gamester stakes everything on the game, ruins himself and others - no guarantee. All who appear to the commoner suspicious, hostile, and dangerous might be comprised under the name "vagabonds"; every vagabondish way of living displeases him. For there are intellectual vagabonds too, to whom the hereditary dwelling-place of their fathers seems too cramped and oppressive for them to be willing to satisfy themselves with the limited space any more: instead of keeping within the limits of a temperate style of thinking, and taking as inviolable truth what furnishes comfort and tranquillity to thousands, they overlap all bounds of the traditional and run wild with their impudent criticism and untamed mania for doubt, these extravagating vagabonds. They form the class of the unstable, restless, changeable, of the proletariat, and, if they give voice to their unsettled nature, are called "unruly fellows."

Such a broad sense has the so-called proletariat, or pauperism. How much one would err if one believed the commonalty to be desirous of doing away with poverty (pauperism) to the best of its ability! On the contrary, the good citizen helps himself with the incomparably comforting conviction that "the fact is that the good things of fortune are unequally divided and will always remain so - according to God's wise decree." The poverty which surrounds him in every alley does not disturb the true commoner further than that at most he clears his account with it by throwing an alms, or finds work and food for an "honest and serviceable" fellow. But so much the more does he feel his quiet enjoyment clouded by innovating and discontented poverty, by those poor who no longer behave quietly and endure, but begin to run wild and become restless. Lock up the vagabond, thrust the breeder of unrest into the darkest dungeon! He wants to "arouse dissatisfaction and incite people against existing institutions" in the state - stone him, stone him!

But from these identical discontented ones comes a reasoning somewhat as follows: It need not make any difference to the "good citizens" who protects them and their principles, whether an absolute king or a constitutional one, a republic, if only they are protected. And what is their principle, whose protector they always "love"? Not that of labour; not that of birth either. But that of mediocrity, of the golden mean: a little birth and a little labour, that is, an interest-bearing possession. Possession is here the fixed, the given, inherited (birth); interest-drawing is the exertion about it (labour); labouring capital, therefore. Only no immoderation, no ultra, no radicalism! Right of birth certainly, but only hereditary possessions; labour certainly, yet little or none at all of one's own, but labour of capital and of the - subject labourers.

If an age is imbued with an error, some always derive advantage from the error, while the rest have to suffer from it. In the Middle Ages the error was general among Christians that the church must have all power, or the supreme lordship on earth; the hierarchs believed in this "truth" not less than the laymen, and both were spellbound in the like error. But by it the hierarchs had the advantage of power, the laymen had to suffer subjection. However, as the saying goes, "one learns wisdom by suffering"; and so the laymen at last learned wisdom and no longer believed in the medieval "truth." - A like relation exists between the commonalty and the labouring class. Commoner and labourer believe in the "truth" of money; they who do not possess it believe in it no less than those who possess it: the laymen, therefore, as well as the priests.

"Money governs the world" is the keynote of the civic [bürgerlich] epoch. A destitute aristocrat and a destitute labourer, as "starvelings," amount to nothing so far as political consideration is concerned; birth and labour do not do it, but money brings consideration [Geld gibt Geltung]. The possessors rule, but the State trains up from the destitute its "servants," to whom, in proportion as they are to rule (govern) in its name, it gives money (a salary).

I receive everything from the State. Have I anything without the State's assent? What I have without this it takes from me as soon as it discovers the lack of a "legal title." Do I not, therefore, have everything through its grace, its assent?

On this alone, on the legal title, the commonalty rests. The commoner is what he is through the protection of the State, through the State's grace. He would necessarily be afraid of losing everything if the State's power were broken.

But how is it with him who has nothing to lose, how with the proletarian? As he has nothing to lose, he does not need the protection of the state for his "nothing." He may gain, on the contrary, if that protection of the state is withdrawn from the protégé.

Therefore the non-possessor will regard the state as a power protecting the possessor, which privileges the latter, but does nothing for him, the non-possessor, but to - suck his blood. The state is a - commoners' state [Bürgerstaat], is the estate of the commonalty. It protects man not according to his labour, but according to his tractableness ("loyalty") - namely, according to whether the rights entrusted to him by the state are enjoyed and managed in accordance with the will, that is, laws, of the state.

Under the regime of the commonalty the labourers always fall into the hands of the possessors, of those who have at their disposal some bit of the state domains (and everything possessible in state domain, belongs to the state, and is only a fief of the individual), especially money and land; of the capitalists, therefore. The labourer cannot realize on his labour to the extent of the value that it has for the consumer. "Labour is badly paid!" The capitalist has the greatest profit from it. - Well paid, and more than well paid, are only the labours of those who heighten the splendour and dominion of the state, the labours of high state servants. The state pays well that its "good citizens," the possessors, may be able to pay badly without danger; it secures to itself by good payment its servants, out of whom it forms a protecting power, a "police" (to the police belong soldiers, officials of all kinds, those of justice, education, etc. - in short, the whole "machinery of the state") for the "good citizens," and the "good citizens" gladly pay high tax-rates to it in order to pay so much lower rates to their labourers.

But the class of labourers, because unprotected in what they essentially are (for they do not enjoy the protection of the state as labourers, but as its subjects they have a share in the enjoyment of the police, a so-called protection of the law), remains a power hostile to this state, this state of possessors, this "citizen kingship." Its principle, labour, is not recognized as to its value; it is exploited [ausgebeutet], a spoil [Kriegsbeute] of the possessors, the enemy.

The labourers have the most enormous power in their hands, and, if they once became thoroughly conscious of it and used it, nothing would withstand them; they would only have to stop labour, regard the product of labour as theirs, and enjoy it. This is the sense of the labour disturbances which show themselves here and there.

The state rests on the - slavery of labour. If labour becomes free, the state is lost.




[1] A shibboleth is a word whose variations in pronunciation can be used to differentiate members of different cultural and linguistic groups. In this case means a way to differentiate those who are in favour from those who are against the state.

[2] Jean-Sylvain Bailly (1736-1793), famous astronomer and mayor of Paris during the first years (1789-1791) of the French Revolution. He was guillotined the 12 November 1793 during the Reign of Terror.

[3] Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord (1754-1838), bishop of Autun and Barrère (1789-1791). He was thereafter a crafty diplomat at the service of several different rulers (Louis XVI, Napoleon, Louis XVIII, Charles X, Louis-Philippe)

[4] Count de Mirabeau (1749-1791) was the principal spokesman for the Third Estate at the National Assembly of 1789-1791 during the first phase of the French Revolution.

[5] Stirner’s quotation is from page 12 of George Harwegh (ed.) Ein und zwanzig Bogen aus der Schweiz, Zürich and Winterthur, 1843. This text, containing essays by German radicals, was published in Switzerland to escape German press censorship.


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