Category Archives: Nietzsche

Greek Nostalgia

On “The Genealogy of Ethics” interview that I presented on, Foucault made two interesting statements that I would like to discuss here.  The first is when the interviewer presses him about whether he possibly shows a lack of respect for the improvements that modern science, institutions (things that Foucault is critical of in his works), etc. have had for the prolonging and quality of human life in general, and Foucault replies that his philosophical project is not to see modernity (or any human era in fact) as bad but to see it as posing potential problems.  The second thing Foucault says that interests me here is, when asked about a seemingly implicit fondness for the fecundity of free creativity that was characteristic of Classical Greece and whether or not Foucault thinks we should aim to “get back” to that culture, Foucault replies that a past period is nothing to get back to because the problems, and the contexts of the problems, they were trying to solve are so different from our own that it is inconcievable and fruitless to put ourselves in their shoes so to speak.

I am fascinated by the role that the ancient Greeks play in the thought of Foucault (and Nietzsche for that matter).  If prior historical periods are nothing to get back to, if they offer know exemplary value in relation to our period, then why undertake, in meticulous detail, an exhaustive account of how these periods dealt with certain problems. Some might say that it is done merely to show the malleability of what we perceive as the human condition and, therefore, the exciting possibilities for us to shape our own conditions.  This view for me counts for a lot, but I do think that the Greeks play an extra special role for both these genealogical thinkers.  I am oftentimes inclined to think that Foucault and Nietzsche, despite their articulation of an obviously deeply flawed society, use Classical Greece nostalgiacally as a place of myth.  A place where people were not imposed on by the same plethora of authorities that have hold of us today, a place where people did not cripple themselves with their own self-consciousness.  Though they are very different, I often see parallels in the way Nietzsche and Foucault see Ancient Greeks with the Biblical notion of a pre-fallen state.  It seems to me me that Nietzsche especially, but also Foucault, put too much significance on the “Greek way” for the purposed of what they think was done beautifully for Greece not to be seen with mythological characteristics.

Polarity of Self – CONT’D

(CONT’D of : )

Indeed, I must get to the core of what it is that I mean by Intuitive Self.

Foucault alludes to the Greek and Roman’s shaping of the self by the self through philosophical precepts such as Epicureanism and Stoicism.

Now, I sense that today’s Ideal Self (that I’ve elaborated earlier) has grown into an equivalent for the Stoicism and Epicureanism of the time – except first; there isn’t a choice to be made (such as; which philosophies speaks to me the most), and second – the self ideal isn’t fortuitous for the human specie, in that it suppresses our nature and uses it to serve external purposes. Therefore, my argument comes in play, as perhaps optimistic – but questions how Stoicism and Epicureanism came to be in the first place.

Naturally, I must be seeing something in Foucault that does allude to the “Intuitive self,” and what eventually supported my intuition was on page p.136 of HS Vol.3: “… a sort of animalization […] that is, a subordination, as strict as possible, of the soul’s desire to the body’s needs…” Here Foucault aims at the precepts of Stoicism.

So perhaps there is a more accurate term for the “intuitive self” – at least one that doesn’t allude to the same light as the G & R one, because first: we aren’t Greek or Roman, second: we live in B.C. and third: 2000 years or so later. Along that line, there is an acceptance, a certain “facing of” that both F. and N. emphasize in regards to our current situation. They both support the idea that one, we can’t deny our history, nor what has happened, and where it has lead us. And two; everything that’s happen since the G & R isn’t all bad.

Thus, I clarify that the “Intuitive Self” could be, and is better contemporarily defined as a return to the individual. Indeed, Foucault’s ethics for instance, does not consists of a “Walden” adventure (Thoreau) – that is; we should not (nor can we) be independent from the cultural and social ideals inflicted upon the individual through discourses, but simply conscious of them. As he develops on page 142: “ He must address a discourse of Truth to himself.” These discourses of Truth I call Ideals, Nietzsche calls them Abstractions and Metaphors in “On Truth and Lies […]”.

Foucault elucidates how the mechanisms of power have learned to target our most vulnerable sensibilities with such discourses: Sex and morality are examples. And that’s all the more the case today; as the process of socialization occurs at an even earlier age. (Lacan’s Mirror stage)

As a consequence, the ideal self is intensified, and required to be held upon all the more. In this light, I sense that something is being hidden from us, and that could truly be: our intuitive nature. That is, I sense we are entering an age of consciousness in which we realize how far away we’ve been brought, or lead to believe, and a return to our nature is more than necessary, therefore all the more repressed by the authoritative agency. Occurrences of revolts against the ideal are such as the 60’s sexual liberation movement, or today’s mistrust in regards to governments with the whole Edward Snowden scenario.

So if Foucault claims that we are free insofar as there is the possibility of changing the power relations we find ourselves in; could it be that this possibility is this intuitive nature? By such I don’t mean that of animalistic nature, but rather of a human one; a “natural philosophy.”

The point is, Foucault goes on with his metaphor of the “night watchman” and stresses how we must constantly inspect what is, and what is of no value to me. This makes me think of Nietzsche’s “self-criticism” in the light of stripping ourselves down to our true self. So could it be, that without being normative, Foucault’s philosophy supports the qualities of the specie.

What those qualities might be: Subjectivity.

As for how Stoicism and Epicureanism came about? They did so through a single individual who, because what was available did not suffice his personal agenda, consequently had to rely on and trust his subjectivity. With time, certain philosophies became a collectively shared subjectivity; such as Stoicism and Epicureanism.

So without being explicit, could it be that Foucault asks for “a return to the individual.” Because as I’ve understood from N.’s GM – that’s what he seems to be targeting in his viewer, his or her individuality in the light of claiming it sovereign. Could that be the case in Foucault? A return to the individual, a need for a new philosophy, a new subjectivity – and a forsaking of the objective ideals?

Focuault vs. Nietzsche on the Emergence of the Soul

Foucault and Nietzsche seem to define the soul in at least somewhat similar ways. Both see the soul as a human construction, and for both it plays the role of something interior that exists behind a person’s actions. For Nietzsche, as we know, the idea of the soul really emerges and is popularized around the time of the slave revolt in morality: the slaves internalize their will to power, they self-reflect, they create “bad conscience,” etc., and thus we now have a “doer” behind the deed. I’m a little bit more unclear as to the point in history during which the soul emerges for Foucault. From what I can gather, it seems like it is a much later process, around the time that modern penal systems evolve. As he discusses, penal systems start to focus more on remedying the “drives and desires” behind a criminal’s actions, rather than just the actions themselves (e.g. pg. 17). The difference from Nietzsche here is that—rather than people creating their own internal “doer”—this doer is a product of power being exercised on people.

So, each writer’s conception of the soul has important similarities (though of course I am sure there are many differences as well), but the biggest difference seems to be in how each views the soul’s origins. I’m a huge skeptic about Nietzsche’s historical accuracy, but in this case it actually seems to me that Nietzsche’s arguments have the edge in terms of historical grounding, which would date the soul’s origins earlier than Foucault’s estimates. Nietzsche situates the soul’s emergence around the climax of the slave revolt in morality, which happens around the time of the shift from Judaism to Christianity, after which Christianity becomes the dominant western system (this obviously takes place over a period of several hundred years). It dawned on me today, though, that we can interestingly see this idea of the internal “doer” emerging in Judeo-Christian writing from the time period in which this shift takes place.

The traditional Jewish laws from the Hebrew Bible are largely focused on actions: restrictions on what to eat and wear, how much money to give, categorical commandments of the type “thou shalt not commit adultery.” However, during Nietzsche’s “slave revolt” period, the focus largely shifts from deeds to doers: in the Gospels, Jesus replaces commandments like “do not commit adultery” with commandments like “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”; the early Christians decide that Gentile converts to Christianity do not need to follow Jewish laws bout diet, circumcision, etc. A really good example of these types of shifts from outward action to interior disposition is Mark 7:14-23, which I’ll link to so as to avoid lengthy quotation:

It’s interesting to me that in passages like these we can see that judgment is being passed on the actor’s “drives and desires,” rather than his or her actions, which is exactly what Foucault says leads to the construction of the soul but at a much later period in history. Although, I also might be reading Foucault wrongly—maybe he can recognize that these ideas existed for a long time, but that it wasn’t until the modern penal system the state’s motivations for punishing criminals began to focus on interior motivation rather than just actions.

Ultimately, I don’t mean to say that Nietzsche is correct or Foucault is wrong, but just to point out that within western, Judeo-Christian thought (the limited scope to which Nietzsche and Foucault mostly stick), the idea of this type of soul or internal self does seem to emerge as early as Nietzsche says it does. But, I’m interested to keep reading Foucault and see where his discussion of the matter goes.

Still on Nietzsche

So as I am finishing my non-conventional artifact; which is on Nietzsche, I have come across many concepts and ideas and theories and things that we haven’t truly discussed in class. So I wanted to take the opportunity to maybe talk about it over this blog.

The first is, as I’m reading Beyond Good and Evil (indeed, I couldn’t get enough of this Nietzsche) I’m realizing more and more the extent to which he forwards a collective subjectivity. Now, that sounds utterly paradoxical, but I sense some truth in it. I see in Nietzsche’s texts, a disdain for the universal, the objective and unconditional, obviously – secondly, I sense an allusion to a common reason, maybe an intuition that we all share. Something that doesn’t appeal to an external, objective truth, but rather a purely subjective one, which everybody can hear. I believe that everybody has their own way of thinking and of formulating meaning for instance, but I also believe that at the root of it all – we experience the same intuition, or satori, or furor poeticus, or bursts of creativity- here’s the tricky part: the metaphysical process of formulating meaning from the intuition is a process of individualization. This is a big theory I’m most definitely working on. So, like Nietzsche, I think that to truly engage in an epistemological enquiry is to deceive one self. However, there is not knowledge “out there,” in the noumena. Therefore, we must use our imagination and fantasies as a tool to fuel our nature; that of creators. So to come back to “my theory,” I sense a common access to a collective subjectivity, what perhaps Jung phrased: Collective Unconscious, that we subsequently formulate into earthly meaning. This access is thus purely subjective to the individual, but the place, or essence that is accessed is common to all… So i’m not talking about Jung, but my own take on this intuition, and which I’m currently in the process of formulating. Now the examples: I suppose the theory could explain why certain pieces of creation such as Arvo Paart’s “Tabula Rasa”, or Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis”, or even Pythagoras’ theorems are formulations that evoke such a similitude to the intuition under which they came, that everybody has access to the truth in them – this collective subjectivity. I believe this collective subjectivity is experienced in the mind’s eye. Bon, this is quite all over the place – but I find it fascinating however, how every thinker I’ve been reading so far discusses this access to a collective subjectivity, whether it’d be Plato, Freud, Kant (transcendental philosophy), and Nietzsche with his sovereign individual, that which he attempts to provoke inside each of his devoted readers.

Secondly… Actually I’d rather keep this as it is. And I’ll submit the rest under another post. Thank you.

Foucault From Nietzsche

As we now progress from Nietzsche to Foucault I am going to be very curious in regards to the manner in which Foucault expands upon, or tinkers with, Nietzsche’s philosophical method, or even genre, of genealogy.  What ingredients get added? Which get discarded.  Will Foucault maintain the sense of ominousness that Nietzsche offered in his discourse when he pointed directly to certain things (such as the Testaments of the Bible or the “genius” of Christianity), and in doing so, simultaneously insinuated other, perhaps deeper things? Will Foucault’s descriptive presence transcend the individual, specific topics that he discusses in the three books we will read by him?  Is Foucault’s primary purpose simply to try to reenact Nietzsche in a later era (the late twentieth century)?  Will Foucault be as adamant as Nietzsche in ensuring that he uneasily interpreted? How will Foucault go about analyzing the origins of things?  Will he be as sharp-tongued  in bringing to our attention perhaps the “flukes”, the minor cough ups, the windiest parts of the road, the incorrect reasoning, that initiated the things that now continue to exist, the things that we see as valuable? How closely does Foucault follow Nietzsche in holding the view of the link between power and knowledge?  What I’m going to be really interested in is how much time Foucault will spend articulating the nature of the force wielding the “will to power” versus articulating the nature of the process how this wielding is conducted.  Will Foucault make more of a concerted effort than Nietzsche in attempting to tell history from a more objective viewpoint? Or is he, like Nietzsche, interested in making a new mythology with his quasi-historical story telling?  It is surely the case that Foucault will dig deeper into some of our contemporary institutions and customs. It will surely be fascinating to note where his priorities lie in relation to Nietzsche.

Foucault: a new take on genealogy

Colin Koopman writes in his paper Genealogy as Critique that “Foucault recognized that no matter how base and despicable the emergence of certain of our practices has been, we can neither reject nor legitimate these practices on the basis of the terms of their emergence alone.” This is in contrast to Nietzsche, who uses historical facts in the Genealogy of Morality in an attempt to discredit morality. Foucault’s claim seems very similar to debates within morality about the role of ‘intention’ when evaluating the morality of an action. For consequentialist views only consequences matter, intentions are irrelevant. For non-consequentialist views, both the intentions behind and the outcome of the action are relevant to judging the actions moral worth. To apply this to Foucault and Nietzsche’s genealogies, is the cause of the practice important, or is it merely the practice itself?

I would fathom that those who feel intentions are important for judging moral actions would also be more inclined towards Nietzsche’s view, that one can discredit a practice solely based on its history. Those who fall under the consequentialist umbrella of morality are more likely to follow Foucault’s line of judging a practice based on its practice, not on what brought it about.

I have yet to read any of Foucault’s work, however something he said in his interview stuck out to me in the context of the above discussion. Foucault states “You know, this history of problematizations in human practices, there is a point where…people begin to realize that they act blindly and that consequently a new light is necessary”. I was wondering how it is that people would reach the point where they ‘realise that they act blindly’ without examining the events which brought their practice in question about. There must be some sort of trigger than causes someone to become aware that the practice they consider to be routine should in fact be changed. If this does not come about by a re-evaluation of the practice’s history, I would imagine it must come about as a result of some new awareness of some sort of alternative to the practice. However, requiring that a viable alternative to a practice be found before a realisation can be reached about the problems with the current practice seems limit the potential for change. My eventual conclusion is that perhaps Foucault should not be so quick to limit a person’s ability to change a practice on the basis of the practice’s history.


Is Consciousness a Burden to Society?

This is a short reflection based on a question Michael forwarded in class, back during his presentation:

Is Consciousness a burden to society?

My intuition tells me consciousness isn’t a burden as much as the system under which it lies, is and acts as a burden to society…

In the instance of the Nobles; what is most honorable is their ability to shamelessly express themselves, what is most natural to them, to us, humans. It consists of an immediate expression of the instincts. A “Yes” to nature. From a noble’s perspective, “doing cruel acts” for instance, is as a means to survive. This direct manifestation of the will is thus a necessity. However, the mere satisfaction of our nature isn’t enough – doing just what’s necessary is really the least we can do. So, as far as the nobles go, lacking the ability to reflect and self-reflect; consciousness fails at being a burden to society, as much as it fails to provide any progress.

Through saying “No”, however, through being too conscious, too prudent and through this suppression of instincts: the slave revolt has lead us to deny, defunct and neglect our nature. And in regards to society, this sort of consciousness is indeed a burden. Why? Because through this internalization of man, of all will to power, or more precisely; through sublimating its affect into guilt – Christianity has gotten us to will nothingness. And Nietzsche suggests, through this aversion to life, society can’t grow, can’t express it self – it is but a void… Which leads me to my next point, that which calls for the sovereign man.

As Nietzsche mentions in the twelfth section of the Second Treatise; the succession of wills to power makes for progression, progressus. If we suppress our will, we’ll be prudent and stationary; if we do nothing but express our will, we’ll survive, but will we progress? will society develop? Certainly not. Then comes Nietzsche: He states in section two of the same treatise, that the customs of morality acted a means for the SI to come about.

The sovereign individual has actualized the synthesis of the Noble’s and the Slave’s morality. He has the agency freewill, i.e. the means for progression. He promises, he acts responsibly, and in this regard: No, consciousness is not a burden to society.

(ps: some of you have argued that the sovereign individual, seized in its continuous nature, its struggle, can’t be tied to progress… room for discussion.)

A Personal Take on the “Genealogy”

The more I read Nietzsche the more I like this guy!

I don’t think I’ve had as many “yes” moments with any other philosopher I’ve studied in courses here so far than I have with Nietzsche. When he says that a Homer could not have written an Achilles if he himself was one, or when he points out that the path to power is NOT the same as the path to happiness, but in fact is something we might prize over happiness, that could even lead to our unhappiness, I find myself ticking off mental checkboxes in my head. These (and others in earlier treatises) are ideas I had thought of independently before even coming Nietzsche, and at this point this is becoming so common that I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve maybe been reading a lot of stuff inspired by him without knowing it. Otherwise, the similarities are certainly starting to become freaky.

On a personal note, Nietzsche is often considered to be an INTJ on the widely-used MBTI personality test, the exact same type I am, which could explain many of the similarities in thought process (even though we don’t agree on everything). This is part of the reason I mentioned the other day in class that he maybe might not have intended for us to take the precise components of his arguments as particularly as we do, since INTJs are often known to be more concerned with making a point in the “best” (clearest, strongest, most vivid) way possible than about the formal “rigour” of the arguments themselves – which is not to say they can’t be analytical, of course. Obviously, Nietzsche was a highly gifted scholar who was more than capable of writing in the conventional “philosophical” style, but certainly in the “Genealogy” at least that doesn’t seem to be his main focus. Perhaps a more literary style of textual analysis would be more appropriate here?

Speaking of which, this post doesn’t seem to be all that “philosophical” either, but I just had to put this out there, since the “Genealogy” has just been such a fun read – something I never thought I’d say about a philosophical text!

The Politics of the Sovereign Individual

Building off of some of the discussions, comments and questions we’ve had in class, I’d like to look more at Nietzsche’s politics, more particularly what the politics of the Sovereign Individual would look like. As great as it is to take a text like the Genealogy and assess it in purely literary, rhetorical, or philosophical terms, there is always something to be gained still by asking of any text one is reading, “What of it? What does this mean? What does this look like in reality?” And especially with such a naturalistic thinker as Nietzsche I think it makes sense to take ourselves out of the ivory tower of theory and analysis and throw ourselves into the mud and muck of everyday life and politics to see how what Nietzsche has to say about morality and the Sovereign Individual might look beyond the pages of a book.

Picking up from our latest discussion on Treatise III, the Owen text, and the Gemes and Janaway article(s), I think it’s fair to say that so much of what makes an SI an SI is the significance of the source of one’s interests, desires, and actions, as well as how one relates to them. To be an SI one must stay disciplined and true to one’s innermost, own-most unique driving, interpreting, creative force in organizing the hierarchy of one’s desires and interests and not deny this creative aspect of oneself for any external ‘other’. Insofar as the ‘nobles’ give a blanket pass to all of their desires and interests, regardless of whether they are internally- or externally-motivated, and leave this hierarchy untouched, they are not SIs. And, insofar as the ‘slaves’ give a blanket denial to all of their desires and interests and seek to abnegate their own creative, ordering, interpreting drive, they too can never be SIs.

Teasing out the consequences of this, I think we can say that the ‘sovereignty’ of the Sovereign Individual depends very much so upon its not recognizing any external authorities to itself, be they moral, epistemological, or political. Now, as much as Nietzsche may have disparaged anarchists at various points, I can’t help but feel this deep rejection by the SI of any source of authority external to itself leads inexorably to some form of anarchism. Afterall, ‘anarchy’ at its etymological roots is simply the absence of a dominant authority or ruler: ‘an-‘ (not, or without) ‘arkhos’ (ruler, leader) or ‘arkhe’ (power, authority). Despite the strong contemporary conflation of ‘anarchy’, ‘anarchism’, and ‘anarchists’ with chaos, disorder, and destruction, anarchism as a political theory does offer itself as a means of positive organization, one that is based on consent, free association, and self-governance rather than force, oppression, and hierarchy. From everyone’s favourite ‘holy-shit-anyone-can-edit-this’ online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, to the open-source code underpinning this very blogging platform, we are in fact readily acquainted with ‘workable’ examples of anarchism.

Perhaps in understanding Nietzsche’s politics and the connection of the Sovereign Individual to anarchism it is again helpful to look at Max Stirner. As I suggested in my first blog post for this class, much of Nietzsche’s genealogy of nobles, slaves, knights, and priests sounds eerily similar to Stirner’s earlier genealogy of Ancients and Moderns, and Nietzsche’s Sovereign individual sounds very much so cut of the same cloth as Stirner’s egoistic ‘unique one’. Where Stirner does seem to go further than Nietzsche with these ideas, though, is in his application of them to politics. Throughout The Ego and Its Own, Stirner vehemently criticizes the state and all its institutions, and in the latter half of the book, in spelling out his description of the ‘unique one’ with its ‘egoistic future’, Stirner points to the mode of organizing of these ‘unique ones’ being a ‘union of egoists’. In short, this ‘union of egoists’ is the free, spontaneous, non-systematic association of such ‘egoists’, which is held together only by the continuous, freely given consent of its members based on their own, individual desires and interests. Insofar as one no longer wishes to be part of such a union, they may leave, and insofar as the original purposes of the union have been accomplished the union spontaneously dissolves.

For his work in The Ego and Its Own, Stirner is usually seen as an ardent egoist, or individualist, anarchist. However, when addressing the ‘union of egoists’ there does seem to be at least some room and possibility for more social forms of anarchism, such as anarcho-syndicalism. Regardless, insofar as we can understand Nietzsche’s Sovereign Individuals to be defined, at least politically, first and foremost by a rejection of imposed external authority, and insofar as the comparison between Nietzsche’s Sovereign Individuals with Stirner’s ‘unique ones’ and their ‘union of egoists’ is apt, then it is fair to say that at least some form or manner of anarchistic organization and principles would underlying the real-world politics of real-world Sovereign Individuals.

Max Stirner, A Third Face of Genealogy?

I do not presuppose myself, because I am every moment just positing or creating myself, and am I only by being not presupposed but posited, and again, posited only in the moment when I posit myself; that is, I am creator and creature [Schöpfer und Geschöpf] in one.

Max Stirner, 1844. (The Ego and Its Own. Ed. David Leopold. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.)

In human beings, creature and creator are combined: in humans there is material, fragments, abundance, clay, dirt, nonsense, chaos; but in humans there is also creator, maker, hammer- hardness, spectator-divinity and seventh day:—do you understand this contrast?

Friedrich Nietzsche, 1886. (Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. Judith Norman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.)

October of 1844 was quite the interesting month for births in the Saxon city of Leipzig and surrounding area. On the 15th of that month just outside of the city in the village of Röcken-bei-Lützen Freidrich Nietzsche was born into the word by mama Fransizka and papa Carl. Also that same month in the city itself there was born into the world the work Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum by papa Max Stirner, known most-often in English as The Ego and Its Own.

There is much constroversy and debate around the extent to which Nietzsche was aware of Stirner and his magnum opus, and even if he plagiarized his predecessor. Since I brought up Stirner in seminar and no one outside of Lee seemed to have even heard of him, I feel obliged to provide at least a brief run-down of Stirner’s work and connect it to Nietzsche since even if Freidrich did not plagiarize Max, The Ego and Its Own is still highly relevant to any study of Nietzsche in general and our looking at genealogy in particular.

Max Stirner was a student of G.W.F. Hegel and one of the group of Left or Young Hegelians that included the likes of Bruno Bauer, Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels (the latter two of whom would seek to skewer ‘Saint Max’ in the third chapter their German Ideology).

Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own covers much of the same ground that the infant Nietzsche would also cover later in life, and acts to foreshadow greatly Nietzche’s work. The book is divided into two parts, the first of which is simply titled ‘MAN’ and has Stirner tracing his own genealogy of human ‘self-discoveries’. For Stirner, to be born is to be thrust into the world as a physical entity – into the combat of self-assertion with other physical entities of the natural world. As children, we seek out the weaknesses of our ‘enemies’ (the punishment rod of our parents, for example), in order to ‘get behind’ and conquer them. This search leads us to our first ‘self-discovery’, that of our ‘obduracy’, or more generally the discovery of the intellect, spirit, or geist. With this discovery, the youth now recognizes ‘spirit’ as the dominant force over the natural/bodily world, and seeks to align itself with the purity of ‘spirit’ and concern itself only with intellectual or ‘spiritual’ matters. However, ultimately the youth must come to terms with the fact that due to its embodied nature it will never be able to achieve purity of ‘spirit’. This leads to the second ‘self-discovery’, whereby man ‘gets behind’ this ‘spirit’ and discovers his corporeality. At this point, man is concerned to live egoistically and according to its own interests. Finally, as to the question of what becomes of man later in life when he becomes an old man, Stirner says only, “When I become one, there will still be time enough to speak of that.”

Following this same evolving, dialectical movement of physical-ideational-egoistical, Stirner drafts a similar genealogy of the devolpment of humankind as a whole (read: the Western world). For ‘the Ancients’ (Greeks, Romans) the natural world was their primary concern and they were ‘enslaved by existing things’. However, between the work of the Sophists and Socrates there began a process of ‘self-discovery’ and ultimately self-denial in the world of the ‘Ancients’ that culminated with the work of the Skeptics. From here, Stirner sees Judeo-Christianity and the figure of Christ in particular as key in initiating the transition to ‘Modernity’ and the complete denial of bodily self for the sake of purified spirit, i.e., God. Then, Stirner departs from mirroring his earlier genealogy of personal/psychological/moral development by suggesting that his liberal, post-Christian contemporaries are not ‘the Free’ as they like to think of themselves, but rather are really only “the more modern and most modern amongst the ‘moderns’”. Although they may have ‘gotten behind’ God, they have not truly ‘gotten behind’ the spirit of the age, and instead have only replaced the Christian God with their own Modern, secular gods of liberalism, humanism, and socialism whereby one is still required to deny one’s corporeal, egoistic self for the sake of some ideational/spiritual ‘other’ (pure morality, humanity, the state, etc.). This is where the first part of the book and Stirner’s genealogy ends. The second part of the book, ‘I’, consists of Stirner’s extended character treatment of the egoistic ‘unique one’ who, unlike Stirner’s contemporaries, goes beyond simply seeking to ‘brush away’ the ‘other world outside us‘, to also to ‘brushing away’ the ‘other world in us‘ as well; to remove not only God, but Man as well from the ‘Modern’ picture of self as ‘God-man’. Here too Stirner briefly sketches out the ‘egoistic future’ of these ‘unique ones’ as ‘creative nothings’.

So, there is much to be made of comparing Nietzsche to Stirner on their use of genealogy. Like Stirner before him, Nietzsche begins his genealogy of morality with a take on the ‘ancient’ world of nobles, knights, and noble morality as one concerned primarily with the natural world, physicality, and action. Like Stirner’s first ‘self-discovery’, Nietzsche too sees the physical powers and prowess of this ancient/noble/knightly morality overcome by the ideational/spiritual/otherworldly slave revolt in morality brought on by the priestly class, most typified by the dominance of Christianity and its attendant self-denying obedience to a supernatural god. And as Stirner sees his contemporaries as still bound up with the very ‘Modern’ need for some external other even after the ‘death of God’, so too does Nietzsche view post-Christian modernity. Finally, as Stirner enigmatically points to a sort of quasi-achieved, quasi-yet-to-be-achieved ‘unique one’ as the ‘creative nothing’, we see Nietzsche enigmatically pontificating about his quasi-achieved, quasi-yet-to-be-achieved Sovereign Individual.

As quick and dirty as this run-down of a fairly obscure and esoteric precursor to Nietzsche has been, hopefully it has shown the distinct possibility that along with Nietzsche’s more well-known influences of Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer and Paul Rée, the Übermensch was also was reacting to, and building off of, the legacy of Max Stirner.

Free online copies of Stirner’s works:

The Ego and Its Own:

Stirner’s other works: