During the early 1970s a number of commentators on the
intellectual scene noted something of a 'revival' taking place of the philosophy
of Max Stirner, born Johann Kaspar Schmidt (1806-1856), centering
upon his only real book Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum -- a book
that has been called a "revolutionary anarchist manual',
a 'Banker's Bible', a 'structural model of petit-bourgeois self-consciousness',
and many other names since appearing in 1844.
Arguably the most comprehensive study of Stirner's thought
to appear during this revival was R.W.K. Paterson's 1971 The
Nihilistic Egoist: Max Stirner, which aimed to supersede all previous
studies in English. By wading deep into Stirner's concepts, Paterson
demonstrated his commitment to take Der Einzige as
substantive philosophical discourse. Paradoxically, he would conclude that Stirner was
seriously advocating a grim but absolute frivolity.
This study examines in detail what proves to be a
passionate and melodramatic but not quite objective reading on the part of Prof.
Paterson, both as to Stirner's meaning in his own time and to
his relevance today. If Paterson's prosecution of Stirner fails
the test of objectivity, nevertheless The Nihilistic Egoist
is a significant study and a jumping-off point, with or without
the abyss, for a revisionist perspective which rediscovers, rather
than falsifies, Stirner's own intentionality.
In the course of contrasting Stirner's own words with how
Paterson interprets him, some engrained trivializations and misconceptions
can be undone, and the modern relevance of Stirner re-visioned. I will argue Stirner
does indeed present a nihilistic egoism, in a loose but not literal sense, and poorly
interpreted as the rapacious frivolity claimed by Paterson. From a position that
claims value-circumspection rather than value-neutrality, this paper makes a tentative
reassessment of Stirner less as metaphysician than as social critic and educator.