Max Stirner: Biography of this German thinker

Max Stirner was an influential German philosopher but in turn unknown, or at least anonymous.. He does not claim to be part of a clear philosophical current, nor does he find a living ideology, although his training was influenced by the Hegelian left.

He rejected any integration of the individual into political and social life, because he believed that entities such as the state, society and classes were just empty abstractions of content.

Despite this curiosity, Stirner is considered one of the precursors of ideologies as disparate as nihilism, existentialism, individualist anarchism, psychoanalytic theory, the far right and proto-fascism. Let’s take a closer look at his life through a biography of Max Stirner, In summary format.

    Short biography of Max Stirner

    The life of Max Stirner, pseudonym of Johann Kaspar Schmidt, is that of someone who had his moment of glory only to, immediately after, fall into oblivion for nearly a century.

    first years

    Johann Kaspar Schmidt was born in the German city of Bayreuth, Bavaria on October 25, 1806, at that time the Confederation of the Rhine. He was the only child of Albert Christian Heinrich Schmidt, a petty bourgeois craftsman who made flutes, and Sophia Eleonora Reinlein, both Lutherans.

    Little Johann Kaspar was six months old, his father died of tuberculosisSo, in 1809, his mother remarried, this time to Heinrich Ballerstedt. Sophia would temporarily leave her son in the care of parents in Bayreuth, while she moved to Kulm, West Prussia.

    Most of who would be Max Stirner’s childhood is linked to the city of Bayreuth. Later, between 1810 and 1819, he lived with his mother in Kulm, a town he would visit again in 1830.

    The socio-political context is important in the life of Max Stirner. At the time of his birth, Central European politics were briefly stable. Sixteen German princes, including that of Bavaria, signed the Rheinbund Act forming the Confederation of the Rhine, ending their ties with the Holy Roman Empire and allying with France.

    With the new European order, there were major changes in the region between 1814 and 1815. The Confederation of the Rhine was not a particularly favorable state of free thought, as the press and advertising were subject to heavy censorship, universities were controlled and dissident political activity impossible to carry out.


    In 1819 and at only 12 years old, Johann Kaspar Schmidt returned to his hometownReturning to live with relatives and continue his studies at the local school, he had been interrupted after going to Kulm to live with his mother.

    Little is known about this stage, but some of the names of its German guardians are known, such as Kieffer, Kloeter and Gabler.


    After he finished high school Johann Kaspar Schmidt started studying philology, philosophy and theology at the University of Berlin. Here he would have the opportunity to meet great thinkers of the time, such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Philip Marheineke in 1826 at the age of 20. Later he would continue his studies in the cities of Erlangen and Königsberg in 1829.

    That same year, he decided to interrupt his studies to travel through Germany and return temporarily to Kulm, to treat his mother’s mental health problems. Two years later he would return with her to Berlin, completing his university studies in 1834 at the age of 28.

    It was between the years 1834 and 1835 pass the exams to access vocational education and would later work on unpaid internships as teaching staff at the “Königliche Realschule” in Berlin. To access the site, he wrote a short thesis, Ueber Schulgesetze (School Rules).

    At the beginning of 1837 his mother would enter the hospital Die Charité in Berlin, being that same year in which his stepfather died and married with Agnes Klara Kunigunde Butz. Agnes Klara was the illegitimate daughter of the owner of the rental property where Stirner lived at the time. The marriage would last barely a year, as the woman would die the following year, being from the newborn son of the two.

    In 1839, Johann Kasper Schmidt began working in a women’s college for well-off girls. This work combines it simultaneously frequenting places of great bohemian and intellectual activity, such as the “Café Stehely” and the “Hippel’s Weinstube”. That same year, her mother died, suffering from advanced mental health problems.


      Tours of bohemian places in Berlin introduce Johann Kaspar to a group of Hegelians known as “Die Freien” (the free men). In these philosophical and political gatherings he would work, a productive relationship with Friedrich Engels and Bruno Bauer.

      In 1841 he began to write small opinions for the publication of “Die Eisenbahn” (The Railway), delving into the publishing world of the prolific German city and it was from there that he started signing under the pseudonym Max Stirner. This pseudonym is a play on words alluding to the fact that he had a broad forehead (Stirn in German).

      So in those years Johann Kaspar Schmidt he devoted himself to the education of young bourgeois during the day and, at nightfall, he became Max Stirner, Meeting with the circle of young Hegelians, and criticism against the monarchy and especially against the law and the existence of the State.

      In 1842 appears in the city of Cologne “Rheinische Zeitung” (the gazette of the Rhine), Trained by Max Stirner himself in addition to Heinrich Burgers, Moses Hess, Karl Marx, Bruno Bauer and Friedrich Köppen.

      However, soon after, the circle split in two, with the group of Marx, Rouge and Hess, who marked the distance with Hegel, and the group formed by Bauer and the League of the Free: Mayen, Buhl , Köppen, Nauwerk and Stirner. This latter group thought the revolution of conscience by an atheist, negative and ruleless criticism.

      Minute of fame and philosophical developments

      Max Stirner remarried, this time at Dähnhardt House in 1842. He started writing small articles and essays for various periodicals, in addition to the previous ones he was already working on.

      His texts appear in “Leipziger Allgemeine Zeitung” and “Berliner Monatsschrift”. Among his texts are Finderar “The false principle of our education, or humanism and realism” (The false principle of our education, or Humanism and realism) and “Art and religion” (Art and religion)

      At the end of 1844, at the age of 38, he resigned his post as tutor at Berlin Women’s College, and he published his most important and, ironically, the most misunderstood work: Der Einzige und sein Eigentum (The one and his property). It is a sort of journal full of rigorous logic and a clear style, in which a summary of the Hegelian left develops during the years 1843 and 1844.

      He rejects any social and political integration of the individual, because he regarded entities such as the state, society and classes as mere abstractions totally devoid of real content. It is in his most important work that Stirner defends the radical egoism of the empirical and finite self, detached from any moral code and considering it as the true relation of the individual.

      The work was controversial and badly received by the German Confederate authorities, Censor the book and divert it from bookstores, which would generate even more popular interest. Soon after, the censorship was lifted and its sale allowed, which allowed Max Stirner to gain popularity, although this fame would last for a very short time.

      Late years and decline

      Max Stirner writes several essays in response to criticism from various authors in his book The Only One and His Property. After separating from Casa Dähnhardt in 1846, he decided to continue responding to his objectors. In Die philosophischen Reaktionaere (The Philosophically Reactionary), he responds to Kuno Fischer and in the fifth volume d’Epigonen criticizes Wigand.

      In 1847 translated into German some books on economics, such as the Treaty of Political Economy by the French Jean-Baptiste Say and The Wealth of Nations by the British Adam Smith. This would allow him to stretch his moment of glory a little more, even if he was already starting to have financial problems and only survived thanks to these translations.

      He will not participate in the German Revolution of 1848 but, years later, in 1852, he will publish the first part of the work “Geschichte der Reaktion” (History of the reaction) in which he shaped the events lived during these times. turbulent.

      His last years are those of complete failure. He tried to start a business but broke down prosperous and ended up living in poverty. Between 1853 and 1854 he spent short periods in prison due to financial debts. Max Stirner, born Johann Kaspar Schmidt, died on June 26, 1856. In the civil register, about his death, a simple “neither mother, nor wife, nor children” would be noted.


      Again Stirner’s main work, The One and His Property, First published in Leipzig in 1844, the origins of his philosophy can be traced back to the articles he had previously published. Among the most notable are The False Principle of Our Education, or Humanism and Realism (1842), Art and Religion (1842), and Some Provisional Comments on the State Based on Love (1843). It is in them that a certain psychological hedonism and individualistic utilitarianism, based on selfish morality, begin to emerge.

      For Stirner, the center of all reflection and reality is man. He speaks of man not as a representative of abstract Humanity, but of the individual, of the unique “I”. The “One” is not because it is related to anything, but rather because it and it alone is the foundation of all possible relationship. Everything we have in common with others only concerns the absoluteness of our individual uniqueness.

      For Stirner, uniqueness is not the absence of relation, but relation is, in essence, the absence of uniqueness. The starting point of this work is to deny the existence of God. For Stirner, God is a fictitious entity, created by humans.

      At the time when religion was born and shapes the idea of ​​deities as we understand them today, man gives up his freedom to submit, ironically, to the domination of his own creation. So much so that God is replaced by the state or the family, because the problem is essentially the same. Man alone is free when he breaks with religion and politics.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Ruiza, M., Fernández, T. and Tamaro, I. (2004). Biography of Max Stirner. In Biographies and Lives. The online biographical encyclopedia. Barcelona, ​​Spain). Retrieved from on July 9, 2020.
      • Carlson, AR (1972). Anarchism in Germany. Vol I. The first movement. New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, p. 53.
      • Stepelevich, Lawrence S. (1985). Max Stirner in Hegelian. Journal of the History of Ideas. 46 (4): 597-614. doi: 10.2307 / 2709548. ISSN 0022-5037. JSTOR 2709548.

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