- Max Stirner's Post-Post-Anarchism:A Review Essay
"Do with them [his texts] what you will and can, that is your affair and does not trouble me."Stirner (68)
The publication of Andrew Koch's widely read paper "Poststructuralism and the Epistemological Basis of Anarchism" in 1993 laid some of the important groundwork for postanarchism's later reliance on epistemology-based critiques of ontological representation. It also was influential in inaugurating Max Stirner as the "prototypical" postanarchist (Newman, 2001). Saul Newman's edited volume Max Stirner (2011) brings postanarchists back to the ontological playing ground. Early attempts to uncouple the real from episteme, as in Koch's approach, were prone to extrapolation because they relied on subjectivist or individualist representations of the ego. As a result, postanarchists were forced to deal with ontology as if it were always an overcoded repository of static facts about the world. One can see why Koch, like so many other postanarchists after him, much preferred "a conceptualization of knowledge that is contingent on a plurality of internally consistent episteme " (Koch 2011, 30). Apropos of this impasse of postanarchist thought, Newman's edited volume reaches a nexus of sorts. [End Page 157]
Newman argues against the naive and common reading of Stirner's work as an endorsement of the Cartesian self who thinks itself into being, a reading found in most corners of political philosophy even today. Widukind De Ridder, in chapter four of the book, explains that "much against Stirner's own intentions, 'egoism' became a philosophy of the self" (93). Newman is at his most inventive when he counteracts this impulse and asserts Stirner's Ego—not to be confused with the imaginary Ego of post-Freudian thought—as an autonomous reality that resists any and all claims to represent or domesticate it. This offers fertile ground for postanarchists to push beyond the epistemology-based defense of the political subject in Stirner, and it allows us to raise the question of Stirner's early meditations on what would later be called speculative realism. However, Newman's book, and his own position, oscillates between two readings of Stirner in lieu of postanarchism (whereby it is commonly thought that postanarchism has now moved beyond its infancy or early phase, characterized by a reductionist account of classical anarchism's representative ontology, this, a strategy used to gain an initial foothold into anarchist scholarship [Evren 2011, 7]): the first position reflects an epistemologically centered call for the unification of theory and practice through tactical rather than strategic human agency or through models of "democratic pluralism," and the second is a nihilistic (re)turn into early speculative realism.
To raise this latter claim—in a book review no less—will appear paradoxical and dishonest: "Stirner's philosophy was idealist, he was a young Hegelian, Marx named him no less in the German Ideology." Paul Thomas deals with this topic at length in chapter five, "Max Stirner and Karl Marx: An Overlooked Contretemps." But in Newman's rereading of Stirner, one detects a fleeting rejection of the post-Kantian interpretations of Stirner's work and a concomitant motion toward a specifically anarchist materialism (this latter phrase I borrow from Jason Adams). Hence, Newman explains that for Stirner, "the subject is no longer a fixed identity but rather an open field of action, flux, and becoming" (8). The subject is now defined by its "excess," its "ownness." Ownness was an ontological frame for Stirner and this implied a paradoxical form of "self-ownership" akin to Bataille's "sovereign subject" or variations on Lacan's "barred subject" (themes discovered in Newman's decade-long development of postanarchism) whereby ontological [End Page 158] "autonomy" is posited as a gap between essence (fixed ideas, spooks, and so on) and the Ego as the real or reality.
Newman's first chapter is penetrating in its insistence that the Ego not be reduced to the naive subjectivist meta-ethics typically garnered by adversaries of Stirner's and postanarchism's texts. On the opening page, Newman declares, by quoting Stirner, that the...