The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Stirner, Max (1806–1856)

  • H. De B. Gibbins
Reference work entry


Max Stirner, born at Bayreuth, is the name by which Caspar Schmidt, the philosophic individualist anarchist, is most generally known in Germany. After studying philosophy and theology, he became a master at the Gymnasium in Berlin, and was also a teacher in a girls’ school. He published, in 1845, his chief work, Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum. This had a brilliant but transitory success. He also wrote a History of the Reaction after 1848, and published translations of Adam Smith and other English economists. His life was spent in humble circumstances, and he died in poverty. His position was that of an individualist anarchist of the most extreme and uncompromising kind, preaching the cultus of the ego of the individual almost as a religion. He maintained in his Einzige und sein Eigenthum the crudest form of the doctrine ‘might is right’, deriving every right and moral sanction from the individual alone. His views on property are best expressed in his own words which form a remarkable contrast to Proudhon’s view that ‘property is theft’. ‘What is my property?’ asks Stirner, and answers at once, ‘Nothing but that which is in my power: to what property am I entitled? to any to which I entitle myself. I myself give myself the right to property by taking property.’ He accepts the principle that in labour-questions each should look out for himself, and will have no organization and no division of goods among the community. He would let all struggle for existence, and fare as best they can. The only form of community he would admit is that of a ‘free union of egoists’, which should only last as long as any one member of the union pleased. Stirner, in fact, is the philosophic exponent of the extremest form of laissez faire and individualism in society and economics, and as such has had considerable influence over the modern school of anarchists in Germany and Russia.

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. De B. Gibbins
    • 1
  1. 1.