i-Letters

An accompanying blog to the journal i (i-studies).

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Sted: Grimstad, Aust-Agder, Norway

tirsdag 8. mars 2011

Goodbye, Non Serviam


Goodbye, Non Serviam

The philosophies of Young Hegelianism started from theology, and so did the old incarnation of i under the name non serviam. No less than a metaphysical declaration of rebellion, the name non serviam set the focus on serving nobody and nothing.
    Decades later, looking back at it from the perspective of being a father myself, I recognize the youthful folly of abstract rebellion – against nobody and nothing. Individualists who have chosen fatherhood soon recognize that fatherhood very often involves literally being their children’s servant – and being so by choice. And so, ironically, the battlecry non serviam!—when clung to in this context—becomes servitude to inservitude. Fatherhood is of course not the only arena in which you may make such choices, but it is perhaps one of the most striking examples.
   The difference between own choice and will on the one hand and the rebellious resistance to other’s choice and will that may have seemed like subtle nitpicking to the youth, but to the adult it is as obvious as the difference between “water” on the one hand and “non-flour” on the other is to a baker.

This personal development finds its parallel in the Young Hegelian development of and out of theology:
To the pious, God is the perfection of all that the pious man believes and wants himself to be: so full of judgmental love that he is its incarnation, and so almighty that he can make his pious will absolute law. This corresponds to the childhood faith of someone raised in a strict religious tradition.
    The intellectual youth, the classical Hegelian, inherits this God from the child, but cleans him of the more monstrous deeds of the Old Testament, and of the similarly monstrous promises of the New Testament. In short: he makes God more rational, more – in the image of the youth himself.
    And with the intellectual’s recognition of his God as nothing but his own perfected mirror image comes the realization of pure narcissism whereupon God becomes Man, and the youth’s task is simply to perfect himself into what he sees in his own mirror. New Hegelian atheism is simply the peak of the Intellect’s self-adoration.
    At the end of adolescence, the intellectual youth realizes that his mirror image can be no more perfect than he himself is. The new God called Man—who may just as well have been called Reason or Intellect—is still outside him and is not him, and is a mere phantom of the Intellect’s mirror images and desires. At this point, the intellectual youth has seen through the Intellect’s pretenses at creating a Moral World order. He is no longer caught in the trap of finding his own imperfections by his difference with the moralist phantom, be it the traditional pietist phantom or the creation of the intellectuals. Often having read inspiring authors like Stirner, or maybe Nietzsche, he proudly waves goodbye to his previous moralism.

Goodbye, Immoralism

But new-found liberation can be intoxicating, and exploring it to and beyond the limits can itself become a – fixed idea just like Karl Schmidt, a conteporary of Max Stirner, warned it would.

   When rationality is no longer capable of providing any limitations on your actions in the form of moral commandments, then surely the rational thing to do is to shake off all such limitations. If you feel bad about nicking an apple, that just goes to prove that you received a tough indoctrination in your previous, moralist ages and stages. The same goes for stealing a book, a laptop, a car … even for killing someone. Doesn’t it? For surely Max Stirner has said so, hasn’t he? Anything looking like a morality is a sign of weakness, and perhaps even residual slave morality for those of us who indulged in too much Nietzsche before bedtime.
    This the stage of Immoralism is very compelling in its own way, but instead of being the transcendence of morality, it is merely its defiant but servile shadow.
   Imagine a man raised to classical Good Taste in art, with opera, Michelangelo and all the rest of the classics. He one day decides he has had enough of the fetters imposed by Good Taste. All good and well. But then he sets himself a new standard, a standard of liberation: He will deliberately seek out what is not in Good Taste. His measure will be that if it breaks sufficiently strongly with Good Taste—if it is Bad Taste—then he will adopt it as his new taste.
   This man is the art world equivalent of the Immoralist, and we recognize his folly for what it is. He is not the new Picasso; he is the guy who dumps his trash at the steps of the Guggenheim museum and demands a million dollars for his art.[1] 
   The relief from intellectualism and moralizing does not lie in anti-intellectualizing and in anti-moralizing or in the subsequent social attempts to be “more liberated than thou” – more liberated than your friends and acquaintances.
   But there are indeed those who misread Stirner to that effect, although Stirner’s own proposed solution is not the road of denial. His solution is rather to make use of your whole person: stretch your legs against an incessant thought. Dissolve the need to be an authority in the realization that you are a complete person and not merely a pawn or a head. Meet your lover’s stern demands by – letting her melt your heart. This is all quite different from sitting sourly on your holy hind quarters in an attempt to “stand your own ground” – or sit it, as it were.

Goodbye, Egoism

Stirner used the word “egoism” in two primary ways: First as a methodological concept to denote anyone who did the opposite of what “Man”, the moral ideal creature, would do. This is the Immoralist. The Immoralist’s function in Stirner’s philosophy is not to be a new ideal, the ideal of whoever does the opposite of morality. His function is merely as a counterexample to the ideal of Man – to prove that “Man” is but a mere phantom who is neither descriptive of nor binding on actual men.
   The second way in which Stirner used the word “egoism” was as synonymous with the self-liberated man – the Einzige. It is in this context he speaks of the owner and the self-owner – and of the union of egoists.
   But these terms are terms easily misunderstood, and they easily become limiting rater than liberating these days if you lose sight of Stirner’s idiosyncratic use of the term “egoist”: Then the egoist becomes the Randian version at best, but more often just the cynical petty bourgeois or even Freudian versions of “egoist”.
   Following this, the owner becomes his own caricature in the possessive tightwad – the self-owner becomes the stone-faced loner always holding back his social presence lest he risk being influenced by anyone – and finally the union of egoists dissolves in the band of misers meeting at a pub, each of them hoping and scheming for someone else to pay for the next round.
   So, for those of you who have been with me on this journey so far: join me in saying no to egoism as well. These days, there are better choices of name to be found. Let it perhaps be Max Stirner’s underappreciated term personalism – that of being and using your whole person rather than being tied up in a partial existence.
   In your full self, not just intellect but not just its absence either, open the treasure chest of all your faculties, of intuition, of dreams and of stretching your legs to – let your blood flow more freely.


[1] By all means; if he can pull that off successfully, he has met someone whose madness matches his and will live happily ever after. That happens more in fairy tales and government committess than in real life, though.

(This post was also published in issue 1 of the i (i-studies) journal)

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