Max Stirner (1806-1856) was a proponent of philosophical egoism, which states that there is no “right and wrong” in a moral sense but only “right and wrong” in the sense of a given means being appropriate to a stated end. In this way, he sought to create a value-free philosophy, just as Ludwig von Mises claimed that economics was a value-free social science in that economics did not say whether a given economic end was “good or bad”, only whether the economic means chosen for obtaining it was appropriate or not.
Stirner was also a contemporary of the Young Hegelians, and a student and fierce critic of Hegel himself. Whereas he could foresee that the intellectual project of the Hegelian “moderns” was nothing but a new religion and a reformation of the thinking of the “ancients” of Greece and Rome which would ultimately end in a total state and an orgiastic ruination of the individual, Stirner instead tried to create something entirely different by reclaiming the idea of individual as owner of his own life. This he set out to accomplish in The Ego and His Own.
A few years before he published his primary work on the subject, however, Stirner wrote a pamphlet on the nature of the modern European debate over educational systems, entitled “The False Principle of Our Education“, in which he declared “The school-question is a life-question.”
Why is the school-question a life-question? Because, Stirner says, we are in school in “the time of our plasticity.” The various factions in society fight over the schools because they understand this is the moment when individuals are most malleable, moldable, shapeable– control the fate of an individual in his schooling of youth and you can potentially control him for his entire life.
Until the Enlightenment… higher education lay without protest in the hands of the humanists… based almost solely on the understanding of the old classics… they selected the best education of the world of antiquity… the people were supposed to remain in the laity opposite of the learned gentlemen, were only supposed to gaze in astonishment at the strange splendor and venerate it
This is so because people have a tendency to respect and admire the past just as they respect and admire their parents and ancestors. By setting the educational model in the past, a period which is so far from recent human experience that its iniquities can be forgotten while its triumphs can be lauded and envied, the humanists created an educational system that played to people’s traditionalist bias, making it ripe for automatic respect and veneration. Then, by restricting such education to the elite of society, they managed to transfer this veneration to the elites who held such educations. They came to represent the old, respectable past and so were respected and granted authority themselves.
This was the educational system of the humanists of the European Middle Ages. The system of the “moderns” post-Enlightenment, the realists, would not replace but reform it:
To eliminate the priesthood of the scholars and the laity of the people is the endeavor of realism and therefore it must surpass humanism… the essential advantage of scholars, universal education, should be beneficial to everyone… “to be able to talk about everything”… therefore familiarity with the things and situations of the present… because it satisfied the common need of everyone to find themselves in their world and time
But the aims of the humanists and the realists were short-sighted:
to grasp the past as humanism teaches and to seize the present, which is the aim of realism, leads both only to power over the transitory
Humanists offered a materialist education– to know of things. Realists offered a formal education– to know of categories, classes, and shapes, but not the value of them to anybody. Stirner himself offers an entirely different alternative, which he calls personalism— to know the self. In this failing, Stirner sees that,
knowledge is not brought to completion and perspicuity, that it remains a material and formal, a positive thing, without rising to the absolute, that it loads us down like a burden
The false principle of education, to Stirner, is that education has never been given to others or taken philosophically to its total end, the enabling of the creation of the self, or ego. It was stopped short by both the humanists and the realists in order to serve other needs, other egos. Instead, a foundation on true principle would imply,
the final goal of education… is: the personal or free man. Truth itself consists in nothing other than man’s revelation of himself… such thoroughly true men are not supplied by school; if they are nevertheless there, they are there in spite of school… No knowledge, however thorough and extensive, no brilliance and perspicuity, no dialectic sophistication, will preserve us from the commonness of thought and will
The true purpose of education should not be to fill people’s minds with stuff (facts, figures, events, people, places) or with implications (what to think of the stuff); the purpose of education should be to enable individuals to find themselves. Everything short of this does not serve the individual, but someone else:
Only a formal and material training is being aimed at and only scholars come out of the menageries of the humanists, only “useful citizens” out of those of the realists, both of whom are indeed nothing but subservient people… If one awakens in men the idea of freedom then the free men will incessantly go on to free themselves; if, on the contrary, one only educates them, then they will at all times accommodate themselves to circumstances in the most highly educated and elegant manner and degenerate into subservient cringing souls
Educational philosophy, then, can be boiled down into three primary alternatives: to educate and create masters, to educate and create slaves, or to educate and create individuals (who are neither slave nor master).
The present state of education, based off humanist and realist principles, is one of disarray and pathetic. College students,
trained in the most excellent manner, they go on training; drilled, they continue drilling… it is not knowledge that should be taught, rather, the individual should come to self-development… we do not hinder man’s quest for knowledge; why should we intimidate his free will?
Why, but only to control him.
Stirner crushes mercilessly the lie that we educate within the current paradigm so as to civilize people, and thereby make them safe co-habitants of our society, that without education these “free egos” would turn to chaos and “anarchy” and tear society apart in violent blunder:
I oppose him with the strength of my own freedom; thus the spite of the child will break up by itself. Whoever is a complete person does not need to be an authority.
“Free egos” are only threats to those who seek control over others (for they pose a form of opposition to their own ego) or those who are in a position of subservience, control and dependence upon an authority and are thereby not free to resist the aggressions of another themselves.
school is to be life and there, as outside of it, the self-revelation of the individual is to be the task… only freedom is equality… we need from now on a personal education (not the impressing of convictions)… knowledge must die and rise again as will and create itself anew each day as a free person.
Beware those who would argue otherwise; aware of it or not, they’re attempting to set up a trap by which to control you.