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Max Stirner on society as prison

Monday, 20 Apr 2015

Max Stirner on Dr John Dunn. First posted Thursday, 8 May 2014 at 18:30

Max Stirner from a drawing by Friedrich Engels

Stirner likens society to prison. In this passage, he refers repeatedly to prison to illustrate his point, but he is really referring to society at large. More than that, he is referring to any collectivity, however large or small, that exerts a hold over us, be it a sacred, social or familial obligation of any kind. Contrary to the view that liberalism has sought to desacralise society, it was Stirner’s opinion that liberalism (and its variant socialism) pushed out the ‘church walls’ until all were encompassed by its sacred writ.

John Dunn.

From The Ego and His Own by Max Stirner

What gives a common stamp to those who are gathered in it? Evidently the prison, since it is only by means of the prison that they are prisoners.What, then, determines the manner of life of the prison society? The prison! What determines their intercourse? The prison too, perhaps? Certainly they can enter upon intercourse only as prisoners, i.e. only so far as the prison laws allow it; but that they themselves hold intercourse, I with you, this the prison cannot bring to pass; on the contrary, it must have an eye to guarding against such egoistic, purely personal intercourse (and only as such is it really intercourse between me and you). That we jointly execute a job, run a machine, effectuate anything in general – for this a prison will indeed provide; but that I forget that I am a prisoner, and engage in intercourse with you who likewise disregard it, brings danger to the prison, and not only cannot be caused by it, but must not even be permitted. For this reason the saintly and moral-minded French chamber decides to introduce solitary confinement, and other saints will do the like in order to cut off "demoralizing intercourse." Imprisonment is the established and – sacred condition, to injure which no attempt must be made. The slightest push of that kind is punishable, as is every uprising against a sacred thing by which man is to be charmed and chained.

Posted by John Dunn.

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