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I Have Based My Affair on Nothing

To my sweetheart Marie Dähnhardt

 

I Have Based My Affair [Sachs[1]] On Nothing[2]

 

     What is not supposed to be my affair [Sache]! Above all, the good cause [Sache], then God’s cause, the cause of humanity, of truth, of freedom, of humaneness, of justice; furthermore, the cause of my people, my prince, my fatherland; finally even the cause of mind [des Geistes][3] and a thousand other causes. Only my own cause is never supposed to be my affair. “Down with the egoist who only thinks of himself!”

     Let’s see then how they deal with their cause, those for whose cause we are supposed to work, sacrifice ourselves, and be filled with enthusiasm.

    You are able to report thoroughly on God, since you have investigated “the depths of divinity” for thousands of years, and have seen into its heart, so that you can probably tell us how God himself deals with “God’s cause,” which we are called to serve. Nor do you conceal the Lord’s activities. Now what is his cause? Does he make an alien cause, the cause of truth or love, his own, as he expects us to do? You are outraged at this misunderstanding, and you inform us that God’s cause is indeed the cause of truth and love, but this cause cannot be called alien to him, because God himself is truth and love; you are outraged at the assumption that God might resemble us poor worms by promoting an alien cause as his own. “Should God promote the cause of truth, if he is not himself truth?” He cares only for his own cause, but since he is all in all, therefore all is his affair! But we, we are not all in all, and our affair is utterly small and contemptible; therefore, we must “serve a higher cause.”—Now it is clear, God cares only for what is his, deals only with himself, thinks only of himself and looks out only for himself; woe to all that is not well-pleasing to him. He serves nothing higher and satisfies only himself. His cause is—a purely egoistic affair.

    How does it stand with humanity, whose cause we should make ours? Is its cause perhaps that of another, and does humanity serve a higher cause? No, humanity sees only itself, humanity wants to promote only humanity, humanity itself is its own cause. So that it develops, it lets people struggle away in its service, and when they have accomplished what humanity needs, it throws them on the dung-heap of history in its gratitude. Isn’t humanity’s cause—a purely egoistic affair?

    I don’t at all need to show that everything that tries to push its cause over on us is concerned only with itself, and not with us, only with its well-being, and not with ours. Just have a look for yourselves at the rest. Do truth, freedom, humaneness, justice want anything else than that you get enthusiastic about them and serve them?

    They all do exceptionally well when they are zealously revered. Take a look at the nation, which is defended by devoted patriots. The patriots fall in bloody battle or in the fight against hunger and need; what does the nation say about that? With the manure of these corpses, the nation becomes a “blossoming nation.” Individuals have died for “the great cause of the nation,” and the nation sends some words of thanks after them—and profits from it. I would call this lucrative egoism.

    But just look at the Sultan who so lovingly cares for “his own.” Isn’t he pure selflessness itself, and doesn’t he sacrifice himself hour after hour for his own? Yes, of course, for “his own.” Try just once to show yourself not as his own, but as your own; for escaping his egoism, you will take a trip to his jail. The sultan has based his affair on nothing but himself; he is for himself the all in all and the only one [der Einzige[4]], and tolerates no one who dares not to be his own.

    And won’t you learn from these shining examples that the egoist gets on best? I, for my part, take a lesson from them, and instead of serving those great egoists unselfishly anymore, would prefer to be the egoist myself.

    God and humanity have based their affair on nothing, on nothing but themselves. I likewise base my affair on myself, this I who just like God am the nothing of all others, this I who am my all, this I who am the unique.

    If God, if humanity, as you affirm, have enough content in themselves to be all in all to themselves, then I feel that I would lack it even less, and that I would have no complaint to make about my ‘emptiness.’ I am not nothing in the sense of emptiness, but am the creative nothing, the nothing out of which I myself create everything as creator.

    Away, then, with every cause that is not completely my affair. You think that at least the “good cause” must be my affair? Which good, which bad! I am myself my own affair, and I am neither good nor bad. Neither makes any sense to me.

    The divine is God’s affair; the human cause is “humanity’s.” My affair is neither the divine nor the human; it is not the good, the true, the just, the free, etc., but only my own, and it is not general, but is—unique, as I am unique.

    For me, there is nothing greater than me!


[1] This is a form of the word Sache, one of those very general word that can translate many ways, for example, as “thing,” “affair,” “matter,” “cause,” “case” and so on. In this passage I have chosen to translate it as either “affair” or “cause,” as those two terms seem to best express Stirner’s intentions. Every so often to clarify where I am translating this word in different ways, I will place the word in brackets beside my translation.

[2] In the German, this is  the first line of Goethe’s poem, Vanitas! Vanitatum vanitas!, which reads: “Ich hab’ Mein Sachs auf Nichts gestellt.” In English translations of the poem I have found two readings: 1) “My trust in nothing now is placed” (Edgar Alfred Bowring, translator), and 2) “My thoughts and oughts are nothing fixed” (Wm. Flygare, translator). My translation here is more literal and also fits with what follows in this first brief section of Stirner’s book.

[3] The German word Geist can translate as “mind” or “spirit,” and in Hegelian philosophy most often means something that combines these two concepts, since for Hegel, the correct function of individual “minds” is to move toward the actualization of the universal “mind” or “spirit.” Since one of the important aspects of Stirner’s book is its attack on Hegelian concepts, the reader should remain aware of this specific significance throughout. To aid in the understanding of Stirner’s use of Hegelian and other German philosophical terms, I will place those terms in brackets beside my translation.

[4] I will generally translate “der Einzige” as the unique, but the word can also translate as “the only one,” and that seems to be the best translation in this sentence. Still, the reader should keep in mind that Stirner chose the word here quite intentionally and is also referring to the unique.

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