Stirner and Foucault: Towards a Post-Kantian Freedom

Newman, Saul. 2003. Stirner and Foucault: Towards a Post-Kantian Freedom. Postmodern Culture, 13(2), [Article]

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1.Max Stirner and Michel Foucault are two thinkers not often examined together. However, it has been suggested that the long-ignored Stirner may be seen as a precursor to contemporary poststructuralist thought.1 Indeed, there are many extraordinary parallels between Stirner's critique of Enlightenment humanism, universal rationality, and essential identities, and similar critiques developed by thinkers such as Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, and others. However, the purpose of this paper is not merely to situate Stirner in the "poststructuralist" tradition, but rather to examine his thinking on the question of freedom, and to explore the connections here with Foucault's own development of the concept in the context of power relations and subjectivity. Broadly speaking, both thinkers see the classical Kantian idea of freedom as deeply problematic, as it involves essentialist and universal presuppositions which are themselves often oppressive. Rather, the concept of freedom must be rethought. It can no longer be seen in solely negative terms, as freedom from constraint, but must involve more positive notions of individual autonomy, particularly the freedom of the individual to construct new modes of subjectivity. Stirner, as we shall see, dispenses with the classical notion of freedom altogether and develops a theory of ownness [Eigneheit] to describe this radical individual autonomy. I suggest in this paper that such a theory of ownness as a non-essentialist form of freedom has many similarities with Foucault's own project of freedom, which involves a critical ethos and an aestheticization of the self. Indeed, Foucault questions the anthropological and universal rational foundations of the discourse of freedom, redefining it in terms of ethical practices.2 Both Stirner and Foucault are therefore crucial to the understanding of freedom in a contemporary sense--they show that freedom can no longer be limited by rational absolutes and universal moral categories. They take the understanding of freedom beyond the confines of the Kantian project--grounding it instead in concrete and contingent strategies of the self.

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Date Deposited:

11 Aug 2015 14:19

Last Modified:

30 Jun 2017 12:21

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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