‘Ownness created a new freedom’: Max Stirner’s alternative concept of liberty

Newman, Saul. 2019. ‘Ownness created a new freedom’: Max Stirner’s alternative concept of liberty. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 22(2), pp. 155-175. ISSN 1369-8230 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The paper will explore Max Stirner’s idiosyncratic notion of ownness. My claim is that ownness should be understood as an alternative to more familiar concepts of negative and positive freedom, as well as offering a more effective answer to the problem of domination that is the concern of republican theory. The paper will start with the experience of freedom within contemporary neoliberal societies, where it becomes the mode by which we are governed and an ideal to which the individual is sacrificed – a problem Stirner essentially foresaw in the emergent liberal societies of the nineteenth century. I will then explore Stirner’s alternative proposal of ownness as a response to this problem: ownness is a form of freedom that is not dependent on external factors but is, rather, the ontological condition of the subject. The next section will be devoted to an elaboration of this theory of ownness, showing how it goes beyond more familiar analytical paradigms of negative freedom and republican non-domination. Moreover, while his refusal of the state and its laws as a guarantor of freedom bears some affinity with anarchism, in rejecting all social collectives as alienating and oppressive abstractions, and in affirming property as central to autonomy, Stirner also exceeds the ideological terrain of anarchism, putting forward instead a radical form of individualism and self-possession. At the same time, I seek to distinguish this from the more familiar notion of positive freedom as ‘self-mastery’, which, as Stirner shows, requires that the individual be sacrificed to some higher moral and rational ideal. In promoting instead self-defining, self-constituting and ‘egoistic’ forms of subjectivity outside of any prescribed standard or norm, Stirner’s concept of ownness, I argue, provides a more effective antidote to the bind that freedom currently finds itself within.

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Identification Number (DOI):



Max Stirner, freedom, ownness, republicanism, neoliberalism

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Politics > Research Unit in Contemporary Political Theory (RUCPT)


16 December 2016Accepted
24 January 2017Published Online

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

03 Jan 2017 14:27

Last Modified:

16 Dec 2020 14:50

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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