Chasing Shadows: Max Stirner and Fanaticism in Political Theology

Janssen, Jorn. 2023. Chasing Shadows: Max Stirner and Fanaticism in Political Theology. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This doctoral dissertation investigates the modern phenomenon of political fanaticism, which is
defined as an intense emotional investment for political ends – something for example found in
contemporary 'identity politics.' I argue that political fanaticism should be understood through the
prism of political theology, referring to the translation of theological into political concepts and
categories in the modern secular age. In investigating this problematic, I turn to the 19th century
German philosopher Max Stirner. I argue that Stirner offers an original yet overlooked
interpretation of the problem of political theology. His claim that modern secular and liberal
concepts are merely the reinvention of Christianity and inspired by the same religious impulses of
devotion and self-sacrifice, allows us to better understand the psychology of contemporary political

Chapter 1 serves as a literature review with the dual purpose of showing the novelty of the
politico-theological reading of Stirner’s work and its place in the existing literature on political
theology. Chapter 2 lays the foundation for Stirner’s specific views on political theology. Stirner
identifies at the heart of modern political fanaticism an artificial reintroduction of a metaphysical
structure via a deification of an otherwise mundane concept like liberty, equality or humanity.
Chapter 3 will contrast Stirner’s approach to political theology against that of Carl Schmitt, which
will show that, instead of studying the parallels between modern politics and theology we see from
Schmitt, Stirner reveals the theological afterimage in secular politics in the persisting subjective
faith. In Chapter 4, I will extend Stirner’s specific criticism of liberalism to 21st century politics to
show its contemporary relevance with regard to modern political fanaticism. Finally, Chapter 5 will
explore Stirner’s alternative to political theology and its concomitant fanaticism that revolves
around a confrontation with the world as it is, rather than as it should be.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Stimer, Schmitt, Fanaticism, Activism, Political theology, Identity politics

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



31 January 2023

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

13 Feb 2023 11:12

Last Modified:

13 Feb 2023 12:00


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