Max Stirner

The False Principle of Our Education


[…] Freedom of thought once acquired, our time’s impulse is to perfect it, in order to exchange it for freedom of the will, the principle of a new epoch. Thus the ultimate object of education can scarcely be knowledge any more: it is, rather, the will born of such knowledge. In short, its tendency will be to create the personal or free man. What is truth but the revelation of what we are? It is a matter of our discovering ourselves, of freeing ourselves from everything extraneous to us, of refraining ourselves or releasing ourselves radically from all authority, of a return to innocence. But schooling does not produce such absolutely true men. And if there be a school that does, it is in spite of schooling. The latter no doubt affords us mastery over things, and, strictly speaking, also affords us mastery of our own nature. But it does not make free natures of us. In fact, no knowledge, no matter how profound and comprehensive it may be, no alert, wise mind and no dialectical finesse can arm us against the snares of thought and will.

[…] All sorts of vanity and desire for profit, ambition, slavish enthusiasm and duplicity, etc., are highly compatible with immense learning, as they also are with an elegant classical education. And this whole scholarly farrago, which docs not impinge upon our moral behavior, is frequently forgotten by us, especially as it is useless to us: we shake off the dust of the school whenever we leave it. How come? Because education consists exclusively of the formal or the material, or at best of a blend of the two, but not of truth, not of the molding of the true man.

[…] Like some other fields, the field of pedagogy too is numbered among those where the point is that freedom should not be allowed access, and opposi­tion not tolerated: what is sought is submissiveness. Effort is invested solely in a purely formal and material training. The stalls of humanism produce only sages; out of the realists come only “useful citizens”; but in both cases, only submissive creatures are turned out. Our old grounding in “badness” is forcibly suffocated as is the blossoming of knowledge into free will. School life also churns out Philistines. Just as, when we were children, we were taught to accept whatever was foisted upon us, so we later accommodate ourselves to a positive life, we defer to our times and wind up as slaves and supposedly “good citizens.”

Where, then, are there signs of a spirit of opposition emerging instead of the submissiveness nurtured thus far? Where is man the creator being molded instead of man the educated? Where is the teacher turning into a collabora­tor, where the transmutation of knowing into wanting, where, in short, is the aim man the free rather than man the cultivated? We will search in vain: that is how rare it is.

And yet we need to get it into our heads that man’s supreme role is neither instruction nor civilization, but self-activity. Does this amount to abandoning culture? No, nor to sacrificing freedom of thought, but rather to transfiguration of it into freedom of the will. On the day when man regards it as a point of honor that he should be alive to or cognizant of self, acting for himself with complete autonomy, with full self-consciousness, and complete freedom, that day he will no longer be for himself a curious, inscrutable object and will begin to banish the ignorance that hobbles and thwarts his full self-knowledge.

Should the notion of freedom but awaken in man, free men dream only of freeing themselves now and for all time: but instead, all we do is chum out learned men who adapt in the most refined manner to every circumstance and fall to the level of slavish, submissive souls. For the most part, what are our fine gentlemen brimful of intellect and culture? Sneering slavers and slaves themselves.

[…] The poverty of our current education derives largely from the fact that knowledge has not been translated into ambition, into self-activity, into pure practice. The realists have indeed recognized this shortcoming, but the only remedy they have offered has been to mold “practical” folk as bereft of ideas as they are of freedom. The spirit by which most teachers are driven is dismally poignant proof of what we say. Licked into shape, they themselves lick into shape at best: tailored, they tailor. But all education ought to be personal […] In other words, it is not knowledge that needs to be inculcated, it is the personality that needs to be drawn out of itself. The starting point of pedagogy ought not to be the civilizing vocation, but the calling to shape free personalities and sovereign characters: thus, there must be an end to the sapping of a will hitherto brutally ground down. From the moment that the yearning for learning is no longer sapped, why go on sapping the urge to desire? If the former is cultivated, so too must the latter be cultivated.

The willfulness and “badness” of children are as justifiable as their thirst for knowledge. The latter is enthusiastically stimulated. Let there be work also upon the natural resource of the will: opposition. Unless the child acquires a sense of self, he fails to learn the most important lesson of all. Let there be no repression of his pride, nor of his candor. Against his petulance, I will always have my own freedom. Should his pride turn to obstinacy, the child will do me violence, against which I will react, so I am as free a being as the child. But should my defense be to retreat behind the convenient wall of authority? No. I will oppose him with the inflexibility of my own liberty, so that the child’s obstinacy will founder upon that reef. A complete man has no need to play the authoritarian. And should license degenerate into effrontery, that effrontery will weaken in the face of the sweet resistance of a thoughtful woman, her maternal temperament, or a father’s firmness: one would need to be very weak to invoke the aid of authority, and anyone who believes he can deal with a cheeky child by cowing him is fooling himself. Commanding fear and respect is something left over from the rococo style of a bygone age.

So, what are we moaning about when we analyze the gaps in our current education? That our schools cling still to the old principle, the principle of learning without will. The new principle is that oft he will, of the transfigu­ration of knowledge. Starting from there, let there be no more “harmony between school and life,” but let schooling be life-like, and let the drawing out of the personality be a duty there as well as outside. Let the universal culture of schooling aim at an apprenticeship in freedom, and not in submissiveness: being free, that is really living.

Practical education lags very far behind personal, free education: if the former manages to make headway in life, the latter provides the breath to blow the spark of life into flame: whereas the former prepares the scholar to make his way in a given milieu, the latter ensures that, in his heart of hearts, he is his own man. Not that this work is over once we behave as useful members of society. Only if we are free men, persons creating and acting on their own behalf, can we gain free access to that goal.

The motif, the thrust of the new age is freedom of the will. Consequently, pedagogy ought to espouse the molding of the free personality as its starting point and objective. […] That culture, which is genuinely universal in that the humblest rubs shoulders with the haughtiest, represents the true equality of all: the equality of free persons. For only freedom is equality […] So we stand in need of a personal education […] If we want to hang an “-ism” upon those who live by these principles, I, speaking for myself, would opt for the label of personalists.

[…] To conclude and briefly to summarize the end towards which our era should bend its efforts, the elimination of knowledge without will and the rise of the self-conscious knowledge which accompanies the sunburst of free personality, we might say this: knowledge must perish, in order to be resurrected as will and to recreate itself daily as free personality.

Posted: January 2019
Category: Essays