Arguments against influence
Many who have suggested that Stirner had no influence upon Nietzsche simply dismiss the idea without any real discussion. This was the approach taken by Alois Riehl, who, like many later writers, showed his contempt for Stirner by refusing to mention him by name. In 1897 he wrote, "It shows a still greater lack of ability to differentiate between minds, if one puts together Nietzsche with the involuntary parodist of Fichte, with the author of the book 'The Ego and Its Own' — this, however, is the same as putting together writings of a nearly unparalleled power of language and fatal strength of genius with a literary curiosity." When writers do bother to offer support for their refutation of the idea, the fact that no definite mention of Stirner exists in Nietzsche's published and unpublished writing is the basic argument against influence.
Albert Levy: The absence of any references to Stirner was noted by Albert Levy as early as 1904, in his study Stirner and Nietzsche. This argument against influence has proven quite durable; many of the brief remarks on the debate about Stirner's possible influence on Nietzsche to be found in academic publications mention this fact and little else. However, one researcher (who incidentally feels that Nietzsche was most likely not influenced by Stirner) notes: "It is not possible to prove that someone has not read a certain book (which was available). Nonreading, unlike reading, is always a question of probability." Thomas H. Brobjer, "Philologica: A Possible Solution to the Stirner-Nietzsche Question", in The Journal of Nietzsche Studies, Issue 25, Spring 2003, pp. 109–114
Levy also dealt very briefly with the fact that Nietzsche must have been aware of Stirner through the works of Hartmann and Lange (discussed above). In the case of Hartmann he speculated that the context and nature of the mention of Stirner in Hartmann's The Philosophy of the Unconscious would not have led Nietzsche to consider Stirner's work sympathetically, and goes on to add that in any case, Hartmann's claims do not prove direct influence. As for the mention of Stirner in Lange, Levy suggests that because Stirner's ideas are compared in this work with Schopenhauer's, it follows that Nietzsche must have seen Stirner's work as somehow related to the philosophy of Schopenhauer. Hence Levy proposes that if Stirner had any influence upon Nietzsche it would have come to little more than additional impetus to remain a disciple of Schopenhauer. Along these lines he concludes that the report of the Overbecks alleging Nietzsche's affinity for Stirner arose from a misunderstanding on Nietzsche's part about the relationship between Stirner and Schopenhauer resulting from Lange's faulty interpretation.
Levy then proceeds to compare the seemingly similar ideas of the two thinkers, suggesting the similarities are superficial. According to Levy's interpretation, for example, Stirner wants to free the self from all bonds and laws, while Nietzsche preaches the duty of originality and sincerity; Stirner is a realist, while Nietzsche is a "humanist" who sees only barbarism beyond the frontiers of ancient Greece; Stirner has a critical mind, while Nietzsche is an artist; Stirner seeks continuous improvement (for him the advent of Christianity and the French Revolution are significant milestones) while Nietzsche admires ancient Greece, sees Christianity as decadent and wants a "Renaissance"; Stirner is a "democrat", while Nietzsche is an aristocrat whose ideal state is "Platonic"; Stirner wants to liberate the self from any hierarchy, while Nietzsche reserves a privileged aristocracy of originality, freedom and selfishness; While Stirner wants to empower the spirit of opposition, Nietzsche wants to impose harsh discipline to create a beautiful race.
Oscar Ewald: Levy was not alone. Though the details of the differences noted in the expressed ideas of the two men varied, there were others who pointed them out. In a review of the state of philosophical discussion in Germany published in 1907, Oscar Ewald suggested:
Little as one may contest the importance of Stirner, who was an energetic rather than a profound thinker, still one has good cause to be cautious in comparing him to Nietzsche. Individualism is Stirner's last word, but not Nietzsche's. Nietzsche's philosophy as a whole is not egocentric. He finds the ego spun into the world, into the great complex play, which man must fashion and live from in its innermost centre, without clinging to any singular reality, not even to the reality of his own person, for the wealth of being would thus be lessened.Georg Simmel: Georg Simmel also felt that any apparent similarities were superficial.
Here we grasp the distance between Nietzsche and Max Stirner, which cannot be bridged despite superficial indications of the sort that made Nietzsche appear to ally with the sophists. As did the sophists, Stirner holds that all objective standards and values are imaginary and inessential, ghostly shadows confronting subjective reality. Stirner would find it meaningless to claim that the ego referred to anything beyond itself or that it should be graded according to a scale of values. He represents the renaissance of sophism, whereas Nietzsche writes: "We find abominable any decadent spirit who says: 'Everything only to me!'Rudolf Steiner: Not all who argued against influence claimed that the similarities to be found in the works of the two men were superficial. Rudolf Steiner met Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche when he was working on the famous Weimar Edition of Goethe's works then in preparation under commission from the Archduchess Sophie of Saxony. She subsequently asked him to arrange the Nietzsche library, and even admitted him to her ailing brother's presence. He spent several weeks in the Nietzsche Archives in Naumberg fulfilling Förster-Nietzsche's request. He also edited and wrote introductions to the works of Jean Paul Richter and Schopenhauer. Further, he was acquainted with Eduard von Hartmann, and dedicated a book to him. Steiner's Friedrich Nietzsche, Fighter for Freedom, was first published in 1895. In it Steiner suggests:
One cannot speak of Nietzsche's development without being reminded of that freest thinker who was brought forth by mankind of the new age, namely, Max Stirner. It is a sad truth that this thinker, who fulfills in the most complete sense what Nietzsche requires of the superman, is known and respected by only a few. Already in the forties of the nineteenth century, he expressed Nietzsche's world conception. Of course he did not do this in such comfortable heart tones as did Nietzsche, but even more in crystal clear thoughts, beside which Nietzsche's aphorisms often appear like mere stammering.Steiner goes on to quote several passages from Stirner discussing the "unique one". He explicitly relates this concept of Stirner's with Nietzsche's idea of the "superman".
What path might Nietzsche not have taken if, instead of Schopenhauer, his teacher had been Max Stirner! In Nietzsche's writing no influence of Stirner whatsoever is to be found. By his own effort, Nietzsche had to work his way out of German idealism to a Stirner-like world conceptIon.
Like Nietzsche, Stirner is of the opinion that the motivating forces of human life can be looked for only in the single, real personality. He rejects all powers that wish to form and determine the individual personality from outside. He traces the course of world history and discovers the fundamental error of mankind to be that it does not place before itself the care and culture of the individual personality, but other impersonal goals and purposes instead. He sees the true liberation of mankind in that men refuse to grant to all such goals a higher reality, but merely use these goals as a means of their self-cultivation. The free human being determines his own purposes. He possesses his ideals, he does not allow himself to be possessed by them. The human being who does not rule over his ideals as a free personality, stands under the same influence as the insane person who suffers from fixed ideas. It is all the same for Stirner if a human being imagines himself to be “Emperor of China” or if a comfortable bourgeois imagines it is his destiny to be a good Christian, a faithful Protestant, or a virtuous human being, and so on, or is caught and held captive in orthodoxy, virtuousness, etc.
One need read only a few sentences from Stirner's book, Der Einzige und sein Eigentum, The Individual and his very Own, to see how his conception is related to that of Nietzsche.
This person dependent only upon himself, this possessor of creativity out of himself alone, is Nietzsche's superman.Steiner's view appears to be that the similarities between the two writers are significant and substantial, but he accounts for this with the suggestion that Nietzsche arrived at a "Stirner-like world conception" on his own. Steiner makes no mention of any of the arguments then current suggesting the possibility or likelihood that Nietzsche was familiar with Stirner's work. Variations of this attempt to account for the seeming similarity in the writings of Stirner and Nietzsche through a theory of independent parallel development can be found in discussions of Stirner as a "precursor" of Nietzsche.
These Stirner thoughts would have been the suitable vessel into which Nietzsche could have poured his rich life of feeling; instead, he looked to Schopenhauer's world of concepts for the ladder upon which he could climb to his own world of thought.
John Glassford: Glassford believes that there is "staggering similarity" between some of the two men's ideas. While he seems to believe that it is likely that Nietzsche read Stirner, he stops short of asserting any certain influence or plagiarism.
Stylistically speaking, Stirner uses hyperbole and metaphor in much the same way as Nietzsche, although most would agree that Nietzsche's technique is the more successful. Compare, for example, Stirner's image of the state — "the state turns against me with all the force of its lion-paws and eagle-claws: for it is the King of beasts, it is lion and eagle" (1995, 226) — with Nietzsche's description of the state in Thus Spoke Zarathustra — the "State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters" (I "On the New Idol"). Even allowing for the vagaries of translation, it is clear that Stirner's prose is more repetitive and pedestrian than Nietzsche's, and very often, as in the example just given, Stirner's metaphors just don't work.After reviewing the controversy as regards possible plagiarism he suggests: "Unless new documents emerge, we will probably never be able to establish with complete certainty whether Nietzsche plagiarized from Stirner. The circumstantial evidence provided by the published writings is strong, but only if one glosses over the many differences in the published writings as well. [...] Nevertheless, I know of no other example of two philosophers whose works bear such a strong similarity, but where no debt of acknowledgement took place". Following Löwith, he concludes by offering the idea that Nietzsche most likely arrived at ideas similar to Stirner's because of the "inevitable logic of post-Hegelian philosophy".
More important, and with regard to content, Nietzsche, like Stirner, denies God (GS 125; Stirner 1996, 6-7), he rejects the traditional boundaries available to moral agents (BGE 1-2; Stirner 1995, 282), he undercuts the more plausible conceptions of truth (BGE Preface; Stirner 1995, 312), and he glorifies the use of power to settle disputes between competing interests (BGE 6, 186, 197; Stirner 1995, 175). Perhaps even more remarkable is Stirner's apparent anticipation of a sacred Nietzschean cow, namely, the critique of the modern account of freedom in which autonomy and obligation are reconciled through some mode or other of self-imposed duty. Rather, Stirner like Nietzsche, appeals to a different conception with a persistent call to authenticity, whatever the costs (1995, xxii, 177, 149; Nietzsche, ZI "On the Gift-Giving Virtue" 3). Finally, Stirner and Nietzsche shared an obsession with the role of language and its potentially tyrannizing effects (Stirner 1995, 312-15; Nietzsche, TI "Skirmishes").
There is also a staggering similarity between Stirner and Nietzsche's political demonology. Can it be mere coincidence that Stirner, like Nietzsche, loathed the state, nationalism, liberalism, socialism, and communism? Nietzsche called all of these modern isms "little attacks of stupidity," and Stirner rather typically said of one of these ideologies, "That the communist sees in you the man, the brother, is only the Sunday side of communism" (Nietzsche, BGE 251; Stirner 1995, 110). According to Stirner and Nietzsche, then, these ideas are all based upon a latent secularized version of Christian ethics.
Thomas H. Brobjer: Brobjer, unlike Glassford, does not see any "staggering similarity" between the two men. He does accept some of the general similarities mentioned by Glassford in his article, but he feels that claims of plagiarism, and even of influence are inappropriate. He proposes a 'new' possible solution: Nietzsche knew of Stirner through secondary works. Though Brobjer is apparently a very careful scholar, he claims "the only known secondary source that Nietzsche read [mentioning Stirner] has been F. A. Lange's Geschichte des Materialismus". He then announces that Nietzsche definitely read works of Hartmann where Stirner is mentioned at length as though he is the first to have published this "discovery". While the fact that Nietzsche must have read at least one of Hartmann's works in which Stirner was discussed is very old news, Brobjer does add at least one new secondary source discussing Stirner that Nietzsche could have read.