A Word from the Wise Guy:
James J. O'Meara
The Mid-Century Mysticism of Max Stirner, Part II
Part 2 of 2 (Part 1 here)
In my previous essay on Stirner, I suggested that the modern online community, or the Internet itself, would be an excellent example of a “Union of Egoists.” And here we meet with Neville again; for although, like Stirner, his career was on a downslope at his death – for reasons we will soon examine – and he was largely forgotten immediately after, his fame and influence have had a remarkable resurgence online, where Neville’s books and hundreds of transcribed lectures are freely available, and the lectures themselves are all over YouTube.
Neville never copyrighted any of his books, and encouraged taping and sharing his lectures; a strikingly modern attitude, reminiscent of the Grateful Dead, Mystery Science Theater (“Keep Circulating the Tapes!”), and the general millennial attitude that “information wants to be free.”
Indeed, this was the relation between Neville and his audience: he was no guru handing out commandments. Instead, he offered a “simple method to change the future,” and asked them to just go home and try it out; if it worked, come back and tell us all about it!
To resume our line of thought: Stirner calls the Union of Egoists “the desecration of the State”; i.e., de-sacralizing the idea, so that it no longer dominates me as a supposed holy thing or “spook.” But how to do so? Not by revolution; that would simply be to exchange one set of masters for another, one set of arrangements for another – the Unique One seeks not to be arranged at all. Here, Stirner introduces another key notion: Insurrection.
Revolution and insurrection must not be looked upon as synonymous. The former consists in an overturning of conditions, of the established condition or status, the State or society, and is accordingly a political or social act; the latter has indeed for its unavoidable consequence a transformation of circumstances, yet does not start from it but from men’s discontent with themselves, is not an armed rising, but a rising of individuals, a getting up, without regard to the arrangements that spring from it. The Revolution aimed at new arrangements; insurrection leads us no longer to let ourselves be arranged, but to arrange ourselves, and sets no glittering hopes on “institutions.” It is not a fight against the established, since, if it prospers, the established collapses of itself; it is only a working forth of me out of the established. If I leave the established, it is dead and passes into decay. Now, as my object is not the overthrow of an established order but my elevation above it, my purpose and deed are not a political or social but (as directed toward myself and my ownness alone) an egoistic purpose and deed.
The revolution commands one to make arrangements, the insurrection [Empörung] demands that he rise or exalt himself [sich auf-oder empörzurichten]. What constitution was to be chosen, this question busied the revolutionary heads, and the whole political period foams with constitutional fights and constitutional questions, as the social talents too were uncommonly inventive in societary arrangements (phalansteries etc.). The insurgent strives to become constitutionless.
Neville, of course, is hardly interested in politics at all, whether revolution or insurrection; but ironically, it is here that, by again falling back on the Bible, Stirner and Neville begin to sound the same. At this point, Stirner unexpectedly begins to discuss the rise of the Christian uprising:
While, to get greater clearness, I am thinking up a comparison, the founding of Christianity comes unexpectedly into my mind. On the liberal side it is noted as a bad point in the first Christians that they preached obedience to the established heathen civil order, enjoined recognition of the heathen authorities, and confidently delivered a command, “Give to the emperor that which is the emperor’s.” Yet how much disturbance arose at the same time against the Roman supremacy, how mutinous did the Jews and even the Romans show themselves against their own temporal government! In short, how popular was “political discontent!” Those Christians would hear nothing of it; would not side with the “liberal tendencies.” The time was politically so agitated that, as is said in the gospels, people thought they could not accuse the founder of Christianity more successfully than if they arraigned him for “political intrigue,” and yet the same gospels report that he was precisely the one who took least part in these political doings. But why was he not a revolutionist, not a demagogue, as the Jews would gladly have seen him? Why was he not a liberal? Because he expected no salvation from a change of conditions, and this whole business was indifferent to him. He was not a revolutionist, like e.g. Caesar, but an insurgent; not a State-overturner, but one who straightened himself up. That was why it was for him only a matter of “Be ye wise as serpents,” which expresses the same sense as, in the special case, that “Give to the emperor that which is the emperor’s”; for he was not carrying on any liberal or political fight against the established authorities, but wanted to walk his own way, untroubled about, and undisturbed by, these authorities. Not less indifferent to him than the government were its enemies, for neither understood what he wanted, and he had only to keep them off from him with the wisdom of the serpent. But, even though not a ringleader of popular mutiny, not a demagogue or revolutionist, he (and every one of the ancient Christians) was so much the more an insurgent, who lifted himself above everything that seemed sublime to the government and its opponents, and absolved himself from everything that they remained bound to, and who at the same time cut off the sources of life of the whole heathen world, with which the established State must wither away as a matter of course; precisely because he put from him the upsetting of the established, he was its deadly enemy and real annihilator; for he walled it in, confidently and recklessly carrying up the building of his temple over it, without heeding the pains of the immured.
Neville would certainly agree that what’s needed is a change within (in our Imagination) rather than a change of circumstances (which are just the contents of our Imagination, out-pictured). But the language of “render unto Caesar” was also seized upon by Neville in his response to the usual criticism of New Thought teachings (such as the more recent “Law of Attraction”) as mere hedonism:
What would be good for you? Tell me, because in the end every conflict will resolve itself as the world is simply mirroring the being you are assuming that you are. One day you will be so saturated with wealth, so saturated with power in the world of Caesar, you will turn your back on it all and go in search of the word of God . . . I do believe that one must completely saturate himself with the things of Caesar before he is hungry for the word of God.
As Mitch Horowitz has explained it:
This passage sounds a note that resonates through various esoteric traditions: One cannot renounce what one has not attained. To move beyond the material world, or its wealth, one must know that wealth. But to Neville – and this became the cornerstone of his philosophy – material attainment was merely a step toward the realization of a much greater and ultimate truth.
Yet more intriguingly, Stirner here also uses the language of “lifting up” or “rising up,” which is how Neville describes the process of changing conditions by changing our consciousness:
If you are dissatisfied with your present expression in life the only way to change it, is to take your attention away from that which seems so real to you and rise in consciousness to that which you desire to be. You cannot serve two masters [although you can render to each what is his], therefore to take your attention from one state of consciousness and place it upon another is to die to one and live to the other.
But enough of all this fruity talk of similarities! Are there no meaty differences to distinguish these clearly different thinkers? Indeed, there are, and this idea of two masters gives us a clue to the first: Stirner’s system is radically incomplete.
After a mystical experience in 1959 (described in Horwitz’s essay), Neville’s teaching bifurcated: in addition to The Law (which became Oprah’s “Law of Attraction”), he also began to teach The Promise. The Law was given to enable you to live in the material world; the Promise was that you could then work to obtain union with God (“one must completely saturate himself with the things of Caesar before he is hungry for the word of God”).
This calls to mind Evola’s criticism of Stirner. In his autobiography, Evola acknowledges the influence of Stirner in his youth, but only – like Oscar Wilde – for his anti-bourgeois stance. In Evola’s late work Ride the Tiger, Stirner epitomizes the first stage of a two-step process of emptying modern civilization of meaning – his form of “passive nihilism” is carried forward by Nietzsche into a New Age of spiritual realization by the New Man through “active nihilism.”
Interestingly, then as now, Neville’s listeners were more interested in The Law than in The Promise; they wanted him to return to stories about how people had obtained new cars and bigger houses. As Horowitz recounts it:
Many listeners, the mystic lamented, “are not at all interested in its framework of faith, a faith leading to the fulfillment of God’s promise,” as experienced in his vision of rebirth. Audiences drifted away. Urged by his speaking agent to abandon this theme, “or you’ll have no audience at all,” a student recalled Neville replying, “Then I’ll tell it to the bare walls.”
Ironically, towards the end Neville might have drifted into just as “dissolute” a life as Stirner; but his audiences recovered somewhat, especially in the hippie era, and as noted above, the Internet has provided him with something of a “resurrection.”
And this brings us to the second difference: Neville was indeed able to use the Law to fashion a conventionally successful life, while Stirner died alone, poor, in obscurity, from an infected insect bite. How to account for this?
Although details of his life are scanty, what we know – marrying a woman for her inheritance, quitting his day job as soon as his first and only book was published, advertising for loans, and above all, the diary delivery disaster – suggests that Stirner, like so many today, thought that the Law meant that he could formulate a wish, and then sit back and wait for it to come about, or “be manifested,” to use the suspiciously passive term favored by Oprah’s listeners.
There are two problems with this laid-back mentality: the first is the idea that mere thought is all that is involved; this is a common misunderstanding of New Thought (and perhaps a drawback to the name itself). As Mitch Horowitz says:
Emotion is the building block of belief and the key to influencing the subconscious. Indeed, it is vital that our affirmation or visualization have emotional persuasiveness at the back of it – and that it is felt with conviction and integrity. Too often in the New Thought world we conflate thoughts and emotions. But the two are very different and function on different tracks. Reciting an affirmation without emotional conviction achieves nothing; in fact, I may do more harm than good by summoning disbelief and resistance.
This is the key step in Neville’s method:
First, clarify a sincere and deeply felt desire. Second, enter a state of relaxed immobility, bordering on sleep. Third, enact a mental scene that contains the assumption and feeling of your wish fulfilled. Run the little drama over and over in your mind until you experience a sense of fulfillment. Then resume your life. Evidence of your achievement will unfold at the right moment in your outer experience.
And here again, the Hermetic Tradition, through Evola, agrees:
Another technical detail is in order. In order for any image to act in the way I am talking about, it must be loved. It must be assumed in a great, inner calm and then warmed up, almost nourished, with sweetness, without bringing the will or any effort into play, and much less without expectations. The Hermeticists called this agent “sweet fire,” “fire that does not burn,” and even “fire of the lamp” since it really has an enlightening effect on the images.
It would seem that after conjuring the meme of Max Stirner, star thinker, into existence, nothing else really managed to generate sufficient interest in this proto-slacker.
The first problem is subjective – it’s not enough to just imagine an outcome and wait for it to “manifest” itself; the second problem relates to the world we seek to change – again, we can’t just sit back: as the faux-biblical saying has it, God helps those who help themselves.
Stirner set up a dairy business and then forgot to advertise it. Victor Goddard, by contrast, didn’t simply imagine having a successful business; he first imagined it, and then went out and did what needed to be done, confident that it would succeed.
The contrast is perhaps best shown in what may be my favorite Neville story: how he bought tickets to a sold-out performance of Aida:
About 8 years ago I was in New York for a month and two of my brothers, Victor and Laurence, came up and spent two weeks with me in New York City, they checked into the same hotel. They wanted to see everything they could within 2 weeks and I bought them 14 shows and sometimes they went even to an afternoon show, they wanted to see everything in the crowded two weeks. But the one thing my brother Laurence wanted to see was the new presentation of Aida.
Well the newspapers said it was sold out from the very moment that it was stated a new presentation, same music naturally, the same score, but new scenery, something new about it. And this captured the imagination of all opera lovers and they all wanted to see Aida.
We got there and huge big signs on the outside, no seats for Aida available and they were plastered all over the Metropolitan. I went in and there were 3 lines leading to the 3 windows selling tickets for the entire season and there was no seats for Aida. I got into the first line. It was a very long line, then I saw the third line from me moving more rapidly than the first and the second so I moved over to that line.
Then they all moved rapidly forward as we got to the window and seemingly no hope of getting tickets, but before I left my hotel room I simply assumed that I had the tickets for my 2 brothers. I didn’t want to go, they wanted to see it so I assumed that I gave them the tickets. I got into this line and it moved rapidly towards the window as we got there, to the window, a tall blonde man, he was about oh he must have been about 6, I’m 5’11, he must have been about 6’4.
He stretched his hand up over my head and diverted the ticket seller as he asked the question, why one in front of me is buying, it’s not for Aida for that’s completely sold out, he is buying 2 other seats from some other opera. Then he departed after he diverted the man’s attention. This man pushed on some bills under the window and then as the teller looked at the money, and this man is at the door now, the tall, tall blonde fellow. And he gave this man the ticket and then suddenly he said, well he only gave me 3 dollars he should have given me, and he mentioned the money he should have given me.
At that he was bewildered. The teller, was bewildered. I turned around and I screamed at that tall blonde, I said, “Sir”. I screamed so loudly he couldn’t stop but be attentive, he turned around I said, “Come back here you’re wanted.” He came back like a little child being led by the nose, he came back and he said, “What’s wrong?” And the man said, “This is all that he gave me, 2 one dollar bills”. He said, “Oh no he didn’t, he gave you your change.” I said, “No you didn’t I was standing right here. I saw what you did. You gave 2 one dollar bills, that’s all that you gave him.”
The man was flabbergasted. He was so completely dumbfounded he didn’t know what to do. I said, “I am standing here, I saw exactly what was done.” Then he opened up his purse and there was a stack of ones and he had a 20 dollar bill and 2 tens. He said to the man, “When will you discover your mistake that I gave you 2 tens?” And the man said to him, “At the end of the season.” And with that it was closed and the man then took out the money and paid for the ticket and took back his 2 ones.
Then I said to him “I want 2 seats for Aida tonight and I want them in the horseshoe circle. I want them center.” He said, “Yes Sir,” and he took from what he called the VIP, they always keep a few out, when the house is sold out they always keep a few seats for those who are coming called the very important people. I am certainly not a very important person, but I saved him from the loss of 20 dollars and he quickly took the 2 seats out and said to me,”20 dollars.” I gave him the 20 dollars, went back and gave the 2 seats to my brothers.
Neville’s story is intended to illustrate how “God causes all things to work together for the good”; the con man thinks he’s pulling a fast one, but he’s actually part of the mechanism that gets Neville his tickets. For our purposes, though, we can ask: Why didn’t Neville just imagine having the tickets, and wait for them to “manifest”?
Mitch Horowitz calls this the “fallacy of a single cause”:
If I posit a connection between the individual and some kind of higher capacity of the mind, that does not mean that only “one thing” – a law of mentation – is going on in your life. Lots of events, whether biological, mechanical, or metaphysical, can be simultaneously occurring. We live under many laws and forces, of which the impact of the mind is one. The law of gravity is ever operative, but it is mitigated by other laws, such as mass. The experience of gravity radically differs on the moon, Earth, and Jupiter. So it is with the mind: surrounding events and realities matter.
Contrary to many purveyors of spiritual self-help, I reject the notion that we can become anything we dream of. Not all desires are realistic. . . . Your age, training, and education matter – as do geography, finances, and time. These are not to be seen as barriers – but they are serious considerations.
The whole truth is that our lives, as vessels for the Higher and receptors of thought, are indelibly bound up with the world and circumstances in which we find ourselves. Whatever higher influences we feel, and great thoughts we think or are experienced by us through the influence of others, are like heat dissipated in the vacuum of space unless those thoughts are directed into a structure or receptacle, whether physical, material, or in the form of personal conduct. Thought not acted upon is like an echo whose vibratory power quickly weakens and fades.
Our choices take place within an already existing physical and social framework; even if in some sense we chose or created it beforehand, it exists now as a “structure or receptacle” that needs to be worked within. Neville emphasizes that we must “think from the end” rather than try to imagine the process by which our desire will be realized, but this is not because the end will be magically manifested, but because, having formulated our desired goal, we have no idea what mechanism the universe will use to bring it about. As in the Aida example, Neville imagines having the tickets, but still has to go down to the box office; no one could have predicted that foiling a con man’s scheme would bring about the desired result.
Horowitz also connects this to the “render unto Caesar” motif:
We live in a world of Caesar and must abide by material demands. My friend [a CEO] will lose the confidence of his board if he fails to act. We are called upon to perform in both worlds: the seen and the unseen. If Neville wanted to take a train somewhere, he didn’t just sit in his room – he went out and purchased a ticket. We are surrounded by people living in outer life. Play the role that outer life requires. “Render unto Caesar.” But remember the underground spring from which all creation arises.
As Neville said about the relation of the Law and the Promise, the Law was given to us to ease our stay in the material world; it involves not random wish fulfillment, but a means of identifying our most basic desires (our True Will, as Crowley would say) so that we can act with clarity and confidence in the world, assured that our goal is God’s will. And God helps those who help themselves; or, to use an actual Biblical phrase (also cited by Horowitz), “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).
And again, we can turn to Evola for confirmation: speaking of “the concept of a ‘project’” in existentialism, he notes that “Traditional doctrines accepted a predetermination that is in a way timeless, precosmic, and prenatal, and connected with it the concept of one’s ‘own nature’.”
Ultimately, Stirner is not Neville, and a comparison of the two, especially regarding their life outcomes, bears out the truth of Evola’s critique of Stirner. Evola himself cautions against judging the life of a mage, such as Aleister Crowley, by normal, bourgeois standards. Still, Stirner’s doctrine seem radically incomplete, and his “dissolute life” is no model for anyone who aspires to be more than an Internet troll.
In the Introduction to his translation, Wolfi points out that Stirner, recognizing that dialectics could prove anything – and thus nothing – declined to play the game of claiming to be a philosopher, a “lover of wisdom,” and instead “chose to be a wise guy,” wising up the rest of us with his “mocking laughter.”
But dialectically, there is a third option, as Evola’s critique of Stirner and Nietzsche assumes: rather than a lover of wisdom, or a wise guy, why not be a wise man.? If Max and Neville are Martha and Mary, we can agree with Jesus that Mary has chosen the better course. Or, as David Lynch puts it:
Cowboy: Well, stop for a little second and think about it. Can you do that for me?
Adam Kesher: [laughs] Okay, I’m thinking.
Cowboy: No, you’re not thinking. You’re too busy being a smart-aleck to be thinking. Now, I want you to think and stop being a smart-aleck. Can you try that for me?
 Regardie (op. cit.) describes how Abdullah’s teaching enabled Neville to throw “overboard” the ascetic practices he had been taught by the Rosicrucian cult, and “became that rare anomaly, a human being”: – i.e., a Unique One. With further development as a teacher, “he was able to loosen his hold upon the hem of Abdullah’s skirts, to become a teacher in his own right,” which recalls Stirner’s description of the rise of a union by analogy to a child’s liberation from its mother’s apron strings: “The more we learn to feel ourselves, the connection that was formerly most intimate becomes ever looser and the dissolution of the original society more unmistakable. To have once again for herself the child that once lay under her heart, the mother must fetch it from the street and from the midst of its playmates. The child prefers the intercourse that it enters into with its fellows to the society that it has not entered into, but only been born in.”
 Another sore point for Marx, no doubt. The history of how the “withering away of the State” under Communism has actually proceeded again demonstrates Stirner’s prescience.
 In The Miracle Club, Horowitz reiterates this: “My conviction is that the true nature of life is to be generative. I believe that in order to be happy, human beings must exercise their fullest range of abilities – including the exertions of outer achievement.
“I believe that the simplest and most resounding truth on the question of the inner life and attainment appears in the dictum of Christ: ‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s.’
“I do not view nonattachment as a workable goal for those of us raised in the West, and elsewhere, today. Rather, I believe that the ethical pursuit of achievement holds greater depth, and summons more from within our inner natures, than we may realize.” (op. cit., p. 13)
 At Your Command (1939).
 The Path of Cinnabar: An Intellectual Autobiography (London: Integral Tradition Publishing, 2009); see esp. p. 10.
 See Julius Evola, Ride the Tiger, trans. Joscelyn Godwin & Constance Fontana (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2003), pp. 18-19.
 Horowitz notes Neville’s acknowledged influence on Detroit’s own New Age guru, Dr. Wayne Dyer, as well as a more oblique connection to Carlos Castaneda.
 As is the title of Neville’s last book, devoted almost entirely to expounding his experience of The Promise through Biblical texts, published in 1967. A final irony: Neville’s vision involved an experience of being reborn from within one’s own skull (as in Golgotha) and breaking out therefrom; Stirner chose to remain within his own massive forehead. Neville supposedly was found dead, “bleeding from every hole in his head,” as a devotee related it; “his head finally just exploded.” At least they didn’t assassinate him like Howard Beale.
 I should clarify that Neville was not some mystical huckster who got rich off his devotees. As noted, he declined to copyright his books and speeches; there were no charges for teachings, mantras, and so on. As Horowitz says, “With Neville, there’s nothing to join, no label to wear, and little or nothing to buy. There’s just the man and his ideas – and your option to experiment with them.” Nor was Neville filthy rich; by “successful life” I mean the plausible American dream of the haute bourgeoise lifestyle: swanky apartments and hotels, fine dining, well-tailored suits, and so on. A couple of times Neville boasts about not needing to become a member of all the best clubs, since the members invite him, anyway. I like to think of him as someone who would fit into the Ricardos’ lifestyle on I Love Lucy.
 A. E. Housman, poet and Classical scholar, devotes his lecture “The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism” to eviscerating purported scholars who try to set up rules to make criticism easy: “How the world is managed, and why it was created, I cannot tell; but it is no feather-bed for the repose of sluggards.” “The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism,” Proceedings of the Classical Association 18 (1922), reprinted in J. Diggle and R. F. D. Goodyear, eds., The Classical Papers of A. E. Housman, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), vol. 3., pp. 1058–1069; see also “Conservatism and Creativity in A. E. Housman” by E. Christian Kopff.
 The Miracle Club, p. 33. Horowitz quotes one critic from the London School of Economics, no less: “Imagining a positive outcome conveys the sense that you are approaching your goals, which takes the edge off the need to achieve” (op. cit., p. 110).
 The Miracle Club, p. 133. As Neville says in the very title of his 1944 book, Oprah is wrong, Feeling is the Secret; although there are countless editions, you would do best to consult mine, which includes an Afterword on Neville and the Hermetic Tradition (Kindle, 2016).
 “Commentary on the Opus Magicum,” in Introduction to Magic: Rituals and Practical Techniques for the Magus (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2001), p. 57. “The fire of the lamp” recalls Neville’s “you must be like the moth in search of his idol, the flame.” Again, Dr. Lechter comes to mind: an investigator muses over one of Buffalo Bill’s tell-tale moths: “Somebody grew this guy. Fed him honey and nightshade, kept him warm. Somebody loved him.” Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1990)
 In another way, this also addresses the question of morality already addressed: the con man thinks he’s pulling a fast one for himself, but actually he’s being prompted to assist Neville.
 The Miracle Club, p. 4.
 Op. cit., p. 63.
 Op. cit., p. 73.
 Op. cit., p. 132.
 Ride the Tiger, p. 87. As another mid-century Jewish guru, Hyman Roth, says, “This is the business we’ve chosen” The Godfather, Part II (1974). Moe Green, the “genius” with a “vision,” creator of Las Vegas, might be another example of New Thought.
 Julius Evola, The Hermetic Tradition: Symbols and Teachings of the Royal Art (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1995), Chapter 51, “The Invisible Masters.”
 Landstreicher, op. cit., pp. 10-16. Compare Timothy S. Murphy, Wising up the Marks: The Amodern William Burroughs (Berkeley, Ca.: University of California Press, 1998).
 In an interesting twist, Jason Jorjani ignores the Hegelian pose of having passed beyond philosophy (love of Wisdom) to being Wise; instead, he takes a Schopenhauerian move; just as the latter disdained academic philosophers as “professors of professors of philosophy,” Jorjani modestly claims to have only now become a true philosopher with his most recent book, while denying the title to both contemporary academics and most of the canonical figures of the past; see his Lovers of Sophia (Melbourne: Manticore, 2017), Introduction.
 “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:38-42).
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