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American Greatness
American Greatness
24 Feb 2024
Stephen Soukup

NextImg:Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness and the Triumph of the Ego

Among the least known but most important of the nearly countless leftist social and economic philosophers of the 19th century was a man named Johann Kaspar Schmidt, who is only marginally better known by his pen name, Max Stirner. Like many of his contemporaries, Stirner was, at least nominally, a Young Hegelian, which placed him in the same social and intellectual circles as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Unlike most of his fellow Young Hegelians, however, Stirner was not a communist or even a socialist. He was, rather, an “egoist,” which is to say that he was concerned with himself and his needs, first and foremost, and believed that all men were, at heart, radically self-interested. Stirner mocked Marx, Engels, and their fellow communists, assailing their quasi-religious utopian dreams and insisting that man, once freed from the “bondage” imposed by the Christians and their God, would never willingly accept the bondage imposed by the communists and their pseudo-god. Instead, Stirner asserted, man would feed his ego, would satisfy his desires, and would be concerned principally with his own personal comfort.

Marx, for his part, grew to hate Stirner more, perhaps, than any other person on earth. In part, Marx resented the fact that Stirner mocked his utopia. In larger part, he feared that Stirner was right. He fretted that Stirner had a better grasp of man’s nature and that once all man’s basic needs were met by modern capitalist society, he would not demand control of the fruits of his labor or of the means of production but would, instead, demand the satiation of his ego.

Over the last several years, American politics has seen a resurgence in politicians claiming to be “socialists.” From Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) to Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Rashida Tlaib (MI), and Cori Bush (MO), representatives on the Democratic Party’s leftward fringe have embraced the socialist label and have built their public faces around their affiliation with socialist parties.

In truth, however, none of these figures is even remotely socialist or Marxist. They have no interest in state control of industry or the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” For the most part, they don’t even pretend to care at all about blue-collar workers, formerly the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. Rather, they are concerned with the comforts and luxuries of modern life. They are concerned specifically with middle-class entitlements, like “free” health care or “free” college tuition. They are egoists, not socialists. And they are Stirnerites, not Marxists. They are, in short, proof positive that Marx had more than just cause to fear Stirner and his interpretation of man.

For most of his presidency, these so-called socialists’ fellow Democrat, Joe Biden, has promised to “forgive” significant amounts of student loan debt, which they wholeheartedly support. The Supreme Court told Biden that he did not have the authority to do so, but earlier this week, he decided that he didn’t care what the Court says, saying that he will do so with or without the Court’s blessing. As The New York Times noted just a few days ago, “Mr. Biden on Wednesday canceled $1.2 billion in student loan debt, bringing the total amount that he has wiped out during his time in office to $138 billion for 3.9 million borrowers.”

Biden’s critics have repeatedly said that his debt forgiveness plans are not only illegal and unconstitutional but are also unfair and economically unsound. Biden takes from all taxpayers, including the poor and the working class, to subsidize the higher education (a luxury good) of the middle and upper middle classes. He robs the plumber or the electrician who made sensible choices to subsidize the sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers who chose less sensibly. He takes Robin Hood and flips him on his head. Biden’s plans foster perverse incentives, creating moral hazard by encouraging borrowers to take on debt they cannot afford to repay in the hope that the consequences of their imprudence will be absolved.

This criticism is both fair and accurate.

Worse than all of that, though, Biden’s student loan forgiveness reinforces and institutionalizes the egoism of the American people. It assures them that government’s function is to see that their every need is met and that their every desire is satiated.

Karl Marx was an even poorer prognosticator than he was an economist. His every prediction about the future of man and society proved scandalously ill-conceived. He was wrong about nearly everything, from the doomed nature of capitalism to the inevitability of the workers’ revolution.

Far more prescient was his friend-turned-nemesis Max Stirner, who understood the world and post-Christian man far better than almost anyone else of his era. Stirner’s egoism presaged both Nietzsche’s nihilism and the intellectual left’s eventual descent into anti-realist madness.

For more than 150 years, Marxist revisionists have spent countless lifetimes trying to explain why the revolution didn’t occur or why, in those isolated cases in which Communism was tried, it resulted in tyranny rather than utopia. They pondered man’s alienation, his reification, and his commodity fetishism, and heaven knows what else, even as it never, apparently, occurred to them that Stirner had it right all along and that Marx was a millenarian crackpot.

Joe Biden is trying to buy votes by forgiving that which is not his to forgive. He is stroking voters’ egos, placating their desire for comfort and luxury.