There has been a great deal of talk about Altruism lately, though it is an old doctrine appearing under a new name. Comte defines it as the sacrifice of self in the interests of others, but the following from another writer (Nordau) seems to point out more exactly what it really means. "The highest development of the ego is in embodying itself in the non-ego." This is Altruism; its wide significance for the race can so be brought down to terms of "I" and "not-I," and man's highest gain shown to be in loss of that very self that masks him as a distinct individual. It has been said that love is the highest and last word for humanity, but unless this love has in it the essence, not of' self, but of "otherism," there can be no question of highest development. Self-renunciation is more than self—the noblest nature is most self-less, and love is not love as Christ taught it unless it is Altruism.
The history of this last and highest moral development of the human race is a long and tedious one. There are those who make the birth of Altruism synonymous with the birth of Christianity, for Altruism is the very voice of Christianity. But in its strict acceptance Altruism was an ideal of the world's long before that time. It had its beginnings away back in the dawn of time, in every human soul that sacrificed itself in the slightest degree for another. When first primeval man warred on the earth, no thought of other than individual rights ever asserted itself; it was man against man, as brute against brute.
Then, with the first glimmerings of reason and intelligence, came the formation of the family in its rude state. And as often as the man fought for his hearth, or the mother struggled for her little ones—the sacrifice of self for others; the "I" forgetting itself in the "not-I "—even then the Altruistic ideal of humanity was born, all unconsciously even then the Kingdom of Christ had dawned on the earth.
And so time went on, and by degrees the separate families of one district drew together in social union to protect themselves against those of another district. Clans were formed, and as the individuals of each of these lost sight of their own interests in the interests of the clan, we can see Altruism still struggling to exist. It did more than exist; it grew and progressed, as man grew and progressed, until now it is the great watchword of humanity, and some day there is hope that the whole world will be its conquest.
So much for its development. Its present significance as an ideal for the world is even more important. We have seen that Altruism as an ideal was specially realized and voiced by Christianity, and it has run along the same lines ever since—in fact, the Altruistic ideal is the Christian ideal, and as such is ruling humanity and the world.
The laws of evolution are as much in force in human society as in the realm of nature, and the progress of nations depends on nature's great laws, competition, selection, rejection, and, as a result, progress, which is a necessity from which there is no escape.
Altruism unconsciously looks ahead, and by the nature of the self-forgetfulness it imposes on man, promises the progress of the race it characterizes, and a higher development of humanity in the illimitable future.
All tended to mankind,
And, man produced, all has its ends thus far:
But in completed man begins anew
A tendency to God. Prognostics told
Man's near approach; so in man's self arise
August anticipations, symbols, types
Of a dim splendor ever on before
In that eternal circle life pursues.
For men begin to pass their nature's bound,
And find new hopes and cares, which fast supplant
Their proper joys and griefs; they grow too great
For narrow creeds of right and wrong, which fade
Before the unmeasured thirst for good; while peace
Rises within them ever more and more.