Following dream inspiration I searched the word ‘generous’ on the digital Blavatsky Collected Writings… I found an article on social reform The Struggle for Existence which may, or may not, have been written by H.P. Blavatsky. It was published in Lucifer, Vol. IV, No. 20, April, 1889, pp. 104-111. Given the subject of this piece, one might wonder whether it was not written by Annie Besant instead. However the style seems to me closer to Blavatsky than to Besant.
It’s interesting, because it tells us about the evolution of humanity as explained in The Secret Doctrine (published 1888) and applied to the social situation of the times.
Grand, indeed, and magnificent has been the childhood of the white race in which material and intellectual progress have raced on madly side by side; witness the conquest of nearly the whole world’s surface by its spirit of enterprise and adventure, rejoicing as a giant in its physical prowess, the subjugation of the henchman steam, and ever fresh triumphs over the master electricity. But the child cannot be ever a child, and the race draws nigh to its manhood; the God awakes and the Struggle for Existence begins in grim earnest. (p. 148 Col. Wr. Volume XI)
If this is Madame Blavatsky talking, she gives us in a few words an explanation of her doctrine of ‘race’ saying:
Thus far the white race, as a race, or in other words, the average individual of the race, has developed the subtleties of his animal nature to their limit, and now comes in contact with the divine; and it is only by extending this area of interest and sympathy that the individual can expand into the divine to be at last one with universal love, the spirit of which is self-sacrifice. (p. 148, 149)
I’d love to quote the whole article, well written as it is. But this is a blog, and the article is after all accessible on my website. The main point she goes on with is that of human evolution. That is: of how the evolution of the individual is bound up with the evolution of humanity (Man with a capital M) as a whole. Blavatsky shares this as a vision of hope: each of us can live self-sacrifice and thereby help humanity as a whole become more generous.
But back to the story of human evolution. Blavatsky shares her vision of the future:
In the evolution of all human societies we find the factor of caste; in the childhood of the race, caste is regulated by birth, an heirloom from the past civilizations of older stocks. Gradually, however, the birth caste wanes before the rising money caste, and hence material possessions become the standard of worth in the individual, in that the race is then plunged most deeply in material interests and has reached its highest point of development on the material plane. But the zenith of the material is the nadir of the spiritual; the law of progress moves calmly onward with the wheel of time, and nature, who never leaps, develops a new standard of worth, the intellectual, which we see even now asserting itself in proportion to its adaptability to average comprehension and the material standard of the times, and pointing to the development of a new caste standard, to be in its turn superseded by the caste of true worth in which the spiritual development of the race will be completely established. This, however, will be the work of ages and for humanity as a whole cannot easily be quickened, for it is impossible to change the natural law of evolution which proceeds spirally in curves that never re-enter into themselves, but ever ascend to so-called higher planes. (p. 150, 151)
However, at certain times evolution foreshadows the future she says.
At certain periods, however, of these cycles, a forecast or antetype is offered of the consummation, whereby an example of humanity in its perfect state is dimly shadowed forth. Such a period the white race is now entering upon, and the earnest of perfect type humanity will be given by those, whether of the money or mind caste, who, realizing the goal of evolution and capable of destroying the illusion of time, by translating the future into the present, freely extend the benefits of their caste to the pariahs of the race, and approaching them in friendship, gain a practical knowledge of their wretchedness and endeavour to awaken the latent divinity that slumbers within. (p. 151)
This speaks as much to our times as it did to the end of the 19th century. There are indeed two claims for status in our world: knowledge and education and monetary success. Money being the stronger among most people, I think.
The rich should, so Blavatsky feels, take a look at the good of mankind as a whole: not just physically, but emotionally, mentally and spiritually. The betterment of the individual at the expense of others should not be stimulated. Instead (and here she starts sounding antiquated) …
the great sanitary improvements which the money caste enjoys, should be extended to all; public baths and recreation grounds, free concerts and lecturers provided; the museums and picture galleries thrown open at times when the worker can visit them; the formation of athletic and mutual improvement clubs among the poor encouraged. All of which reforms were easy of accomplishment if only a small portion of the enormous wealth of the country, now lying idle, were generously and self-sacrificingly expended. (p. 152)
Many of these things have become standard in the rich West. In fact, sanitation has become individual even for most of the poorest people in our rich world. We have football and soccer competitions. Basketball etc. All these institutions were only just starting to arise in Blavatsky’s time and clearly she saw them as ways of helping people rise above themselves.
Looking back over the last century, looking at the way people have attempted to help people grow beyond their background, we can see she was right: sports (when the coach is inspiring) can indeed help people transform their lives.
We no longer have a ‘leisurely class’ like they did at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. In our time the richest people have earned their money themselves, though in many cases still building on family fortune. In fact sociologists suggest that in our time there are the leisurely poor in contrast to the hard working rich. Of course that’s only based on official statistics: the outcasts of our time are those who fall outside the net of social security. The illegal immigrants who work their asses off for less than minimum wage cleaning our toilets, growing our crops etc.
Blavatsky does not suggest paying people who can’t support themselves. Nor does she suggest the government take over public baths and museums. In this I guess she advocates what might be called the American model: rich people voluntarily giving to charity to start or keep up libraries for instance.
How great would be the progress of the individual! Health would improve and taste develop; healthy surroundings would favour healthy thought, the sight of monuments of art and science would bring refinement and both engender self-respect. (p. 152)
She then goes on to explain the benefit of a right diet: not eating too much meat – in fact avoiding over eating totally. Of course she didn’t live to see the day when famous people would in fact give the example for undernourishment.
As one would expect, Blavatsky calls for education of women.
In closing she calls for something of which we have seen a start in the past century: international cooperation. The present economic crisis has in fact been unprecedented in the fact that even the government of the USA has seen the necessity of working together.
It would be long to trace, even roughly, the possibilities of international cooperation which, in its turn, would be extended to racial cooperation of which the potentialities almost surpass description and reach that consummation of which the Theosophical Society has planted the first openly conscious germ, in endeavouring to form the nucleus of a universal brotherhood of humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour; what the potentialities of this glorious humanity may be, none but the student of the Science of Life can dream, as he alone can sense the labours of the Eldest Brothers of the Race for their poorer brethren. (p. 156)
Whoever it was that wrote this, they signed off as ‘PHILANTHROPOS’
So, WAS Philanthropos a socialist? In the main I think not. They clearly saw the necessity for people working together, but did not envision the government playing a huge part in that cooperation. Self sacrifice is, after all, not something that can be organised.