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Unificationism and altruism
Auguste Comte. Public domain image. Cropped

“Living for the sake of others”: this unificationist mantra was already the motto of Auguste Comte, the founder of sociology, who coined the term “altruism”.

Unificationism offers several insights for a good understanding and practice of altruism.

First, the motivation for altruism should be clarified. Altruism surely has biological components, but it differs from the herd instinct. Aristotle said that we are social or political beings, Rousseau and Kant both stressed the guiding role of conscience, Kant also spoke of the practical reason. This is all true, and yet altruism should first be motivated by a love. Genuine altruism springs from a loving heart, from the irrepressible desire of the heart to find joy through loving.

Second, altruism has a clear purpose, which is to attain a greater joy together. Altruism does more than maintaining the cohesion of a group. “Living for the sake of others” should be dynamic, creative, risk-taking. It generates emergent properties, where the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. Altruism augments all of us. The indo-european root Aug (to grow) gave two words, namely augmentation and authority. The truly altruistic person is prompted to make things and people grow, through the natural authority of selfless love.

License: CC ASA 2.0 Gen. Cropped

Third, who are the others? The others are much more than the people out there. Altruism turns the other into a neighbour whom we love. But “who is my neighbour?”, as the lawyer asked in Luke 10.29. Unificationism brings some clarity here. Loving our neighbour starts within the family four position foundation (namely God, the husband, the wife, the children). Each position is to give and receive love with the three others. Then, the family of true love is to live for its neighbourhood, the neighbourhood is to live for the city, the city is to live for the province (or State), the province is to live for the  nation, the nation is to live for the continent, the continent is to live for the world. Altruism integrates the small part into a greater whole.

Fourth, genuine altruism is not just giving, but giving the right thing, and first giving of oneself. Going beyond the natural energy of generosity, altruism may require a more demanding effort. Firefighters or soldiers train themselves physically and emotionally to be able to rescue and save other lives, if necessary. Genuine altruism is a way of life where we learn to give something rare, challenging, precious. Unificationism rarely says that we should be ready to die for a cause, but living for the sake of others surely means dying to selfish habits and be transformed into a giver of something unique and precious. Sometimes, being a quiet presence is the best gift.

Fifth, altruism should be balanced. Even when the self “sacrifices” for the greater whole, it is a win-win solution: the self grows while serving. Unificationism says that the human mind consists of a physical mind, which seeks self-preservation and material values, and the spirit mind which seeks to serve others and benefit them. The whole purpose and the individual purpose support one another. Quite logically, a person who serves others rarely feels isolated, and receives the protection, care and attention of the whole.

Sixth, genuine altruism keeps the balance between the “anywhere” and the “somewhere”, to speak like the journalist David Goodhart. We surely can be local and global, having deep roots somewhere in our hometown, the place where we come from, but be able to feel at home anywhere. Unificationism urges every person to cultivate our Garden of Eden where we are born, but to also cherish distant Eldorados. Both are natural, as the example of migrating birds shows. We actually can be welcome anywhere when we have strong roots somewhere.

Seventh, altruism is of all seasons, not of special occasions. A campaign for a cause may motivate altruism for a while. But living for the sake of others is a life-long commitment, even when others turn unfriendly. It is never too late to start, but the sooner, the better; moreover, the truly altruistic person never retires from a public life, but keeps giving time, attention and support, long after having lost all official reasons to do so.

Text: Laurent Ladouce, 15th April 2023