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Egoism (from the Latinego "I"), self-interest, the mere concern for one's own benefit, combined with selfishness and self-love, is a consequence of the Luciferic temptation. At the same time, however, it is also a necessary and fundamental characteristic of the astral body, through which it can detach itself as an independent entity from the general soul world in order to incarnate on earth. The human being must therefore be an egoist to a certain degree, because without egoistic powers he could not descend to earthly existence, which is why egoism is also strongly connected with sexuality. Personal egoism is often also supported by an overriding group egoism that encompasses entire groups of people and expresses itself in phenomena such as racism and nationalism, among others.

Egoism and Sexuality

„Now, if one considers the relationship of the human I to the limb-metabolic system, the origin of human egoism actually lies in this relationship. The sexual system also belongs to this system of human egoism. And it is precisely on the diversions through the sexual system that the I has the greatest effect in permeating the human being with egoism.“ (Lit.:GA 313, p. 22)

Egoism and Nationalism

A form of egoism that is heightened to the highest degree is nationalism. Rudolf Steiner spoke at great length about the close connection between sexuality and nationalism.

„There are definitely two different sources in human nature which underlie nationalism and internationalism. Nationalism is the highest formation of egoism. Internationalism is that which penetrates us more and more, if we can devote ourselves to an understanding conception of man. It is in this light that we must look at human coexistence throughout the civilised world, especially if we wish to arrive at a correct understanding of what collides in internationalism and nationalism.“ (Lit.:GA 332a, p. 190)

„More than one might think, the problem of nationality is to be related to the sexual problem. For belonging to the nationality is based on the same organ foundation - the ganglionic system - which also underlies the sexual. This can already be understood externally by the fact that one belongs to one's nationality by birth, insofar as one matures in the mother of a certain people; insofar the mediation is already there. There you can see through what, I would like to say, subterranean underpinnings the national problem is already connected with the sexual problem. And that is why there are so many similarities in appearance between these two impulses in life. Anyone who only has open eyes for life will find a tremendous amount of similarity between the way in which man acts out of the erotic and the way in which he acts in his belonging to the national dream. Of course, this is neither pro nor contra with regard to one or the other; but the facts are as I have characterised them. The excitements of a national kind, which have a particularly strong unconscious effect if they are not brought up into the consciousness of the I by making the question a question of karma, as I characterised it the other day, are very much related to sexual excitements. One must not pass over such things by wanting, out of certain delusions and longings, to make an emotional kind of national feeling quite a noble feeling, and the sexual feeling quite a less noble one; for the facts are already as I have developed them for you.“ (Lit.:GA 174, p. 142f)

Egoism and Nutrition and Health Issues

In our time, when nutritional and health advice, and life advice in general, is much sought after, it is important to bear in mind that all these things, in so far as they are pursued intellectually, make man excessively egoistic.

„It is still natural to the child to instinctively fulfil its health and nutritional conditions. That is why one can talk to him about it, and something of what is natural to man and does not make him selfish still strikes this speech. If children are not taught about nutrition and health conditions in these years, then they must first learn about them later by reading or by hearing about them from others. What comes to the human being later, after sexual maturity, by any means, about nutrition and health conditions, produces egoism in him. It cannot but produce egoism. When you read a physiology of nutrition, when you read an outline of rules for health care, then you make yourself more egoistic through this reading than you were before. This egoism, which continually emanates from our rational acquaintance with our own care, this egoism must, after all, be combated precisely by morality.“ (Lit.:GA 294, p. 187)

Egoism and Esotericism

Man can never be completely free of egoism in earthly life; the spiritual disciple in particular must be aware of this. However, it becomes a matter of concern when the ego becomes too strong and disputes its dominion over the I, the actual core of man's being, and gains the upper hand in the conduct of life.

„Knowledge for the sake of knowledge would be egoism. He who wants to know in order to see into the higher worlds acts egoistically. But he who wants to carry this knowledge into the immediate practice of daily life is working for the further development of the coming evolution of humanity. This is extraordinarily important, that we learn more and more to put into practice what exists as a spiritual-scientific view.“ (Lit.:GA 99, p. 150)

„One thing the disciple must always say to himself: I will not be able to be a participant in the spiritual world until I have learned to say to myself: I am full of egoism - and I cannot be any other way here in the physical world. But that which lives of me here in the physical world is only an image, a form, which is the image of my original image. This form, this image, is completely saturated with egoism. And it is the world karma that imbues us with egoism in our course of development through the incarnations. But the world karma is God. God also lives in us. And if we get so far as to act well and nobly, it is the God in us who drives us to do so. And the God in us who makes us act well and nobly lives in our archetype. I myself am full of egoism - but I am destined to become the image of my divine archetype. This archetype rested in the womb of the Godhead - it has descended to this physical form and this form is under the power of the God who is above my destiny, my karma, which is completely saturated with egoism. Never, never may I say I am without egoism, that is never true - I cannot even be without egoism in the physical world.

But if I learn to look at my archetype born of God, if I let my thinking, feeling and willing, all my soul forces die completely into this archetype, then I can hope to conquer the egoism in me and to approach my archetype again. We will notice that to the same extent that we become more selfless, we also become physically more powerful. We will notice that we no longer feel fear or terror, we will no longer flinch in sudden fright. We will become powerful and strong in our whole human being.“ (Lit.:GA 266b, p. 109f)

But egoism is also a means of protection that prevents man from immaturely penetrating the spiritual world or even abusing spiritual powers in the sense of black magic.

„Selfishness is a power that was not transplanted into human nature by the gods so that man could deny or negate it so easily. In fact, selfishness is one of the most essential things through which man works. When we investigate the reasons for selfishness, when we ask ourselves: Why then have the gods, the benevolent gods, implanted selfishness in man? - Since this is such an abomination in the opinion of so many people, we get the answer, born out of real occultism, that selfishness is a very powerful protection against what would happen to man in the world if he did not have this selfishness. Do you know what best protects man from using certain quite terrible powers, of which we shall speak in a moment? It would be easy today for someone who wanted to practise black magic himself to take a man as a pupil and teach this pupil certain manipulations and machinations of real black magic; he would be able to work in the world in the most horrible way. But most people will not do that so easily. And do you know why not? For the simple reason that they are afraid, because they fear for their personality. They perceive a little of the consequences in the spirit and fear them selfishly. And it is quite well that they are afraid and therefore leave the matter alone. If, at the beginning of their development on earth, men had had all the powers at their disposal to influence the astral, etheric and physical bodies, they would have done terrible things in the world. But they have been given egoism, and this leads man to care only for himself at first, and that care for himself occupies him entirely. Like a protective wall, the gods have erected egoism around man. It is egoism that veils man's insight into the things that lie behind the world of appearances. It is extremely important to look at this. It is one of the wise braking devices which the gods have set up so that man does not penetrate too quickly into the spiritual realms. So this is egoism; it is a good means of protection.“ (Lit.:GA 101, p. 119f)

Egoism and Christian prayer

The right basic mood and attitude when praying lies in the words: "Not my will, but Thine be done". Steiner gives the example of two praying farmers, one asking for rain, the other asking for sunshine. According to Steiner, these are egoistic requests. However, he does not differentiate further between the extent to which the farmer does not want anything for himself personally, but is concerned exclusively with the people dependent on him, for whom he is responsible, or he is concerned about the harvest and about feeding the people who need this harvest. Rather, he emphasises another aspect: the affirmation of the necessity of the integration of all fulfilable petitions into the all-encompassing divine will, and the requirement of a corresponding mood of prayer:

„There is a Christian primordial prayer in which the Christ Jesus himself, as clearly as it is at all possible, has pointed out what mood is necessary for the Christian in prayer. And this primal prayer is simply this: "Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not my will, but thine, be done."" Let us consider these last words. First of all, we are dealing with a real request: the passing of the cup, but at the same time with a complete absorption in the will of the Divine Spirit: "Yet not my will, but thine be done." This mood of allowing the will of the divine-spiritual to work through one during prayer, of being absorbed in it, of not wanting anything for oneself, but of allowing the divinity to will in one, this mood must permeate prayer as an undercurrent, a keynote, if it is to be Christian.

It is clear how impossible it is to have an egoistic prayer through this. It is already impossible for other reasons to send an egoistic prayer to God, for one would ask for rain, the neighbour for sunshine, both would ask out of their egoism, quite apart from the case where two armies stand ready to fight each other, and each asks that victory be given to it, which is quite impossible. But if one has the undertone, the keynote, "not my will, but thine be done", then one can ask for everything, then it is a mergence with the divine-spiritual will. I would like to ask for that, but I leave it to the divine-spiritual entity to decide whether it should become mine or not.“ (Lit.:GA 97, p. 102f)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.