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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/307

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THE ETHICS OF TRIBAL SOCIETY.

fundamental principle of his ethics, as formulated in his Divine Institutions, is in its motive character and moral elevation far below the height attained four centuries earlier by his pagan prototype. The results of their teachings, practically applied, were equally cosmopolitan; inasmuch as Lactantius based his theory of duty on the Hebrew legend of the origin and descent of man, and thus enlarged his essentially tribal system of ethics so as to embrace the whole human race.

Marcus Aurelius defines his own ethical and humanitarian standpoint with his wonted epigrammatic terseness: "As an Antonine, my country is Rome; as a man, it is the world." Unfortunately, the liberal spirit of the philosopher, even when he happens to sit upon a throne, seldom exerts any direct and decisive influence in liberalizing the minds of the masses of mankind. Homer praises the kind and sympathetic heart of him who treats the stranger as a brother. But this fine sentiment does not change but rather confirms the fact that, as a rule, strangers were not thus treated in the Homeric age. As a general statement it remains true that in ancient times aliens had no legal rights whatsoever, and that international relations, so far as they existed at all, were relations of hostility.

But this outlawry de jure was mitigated de facto by investing the rite of hospitality with a certain sacredness. Such is still the case with all savage and semi-civilized tribes, as, for example, with the Bedouins, who hold the person of a guest inviolable, even though he may be their deadliest foe. This custom originated in the defenseless and helpless condition of the stranger, whose alienage placed him beyond the pale of law and the sphere of sympathy; it furnished a sort of compensation for the lack of all natural or conventional claims to protection, and thus supplied a temporary modus vivendi, without which intertribal intercourse would have been absolutely impossible.

We have an indication and illustration of this peculiarity of primitive society in the story of Cain, who, as a fratricide, was not only guilty of murder (a matter of comparatively small moment in the eyes of the aboriginal man), but also of treason against the tribe by violating the law of brotherhood fundamental to its constitution and essential to its existence; and when, by reason of this crime, he was driven out of the sheltering circle and sanctuary of his own kith and kin and became a fugitive and vagabond in the earth, his first feeling was the fear lest he should be slain by any stranger who might chance to meet him. The Lord is also represented as recognizing the possibility of such a catastrophe, and as setting a mark upon him in order to avert it.

The stipulation contained in the Hebrew code, as well as in the code of other Eastern nations, which made it the duty of a man to