Self-interest and humanitarianism
Human beings are either entirely or nearly entirely driven by self-interest, this much has been made clear by studies in both philosophy and economics. Sadly, I do not here have time to provide a proof of this claim, but I can throw out a few of the great thinkers who have come to this conclusion:
Ludwig von Mises said that all people are rational maximizers operating via a subjective theory of value
Karl Marx believed that all people were engaged in a battle over resources.
Nietzsche said that the natural human being attempts to exert his will and force upon the world surrounding him.
Plato said that all men desire good things, but each man has his own subjective opinion of the “good” which he came to via his own experiences (both during and before “life”.
I highly doubt that human nature has changed a great deal in 100 years.
However, 100 years ago it was very common for European nations to do just about whatever they wanted to the rest of the world. In fact, human nature is in all likelihood not very different now than it was in the days of the early church, when Christians were wrapped in lambskin, covered in oil, and burned alive in order to serve as torches.
Humanitarianism goes mainstream
Today we see humanitarianism preached in the mainstream media. While it must be noted that preaching humanitarianism and practicing it are two different things entirely, the effort to appear humanitarian is unique in itself in relation to the rest of human history. The one exception is cases in which the ruling class found it necessary in some sense to make concessions or to appease the slave class; and this exception is telling.
Human beings are self-motivated creatures and they are also generally social creatures. These two instincts combined create a human being that exists within a spectrum of either trying to control other human beings or trying to have a positive relationship with these other human beings.
Very few humans openly try to bring harm upon themselves from other humans without having a deeper purpose in mind. If we add to this the fact that we live in a world of instant mass communication that is available not just to the ruling class, but to the ‘slave class’ as well, we begin to understand why a great deal of humanitarian rhetoric is now seen in the mainstream.
If we do something in violation of the desires of another human being, a million people can instantly know it, and fear that we will do the same thing to them. We thus cannot go about doing whatever we want to anyone we want, even if we have the power to do it in the moment; because it will immediately bring up the greater force of humanity against us, albeit in reference again to our own self-interest.