Everyone should look after their own interests, leaving those who cannot cope to whatever fate befalls them.
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations lists “Every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost” as an early 16th century proverb.
It’s an old phrase, first recorded in print in a 1610 tragic/comic play called “Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding,” by Beaumont and Fletcher. It was performed by Shakespeare’s theatre troop, The King’s Men.
In Act V of “Love Lies a-Bleeding,” the people rise in rebellion against a bad government. A character questions whether the people can remain united, however. He says that even when a mere “toy” clicks at the people’s heels, “they run all away, and cry, ‘the devil take the hindmost.’”
Another character responds this way: “If they all prove cowards, my curses fly amongst them, and be speeding!”
So, letting the devil take the hindmost means a situation where the Devil is chasing us, the Devil being in the form of poverty, war, or some other pestilence. Some people are able to run away, but others can’t run as fast. They’re the hindmost. They’re the ones that the Devil catches, and destroys.
But the point is that there’s no reason to think the Devil will be satisfied just taking the hindmost. The Devil will take the foremost, too.
So what should those of us who can run faster do? Should we help the hindmost to safety?Or should we just let the Devil take the hindmost, while we have the chance to escape?
And that is a very hard question to answer until you actually end up in the situation.