« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
lessening the evils of population, which are much the most important, really aggravate them. -Here then three questions naturally present themselves.
First, how much of the vice and misery in society is actually owing to human institutions, or the passions, follies, imperfections, or perversities of human nature, independently of the principle of population.
Secondly, whether the removing or diminishing the evils produced by those causes would necessarily increase the evils of population, and open a door to the influx of more vice and misery than ever.
Thirdly, whether the tendency of population to excess is the effect of a simple principle operating mechanically, whether it is to be looked upon as one of the laws inherent in our very nature, or whether the state of morals in every country does not depend greatly and principally on the state of society, on the condition of the people, on public opinion, and on a variety of other causes which are more or less within our power; that is, whether human institutions, laws, &c. instead of being the mere blind instruments of this principle, do not re-act very powerfully upon it, and give it its direction and limits. If it can be shewn under this last
head, that there is some connection between the form of government and the state of morals, and that the better the government, the better the morals, the evils of population instead of forming an excuse for bad governments will only aggravate their mischief, and increase the necessity of getting rid of them. Again, if it can be made to appear that there is no necessary, or general proportion between the degree of vice in in any country, and the pressure of population on the means of subsistence, that it is not always the effect of want, but constantly outruns the occasion, being self-propagated, and often spreading like a contagion through those countries and those ranks in life, where the difficulty of providing for a family is least felt, this will shew that the mere existence of vice is no proof of its being necessary, or that it is to be considered as a test of the excessive increase of population.
Farther, if on the other hand, improving the condition of the lower classes of the people is generally found, instead of leading to an unrestrained increase of population, and thus adding to their misery, to give them a greater attachment to the decencies and comforts of life, to make them more cautious how they part with them, to open their ideas and prospects, to
strengthen the principle of moral restraint, and so confine population within reasonable limits, this will be an additional motive for improving their condition (really and truly, not by taking from them the comforts and privileges they already possess.) Again, if it should be found that independently of the immediate acts of tyranny exercised by particular governments, and the poverty and wretchedness experienced by certain classes of the community there is a tendency in some governments to keep population down infinitely below the level to which it might rise by a proper encouragement of agriculture, and the methods of industry by which population is supported, it will be but a poor defence of the folly or tyranny of such governments to say, that they are a necessary expedient to prevent the excess of population.
Lastly, if those states or communities, where the greatest equality prevails, are those which maintain the greatest number of inhabitants, and where the principle of moral restraint is likely to operate with most effect, that is, where population is soonest able to reach its utmost limits, and goes the least beyond them, certainly those institutions which favour the greatest disparity of conditions, the extremes of poverty and the extremes of luxury, will receive no very strik
ing support from the principle of population. These are I think the chief points and inferences to which I wish to direct the reader's attention in the few slight remarks which I have to make upon the subject.
proper to observe, in the first place, that Mr. Malthus by making vice and misery the necessary consequences of his favourite principle lays himself open to a very obvious objection. For if he means to prove any thing by his theory, the question immediately is, what degree of vice and misery is rendered necessary by this principle, or by the physical constitution of man ? Are we to suppose that only so much evil is necessary as naturally grows out of the British constitution? Or does this principle also prove that all the evils that are suffered under the Turkish government, or that were suffered under the old government of France, or that may arise out of its present government are equally necessary and salutary? How far are we to go? Where are we to stop ? Are we to consider every evil and abuse as necessary, merely because it exists, or only as much of the thing as we cannot get rid of? But how much can we really get rid of ? Are vice and misery uniformly owing to the developement of this principle in certain situations, or are they to be in part
ascribed to the intervention of other arbitrary, and gratuitous causes, the operation of which may be more easily set aside ? In what manner are we to distinguish between what is necessary,
and what is not ? All these questions require to be asked before we can proceed to build any practical conclusions on Mr. Malthus's theory of the evils of population. The vague, general term, “ vice and misery,” gives us no clue. It is mere cant ; and applies equally to the best and worst of all possible governments. It proves either nothing, or it proves a great deal more than I conceive Mr. Malthus would in all cases wish to prove by it.
There is no species of vice or oppression that does not find a ready excuse in this kind of reasoning. And besides, by leaving the quantity of vice and misery always uncertain, we never subject ourselves to the necessity of following a general principle into any obnoxious conclusions ; and are always at liberty to regulate our opinions according to our convenience by saying-I would have no more vice and misery than at present prevails : but that degree of vice and misery which is inwoven with the present constitution of things, I would by no means have removed, it might endanger the whole fabric. This is a double advantage. We thus sacrifice