Wanted,—a Malthusian Who has Read Malthus

The only excuse that can present itself to my mind for these so-called Anarchists who have arisen to the defence of Malthus is the supposition that they have never really read his book. It is impossible for me to conceive of a social reformer both honest and intelligent placing a high estimate on the work of Malthus, if he really be acquainted with what that work consists of. An honest but unintelligent one may be taken in by it, or a dishonest intelligent one may use it to further base ends, but to a man both honest and intelligent the book is simply superficial and dishonest. There is nothing new in it that is true, or nothing true that it is new. But Mr. James assures us that Malthus was one of the first of social philosophers. It is rather strange that now, when Malthus and Malthusianism are being thrown overboard by the orthodox economists, Anarchists should arise to clasp him to their bosom as a social philosopher. J. K. Ingram says:

Notwithstanding the great development which he gave to his work and the almost unprecedented amount of discussion to which it gave rise, it remains a matter of some difficulty to discover what solid contribution he has made to our knowledge, nor is it easy to ascertain precisely what practical precepts, not already familiar, he founded on his theoretic principle..... The first desideratum here mentioned,—the want, namely, of an accurate statement of the relation between the increase of population and food—Malthus doubtless supposed to have been supplied by the celebrated proposition that population increases in a geometrical ratio, food in an arithmetical ratio. This proposition, however, has been shown to be erroneous, there being no such difference of law between the increase of man and that of the organic beings which form his food. When the formula which we have cited is not used, other somewhat nebulous expressions are sometimes employed, as, for example, that population has a tendency to increase faster than food. A sentence in which both are treated as if they were spontaneous growths, and which, on account of the ambiguity of the word tendency, is admittedly consistent with the fact asserted by Senior that food tends to increase faster than population.—Encyclopædia Britannica.

This is the doctrine which Mr. James tells us is worthy of being understood by every radical.

I again repeat that the true Malthusian does consider the wage system to be eternal, and that the fundamental doctrine of Malthusianism is that the working people would be better off, everything else remaining unchanged, if their numbers were diminished, and I defy Mr. James to quote anything from Malthus to prove the contrary.

Mr. James says that my statement that Malthus's Theory of Population was written in answer to Godwin and Condorcet is irrelevant. If I mistake not, in a letter to Lucifer some time since, Mr. James made a somewhat similar statement, but on that occasion it was made for the purpose of glorifying Malthus, who, he said, had proved that the millennium of Godwin and his school could not be brought about by any political arrangement, but only by substituting the prudential check for the positive. So that if my statement is irrelevant now, his was then. But I do not at all admit its irrelevancy; on the contrary, I think it is extremely relevant. As sociology is not yet by any means an exact science, and as few, if any, men are capable of separating themselves from the prejudices in which they have been reared, it is very important for us to know under what special conditions any special doctrine has been conceived, as we are then more apt to be on our guard against errors born of prejudice. That Malthus's book was intended to put a stop to all forms of socialism, which was then for the first time beginning to make itself really felt, is now doubted by hardly any thinking person, and that it did for a long time produce the desired effect is as little capable of doubt, as Ingram says:

It can scarcely be doubted that the favor which was once accorded to the views of Malthus in certain circles was due, in part, to an impression, very welcome to the higher ranks of society, that they tended to relieve the rich and powerful of responsibility for the position of the working-classes by showing that the latter had chiefly themselves to blame, and not either the ngligence of their superiors or the institutions of the country. The application of his doctrines, too, made by some of his successors had the effect of discouraging all active effort for social improvement.

In morals Malthusianism strikes a deadly blow at the infamous doctrine which makes women mere breeders. It does no such thing. Malthus had no idea of a woman but as a mere breeder, and it was for this very reason that he condemned early marriages, as the idea of post-nuptial continence, which Mill has since developed, had never once occurred to him; on the contrary, he proposed a pension for all those families in which there were more than six children. When he did not regard women as mere breeders, he regarded them as something infinitely worse. Malthus admitted that the vast majority of men could not be expected to keep continent outside of marriage, and as, of course, the material for their gratification must be supplied from some source, there must always be a class of women sacrificed to support the virtue of their sisters, for, of course, when a man came to marry, he was not going to marry an unchaste woman, unchastity in a woman being a crime. Malthus never declared for the abolition of marriage, i. e., for the abolition of property in women, but simply wished this property, as he wished all other property, confined to the few. In his reply to Godwin he undertakes to prove that property and marriage, if abolished, would return, from the nature of things.

What Mr. James says in regard to Malthus's position in reference to legal charity clearly proves to me that he has never read Malthus. Malthus objected to legal charity not because it lulled into fatal slumber those whose blood is being sucked out by the noble and wealthy, but because it led them to think that they had some right to expect help from the rich, whereas the rich really owed them nothing.

I cannot help believing that, if the poor in this country were convinced that they had no right to support, and yet in scarcities and all cases of urgent distress, were liberally relieved, which I think they would be, the bond which unites the rich with the poor would be drawn much closer than at present, and the lower classes of society, as they would have less reason for irritation and discontent, would be much less subject to these uneasy sensations. —Principle of Population

As to Malthus's position on State education, though Mr. James had previously told us that motives were not to be taken into account when considering the truth or falsity of a man's doctrine, he now tells us that he is to be excused for this because of his zeal for education in general. This also is false. Malthus desired that the working-classes be educated, in order that they should better appreciate how little their condition was dependent upon inequality of conditions.

And it is evident that every man in the lower classes of society who became acquainted with these truths would be disposed to bear the distresses in which he might be involved with more patience; would feel less discontent and irritation at the government and the higher classes of society on account of his poverty; would be on all occasions less disposed to insubordination and turbulence; and, if he received assistance either from any public institution or from the hand of private charity, he would receive it with more thankfulness and more justly appreciate its value. —Principle of Population.

He also attempted to prove that the superior education of the Scotch made them more subordinate than the Irish. Glorious zeal for education in general!

Mr. James's ideas as to the development of the doctrine of evolution are, to say the least, crude. They are entirely unevolutionary. Admitting all the importance of Darwin's work, still there can be no doubt that, if he had never existed, the doctrine would have been propounded, and its acceptance could, at most, have been put off but a few years.

In the seventeenth century Descartes had a very fair conception of evolution, and gave as much expression to his ideas as was possible under the conditions in which he lived. Spencer's Synthetic Philosophy was worked out independently of Darwin, and even Darwin's special work, the discovery of the part which natural selection plays in the origin of species, had been independently and simultaneously discovered by Wallace, a socialist. As far as the general doctrine of evolution is concerned, Lamarck had worked it out nearly fifty years before, and, as Huxley says, the only thing that prevented its acceptance at that time was the lack of that vast accumulation of facts which have since been brought to its support. Besides, the science of embryology, on which evolution depends more for support than upon anything else, had been brought to a high state of perfection by Von Baer and his associates. Malthus was as much the forerunner of Darwin as the falling apple was the forerunner of Newton. After both men had been thinking over their respective subjects for a long time, a trivial incident, which would have passed unnoticed by the ordinary observer, served to give completion to their thought. Great was Malthus, and great was the apple!

Malthus did maintain that the laboring population was always too large for the food-supply, and to this was due their squalor and wretchedness.

As to Ricardo's theory of rent being foisted upon Malthus, Malthus's Nature and Progress of Rent, upholding the theory of rent which is generally known as Ricardo's, was published in 1814, while Ricardo did not appear till 1817. In the preface to his book Ricardo acknowledges his indebtedness to Malthus.

The causes of the high price of raw produce [from which he deduces the necessity and justice of rent] may be stated to be three: 1st, and mainly, That quality of the earth by which it can be made to yield a greater portion of the necessaries of life than is required for the maintenance of the persons employed upon the land; 2dly, That quality peculiar to the necessaries of life of being able to create their own demand, or to raise up a number of demanders in proportion to the quantity of necessaries produced; and, 3dly, the comparative scarcity of the most fertile lands...... The qualities of the soil and its produce here noticed as the primary cause of the high price of raw produce are the gifts of nature to man. They are quite unconnected with monopoly, and yet are so absolutely essential to the existence of rent that without them no degree of scarcity or monopoly could have occasioned that excess of the price of raw produce above the cost of production which shews itself in this form. —Nature and Progress of Rent

Ricardo shared Malthus's idea exactly on the wages question,—that, if the workers were fewer in number, or had a higher standard of comfort, below which they would not consent to live, their condition would be improved. It is perfect nonsense talking of the wages at which the laborer will consent to live, for, if there is one man out of employment (and Marx has shown conclusively that it is a necessary concomitant of the capitalistic system that there should always be unemployed laborers), the wages will always gravitate to the lowest point, i. e., to that necessary to a mere subsistence. What difference can it make to the American workmen of today how high their standard of comfort may be, when there are a million of idle men just waiting to step into any places that may be made vacant?

When I spoke of the wages-fund, I did not ascribe it to Malthus, but only quoted it to Mr. Walker to show that the Neo-Malthusians were as silly as the Malthusians.

I feel that I have occupied a great deal of valuable space in replying to Mr. James, but nevertheless have not given the subject one-twentieth part of the attention that it requires, for it really involves the discussion of the whole labor problem. But I hope I have proven how much of a social philosopher Malthus was, to say nothing of his benevolence and his love for his kind. As Ingram says, both he and his followers appear to have greatly exaggerated both the magnitude and the urgency of the dangers to which they pointed.... Because a force exists capable, if unchecked, of producing certain results, it does not follow that these results are imminent or even possible in the sphere of experience. A body thrown from the hand would under the single impulse of projection move forever in a straight line; but it would not be reasonable to take special action for the prevention of this result, ignoring the fact that it will be sufficiently counteracted by the other forces which will come into play.

Gertrude B. Kelly.