Sunday, 15 March 2015

A WORD UPON POPULATION.

From Chambers' Historical Newspaper.

There are two ways to view mankind— the one proceeding on too narrow an examination of what they have already been, and appear to be, in their present highly artificial and ill assorted social condition ; and the other proceeding on a wide and universal inquiry into their capabilities as rational beings, and their power of remedying, to a great extent, if allowed the free exercise of their ingenuity, nearly all the miseries to which they are subject through the influence of conventional arrangements. These very opposite, views have been taken by men of education end ability, and have been maintained with equal pertinacity on both sides. Those who hold the first as more correct have arrived at the conclusion, that the human race are doomed, through their improvidence, to increase to such an amount that, in the end— however distant the day may be— a universal starvation and the most awful misery will take place ; while those who are of an opposite opinion express it as their belief, that such a doctrine is repugnant, not only to the wise provisions established by the laws of Nature, but to common sense, and that in reality, it is not proved by any obvious fact. Dr. Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish clergyman and professor, is at present the great bulwark of the doctrine of ultimate and universal starvation. No one, as far as we are aware, has yet distinguished himself by being the defender of the opposite views ; but the respectable part of the periodical press has, from time to time, protested against the extraordinary dogma, and endeavoured to explain by liberal interpretation, the question in political economy which involves the production of man in connexion with the quantity of food.
 Dr. Chalmers has recently published a pamphlet, entitled, "The Supreme Importance of a Right Moral to a Right Economical State of the Country," &c. ; by which it appears that the reverend author has been somewhat nettled at the attacks of the reviewers; he therefore again, with redoubled energy, advocates the principles to which he has attached himself, and, what we have long desired, has thus afforded an opportunity of examining with greater minuteness the fallacy of his pretensions to sound philosophy. The position which the doctor assumes is, "that the rate at which population would increase, if the adequate means of subsistence were at all times within reach, greatly exceeds the rate at which the means of subsistence can increase, with all the aids and practical openings, which either the mechanical arts, or the sound and liberal policy of governments, could afford to human labor." Which position we deny ; and our reasons for such a denial are, simply, that no proper proof has ever been brought forward to substantiate the position, and that the excess of pauperism and population, reasoned from, is not the result of natural and permanently-acting causes, but of mismanagement on the part of governments, or of the lack of education and general knowledge. It is our conscientious belief that the human race have never yet had any thing like fair play ; and we hold that, if they were let alone, and suffered to pursue fair and judicious means of gaining a subsistence, suggested by their own reasonable faculties or scientific inquiry, and permitted to follow out all rational means of cultivating their understandings, the increase of population would not be greater than the increase of food. The only mode of proving such a position is by pointing to the manner in which nations have originated and grown up—the unfortunate policy by which they have for thousands of years been maintained in a state of deadly enmity with each other, and of internal discord— as well as the deliberate plans pursued in order to keep the people in ignorance, both in respect of pure religion and morality, and of the elements of science and general knowledge. When we look abroad over the world, where do we find any nation advanced to a state of even comparative perfection ? By far the greater number of countries are yet — that is, at the distance of six thousand years from the creation of the globe— inhabited by savages, men in a state of absolute nakedness, who live in huts or holes like the orates which perish. Other countries ere advanced a stage in mental and physical condition; others are still further advanced; and our own may be allowed to occupy the first rank in intelligence : yet, in this very country (except in a particular nook), there is no general system of education ; and such is the state of things that the most magnificent of all human inventions, the art of printing— an art calculated to supersede almost every other means of instruction— is not allowed to be exercised freely. On these deplorable facts we might rest our opposition to the wild and inconclusive theories of Dr. Chalmers; but we have another species of proof to advance.     
In the first place, it admits of demonstration that the people in this country, with all their misery, are on the whole much better fed, lodged, and clothed, than the people were five hundred years ago. Every chapter in our history describes a gradual improvement in the condition of the inhabitants. Such is the highly artificial state of society in the present day that we find many persons exceedingly poor ; but we have now no desolating famines, and few of those fatal epidemical diseases which used to follow in their train. Thus, it is so far certain that our country is in a much better condition than formerly; and this, at least, affords no proof of the approach of universal starvation. On the contrary, it is an evidence that we are in some measure approximating a state of greater excellence.     
Next, as to the plans which may be successfully pursued for bettering our general condition : In an early number of our Journal, we made our readers acquainted with the fact, that the pigeons of North America consumed more food in one day than would support the whole of the fifteen millions of human beings in Great Britain for a week. The question is, then, why the overabundant population of this country have not long since proceeded across the Atlantic, to secure some of the meat of the pigeons, and so relieve, by a grand effort, the pressure of misery at home? It would be argued, however, by Dr. Chalmers, that this extensive process of emigration, however useful in the meanwhile, would have no good effect ultimately ; for were you to cover all the spare lands in the world with our pent-in population, still you will never relieve our race. Although we might enjoy ten thousand years of breathing time, at the ten thousandth and first year we would he in a similarly awkward predicament ; and there's the rub. But all this is mere assertion, others will answer ; how is it to be proved ? Oh ! that is quite a different affair. We suppose, because it it seen and felt that things are in a very bad condition with us; because the people increase, however poor they may be ; because the Doctor has perceived that there are miserable purlieus in every large town, where the unhappy weeded-out peasantry of the country fester in indigence, frequently unheeded either by the clergy or the civil magistrate, and who, "for any thing he can tell," might, under more fortunate circumstances, have been creditable members of society— because, in a word, there is a great deal of imprudence and vice, matters must therefore terminate in the way mentioned. Now, we cordially allow that emigration would have ultimately no beneficial effect on the state of our population, provided the intellect of the human race were for ever to continue what it is. But it will not remain what it is; and in its gradual improvement will be found, not only the check on over population, but the cure after such has been accomplished.
 Here, then, we are brought back to the true source of the evil under our notice. Society, as it now seems to exist in this country, is not the result of natural effect, but is an extraordinary jumble of inconsistencies, produced in a way too well known to need any particular elucidation. We have had the most pernicious encouragement given to the growth of population by the demand for soldiers and sailors, to go out and fight the soldiers and sailors of other nations, all for no good whatever, but a great deal of evil. Then, there have been laws to prevent the operative classes from emigrating ; laws to prevent the exportation of goods, and the importation of food; laws to prevent capitalists buying, and, therefore, improving, lands ; laws of every description and character to restrain the human being from making the most of his intellect and skill in honorable trade ; all of which arrangements, and a thousand besides, originating in the barbarous usages of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, have brought our population to what it is— something which the Almighty never in tended it to be, and which the laws of Nature cannot sustain. If we add to these causes the little pains taken to cultivate the understandings of the people, and make them more virtuous and provident, we at once see the reason for the poverty, misery, and vice, which afflict us. Hence the outcry of there being too many people in the world, and that the world will some day be in a state of general starvation, and that every thing will go to wreck and ruin ; in short, that we may just go and hang ourselves, as fast as we can, to escape dying of hunger. Stuff! Had society not been at once, or by turns, pampered, tortured, and perplexed—had mankind not deliberately planned and accomplished their own miseries — had things been allotted to find their level, we should never have heard the smallest clamour about an over-abundant population.
 It is our object, in the present paper, to put the people in good humour with the laws which govern the universe, and influence the affairs of mankind. We do not believe that the human race are naturally so bad as they are called, or are in such a hopeless case as some folk imagine. The few thousands of years they have sojourned on the surface of the earth are but as a day in comparison with the duration of Time. They have as yet gathered only a little experience. We consider them as only promising children in a young world. Only one or two nations amongst them are earnestly pursuing means of improvement, and the rest have yet to begin. If a far more enlarged process of education be all that is essentially requisite to stem the torrent of improvidence and vice, why need we despond of seeing accomplished— what Dr. Chalmers deems necessary to check the evil he deplores— " a good and adequate educational system pervading the whole mass of the community, both with the culture of knowledge and the culture of principle." For our part, we really cannot discover any insurmountable difficulty in the way. The people of this country, under many disadvantages, have made wonderful advances in intelligence within the last twenty years; and it may be prognosticated that, from the astonishing aptitude which now exists for the acquisition of knowledge, in whatever shape it is presented, in another half century, should no pernicious war intervene, the country will be under a far better and more wholesome system of management. Every succeeding year, greater scope will be afforded for the exercise of the human intellect, and, by the operations of science, our island will be virtually doubled in extent. Proper systems of general instruction will be instituted. It is also within the bounds of possibility that every kind of injurious restraint on the art of printing will be relaxed and removed, and, with this engine of mental improvement alone, there is reason to expect that the great and ancient strongholds of ignorance and vice will very speedily be brought in triumph to the ground. We are not among those who believe that all this can only be a consequence of the dismemberment of society. All will come to pass in the simple ordinary course of events, without convulsion or disturbance of any kind. Enlightened men of all parties are busily conspiring in one great cause, the national welfare, in connexion with domestic peace, and the permanent security of life, property, and opinion— the three, undoubted essentials of happiness among an intelligent people.


Launceston Advertiser 26 September 1833



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