May 30, 2008


The rise and rise of the New Malthusianism: Fatal Misconception is a thorough study of the history of the population-control lobby – but it fatally underestimates how influential the new green-leaning Malthusianism has become. (Frank Furedi, 5/30/08, spiked)

Population is almost always linked to a problem of one kind or another. Historically, most societies regarded people as the source of economic and political power – so for them, the ‘population problem’ was often not having enough people to work on the land and fight against potential enemies. Consequently, most cultures were pro-natalist; they encouraged people to have large families. Since the emergence of modernity, however, such pro-natalism has been undermined by a new view of population growth as something we should dread. In the nineteenth century, the anti-natalist philosophy of Thomas Malthus inspired a powerful movement for curbing population growth.

The central preoccupation of the Malthusian movement was not simply growth itself, but a fear that the wrong kind of people tend to have the highest fertility rates. The problem, apparently, was one of differential fertility rates; Malthusians were haunted by anxiety that families of the wrong class and the wrong colour might overwhelm those who came from the right stock. Not surprisingly, then, they had a very selective attitude towards population control. They were principally concerned with controlling the population growth of ‘other people’. At the dawn of the twentieth century, the Malthusian agenda resonated with elites who were concerned about the birth rate of the lower classes. The fear that these classes might outbreed others, and contribute to the degeneration of ‘the race’, fostered a new eugenic outlook. Eugenics was seen as a science that could improve the human stock by promoting superior races over ‘less suitable’ ones.

As Matthew Connelly notes in his new book Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, there where two distinct - if not always unconnected - strands to eugenics. One strand promoted racially motivated policies such as forced sterilisation, immigration quotas and, in the case of Nazi Germany, physical extermination of people deemed to be unfit. The other strand, which Connelly refers to as ‘reform eugenics’, did not ‘reject the mainline idea that more privileged socioeconomic and racial groups tended to display more desirable characteristics’. However, it ‘simply did not emphasise it’. Instead ‘reform eugenics’ stressed the ‘potential for improved conditions to nurture talent and ability at every social level’.

After the experience of the Second World War, eugenics in its overtly racial form stood discredited. Many of those who had been devoted to pursuing population-growth policies now embraced ‘reform eugenics’ and rebranded themselves as family planners. [...]

Where in the nineteenth century Malthusians warned that population growth threatened to cause some people to starve to death, today they denounce people for threatening the planet by consuming too much. Contemporary Malthusianism has taken on an openly anti-human form.

There's a reason the Left insists that Malthus's greatest disciple, Charles Darwin, be taught in school.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 30, 2008 8:56 PM
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