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Chapter II.: of the number of human beings which the globe is capable of maintaining on our present systems of husbandry and cultivation. - William Godwin, Of Population. An Enquiry concerning the Power of Increase in the Numbers of Mankind 
Of Population. An Enquiry concerning the Power of Increase in the Numbers of Mankind, being an Answer to Mr. Malthus’s Essay on that Subject (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1820).
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of the number of human beings which the globe is capable of maintaining on our present systems of husbandry and cultivation.
i am desirous, on the present occasion, of shutting out every thing conjectural, and which therefore by a certain class of reasoners might be called visionary. One practical way of looking at the subject is this. The habitable parts of the globe are computed to occupy a space of thirty-nine millions of square miles, and its human inhabitants to amount to six hundred millions. Of this surface China is said to constitute 1,300,000 square miles. Now, let us admit the present population of China to stand at three hundred millions of souls. How fully China is cultivated I do not know; but I have as little doubt as Mr. Malthus appears to have, that the soil of that empire might be made greatly more effective for the purposes of human subsistence, than it is at presenta . But let us assume, for the sake of argument, the cultivation of China for the standard of possible cultivation, and consequently its population for the standard of possible population. The earth then, if all its habitable parts could be made as fertile as China, is equal to the sustaining a population of nine thousand millions of human beings. In other words, wherever one human being is now found in existence, the earth is capable, not in theory only, and according to conceived improvements no where yet realised, but judging from approved facts, instead of that one, of subsisting fifteen.
The majority of men seem to have laboured under some deception as to the population of China. It is principally in the vast extent of an empire said to be every where so flourishing, that China is worthy of admiration. Taking from Pinkerton the dimensions of China on the one hand, and of England and Wales on the other, I find that, if the latter were as well stocked with citizens as the former, it would contain 13,461,923 inhabitants, that is about three millions beyond the returns to the population-act of 1811. Now it has been admitted by the most phlegmatic enquirers, that England and Wales might easily be made to maintain double their present number of inhabitants. Of course such enquirers proceed on the assumption, that there are tracts incapable of being profitably applied to the purposes of human subsistence. By parity of reason therefore the soil of China itself is very far from being turned to all the profit of which it is susceptible, for the subsistence of the human species.
The latter end of Mr. Malthus's system is of a character extremely discordant with the beginning. The author of the Essay on Population has been understood as proceeding upon the impression, that the surface of the earth was limited, containing only so many square miles, but that the power of population, upon the assumption of his geometrical ratio, was unlimited, and that the greater was at any time the actual number of human beings, the greater would be the power of increase.
I cannot but think that the first contemplation that would have suggested itself to an enlightened philanthropist, proceeding on these premises, would have been something like the following.
Man is an admirable creature, the beauty of the world, which, if he did not exist in it, would be “a habitation of dragons, and a court for owls; the wild beast of the desert would cry to the wild beast of the islands; baboons would dance there; and its pleasant places be filled with all doleful creatures.” How delightful a speculation then is it, that man is endowed by all-bountiful nature with an unlimited power of multiplying his species! I would look out upon the cheerless and melancholy world which has just been described, and imagine it all cultivated, all improved, all variegated with a multitude of human beings, in a state of illumination, of innocence, and of active benevolence, to which the progress of thought, and the enlargement of mind seem naturally to lead, beyond any thing that has yet any where been realised. I would count up the acres and the square miles of the surface of the earth, and consider them all as the estate in fee simple of the human intellect. I would extend my view from China and England, countries already moderately, and but moderately peopled, to the plains of North America, of South America, of Africa, of many tracts of Asia, of the north of Europe, of Spain, and various other divisions of the prolific world. I should contemplate with delight the extensive emigrations that have taken place to North Americab , and plan and chalk out, as far as my capacity and endowments of study would permit me, similar emigrations to other parts of the world, that should finally make the whole earth at least as populous as China is at present.
Whatever may become of the great question of the increasing or diminishing numbers of mankind, I own that the temper of my mind still compels me to cling to the picture here delineated. Mr. Malthus has constrained me to examine with severity the evidences that hitherto exist on the subject: but, however the conclusion to which those evidences have led me, may serve as a seasonable antidote to the loathsome theories of the Essay on Population, it is, I confess, a conclusion painful and adverse to my feelings. If it be just, the friend of man must then be contented, to hope to see the comparatively small handful of mankind scattered on the face of the earth, ultimately become enlightened and benevolent and happy, instead of seeing those blessings participated by fifteen or thirty times (upon a moderate computation) the numbers of the present inhabitants of the earth, and must console himself by the purity of their enjoyments for the fewness of those who possess them.—To this it might be added, that, if war and the other atrocious follies of society were abolished, we should have reason to expect, that if the numbers of mankind were not enlarged, at least they would not then decrease. But Mr. Malthus takes a very different view of the subject, and instead of considering the alleged power of multiplication in man, when combined with the imperfect and scanty population of the earth, as a subject of congratulation, he finds in it cause of “lamentation and much weeping.” Under a wise and honest administration of human affairs, I do not doubt that the power of multiplication in man, however extensive, might for centuries to come be rendered the source of an immeasurable increase of happiness on the face of the earth. Indeed, in this point of view, I hold Mr. Malthus as having penned a satire upon the existing constitutions and laws of society, infinitely bitterer than any thing that has yet been produced, by all the Utopianists and visionaries that ever existed, Those who possess the direction of human affairs, might, if they pleased, by wise concert, by persuasion, by developing grand views of the true interests of civilised man, and by a faithful discharge of the duties of their station, diffuse populousness through every region of the globe, and multiply thirty-fold the number of beings susceptible of human contentment, while by the same operation they would remove our oppressions, and give to every man a degree of competence and independence hitherto unknown. But the kings and the rulers of the earth prefer gratifying their bad passions, their ambition, their love of war, and their love of ostentation, by reigning over a comparative desert.
But Mr. Malthus leaps this interval of long happiness, which upon the principle of multiplication, and with a moderate degree of wise management, seems altogether not to be avoided, and passes at once to the period when the earth shall be replenished in all its parts. He then supposes that society will be heedlessly and brutishly bent upon multiplying as rapidly as possible; and, having first drawn the fair picture of a community where reason presides, and benevolence is first minister to execute her decrees, proceeds to exclaim, “This beautiful fabric of the imagination vanishes at the severe touch of truth. The spirit of benevolence, cherished and invigorated by plenty, is repressed by the chilling breath of want. The hateful passions that had vanished reappear. Violence, oppression, falshood, misery, every hateful vice and every form of distress, which degrade and sadden the present state of society, seem to be here generated by the most imperious circumstances, by laws inherent in the nature of man, and absolutely independent of all human regulationsc .”
Elsewhere however Mr. Malthus seems to be aware, that by this kind of argument he would stand but a small chance of making converts, and that the number of persons would be inconsiderable, who would zealously enlist themselves in the cause of vice, misery, and whatever other checks upon population he has been able to discover in the successive editions of his Essay, from a contemplation of the calamities that might occur, when the globe was too full of inhabitants. “If,” says he, “a beautiful system of equality were in other respects practicable, and if no difficulty would arise from the principle of population, till the whole earth had been cultivated like a garden, and was incapable of any further increase of produce, I cannot think that our ardour in the pursuit of such a scheme ought to be damped by the contemplation of so remote a difficulty. An event at such a distance might fairly be left to Providenced
Mr. Malthus is certainly extremely skilful in what logicians call the argumentum ad hominem. When the business is to demolish a scheme of happiness founded upon a philosophical principle of equality, he conceives this sufficiently done by displaying the folly of the wise, and the selfishness of the benevolent. But turn back a few pages, and you find him candidly acknowledging, that he “cannot think that our ardour in the pursuit of such a scheme ought to be damped by the contemplation of so remote a difficulty, and that an event at such a distance might fairly be left to Providence.”
This is very much of the same nature, as the justification which he elsewhere sets up of the goodness of God, in inflicting upon us all the miseries which he traces to the principle of population. He rests this justification upon the way in which excessive population might be kept down, without vice and misery, by the mere operation of human forbearance and discretion:—and then adds, “I believe few of my readers can be less sanguine in their expectations of any great change in the general conduct of men on this subject than I am; and the chief reason why I allowed myself to suppose the general prevalence of virtue, was, that I might endeavour to remove any imputation on the goodness of the Deitye ,” by shewing, that, if he had made man a creature such as Mr. Malthus thinks man never was or will be, many of the miseries of this sublunary scene would have been removedf .
[a]It has already been mentioned that there are large forests within the boundaries of China. Book I, Chapter VI.
[b]Emigration becomes a less pleasing object, in proportion as we are induced to doubt of the increase of the numbers of mankind; and however agreeable it may prove to the country (North America for example) by which the emigrants are received, it would be sedulously counteracted by all means of benevolent and parental treatment in the enlightened statesmen of the country from which they proceeded.
[c]Vol II, p. 255, 6.
[e]Vol. III, p. 103.
[f]Great mistakes seem to have been made respecting the actual population of the earth, which it is perhaps worth while to mention. There is a spirit gone forth among mankind, whose favourite gratification it is to abolish the beautiful, and to paint all that is, or that has been, however in appearance prosperous or admirable, under humiliating colours. Pride has a gross and undistinguishing appetite, that feeds at one time upon honour, and at another upon disgrace. Impelled by this spirit, some writers have been disposed to set down the population of China at one hundred and fifty, instead of three hundred millions, as reported by Du Halde and Sir George Staunton. But they appear to have had little reason on their side. If the received account is accurate, the population of China amounts to 230 persons to a square mile. But the inhabitants of England rate at 200, the county of Lancaster at 476, and the district of Burdwan in Bengal at more than 600. [See above p. 54, 55.] A particular district however can never be taken for the standard of a country of large dimensions.