Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter eleven: On Government Measures in Relation to Population - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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chapter eleven: On Government Measures in Relation to Population - Benjamin Constant, Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments 
Principles of Politics Applicable to a all Governments, trans. Dennis O’Keeffe, ed. Etienne Hofmann, Introduction by Nicholas Capaldi (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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On Government Measures in Relation to Population
If governments have wanted to influence economic activity, they have similarly wanted to influence population and—who would believe it?—they have passed  coercive laws to force man to satisfy the sweetest penchant of his nature.
They thought they had an obvious interest in interfering with population. It constitutes their most concrete force. They did not know that their very bringing their power to bear on it could only harm it.
They were not short of a pretext. Domestic affections are the best guarantee of morality.
Celibacy favors disorder and selfishness. Marriage inspires in man more need for stability. What good reasons for coming down hard on celibacy and encouraging marriage!
It is a pity that a number of governments, in proscribing celibacy by law, reduce marriage to sterility by way of harassment and poverty.
Two kinds of causes can impede the population’s growth and make it smaller. Some influence population directly. These include epidemics, floods, earthquakes, emigrations, and lastly war, considered, not in its political aspect, but in terms of its immediate effect of devastating part of a country’s population. Others exert a mediate influence, institutional vices and government harassment being examples. The former destroy living people. The latter prevent the birth of those who would be born.
The marquis de Mirabeau, one of the most original minds of the last century, who in a singular mixture brought together very philanthropic ideas with a very despotic character, and a very sincere love of freedom with all the prejudices of the nobility and even of feudalism, showed very clearly in The Friend of Men that direct causes have a brief effect only, on population. “They say,” he says, with astonishment, “that after a time of trouble or calamity, a state is just as populous as it was before, while the buildings and roads, in a word, everything which indicates apparent prosperity, shrinks visibly because of the interruption to order and justice.”63 Indirect causes, seemingly less harmful, have much more extensive and lasting effects. This is because  they attack the population at its very root, that is to say, its means of subsistence. The peasant labors, builds, and gets married on fields turned topsy-turvy by earthquakes, after an epidemic or in the wake of an army which has ransacked his property, because he hopes the earthquake will not return, he sees that the epidemic has ceased, and because peace having been made, he thinks he is sure the ravaging army has moved away forever. But he works, builds, or marries only with anxiety under an oppressive government, which snatches from him the means of subsistence necessary to feed and raise his family.
Man very quickly gets over calamities which seem temporary to him. The dead leave the living better off and put more means of subsistence at their disposal. The latter multiply on account of the vacant places and the resources they find for living. Nature has placed the remedy alongside all the ills which come from her. She has endowed man with a faculty which seems like carelessness or improvidence but in reality is rational. He senses that natural misfortunes recur only at periods very distant from each other, while those born of the whims of fellow men weigh on him at every moment.
The vices of government prolong some causes of depopulation which, absent these vices, would be only short-lived. These causes should therefore be considered under two aspects, as harming the population directly and then harming them again insofar as they are multiplied by government errors. For example, the expulsion of the Jews and the Moors contributed to the depopulation of Spain only because that expulsion resulted from an oppressive and persecutory administrative system. For the same reason, the settlers who left that country for the New World have never been replaced, while a free nation can send numerous settlers abroad without its depopulating. In a free nation, everything which brings about a social vacuum, at the same time encourages all those who remain to fill it. The direct ill which causes war is soon corrected. When a government, however, can restart or prolong the war at will, this supposes a despotic will in this government, one which is a quite separate scourge from the war itself, one which, bearing down on the means of subsistence, prevents the population from growing and from filling the gaps which the war has occasioned.
 It is the same with celibacy. If some individuals do not marry and reproduce, there are others who will. But when celibacy results either from poverty or the absurdity of institutions, the evil is irreparable in a totally different sense. I will cite the marquis de Mirabeau again. He shows clearly that clerical celibacy in itself is in no way harmful to population.64 On the contrary, whenever a certain number of individuals manage by coming together to live from the product of a smaller section of land than would be needed for the subsistence of the same number of individuals in isolation, this coming together is favorable to the numerical growth of the species. The individuals who come together draw closer voluntarily and leave more space to others. It is never the population which is lacking, but space, that is, land, and above all the means of subsistence. Priestly celibacy, however, implies a more superstitious state of things, and therefore worse government. Such influences spread to everything. It is not because priests do not marry that the country becomes depopulated but because a government which consecrates priestly celibacy is an ignorant government. Now, ignorant government is always oppressive. It harasses men who marry, takes away their means of subsistence, pushes them into despondency, thereby prevents them from multiplying or, if they do multiply, causes their children to die from destitution or want.
The more populous and flourishing condition of the Protestant countries is attributed to the suppression of the celibate orders. It should have been attributed to the diminution of prejudices and the growth of civil freedom which the Reformation introduced into these countries.
It is not because a certain number of individuals have married that a population has increased, but rather that there have been a few more possibilities for scrutiny and a bit more enlightenment, first on one question and then, since all ideas are linked, on all the others. There follows a more just regime, less oppression, less poverty, and better subsistence. This leads me to regard as truly wretched the calculation by some governments which, not content with declaring the celibacy of priests purely voluntary, have sought to force into marriage men who thought themselves bound by conscience and the holiest of oaths to abstain from it. As if the marriage of a few religious would have been a truly efficacious means of population growth, and as if the birth  of a few more children were preferable to the refinements of honor and the virtues of scruple, which, whether rightly or wrongly founded, is still a virtue, in a word, as if man were an ignoble and pliant creature, cast on this earth only to obey and propagate.
When men have the wherewithal for subsistence, for them and their children, population increases. When they do not, either they do not marry or they have fewer children, or if they have children, most of these die young. The population always reaches the level of subsistence. In America the population doubles in twenty or twenty-five years. This is because work is so well paid that a large family, instead of being a burden, is a source of opulence and prosperity. “A young widow with four or five children” would hardly find a second husband in Europe “in the middle or lower classes.” In America, “this is a person sought after like a kind of treasure.” Smith, Book I, ch. 8.65 Writers have long talked the most bizarre nonsense about population. They have noticed isolated truths which they have not known how to reconcile nor to define clearly, and on the basis of a single inaccurate observation, they have aimed at constructing a set of laws. Governments which cannot have other than superficial ideas on anything, because they do not have time to check it out for themselves, have adopted now this set of laws, now that one, always on trust, which is a sure way of deriving no advantage, even from the truth.
It has been recognized that in a certain way poverty favored population growth. Beggars have many children. But the distinction between two kinds of poverty, that of the beggars and that of the laboring classes, has not been made. Vagabonds with absolutely nothing have many children, says Montesquieu. “It costs the father nothing to teach his art to his children, who are even, in being born, instruments of that art.”66 The people who are poor, however, only because they live under a harsh government, have few children. They do not have enough food for themselves. How could they dream of sharing it? If they live on little, this is not because they need little, but because they do not have what they need. Just as the little bit they need favors population growth among the beggars, so the little which the working classes possess goes against  growth in their numbers. Writers and governments have seen on the backs of beggar women, or round their huts, a crowd of wretched children. They have not lifted their gaze a year beyond, a time before which three-quarters of that unhappy generation were cut off by hunger. They have thus envisaged only half the question, and yet on the question considered in this way, the most inhuman system has been based.
The poorer people are, it has been said, the larger families are. A sophism, exclaims Montesquieu, “which has always ruined kingdoms and always will.”67 Population growth born of poverty has an evident limit, namely the death of that population because of this selfsame poverty which seemed at first to favor it. From another viewpoint it was clear that affluence favored population growth. It was thought that the luxury of the rich classes was a cause of affluence for the poor classes. There were two errors in this way of reasoning, however. First, the affluence which luxury produces is very uncertain and artificial. Luxury doubles consumption expenditures, soon rendering them disproportionate with the population. Neither the rich nor the poor multiply: the rich because they fear the privations a large family entails; the poor because of the suffering they undergo. Secondly, even true affluence favors population growth only to a certain degree. On the one hand, it makes numbers grow more, on the other it makes consumption expenditures grow. Now, the more consumption expenditures a country has, the less it can feed its inhabitants. To get the sums right, one would have to be able simultaneously to add to the means of subsistence and prevent the people from consuming more of them: an impossible task. An author who in recent years has been ridiculously mistaken about the principles of population is Sir Francis d’Ivernois in his Historical and Political Survey of the Losses Sustained by the French Nation. He has put the loss of life caused by the revolution at two million souls.68 And since according to Buffon’s calculations,69  a marriage must produce six children to get two of them to the normal age of a man in replacement of father and mother, you therefore have, according to him, twelve million people less for the next generation. It is a pity, as Garnier observes,70 that he stopped after such a good start and did not push this learned reckoning one or two generations further. If he had, he would have found, from the second generation, a loss for France of seventy-two million inhabitants. Governments have no direct measure to take in relation to population. They must respect the natural course of things. Let people be happy, that is, let everyone be free to seek his own happiness, without hurting other people’s, and the population will be adequate.
All detailed legislation, the prohibition on celibacy, the stigmatizing, the penalties, the rewards for getting married—none of these artificial means ever achieves the purpose envisaged, and insofar as such means interfere with freedom, they are far removed from it. The laws enforcing marriage cannot enforce population growth. Since the law of Papia Poppaea71 forbade those who were not married to receive anything from strangers, either by the institution of inheritance or bequest, and those who being married had no children to receive more than half a legacy or bequest, the Romans contrived to repudiate their wives or make them abort after having a single child. Let us add that most of the governments which make laws against celibacy are like the Chinese scholars and mandarins who make long sermons  exhorting people to engage in farming, but who let their nails grow to preserve them from the very suspicion of being farmers.
What misleads superficial observers is that we sometimes see a flourishing of population in certain countries and simultaneously positive laws which encouraged the unmarried to wed. It was certainly not because of these positive laws, however, that the population flourished, but on account of other circumstances, all of which can be expressed in one word: freedom. What proves this is that in the same countries, these circumstances having changed, the population fell, although the laws remained the same or became even more severe. Consider the time of Augustus and the vain efforts of that emperor. When the vices of government do not put obstacles in the way of population, laws are superfluous. When they do, laws are bootless. The basis of population growth is growth in the means of subsistence. The basis of growth in the means of subsistence is security and calm. The basis of security and calm is justice and freedom.
[63. ]Victor Riqueti, marquis de Mirabeau, L’Ami des hommes ou traité de la population, Hambourg, Chrétien Hérold, 3e éd., 1758, t. I, p. 28.
[64. ]Constant in fact merely refers to rather than quotes the marquis de Mirabeau’s book, L’Ami des hommes, op. cit., t. I, pp. 31–33.
[65. ]Adam Smith, op. cit., t. I, p. 142. [The sections within quotation marks are from the 1802 French translation by Garnier, here translated back into English. Translator’s note]
[66. ]Montesquieu, De l’esprit des lois, Livre XXIII, Ch. 11.
[67. ]The whole passage reads: “It is condescending talk and feeble analysis which have led to its being said that the poorer people were, the larger the families would be, while the more burdened with taxes we are, the more we will equip ourselves to pay them: two sophisms which have always ruined kingdoms and always will.” Ed. cit., p. 689.
[68. ]Sir Francis d’Ivernois, Tableau historique et politique des pertes que la Révolution et la guerre ont causées au peuple français, dans sa population, son agriculture, ses colonies, ses manufactures et son commerce, London, Impr. de Baylis, 1799, t. I, p. 18: “All I have managed to put together from witness and conjecture leads me to conclude that the scythe of Revolution and war killed between two and three million French people. It is true that I lack the documents and official papers to lend this figure evidential proof.”
[69. ]George Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, Histoire naturelle générale et particulière, t. XI, Histoire naturelle des animaux et de l’homme, t. II, nouvelle éd., Lausanne, J.-P. Heubach; Berne, Nouvelle Societé typographique, 1785, pp. 207–208.
[70. ]Germain Garnier, Notes du traducteur, in Adam Smith, op. cit., t. V, pp. 284–286, Note XXX De ce que la guerre dernière a coûté à la population de la France. What Constant presents as an observation by Garnier does not in any case figure in this note. Garnier is actually quarrelling with Buffon’s calculations but not in the terms Constant cites and not in the same figures.
[71. ]This law is discussed at length by Montesquieu in De l’esprit des lois, Livre XXIII, Ch. 21, and by Gaëtano Filangieri, La science de la législation, éd. cit., t. II, pp. 26–27.