Malthus among the doomsters

Malthus_1074500mJonathan Benthall at the Times Literary Supplement:

“The whole Question is this: Are Lust and Hunger both alike Passions of physical Necessity, and the one equally with the other independent of the Reason, & the Will? Shame upon our Race, that there lives the Individual who dares even ask the Question!” Thus Coleridge annotated his copy of An Essay on the Principle of Population by Malthus, appalled by his claim that human beings are dominated by the need for sexual outlets as well as for physical sustenance. Coleridge’s is but one example of the obloquy that the Revd Thomas Malthus FRS (1776–1834) has attracted. Yet Malthus has intermittently attracted admirers – including Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, H. G. Wells, John Maynard Keynes, Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler. Now two outstanding scholars hail him independently as one of the great canonical thinkers who set an agenda that has permanent immediacy. Robert J. Mayhew’s speciality is historical geography and intellectual history; Alan Macfarlane is a social anthropologist and historian who has published widely on England, Nepal, Japan and China.

In his admirably rounded Malthus: The life and legacies of an untimely prophet Mayhew draws our attention to the actual writings of this pioneer of demography and political economy, and to his historical context, especially the revolutionary enthusiasm which Malthus was concerned to dampen. He questioned the belief that redistribution of resources to the poor would advance social progress: the poor would cancel it out by having more children.

more here.