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General deductions from the
of it, millions and millions of human existences have been repressed from this simple cause, though perhaps in some of these states an absolute famine may never have been known.
Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature. The
power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man, that unless arrested by the preventive check, premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extirmination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague, advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and ten thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and at one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.
Must it not then be acknowledged, by an attentive examiner of the histories of mankind, that in every age and in every state in which man has ex. isted or does now exist,
preceding view of Society.
The increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence :
Population invariably increases when the means of subsistence increase, unless prevented by pow. erful and obvious checks :
These checks, and the checks which keep the population down to the level of the means of subsistence, are moral restraint, vice, and misery.
In comparing the state of society which has been considered in this second book with that which formed the subject of the first, I think it appears that in modern Europe the positive checks to population prevail less, and the preventive checks more than in past times, and in the more uncivilized parts
of the world. War, the predominant check to the population of savage nations, has certainly abated, even including the late unhappy revolutionary contests ; and since the prevalence of a greater degree of personal cleanliness, of better modes of clearing and building towns, and of a more equable distri. bution of the products of the soil from improving knowledge in political economy, plagues, violent diseases, and famines, have been certainly mitigated, and have become less frequent.
With regard to the preventive check to popula
General deductions from the, &c.
tion, though it must be acknowledged, that that branch of it which comes under the head of moral restraint' does not at present prevail much among the male part of society; yet I am strongly disposed to believe, that it prevails more than in those states which were first considered; and it can scarcely be doubted, that in modern Europe a much larger proportion of women pass a considerable part of their lives in the exercise of this vir- . tue, than in past times and among uncivilized nations. But however this may be, if we consider only the general term which implies principally an infrequency of the marriage union from the tear of a family, without reference to consequences, it may be considered in this light as the most powerful of the checks, which in modern Europe keep down the population to the level of the means of subsistence,
1 The reader will recollect the confined sense in which I take this term.
TO a person who views the
present states of mankind in the light in which they have appeared in the two preceding books, it cannot but be a matter of astonishment that all the writers on the perfectability of man and of society, who have noticed the argument of the principle of population, treat it always very slightly, and invariably represent the difficulties arising from it as at a great and almost immeasurable distance. Even Mr. Wallace, who thought the argument itself of
Of systems of equality. Wallace. Condorcet.
so much weight as to destroy his whole system of equality, did not seem to be aware that any diffi. culty would arise from this cause till the whole earth had been cultivated like a garden, and was incapable of any further increase of produce. Were this really the case, and were a beautiful system of equality in other respects practicable, 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 providence. But the truth is, that if the view of the argument given in this essay be just, the difficulty, so far from being remote, would be imminent and immediate. At every period during the progress of cultivation, from the present moment to the time when the whole earth was become like a garden, the distress for want of food would be constantly pressing on all mankind if they were equal. Though the produce of the earth would be increasing every year, population would be tending to increase much faster, and the redundancy must necessarily be checked by the periodical or constant action of moral restraint, vice, or misery.
M. Condorcet's Esqạisse d'un tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain was written, it