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Progress and Poverty; George, Henry
2 paragraphs found.
Book II, Chapter 1

But the great cause of the triumph of this theory is, that, instead of menacing any vested right or antagonizing any powerful interest, it is eminently soothing and reassuring to the classes who, wielding the power of wealth, largely dominate thought. At a time when old supports were falling away, it came to the rescue of the special privileges by which a few monopolize so much of the good things of this world, proclaiming a natural cause for the want and misery which, if attributed to political institutions, must condemn every government under which they exist. The "Essay on Population" was avowedly a reply to William Godwin's "Inquiry concerning Political justice," a work asserting the principle of human equality; and its purpose was to justify existing inequality by shifting the responsibility for it from human institutions to the laws of the Creator. There was nothing new in this, for Wallace, nearly forty years before, had brought forward the danger of excessive multiplication as the answer to the demands of justice for an equal distribution of wealth; but the circumstances of the times were such as to make the same idea, when brought forward by Malthus, peculiarly grateful to a powerful class, in whom an intense fear of any questioning of the existing state of things had been generated by the outburst of the French Revolution.

Book II, Chapter 2

This is abundantly shown in the "Essay on Population" itself. This famous book, which is much oftener spoken of than read, is still well worth perusal, if only as a literary curiosity. The contrast between the merits of the book itself and the effect it has produced, or is at least credited with (for though Sir James Stewart, Mr. Townsend, and others, share with Malthus the glory of discovering "the principle of population," it was the publication of the "Essay on Population" that brought it prominently forward), is, it seems to me, one of the most remarkable things in the history of literature; and it is easy to understand how Godwin, whose "Political justice" provoked the "Essay on Population," should until his old age have disdained a reply. It begins with the assumption that population tends to increase in a geometrical ratio, while subsistence can at best be made to increase only in an arithmetical ratio—an assumption just as valid, and no more so, than it would be, from the fact that a puppy doubled the length of his tail while he added so many pounds to his weight, to assert a geometric progression of tail and an arithmetical progression of weight. And, the inference from the assumption is just such as Swift in satire might have credited to the savants of a previously dogless island, who, by bringing these two ratios together, might deduce the very "striking consequence" that by the time the dog grew to a weight of fifty pounds his tail would be over a mile long, and extremely difficult to wag, and hence recommend the prudential check of a bandage as the only alternative to the positive check of constant amputations. Commencing with such an absurdity, the essay includes a long argument for the imposition of a duty on the importation, and the payment of a bounty for the exportation of corn, an idea that has long since been sent to the limbo of exploded fallacies. And it is marked throughout the argumentative portions by passages which show on the part of the reverend gentleman the most ridiculous incapacity for logical thought—as, for instance, that if wages were to be increased from eighteen pence or two shillings per day to five shillings, meat would necessarily increase in price from eight or nine pence to two or three shillings per pound, and the condition of the laboring classes would therefore not be improved, a statement to which I can think of no parallel so close as a proposition I once beard a certain printer gravely advance—that because an author, whom he had known, was forty years old when he was twenty, the author must now be eighty years old because he (the printer) was forty. This confusion of thought does not merely crop out here and there; it characterizes the whole work. *19 The main body of the book is taken up with what is in reality a refutation of the theory which the book advances, for Malthus' review of what he calls the positive checks to population is simply the showing that the results which he attributes to over-population actually arise from other causes. Of all the cases cited, and pretty much the whole globe is passed over in the survey, in which vice and misery check increase by limiting marriages or shortening the term of human life, there is not a single case in which the vice and misery can be traced to an actual increase in the number of mouths over the power of the accompanying hands to feed them; but in every case the vice and misery are shown to spring either from unsocial ignorance and rapacity, or from bad government, unjust laws or destructive warfare.