The right of the State to say, however, that the criminal, the drunkard, the diseased, and the pauper, shall not propagate their kind should be stoutly maintained by all rational men.
Most of the nations of history have recognized the gravity of the population question, but they were mostly concerned with the tendency of the numbers in the State to increase beyond the means of subsistence, instead of the tendency to degeneration as it now concerns us.
The population question.
The Teaching of Aristotle and Plato.—The teaching of Malthus.—His assailants.—Their illogical position.—Bonar on Malthus and his work.—The increase of food supplies held by Nitti to refute Malthus.—The increase of food and the decrease of births.—Mr. Spencer’s biological theory.—Maximum birth-rate determined by female capacity to bear children.—The pessimism of Spencer’s law.—Wider definition of moral restraint.—Where Malthus failed to anticipate the future.—Economic law operative only through Biological law.
Births, deaths, and migration are the factors which make up the population question.
The problem has burned in the minds of all great students of human life and its conditions.
Aristotle says (Politics ii. 7-5) “The legislator who fixes the amount of property should also fix the number of children, for if they are too many for the property, the law must be broken.” And he proceeds to advise (ib. vii. 16-15) “As to the exposure and rearing of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live, but where there are too many (for in our State population has a limit) when couples have children in excess and the state of feeling is adverse to the exposure of offspring, let abortion be procured.”
The difficulty of over-population was conspicuous in the minds of Aristotle and Plato, and these philosophers both held that the State had a right and a duty to control it.
But some States were almost annihilated because they were not sufficiently populous, and Aristotle attributes the defeat of Sparta on one celebrated occasion to this fact. He says:—“The legislators wanting to have as many Spartans as they could, encouraged the citizens to have large families, and there is a law at Sparta, that the father of three sons should be exempt from military service, and he who has four, from all the burdens of the State. Yet it is obvious that if there were many children, the land being distributed as it is, many of these must necessarily fall into poverty.”
The problem in the mind of the Greek philosophers was this. Over-population is a cause of poverty; under-population is a cause of weakness. Defectives are an additional burden to the State. How shall population be so regulated as to established an equilibrium between the stability of the State, and the highest well-being of the citizens?