Thursday, September 27, 2007

Marriage and Morals, Chapter 17

Chapter 17 (pages 240-253): “Population”

The chapter opens: “The main purpose of marriage is to replenish the human population of the globe [p. 240].”

For the most part the human population remains near stationary, but there are periods (such as post-Industrial Revolution) of tremendous growth. Carr Saunders is right that the stationarity is largely the result of voluntary forbearance (and infanticide), and not of high death rates. But starvation, probably more common in poor agricultural societies than in more primitive settings, has played a role in limiting the human population.

Christianity forbade abortion, infanticide, and contraception. But the increased prosperity that followed the Industrial Revolution led to a huge population growth, which is almost over in Britain, already over in France, and following the same diminishing pattern in the other advanced parts of Europe.

To maximize living standards, there is some optimal population density, which varies with the means of production. [The use of the Marxian term is mine, not Russell’s – RBR.] The optimal density is low in a hunting society, but much higher in an industrial economy. England, after WWI, might be overpopulated relative to this standard; neither France nor the US are overpopulated, however. Nevertheless, there is no reason to think that any western European country would see higher average wealth from increased population. [Russell seems to imply that France is at the optimal population density – RBR.] Those who aspire for higher populations generally have military motives in mind, so their aspiration is short term, as the extra population will be killed off in the war they are planning. “In fact, therefore, the position of these people is that it is better to restrict population by deaths on the battlefield than by contraceptives [p. 249].” But except for the war argument, we should be happy that contraception is leading to a stationary population in civilized countries.

Population diminution, which eventually would mean extinction, is not desirable, as “we cannot desire to see the most civilized races of the world disappear [p. 249].” But the spread of contraception to the point where population stabilizes is fine. One could always promote population growth via economic means, but any such policy would be taken over by militarists, and add a population race to the arms race, “under the slogan: ‘the cannon must have their fodder [p. 250].’” We need an international government that would limit the population growth of militaristic nations; “[u]nless this is done the peace of the world cannot be secured [p. 251].”

So both population increases (in much of the world) and population decreases (in Western Europe) are to be feared. A fight against population decrease is new to historical experience. Laws against contraceptives “are quite unavailing. The use of contraceptives has become part of the common practice of all civilized nations, and cannot now be eradicated [p. 252].” Better to employ “an experimental diminution of the financial burden of children…[p. 252]” to support a diminishing population.

England has many more women than men, and yet custom (wrongly) frowns on single mothers. Strict monogamy in circumstances of unequal numbers of the two genders is cruel, and with too low a population, “this cruelty may be publicly as well as privately undesirable [p. 253].” While state control of population is necessary, if it is to be desirable, the control will have to be exercised by an international state, and not by the current batch of militaristic nations.

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