« НазадПродовжити »
“Lorsque des préjugés dangereux,” says Sismondi,* « ne sont point accrédités, lorsqu'une morale contraire à nos vrais devoirs envers les autres et surtout envers les créatures qui nous doivent la vie, n'est point enseignée au nom de l'autorité la plus sacrée, aucun homme sage ne se marie avant de se trouver dans une condition qui lui donne un moyen assuré de vivre ; aucun père de famille n'a plus d'enfans qu'il n'en peut convenablement élever. Ce dernier compte à bon droit que ses enfans devront se contenter du sort dans lequel il a vécu; aussi doit-il désirer que la génération naissante représente exactement celle qui s'en va ; qu'un fils et une fille arrivés à l'âge nubile remplacent son père et sa mère ; que les enfans de ses enfans le remplacent à son tour avec sa femme; que sa fille trouve dans une autre maison précisément le sort qu'il donnera à la fille d'une autre maison dans la sienne, et que le revenu qui suffisait aux pères suffise aux enfans.” In a country increasing in wealth, something more than this would be admissible, but that is a question of detail, not of principle. “Une fois que cette famille est formée, la justice et l'humanité exigent qu'il s'impose la même contrainte à laquelle se soumettent les célibataires. Lorsqu'on voit combien est petit, en tout pays, le nombre des enfans naturels, on doit reconnaître que cette contrainte est suffisamment efficace. Dans un pays où la population ne peut pas s'accroître, ou du moins dans lequel son progrès doit être si lent qu'il soit à peine perceptible, quand il n'y a point de places nouvelles pour de nouveaux établissements, un père qui a huit enfans doit compter, ou que six de ses enfans mourront en bas âge, ou que trois de ses contemporains et trois de ses contemporaines, et dans la génération suivante, trois de ses fils et trois de ses filles ne se marieront pas à cause de lui.”
§ 2. Those who think it hopeless that the labouring classes should be induced to practise a sufficient degree of prudence in regard to the increase of their families, because they have hitherto stopt short of that point, show an inability to estimate the ordinary principles of human action. Nothing more would probably be necessary to secure that result, than an opinion generally diffused that it was desirable. As a moral principle, such an opinion has never yet existed in any country: it is curious that it does not so exist in countries in which, from the spontaneous operation of individual forethought, population is, comparatively speaking, efficiently repressed. What is practised as prudence, is still not recognized as duty; the talkers and writers are mostly on the other side, even in France, where a sentimental horror of Malthus is almost as rife as in this country. Many causes may be assigned, besides the modern date of the doctrine, for its not having yet gained possession of the general mind. Its truth has, in some respects, been its detriment. One may be permitted to doubt whether, except among the poor themselves (for whose prejudices on this subject there is no difficulty in accounting), there has ever yet been, in any class of society, a sincere and earnest desire that wages should be high. There has been plenty of desire to keep down the poor-rate; but, that done, people have been very willing that the working classes should be ill off. Nearly all who are not labourers themselves, are employers of labour, and are not sorry to get the commodity cheap. It is a fact, that even Boards of Guardians, who are supposed to be official apostles of anti-population doctrines, will seldom hear patiently of anything which they are pleased to designate as Malthusianism. Boards of Guardians in rural districts, principally consist of farmers, and farmers, it is well known, in general dislike even allotments, as making the labourers “too independent.” From the gentry, who are in less immediate contact and collision of interest with the labourers, better things might be expected, and the gentry of England are usually charitable. But charitable people have human infirmities, and would, very often, be secretly not a little dissatisfied if no one needed their charity: it is from them one oftenest hears the base doctrine, that God has decreed there shall always be poor. When one adds to this, that nearly every person who has had in him any active spring of exertion for a social object, has had some favourite reform to effect which he thought the admission of this great principle would throw into the shade; has had corn laws to repeal, or taxation to reduce, or small notes to issue, or the charter to carry, or the church to revive or abolish, or the aristocracy to pull down, and looked upon every one as an enemy who thought anything important except his object; it is scarcely wonderful that since the population doctrine was first promulgated, nine-tenths of the talk has always been against it, and the remaining tenth only audible at intervals; and that it has not yet penetrated far among those who might be expeeted to be the least willing recipients of it, the labourers themselves.
* Nouveaux Principes, liv. vii. ch. 5.
But let us try to imagine what would happen if the idea became general among the labouring class, that the competition of too great numbers was the principal cause of their poverty; so that every labourer looked (with Sismondi) upon every other who had more than the number of children which the circumstances of society allowed to each, as doing him a wrong—as filling up the place which he was entitled to share. Any one who supposes that this state of opinion would not have a great effect on conduct, must be profoundly ignorant of human nature; can never have considered how large a portion of the motives which induce the generality of men to take care even of their own interest, is derived from regard for opinion—from the expectation of being disliked or despised for not doing it. In the particular case in question, it is not too much to say that overindulgence is as much caused by the stimulus of opinion as by the mere animal propensity ; since opinion universally, and especially among the most uneducated classes, has connected ideas of spirit and power with the strength of the instinct, and of inferiority with its moderation or absence; a perversion of sentiment caused by its being the means, and the stamp, of a dominion exercised over other human beings. The effect would be great of merely removing this factitious stimulus; and when once opinion shall have turned itself into an adverse direction, a revolution will soon take place in this department of human conduct. We are often told that the most thorough perception of the dependence of wages on population will not influence the conduct of a labouring man, because it is not the children he himself can have that will produce any effect in generally depressing the labour market. True, and it is also true, that one soldier's running away will not lose the battle ; accordingly it is not that consideration which keeps each soldier in his rank: it is the disgrace which naturally and inevitably attends on conduct by any one individual, which if pursued by a majority, everybody can see would be fatal. Men are seldom found to brave the general opinion of their class, unless supported either by some principle higher than regard for opinion, or by some strong body of opinion elsewhere.
It must be borne in mind also, that the opinion here in question, as soon as it attained any prevalence, would have powerful auxiliaries in the great majority of women. It is never by the choice of the wife that families are too numerous; on her devolves (along with all the physical suffering and at least a full share of the privations) the whole of the intolerable domestic drudgery resulting from the excess. To be relieved from it would be hailed as a blessing by multitudes of women who now never venture to urge such a claim, but who would urge it, if supported by the moral feelings of the community. Among the barbarisms which law and morals have not yet ceased to sanction, the most disgusting surely is, that any human being should be permitted to consider himself as having a right to the person of another.
If the opinion were once generally established among the labouring class that their welfare required a due regulation of the numbers of families, the respectable and wellconducted of the body would conform to the prescription, and only those would exempt themselves from it, who were in the habit of making light of social obligations generally;
and there would be then an evident justification for converting the moral obligation against bringing children into the world who are a burthen to the community, into a legal one; just as in many other cases of the progress of opinion, the law ends by enforcing against recalcitrant minorities, obligations which to be useful must be general, and which, from a sense of their utility, a large majority have voluntarily consented to take upon themselves. There would be no need, however, of legal sanctions, if women were admitted, as on all other grounds they have the clearest title to be, to the same rights of citizenship with men. Let them cease to be confined by custom to one physical function as their means of living and their source of influence, and they would have for the first time an equal voice with men in what concerns that function : and of all the improvements in reserve for mankind which it is now possible to foresee, none might be expected to be so fertile as this in almost every kind of moral and social benefit.
It remains to consider what chance there is that opinions and feelings, grounded on the law of the dependence of wages on population, will arise among the labouring classes ; and by what means such opinions and feelings can be called forth. Before considering the grounds of hope on this subject, a hope which many persons, no doubt, will be ready, without consideration, to pronounce chimerical, I will remark, that unless a satisfactory answer can be made to these two questions, the industrial system prevailing in this country, and regarded by many writers as the ne plus ultra of civilization—the dependence of the whole labouring class of the community on the wages of hired labour, is irrevocably condemned. The question we are considering is, whether, of this state of things, over-population and a degraded condition of the labouring class are the inevitable consequence. If a prudent regulation of population be not reconcilable with the system of hired labour, the system is a nuisance, and the grand object of economical statesmanship should be (by whatever arrangements of property, and alterations in