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Malthus across Nations



This introduction to the book sums up the main results developed in the different chapters and emphasises the basic features of the reception of Malthus’s works and ideas in Europe, America and Japan. In particular, it stresses the importance of the French editions in this reception in Continental Europe, the neglect of Malthus’s theological views, and proposes an explanation of why Malthus’s works generated huge and lasting controversies.
Malthus Across Nations
Gilbert Faccarello
,Masashi Izumoand Hiromi Morishita
The reception and dissemination of the works of a major author requires a
complex and multifaceted analysis. To various degrees, it always involves the
reactions by different groups of actors – experts in the field or laymen – in
specific historical and intellectual contexts and with particular theoretical,
political and moral concerns. This is all the more true when these works
cross borders and spread in different environments from that prevailing in
their home country. As time goes by, whether in the home country or abroad,
these works have to face quite a few more or less faithful interpretations and
are susceptible, in the end, to be read or used in a way far removed from the
original intentions of their author.
The case of Thomas Robert Malthus’s writings is a perfect illustration of
the vagaries of reception, especially during the heyday of the controversies
they raised, that is, prior to the First World War. Primarily known for his
ideas on population in conjunction with an ethically serious set of strictures
for everyday life, Malthus could see his approach misunderstood and distorted
Panthéon-Assas University, Paris.
Kanagawa University, Yokohama.
Hokkai Gakuen University, Sapporo.
Malthus Across Nations 2
during his lifetime and, had he lived longer, he would also have seen it mixed
with social Darwinism, neo-Malthusianism and even eugenics. How could this
happen? Among Malthus’s ideas, which ones were adopted and developed,
distorted or left aside, and in which contexts? To provide some answers to
these questions, the chapters collected here study some significant aspects of
the reception of Malthus prior to the Great War in various intellectual and his-
torical contexts: in their home country, of course, but mainly in Continental
Europe (French- and German-speaking countries, Italy, Portugal, Spain and
Russia), America (United States, Brazil and Spanish-speaking Latin Amer-
ica) and Japan. Malthus’s writings, published two centuries ago, rarely ceased
to be referred to among economists and politicians during this period – and
even after, as the case of John Maynard Keynes eloquently shows. Moreover,
nowadays, some of Malthus’s ideas on poverty have reappeared in political
discourses all over the world in more or less hidden and radical ways. This
is the reason why an assessment of the reception of Malthus’s works in dif-
ferent countries is not only a fascinating piece of comparative analysis in the
history of economic thought, but also, in many aspects, a contribution to the
understanding of current debates.
Malthus in contexts
Lags in translations
When studying the international reception of Malthus’s writings,1one of the
first questions to examine is the availability of the works in the selected coun-
1It is perhaps useful to remind the reader of the publication dates of the main works
referred to in the following chapters. An Essay on the Principles of Population was first
published in 1798, and had five subsequent revised editions in 1803, 1806, 1807, 1817 and
1826. The first edition of the Principles of Political Economy was published in 1820 and the
second, revised, was posthumously published in 1836. The Definitions in Political Economy
were published in 1827. As for the pamphlets on rent and the Corn Laws published in the
1810s, they are Observations on the Effects of the Corn Laws and of a Rise or Fall in the
Price of Corn on the Agriculture and General Wealth of the Country (1814), The Grounds
of an Opinion on the Policy of Restricting the Importation of Foreign Corn, intended as an
Appendix to ‘Observations on the Corn Laws’ (1815) and An Inquiry into the Nature and
Progress of Rent, and the Principles by which it is Regulated (1815).
Malthus Across Nations 3
tries. This question, of course, is not so important in the United States of
America, except perhaps at the beginning of our period, when intellectual ex-
changes were still not so easy between Britain and its former colonies.2But the
problem is more complex in the other countries. In those contexts, especially
at the beginning of our period, the English language was much less widespread
than it is today, and only relatively few people could read Malthus in the orig-
inal versions, provided they could get a copy of them: hence the role played
by translations, especially those into French, which was understood and used
in intellectual circles across Continental Europe.
As a matter of fact, the French translations of Malthus’s main works were
the first to be published. Extensive excerpts of the Essay on the Principle of
Population, based on the second English edition of 1803, were published in
1805 in Geneva, and an almost complete translation was published in 1809
in Paris and Geneva, based on the fourth English edition of 1807. Finally,
a complete translation, from the fifth English edition of 1817, was printed in
1823 and had a remarkable number of editions (1830, 1836, 1841, 1845 and
1852) with different publishers in Paris, Geneva and Brussels. As for the first
French edition of Malthus’s Principles of Political Economy, it was published
in the same year as the English original, 1820.3The second English edition,
1836, was translated in 1846, together with that of the 1827 Definitions in
Political Economy – both works being published in the same volume.
The case of the French-speaking countries is certainly exceptional. It is true
that, in Germany, during our period, an abridged translation of the Essay was
published in 1807, but a complete edition had to wait until 1879, and a German
edition of the Principles was only published in 1910 – with the exception of an
excerpt of it in 1821. Some other works – the three pamphlets on agriculture
and rent published by Malthus in 1814 and 1815, never translated into French
– were published in German in 1896. In other non-English-speaking countries,
2For example, the unique North American edition of the Essay on the Principle of
Population was published in 1809 and was based on the third English edition, 1806, while
the fourth had been published in 1807.
3A translation of unsatisfactory quality, according to Malthus himself.
Malthus Across Nations 4
the picture is not fundamentally different. While, in Spain, some excerpts,
based (loosely) on the Genevan 1805 partial publication of the Essay were
translated as early as 1808, and the translation of the two first chapters (and a
few lines of the third) from the 1809 French edition in 1814, a comprehensive
edition had to wait until 1846, and was based on the 1845 French text. No other
works were translated during our period – a Spanish version of the Principles
was only published in 1951 in Mexico. In Italy, the order of the publications
was, so to speak, reversed: translations of the Principles and Definitions were
published first but only in 1854, the pamphlet on rent was translated in 1859,
and the Essay in 1868 – an edition probably based on the latest French edition,
as the presence of Malthus’s Appendix, presented as ‘Book V’ and split into
three chapters, seems to indicate. In Russia, a translation of the Essay, based
on the 1845 French edition, was published in 1868. Three essays on agriculture
and rent (the same as in the 1896 German edition) were translated in 1908
– there was no Russian translation of the Principles. Finally, there were no
translations of Malthus’s works into Portuguese during our period: some of
them were only published at the beginning of the 1980s. The case of Japan
is more complex. While the contact with Malthus’s works came much later
than in the other countries, many Japanese editions were published from 1923
onwards: prior to the First World War, only the translation of the 1895 Parallel
Chapters from the first and second editions of An Essay on the Principle of
Population was published in 1910.
All this does not mean, of course, that Malthus was unknown in these
countries, Japan included, before translations were made. On the contrary, his
name became famous quickly, and some of his ideas – more or less faithfully
interpreted in each country, Britain being no exception – widely discussed. In
this respect, as the following chapters show, the French editions and discussions
played an important role on the Continent. Translations of the Essay were
even made from the French versions: this is the case in Spain and Russia and
probably in Italy where, moreover, the 1868 translation was followed, in the
same volume, by that of Joseph Garnier’s 1857 Du principe de population
Malthus Across Nations 5
with all the appendixes describing the state of the debates around Malthus,
with a special accent on French authors.4
It is also interesting to note that, in the different countries outside Britain,
the first edition of the Essay was virtually unknown at the beginning of our
period, and was only translated in 1923 in Japan, 1966 in Spain, 1976 in Italy,
1977 in Germany and 1980 in France – this had the effect of partially concealing
Malthus’s theodicy.
A process of selection
A process of reception is also a process of selection: some works are privileged,
some others left out. The following chapters clearly show that, in this selec-
tion, the Essay came first and foremost. The Principles came second, and
some pamphlets on agriculture and rent third, together with the Definitions.
Malthus’s other writings were basically ignored. In terms of discussions, the
Essay captured almost all the attention in the debates, leaving relatively little
space (or no space at all, as in Spain for example) to the Principles, and a still
narrower space to the writings on rent and the Definitions – an exception being
Portugal, where the Definitions were given much more weight than elsewhere.
This relative lack of interest abroad for Malthus’s economic theory is cer-
tainly due to the intellectual impact of Jean-Baptiste Say, whose Traité d’écono-
mie politique was influential on the Continent,5and whose Lettres à M. Malthus
sur différents sujets d’économie politique, notamment sur les causes de la stag-
nation générale du commerce, 1820, were also widespread: they were published
4On the title page of the book, it is Garnier’s summary content which is written, not
Malthus’s, together with this epigraph, printed in French – ‘Il dépend de l’homme que
l’accroissement de la population amène le Progrès ou la misère’ (‘It depends on man that
the growth of population brings Progress or destitution’) – which also appears on the title
page of the French edition of Garnier’s book. Joseph Garnier was one of the main French
followers of Malthus.
5And not only in Continental Europe: a translation, by C. R. Prinsep, of his Traité
d’économie politique was published in Boston and London in 1821 and had many editions
in the United States – Thomas Jefferson corresponded with Say and himself translated or
revised the translation of some works by Antoine-Louis-Claude Destutt de Tracy, whose
developments go in the same direction.
Malthus Across Nations 6
in English and in German as early as 1821 and even had different versions in
Spanish in 1820, 1821 and 1827. The structure of the Principles was also
judged defective by many commentators. In 1821, Charles Robert Prinsep,
the British translator of Say’s Traité, noted in the ‘Advertisement’ to his edi-
tion that, before Say, ‘little has been done towards the better organization
of the science since the days of Smith and Stewart’, and that Ricardo’s and
Malthus’s attempts were unsatisfactory. ‘The later Essay of Malthus’,6he
is equally deficient in arrangement, as well as vague and inconclu-
sive: and he seems so sensible himself of these failings, that he has
offered it rather as a commentary than a text, – a refutation of the
opinions of others, than a clear exposition of his own, or a digested
classification of approved and admitted principles: plainly intimat-
ing, that the science is not yet far enough advanced to be regularly
marshalled; and leaving the public to hope for a more complete
view of the whole, at some future indefinite period. (Prinsep 1821,
Opinions were similar abroad, especially in France. It is thus not surprising
that the discussions over the Principles remained relatively marginal and con-
fined to political economists or certain intellectual circles. Malthus’s theory of
rent was mentioned, but some authors, while acknowledging Malthus’s priority
in the field, nevertheless found that Ricardo’s statement of it was clearer and
more rigorous. Malthus’s position on the possibility of general gluts was also
examined. Liberal thinkers rejected it because Say’s law of markets was at
stake, and they could not understand how such a fundamental tenet of the
new science could be called into question. Say himself tried to defend his prin-
ciple against the attacks of Malthus and Jean-Charles Léonard Simonde de
Sismondi and it is interesting to note how he came to qualify his views in such
a way as to transform it, as Malthus noted, into a tautological statement. As
for Malthus’s general analytical framework, based on the interaction of supply
and demand, it was certainly more developed and systematic in Say. Malthus’s
6Prinsep obviously refers here to Malthus’s Principles published one year before, and
not to the Essay on population.
Malthus Across Nations 7
emphasis on the limits to the application of general principles in political econ-
omy was diversely received and sometimes thought to be contradictory with
his own stress on the general principle of population.
A minority of authors, however, also influenced by Sismondi, tried to use
Malthus’s objections to the law of markets – as well as, sometimes, his theory
of rent – to question the legitimacy of the liberal socio-political order based
on free competition and capital accumulation in manufactures and industry.
Pointing out the plague of economic crises and pauperism, they proposed to
reshape the economic system along different lines, for example conferring a
new priority to agriculture over manufactures and industry. This was the view
of some moderate reformers, but also, in a more moral and radical way, of some
conservative authors, nostalgic of the ancient orders, or, in Catholic countries,
some traditionalist currents of thought who tried to develop a ‘Christian po-
litical economy’.7But a radical reshaping of society was also proposed, in a
more progressive way, by different associationist or socialist plans for a new,
democratic and more efficient society. Finally, in some countries (Germany in
particular), Malthus’s ideas gave rise to underconsumptionist theories of crises.
In all these discussions, to various degrees depending on the context,
Malthus’s seemingly ‘conservative’ views on society, and especially the ne-
cessity of a class of unproductive consumers, were criticised by authors from
all quarters and judged flawed.
The fate of the Essay on the Principle of Population was totally different
and it would be difficult to overstate the importance of the book: it attracted
almost all the attention of Malthus’s commentators – far beyond that devoted
to the Principles – whether in its original versions or in translations, trans-
lated in its entirety or in abridged forms, really read or only known by hearsay
through favourable or hostile commentators. Perhaps because the subject of
population not only broached a recurrent and important point of economic pol-
icy but also prevailing religious beliefs, mores and the intimate life of families,
it was received with passion and provoked irrational reactions. The number of
7In the Catholic countries, the phrase ‘Christian political economy’ had a different
meaning from that accurately analysed by Waterman (1991) in the British case.
Malthus Across Nations 8
misunderstandings or distorted interpretations and the lasting nefarious rep-
utation of the author are astonishing, to a degree probably rarely reached in
the reception of a work, whatever the country – was not Malthus accused
of encouraging infanticide, forced sterilisation, depravity and vice? The cel-
ebrated image of ‘nature’s mighty feast’, moreover, significantly contributed
everywhere to Malthus’s cold, pitiless and inhumane picture. As Joseph Gar-
nier wrote, not only was Malthus not really known and his ‘true thought’
ignored: ‘what has eventually been created in public opinion is a Malthus who
did not exist, a fantastic Malthus, to whom the strangest propositions have
been attributed and at whom gratuitous reproaches or vehement imprecations
were levelled’ (Garnier 1853, 383). Echoes of the discussions over the principle
of population and the real or imagined Malthus were so pervasive as to find
space in the daily press or even in novels or short stories – sometimes written
by the major novelists of the time – as the chapters on France, Spain, Germany,
Russia and Japan in this volume show.
Many aspects of the views stated in the Essay were discussed, first and
foremost the celebrated two ratios – but they were not taken too seriously by
commentators, who very often considered them as an inappropriate and clumsy
way of stating the principle of population. Authors also reacted in different
ways, owing to the diverse national situations: while discussion of the principle
of population was judged topical in the most advanced countries of the time,
in those countries such as Spain, Russia, Latin America or the United States,
where uncultivated land was abundant, Malthus’s principle was thought to
be only relevant, if at all, in a very distant future. The famous checks were
also questioned – the ‘moral restraint’ was in general judged unrealistic and
inefficient – and so too were certain statements such as the doubling of the
population every 25 years (based on the example of the United States). The
respective parts played by emigration and colonisation were put in due perspec-
tive in the different countries, and the case of slavery extensively discussed in
some of them (in the United States in particular). Malthus’s underestimation
of the role of technical progress in agriculture was also generally denounced, as
well as that of the potential change of behaviour of people through education
and social progress. The controversies over the Essay also brought about an
Malthus Across Nations 9
evolution of economic theory as regards the labour market in general and the
determination of wages in particular (see Britain and Germany) and a change
of perspective on population itself, which became one economic variable among
others within the general demand and supply framework, the agents making
use of economic calculation in order to determine the size of their families
It must finally be noted that some critics of Say’s law did not deal with
the subject of economic crises independently of the ‘principle of population’
– contrary to what most liberals did. The principle, they stated, was not
an explanation of pauperism. Poverty and crises were linked and resulted
from a faulty organisation of the economic system. In so doing, they often
(but not always) rejected Malthus’s view on population and, implicitly or not,
contrasted two Malthuses – the good author of some critical points developed
in the Principles, and the bad Malthus of the Essay, thus reversing the terms
of the opposition made by liberal economists. Alternatively, some stressed
the fact that the principle was not a ‘natural law’ but instead a social and
historical law only valid for a free market, capitalist society. Some others,
finally, admitted that the principle could also be a threat for a socialist society
and that neo-Malthusian policies had to be implemented, both to establish
and to maintain such a social organisation.
One major aspect of Malthus’s thought, however, was neglected almost
everywhere: its theological components – even if, in Italy and Belgium, some
optimistic interpretations of the principle of population unknowingly revived
it. This is probably due to the fact that this fundamental aspect of Malthus’s
approach was less obvious in the second and subsequent editions of the Es-
say, and that the 1798 edition had been largely unknown outside Britain or
else dismissed as a purely polemical, non-scientific pamphlet – religion being
considered as no part of ‘science’. Moreover, the reception of his work out-
side Britain largely occurred in very different religious environments, and this
probably shaped the way that readers responded to this element of the Essay.
Catholic authors, for example, reacted against the ‘married priest’, and even
socialists were hostile to this ‘gloomy Protestant of dismal England’. This op-
position, together with Malthus’s reputation as a utilitarian, prevented many
Malthus Across Nations 10
from taking seriously – or even from noticing – his theological views, and cer-
tainly was not conductive to an accurate understanding of his contributions.8
But, in the end, the above-mentioned points are insufficient to explain the
huge worldwide impact of the Essay. To reduce the substance of the book to
the claim – even when supported by a wealth of historical and geographical
evidence – that population is limited by the means of subsistence while at the
same time tending to exceed this constraint, is to downplay its novelty and
significance. Once Malthus had attached his name to the population principle,
Donald Winch wrote (1996, 233), ‘a licence existed to hunt for all those pre-
Malthusian writings that contained anticipations of the principle’. And what
was found in some countries was not only ‘anticipations’, but full statements
– with the exception of the famous ratios, Malthus’s ‘trademark’. As Samuel
Taylor Coleridge put it, probably around 1804, in his marginalia to the second
edition of the Essay:
If by the main Principle the Author means both the Fact (i.e.,
that Population unrestrained would infinitely outrun Food) and
the Deduction from the Fact, i.e., that the human race is therefore
not indefinitely improvable, a popgun would batter down this Im-
pregnable Fortress. If only the First be meant, the assertion is quite
nugatory – in the former case vapouring, in the latter a vapour .
. . Merciful God! are we now to have a Quarto to teach us, that
great misery and great vice arise from Poverty and that there must
be Poverty in its worst shapes, wherever there are more mouths
than Loaves, and more Heads than Brains! (in Potter 1936, 1061
and 1062)
Admittedly, Coleridge was a critic of Malthus. But, in a different way, a
similar point was raised by a Malthusian, Gustave de Molinari, when he asked:
‘So what was there in his [Malthus’s] book to excite to the highest degree the
noisy rage of some and to be adopted as a kind of Gospel by others?’ (Molinari
1885, x). This could not be the principle itself in its simplest expression. Its
8Certain more or less recent literature provides a fascinating more accurate picture
of Malthus. See for example Waterman (1991), Winch (1987, 1992, 1996) and Cremaschi
Malthus Across Nations 11
importance lies in fact in a change of perspective in ethics and morals: it
promoted an ethics of individual responsibility. As Molinari emphasised:
This is the ultimate theory of self-government. Man is free and
master of his destiny, but he is by the same token responsible for
his actions. If he does not fulfil all the obligations implied by self-
government, if he does not put a brake on his passions and vices,
he and the human beings who depend on him must endure the
consequences of his careless and immoral behaviour. He has no
right to pass off these consequences onto others. (Molinari 1885,
Read in this perspective, the Essay became highly polemical and subject
to all controversy, because it was a decisive challenge to existing intellectual
frameworks in morals and politics. Hence the endless debates and reactions in
different countries. The book, while ‘based on a simple idea, easy to understand
and to remember’, was in fact encouraging ‘man’s bad inclinations: egoism,
hardness, indifference to the ills of his fellow men’, Jérôme-Adolphe Blanqui
noted in 1837, witnessing the rapid changes in mentalities. ‘The principles on
which it is based . . . tend so quickly to imbue institutions that, soon, it will
be only possible to record their victories instead of questioning their value’
(Blanqui 1837, II, 152). Nolens volens, the famous image of ‘nature’s mighty
feast’ stayed at the centre of things. It only appeared, it is true, in the 1803
edition of the Essay and was deleted by Malthus in the subsequent versions:
‘but it expresses with a vigorous truth the spirit of his doctrine, and it was the
doctrine, rather than the language, that ought to have been changed’ (Blanqui
1837, II, 153n).
Finally, as is obvious, it must be noted that the reception of Malthus did
not occur in a vacuum in any of the nations examined here. International per-
sonal relationships and networks (liberal, Catholic, socialist, anarchist) were
important for the diffusion of Malthus’s ideas and the debates over his work,
through translations of papers or books, surveys and reviews and so on: multi-
ples examples thereof will be found in the following chapters. A more complete
analysis of these personal and social connections, however, is still to be done.
Malthus Across Nations 12
The chapters
Much has already been written on the reception of Malthus in Britain. The first
chapter, by Ryan Walter, focuses on one precise point: Malthus’s theological
views, some of their immediate impact and the way in which British political
economy got rid of them.
When Malthus’s Essay was published in 1798, British politics was still at-
tempting to process the French Revolution and its implications for the possibil-
ity of political economy as a science of reform. In this setting, the anti-utopian
character of Malthus’s brand of Protestant Enlightenment was embraced by im-
portant sections of his society, above all, by those Christian political economists
who shared his preparedness to use natural theology as the architecture for po-
litical economy. The reception was colder from utilitarians such as James Mill,
reforming Whigs at the Edinburgh Review, and, on the other side of politics,
Romantics such as Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. At a more
general level, Malthus’s principle of population was widely absorbed, but also
subjected to reformulation that removed its theological basis. This pattern
was reinforced towards the close of the nineteenth century, as the new eco-
nomics of William Stanley Jevons and Alfred Marshall displaced the question
of population and reduced Malthus to little more than a father-figure to invoke
when reflecting on the discipline’s history. In short, the story of Malthus in
Britain tracks a broader process of secularisation.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Malthus’s Essay also generated its share
of controversies. As David Andrews states, the American Declaration of In-
dependence of 1776 reflects the same Enlightenment ideals that led William
Godwin in Great Britain and the Marquis de Condorcet in France to argue
that it was possible to construct a new society conducive to the perfectibility
of humanity. Malthus’s Essay on population, written as a response to Godwin
and Condorcet, may also be read as a rebuke to Americans who, believing
that European poverty and misery were due to European institutions, sought
to build a new society with a different structure that would provide freedom,
equality and general prosperity. Malthus predicted, that is, that the American
experiment was doomed to end in failure.
Malthus Across Nations 13
Americans in the nineteenth century responded to Malthus in various ways.
The most aggressive critics were from nationalists, those who supported the
programme, first put forward by Alexander Hamilton in 1791, of government
action to promote the growth of manufacturing through tariffs, a national bank
and provision of infrastructure, in order that the United States would become
a world commercial and military power. Malthus implied that this project
would lead to misery and vice. The nationalists argued that Malthus was
fundamentally mistaken, for two main reasons: first, European inequality was
the result of European social institutions; and second, Malthus misunderstood
the relationship between increasing population and average productivity. Crit-
ics of Malthus such as Daniel Raymond, Alexander Everett and Henry Carey
argued that productivity increases as population increases.
Defenders of slavery viewed Malthus as a symbol of the horrors of the
so-called free labour system. George Fitzhugh, for example, argued that the
material and emotional conditions were better for slaves than for wage workers
because the slave owner had an interest in the well-being of the slave due to
the nature of their on-going relationship. Wage workers, on the other hand,
could be exploited and discarded because the employers have no interest in
workers who can be replaced.
The academic establishment in America remained committed to British
classical political economy and to Malthus during the nineteenth century. It
was not a matter of great concern since, according to the document itself, the
Essay did not apply directly even though it would in the future.
In Continental Europe, the role of French-speaking countries in the recep-
tion of Malthus’s works was material – Pierre Prévost, in Geneva, initiated the
process in 1805. The circumstances and intellectual context in which Malthus’s
works were received there are first highlighted, and in particular some legacies
from the Enlightenment: the conviction that France was undergoing a pro-
cess of depopulation, the Herrenschwand model of the instable development of
a modern economy based on manufactures, and Condorcet’s optimistic view
on the future of mankind. The complex history of the various editions of
Malthus’s works in the French language is then studied – marked, in the first
Malthus Across Nations 14
half of the nineteenth century, by an exceptional number of editions of trans-
lations of the Essay and the translations of the two editions of the Principles
– before analysing the reception of the works themselves. The reception of
Malthus’s Principles and Definitions is first examined: direct exchanges be-
tween Malthus and Say, with Sismondi in the shadow, are to be noted – it led
Say to significantly amend the formulation of his law of markets – and so are,
in a different perspective inspired by Herrenschwand and Sismondi, the criti-
cal comments of Malthus’s first translator of the Principles, Francisco Solano
Constâncio. As for the liberal economists, their evaluation of the Principles
was, to say the least, lukewarm, if only because Say’s law was challenged.
While these discussions remained confined to specialised literature, the Es-
say, by contrast, provoked huge controversies over pauperism, morals and the
social question. The reception by the liberal economists was both critical and
positive: the principle, they stressed, was not new, stated in a clumsy way,
and needed some reformulations, especially in the more general context of eco-
nomic theory. But the moral and political message it conveys was thought
to be essential: an ethics of personal responsibility. The positions of some
economists, however, evolved during the period: while, at the beginning, the
Essay seemed topical because the spectre of overpopulation had replaced the
eighteenth-century fear of depopulation, the spectre of depopulation came back
to haunt certain economists and politicians, calling into question the role of
France in the world. As for the critics of liberal political economy, be they
conservative or socialists, they massively rejected Malthus’s principle as an
explanation of pauperism and blamed instead the economic system itself for
being responsible for crises and poverty. The chapter concludes with the evo-
lution of the discussions towards the end of the period, when Malthus’s name
came to be associated with social Darwinism, neo-Malthusianism and some
changing views on population, which shifted the emphasis from its quantity to
its quality. An appendix gives a few examples of how the controversies over
the Essay found an echo in the works written by the most celebrated novelists
of the time.
The chapter on France is followed by an account, by Christian Gehrke, of
the reception of Malthus’s contributions in Germany and Austria. The focus
Malthus Across Nations 15
is mainly on the debates triggered by his Essay on population, which strongly
influenced the discourse on social and economic policy in Germany. In addi-
tion, the chapter also takes a closer look at the reception of Malthus’s theory
of overproduction and crises. The latter was received favourably by some
influential authors, such as Karl-Heinrich Rau, Johann-Carl Rodbertus, and
Wilhelm Roscher, but rejected by the great majority of the German-speaking
economists. Malthus’s Essay quickly received attention in the public discourse
already in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, with followers and op-
ponents among both liberal economists and protectionists. While no impact
of Malthus’s writings on Friedrich Benedikt Wilhelm Hermann’s theoretical
contributions can be discerned, Johann-Heinrich von Thünen’s social policy
proposals, and in particular his concept of the ‘natural wage’, appear to have
been strongly influenced by his reading of Malthus’s Essay.
Turning to the second half of the nineteenth century, the chapter then re-
views the controversial debates about Malthus’s Essay among socialists and
Marxists in the German-speaking countries. It contrasts the views on Malthus’s
population theory of the early socialists and state socialists, like Wilhelm
Weitling and Johann-Carl Rodbertus, with those of Ferdinand Lassalle, Eu-
gen Dühring, Friedrich Engels, and Karl Marx as well as with the positions of
‘Socialist Darwinists’ like Friedrich Albert Lange and Ludwig Büchner. With
regard to these authors, the focus is mainly on their differing assessments of the
relationship between Malthusianism and Darwinism. The chapter then turns
to the contributions of some of Marx’s and Engels’s followers, most notably
Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein, and to their debates with the so-called
‘Socialists of the chair’ and with adherents of the German Historical School.
Next, the chapter looks at various contributions from the last two decades
before the Great War, by authors such as Franz Oppenheimer, Julius Wolf
and others, in which the Malthusian population theory was criticised against
the background of the newly emerging fact of declining birth rates. The fi-
nal section studies the impact of Malthus’s contributions on the first genera-
tion Austrian economists, that is, Carl Menger, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk and
Friedrich Wieser, and briefly discusses Knut Wicksell’s neo-Malthusianism.
Malthus Across Nations 16
The chapter on Italy, by Daniela Donnini Macciò and Roberto Romani,
shows how Malthus played a remarkable role in the intellectual history of the
peninsula, chiefly through French translations, from the end of Napoleonic
rule to the First World War. The chapter first deals with the reception of
Malthus’s political economy. Two facets of it were discussed by Italians: the
underconsumptionist theory of crises and rent theory. Basically, Malthus’s pes-
simistic perspective was dismissed in favour of Say’s, at a time when Italian
liberals were eagerly promoting industrialisation and free trade. The chapter
then turns to the principle of population. After surveying the debate be-
fore 1848, the authors show that in the 1850s Malthus’s principle was made
‘progressive’ by interpreting it as a stimulus to work and enterprise. As for
Catholic thinkers, they initially welcomed the principle of population but re-
jected it from the 1850s onwards. The methodological approaches of Angelo
Messedaglia and Vilfredo Pareto to Malthus’s principle are also discussed. The
authors then examine how Malthus’s law combined with Darwinism and so-
cialism at the end of the century. Finally, the appeal to the law made by
neo-Malthusians is dealt with.
As Javier San Julián Arrupe shows in his chapter, the name of Malthus was
well-known in nineteenth-century Spain. He was the first political economist,
Spanish economists claimed, to scientifically deal with the subject of popu-
lation, but they thought that his principles could not be applied to Spain, a
country slightly populated with large areas of available arable land. While
Malthus’s Essay on population was not translated until the middle of the cen-
tury, his theory permeated the Spanish culture and references in favour of or
against it are to be found in a great number of publications. Malthus’s other
economic contributions, his Principles in particular, remained almost unknown
outside of a small group of economists. Some of them praised the theory of
land rent but, in an environment where J.-B. Say’s theories were intellectually
dominant, virtually none endorsed Malthus’s views on underconsumption. As
for the dissemination of Malthus in Spanish Latin America, it is still to be
analysed in depth. But upon a first investigation, the evidence shows that the
process of the reception of Malthus in the subcontinent was similar to that
of Spain. His ideas on population were known among the cultured elite, and
Malthus Across Nations 17
Latin American economists appreciated his contributions. However, they did
not think that they were relevant for the vast and scarcely populated new
republics – Malthus’s other writings seemingly having had no echo at all.
The following chapter, by José Luís Cardoso and Alexandre Mendes Cunha,
deals with the diversity of readings and appropriations of the work of Thomas
Robert Malthus in Portugal and Brazil. Special attention is given to the
manner in which the most significant of his works have been read, discussed and
used by Portuguese and Brazilian authors who lived during Malthus’s lifetime.
Three cases of reception are considered. The first concerns the comments
by José da Silva Lisboa to the Essay (1798 and 1803), stressing the relation
between population growth and available means of subsistence. The second
case discusses the critical analysis of Francisco Solano Constâncio of Malthus’s
Principles (1820) in the context of the discussion of J.-B. Say’s law of markets
and of the occurrence of crises of overproduction. The third relates to the use
by José Ferreira Borges of Malthus’s Definitions (1827) and his search for a
systematisation of relevant concepts. This chapter also includes a variety of
examples of the dissemination of Malthus among Portuguese-speaking authors,
with impact on political debate related to demographic and social issues.
The chapter on Russia, by Maxim Markov and Denis Melnik, first describes
Malthus’s personal encounters with Russia on a total of three occasions: when
he stayed in Saint Petersburg while returning from his Scandinavian tour in
1799, when he was elected a foreign fellow of the Imperial Academy of Sciences
in 1826, and when he was given an honorary professorship at the Imperial Saint
Petersburg University in 1830. It points out that these events did not have
any lasting influence beyond inspiring a chapter on Russia in the Essay. After
describing the first Russian translation of the Essay from the French 1845 edi-
tion, which was published in 1868, the chapter divides the reception of Malthus
in Russia into three periods: from the 1800s to the 1830s, the 1840s, and from
the 1850s to the 1910s. Malthus was known in Russia by the 1830s not only
for his ideas on population but also for his economic writings such as his Prin-
ciples and Definitions that were introduced in lectures and textbooks on the
subject of political economy at universities. In the 1840s Russian conservatives
focused on the revolutionary aspect of the Malthusian doctrine while radicals
Malthus Across Nations 18
criticised Malthus’s conservatism. From the 1850s to the 1910s there were de-
bates between Russian Marxists and Narodniks (Populists), such as Nikolay
Chernyshevsky and Georgy Plekhanov, over the ‘Malthusian law,’ the ‘agrar-
ian question,’ and overpopulation. Malthus the demographer at last became
directly relevant to Russia’s situation: agrarian problems and rapid popula-
tion growth confronted Russia with her own Malthusian trap – at least that
was the widely held conviction that took root across the political spectrum.
This chapter also suggests that the reception of Malthus in Russia may offer
a clue to distinguishing trends in Russian intellectual history and comparing
this history with that of other nations.
The last chapter, by Masashi Izumo and Hiromi Morishita, traces the out-
line of the reception and diffusion of Malthus’s economic thought in Japan
from the 1870s to the 1910s, and presents the earlier political and economic
inquiries undertaken from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, that
form the background to the widespread acceptance of his theory of popula-
tion. It points out that while the first complete translations of his Essay
on population and Principles did not appear in Japan until 1923 and 1943,
Malthus’s theory of population had become widely known by the end of the
nineteenth century through various types of lectures, translations, journals,
newspapers, textbooks and literary works. After describing the Malthus who
appears in Japanese literary works, it demonstrates that political and popu-
lar novels also played a vital role in spreading Malthus’s theory of population
throughout society, and in particular among the lay public. It then shows
that both the advocates of migration and expansion who attempted to use
Malthus’s theory of population and the socialists who were against Malthus
shared a common misunderstanding of Malthus’s proposition of the geometric
growth of the population as a proposition concerning real population growth
trends, and examines how the combination of this theoretical approach and
the notion of ‘population is power’ resulted in the birth of imperialistic ex-
pansionism. This chapter also notes that it was Fukuda Tokuz¯o, Kawakami
Hajime and Takata Yasuma who corrected the misunderstanding of Malthus’s
population theory and opened the way for research aimed at revealing the sig-
nificance and limitations of Malthusian population theory, and discusses their
Malthus Across Nations 19
role in such controversies as the debate between Marxists and Malthusians over
the population question and the nature of the Japanese population problem
and the measures to be undertaken to address it. It also suggests that these
problematic issues were taken up by later generations of scholars and greatly
contributed to the development of economics, demographics, and social policy
in Japan.
This research was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences
(JSPS) KAKENHI Grant Number JP17H00982. To coordinate the studies, a meeting
was held at Hokkai Gakuen University in Sapporo, Japan, in September 2018: the
contributors gratefully thank the JSPS for its generous financial help – they will also
not forget the kindness and hospitality of Miki and K¯oji Yagi after the big earthquake
of 6 September and the ensuing widespread power outage.
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Full-text available
This book (winner of the 2015 Best Book Award by the European Society for the History of Economic Thought) argues that the die-hard image of Malthus the ogre has not completely disappeared, and yet, Malthus showed no less concern than Adam Smith for the labouring poor’s lot. Without a reconstruction of the intellectual framework within which Malthus’s pro-Poor evaluative judgments were formulated however, the exercise of listing such judgments would not help too much in understanding who Malthus really was and why could he be tragically misunderstood. We need to know what moral philosophy, what view of natural science, and what view of the “moral and political science” Malthus endorsed. Such a systematic reconstruction is what is offered here. In a nutshell, Malthus’s understanding of his own population theory and political economy was that of sub-disciplines of moral and political philosophy. Empirical enquiries required in order to be able to pronounce justified value judgments on such matters as the Poor Laws. But Malthus’s population theory and political economy were no value-free science and his policy advice – far from being ‘utilitarian’ – resulted from his overall system of ideas and was explicitly based on a set of familiar moral assumptions. It is mistaken to claim that Malthus’s explanation of disharmony by reference to Divine Wisdom is extraneous to analysis and without influence on the theory of policy. It is true instead that consequentialist voluntarist – or theological consequentialist – considerations of a sort were appealed to within the context of his moral epistemology in order to provide a justification for received moral rules, but such considerations were meant to justify a rather traditional normative ethics, quite far from the Benthamite ‘new morality’.
Histoire de l'économie politique en Europe depuis les Anciens jusqu'à nos jours
  • Jérôme Blanqui
  • Adolphe
Blanqui, Jérôme Adolphe (1837). Histoire de l'économie politique en Europe depuis les Anciens jusqu'à nos jours. Paris: Guillaumin.
Population'. In Charles Coquelin and Gilbert-Urbain Guillaumin, Dictionnaire de l'économie politique, contenant l'exposition des principes de la science
  • Joseph Garnier
Garnier, Joseph (1853). 'Population'. In Charles Coquelin and Gilbert-Urbain Guillaumin, Dictionnaire de l'économie politique, contenant l'exposition des principes de la science. Paris: Guillaumin, II, pp. 382-402.
Unpublished Marginalia in Coleridge's Copy of Malthus's Essay on Population
  • George Potter
  • Reuben
Potter, George Reuben (1936). 'Unpublished Marginalia in Coleridge's Copy of Malthus's Essay on Population', PMLA, 51 (4), 1061-68.
Advertisement'. In Jean-Baptiste Say
  • Charles Prinsep
  • Robert
Prinsep, Charles Robert (1821). 'Advertisement'. In Jean-Baptiste Say, A Treatise on Political Economy. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, pp. iii-xi.
Introduction'. In Th. R. Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, selected and introduced by D. Winch
  • Donald Winch
Winch, Donald (1992). 'Introduction'. In Th. R. Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, selected and introduced by D. Winch. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.