Malthusianism refers primarily to ideas derived from the political/economic thought of Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, as laid out initially in his 1798 writings, An Essay on the Principle of Population, which describes how unchecked population growth is exponential (1→2→4→8) while the growth of the food supply was expected to be arithmetical (1→2→3→4). Malthus believed there were two types of "checks" that could then reduce the population, returning it to a more sustainable level. He believed there were "preventive" checks like moral restraints, e.g. abstinence, delayed marriage until one is financially fit and restricting marriage against persons with defects and poverty etc., and "positive checks", which lead to premature death, such as disease, starvation, war etc., leading to a Malthusian catastrophe, which would return population to a lower, more "sustainable", level.[1][2] The term has been applied in different ways over the last two hundred years and has been linked to a variety of other political and social movements, but almost always refers to advocates of population control in one form or another.[3]

Neo-Malthusianism generally refers to people with the same basic concerns as Malthus who advocate for population control programs to ensure enough resources for current and future populations.[2] In Britain the term Malthusian can also refer more specifically to arguments made in favour of preventive birth control for any of a number of reasons, hence organisations such as the Malthusian League.[4] According to some descriptions, neo-Malthusians differ from Malthus' theories mainly in their enthusiasm for contraceptive techniques. Malthus, as a devout Christian, believed that "self-control" or abstinence were preferable to artificial means of birth control. However, in some editions of his essay, Malthus did allow that self restraint was unlikely to be effective on a wide scale, and therefore could countenance the use of artificial means of birth control as a solution to population pressure.[5] Modern "neo-Malthusians" are generally more concerned with environmental degradation and catastrophic famine than with poverty as Malthus was, although it is hard to completely separate all of the different factors.

Many critics believe that the basis of Malthusian theory has been fundamentally discredited in the years since the publication of Principle of Population often citing major advances in agricultural techniques and reductions in human fertility in modern societies.[6] However, many modern proponents believe that the basic concept of population growth eventually outstripping resources is still fundamentally valid, and that "positive checks" are still likely in humanity's future without action to curb population growth.[7][8]

The terms can carry a pejorative connotation indicating excessive pessimism, inhumanity, or inaccurate understanding of the future.[9][10] However, some proponents of Malthusian ideas believe that Malthus' theories have been widely misunderstood and misrepresented, and believe that his reputation for pessimism and inhumanity is ill deserved.[3][11] Malthusian ideas have attracted political criticism from diverse schools of thought, from marxists[12] and socialists [13] to libertarians, free market enthusiasts,[14][15] American conservatives,[16] feminists[17] and human rights advocates, often for their potential to justify other political agendas or to obscure the perceived hidden agendas of proponents.



Malthus was not the first to outline the problems he perceived. The original essay was part of an ongoing intellectual discussion at the end of the 18th century regarding the origins of poverty. Principle of Population was specifically written as a rebuttal to thinkers like William Godwin and the Marquis de Condorcet, and Malthus' own father who believed in the perfectibility of humanity. Malthus believe that humanity's ability to reproduce too rapidly doomed efforts at perfection and cause many problems. His criticism of the working class's tendency to reproduce rapidly, and his belief that this, rather than exploitation by capitalists, led to their poverty led to widespread criticism and discussion of his theory. [18]

Malthusians drew from this the inference that ideas of charity to the poor typified by Tory paternalism were futile as it would only result in increased numbers of the poor, and was developed into Whig economic ideas exemplified by The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, described by opponents as "a Malthusian bill designed to force the poor to emigrate, to work for lower wages, to live on a coarser sort of food",[19] which brought the construction of workhouses despite riots and arson. Malthus revised his theories in later editions of An Essay on the Principles of Population, taking a more optimistic tone, although there is some scholarly debate on the extent of his revisions.[1] According to Dr. Dan Ritschel of the Center for History Education at the University of Maryland,

The great Malthusian dread was that "indiscriminate charity" would lead to exponential growth in the population in poverty, increased charges to the public purse to support this growing army of the dependent, and, eventually, the catastrophe of national bankruptcy. Though Malthusianism has since come to be identified with the issue of general over-population, the original Malthusian concern was more specifically with the fear of over-population by the dependent poor!


One of the 19th century critics of Malthusian theory was Karl Marx who referred (in Capital, see Marx's footnote on Malthus from Capital - a reference below) to it as "nothing more than a schoolboyish, superficial plagiary of De Foe, Sir James Steuart, Townsend, Franklin, Wallace". Marx and Engels described Malthus as a "lackey of the bourgeoisie." [18] Socialists and communists believed that Malthusian theories "blamed the poor" for their own exploitation by the capitalist classes, and could be used to suppress the proletariat to an even greater degree, whether through attempts to reduce fertility or by justifying the generally poor conditions of labour in the 19th century.

One proponent of Malthusianism was the novelist Harriet Martineau whose circle of acquaintances included Charles Darwin, and the ideas of Malthus were a significant influence on the inception of Darwin's theory of evolution.[21] Darwin was impressed by the idea that population growth would eventually lead to the birth of more organisms than could possibly survive in any given environment, leading him to theorize that organisms with a relative advantage in the struggle for survival and reproduction would be able to pass their characteristics on to further generations. Proponents of Malthusianism were in turn influenced by Darwin's ideas, both schools coming to heavily influence the field of eugenics. Henry Fairfield Osborn, for example advocated "humane birth selection through humane birth control" in order to avoid a Malthusian catastrophe by eliminating the "unfit."[1]

Malthus wrote during the time of the Manchester School of thought.

Malthusianism generally became a less common intellectual tradition as the 19th century advanced, certainly in the Atlantic world mostly as a result of technological increases, the opening of new territory to agriculture, and increasing international trade.[1] In 1888, political economist William Petty wrote that larger populations should be a benefit to society, claiming “[I]t is more likely that one ingenious curious man may rather be found out amongst 4,000,000 than 400 persons.” [22] Although a "conservationist" movement in the United States concerned itself with resource depletion and natural protection in the first half of the twentieth century, Desrochers and Hoffbauer write, "It is probably fair to say, however, that it was not until the publication of Osborn’s and Vogt’s books [1948] that a Malthusian revival took hold of a significant segment of the American population."[1]

Modern Malthusianism

Malthusian theory is a recurrent theme in many social science venues. For example, John Maynard Keynes, in Economic Consequences of the Peace, opens his polemic with a Malthusian portrayal of the political economy of Europe as unstable due to Malthusian population pressure on food supplies. Many models of resource depletion and resource scarcity are Malthusian in character: the rate of energy consumption will outstrip the ability to find and produce new energy sources, and so lead to a crisis.

In French, terms such as "politique Malthusienne" can refer to population control strategies linked to the nineteenth century theorist. However, the notion of "restriction of population" associated with Malthus morphed, in later political economic theory, into the notion of "restriction of production." In the French sense, a "Malthusian economy" is one in which protectionism and the formation of cartels is not only tolerated but encouraged. Distinguishing which meaning is understood in French usage is entirely dependent on context.

One critic of Neo-Malthusian theory (by which he meant birth control and abortion), was Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Party and main architect of the Soviet Union[23] India was the first country to start a population control policy (1952). It is believed that this is mainly because the elites of the ruling party were of neo-Malthusian opinion. This was a very coercive policy and faced many strong critics internationally.

Neo-Malthusianism was originally used to mean population limitation by birth control and/or abortion.[citation needed] Currently it may be used as a label for those who are concerned that overpopulation may increase resource depletion or environmental degradation to a degree that is not sustainable with the potential of ecological collapse or other hazards.

The rapid increase in the global population of the past century (and its continued increase) complement Malthus' predicted population patterns; it also appears to describe socio-demographic dynamics of complex pre-industrial societies. These findings are the basis for neo-malthusian modern mathematical models of long-term historical dynamics.[24]

There was a general "neo-Malthusian" revival in the 1950s, 60s and 70s after the publication of two influential books in 1948 (Fairfield Osborn's Our Plundered Planet and William Vogt's Road to Survival). During that time the population of the world rose dramatically. Many in environmental movements began to sound the alarm regarding the potential dangers of population growth.[1] The Club of Rome published a famous book entitled The Limits to Growth in 1972. The report and the organisation soon became central to the neo-Malthusian revival.[25] Paul R. Ehrlich has been one of the most prominent neo-Malthusians since the publication of The Population Bomb in 1968. Other prominent Malthusians include the Paddock brothers, authors of Famine 1975! America's Decision: Who Will Survive?.

Many journalists, academics and other commentators have criticized the neo-malthusian revival on various grounds. In light of the green revolution, which has seen substantial increases in food production, sufficient to keep up with the rapid population growth of the latter 20th century, some of the more dramatic malthusian warnings now appear to many to be overstated.,[6][26] Julian Simon, a noted cornucopian has written that contrary to neo-malthusian theory, the earth's carrying capacity is essentially limitless.[1] However, prominent neo-malthusians such as Paul Ehrlich maintain that ultimately population growth on Earth is still too high, and will eventually lead to a serious crisis.[9][27] The increase in food prices from 2007 to present has inspired further Malthusian style arguments regarding the prospects for the global food supply. [28]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Pierre Desrochers; Christine Hoffbauer (2009). "The Post War Intellectual Roots of the Population Bomb". The Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development 1(3). Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  2. ^ a b Meredith Marsh, Peter S. Alagona, ed (2008). Barrons AP Human Geography 2008 Edition. Barron's Educational Series. ISBN 9780764138171. 
  3. ^ a b Dolan, Brian (2000). Malthus, medicine & morality: Malthusianism after 1798. Rodopi. ISBN 9789042008519. 
  4. ^ Hall, Lesley (2000). Dolan, Brian. ed. Malthusian Mutations: The Changing politics and moral meanings of birth control in Britain. Malthus, medicine & morality: Malthusianism after 1798: Rodopi. ISBN 9789042008519. 
  5. ^ Veer, Udai (2005). Modern Teaching of Population Education. Anmol Publications PVT. LTD. ISBN 9788126118786. 
  6. ^ a b Bjørn Lomborg (2002). The skeptical environmentalist: measuring the real state of the world. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521010689. 
  7. ^ Colin Fraser (February 3, 2008). "". The Age. 
  8. ^ Cristina Luiggi (2010). "Still Ticking". The Scientist 24 (12): 26. 
  9. ^ a b Kunstler, James Howard (2005). The Long Emergency. Grove Press. p. 6. ISBN 9780802142498. 
  10. ^ Serge Luryi (May 2006). "Physics, Philosophy, and ... Ecology". Physics Today. 
  11. ^ Frank W. Elwell (2001). "Reclaiming Malthus, Keynote address to the Annual Meeting of the Anthropologists and Sociologist of Kentucky". Retrieved 2011-04-19. 
  12. ^ See for example: Ronald L. Meek, ed (1973). Marx and Engels on the Population Bomb. The Ramparts Press. 
  13. ^ Barry Commoner (May 1972). "A Bulletin Dialogue: on "The Closing Circle" — Response". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: 17–56. 
  14. ^ Simon, JL (June 27, 1980). "Resources, Population, Environment: An Oversupply of False Bad News". Science 208 (4451): 1431–1437. doi:10.1126/science.7384784. JSTOR 1684670. PMID 7384784. 
  15. ^ Bailey, Ronald (2010-12-30) Cracked Crystal Ball: Environmental Catastrophe Edition, Reason
  16. ^ Johnson, Ben (February 27, 2009). "Obama's Biggest Radical". FrontPage Magazine. Retrieved 2011-04-27. 
  17. ^ Knudsen, Lara "Reproductive Rights in a Global Context:South Africa, Uganda, Peru, Denmark, United States, Vietnam, Jordan", Vanderbilt University Press, 2006, pages 2-4 ISBN 0826515282, ISBN 9780826515285
  18. ^ a b Neurath, Paul (1994). From Malthus to the Club of Rome and Back. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 5. ISBN 1563244071, 9781563244070. 
  19. ^ Adrian J. Desmond, [1] (1989): 126.
  20. ^
  21. ^ Charles Darwin: gentleman naturalist A biographical sketch by John van Wyhe, 2006
  22. ^ Petty, William (1888). Essays on Mankind and Political Arithmetic.. London: Cassell & Company, Ltd.. 
  23. ^ "The Working Class and Neo-Malthusianism", 1913.
  24. ^ see, e.g., Peter Turchin 2003; Turchin and Korotayev 2006; Peter Turchin et al. 2007; Korotayev et al. 2006
  25. ^ Wouter van Dieren, ed (1995). Taking nature into account: a report to the Club of Rome : toward a sustainable national income. Springer Books. ISBN 9780387945330. 
  26. ^ Dan Gardner (2010). Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail – and Why We Believe Them Anyway. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. 
  27. ^ Paul R. Ehrlich; Anne H. Ehrlich (2009). "The Population Bomb Revisited". Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development 1(3): 63–71. Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  28. ^ Brown, Lester (May/June 2011). "The New Geopolitics of Food". Foreign Policy.,0&sms_ss=twitter&at_xt=4dd4e5e0cd2157fa,0. Retrieved 7 June 2011. 

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См. также в других словарях:

  • malthusianism — MALTHUSIANÍSM s.n. Teorie potrivit căreia populaţia globului ar creşte în progresie geometrică, în timp ce mijloacele de existenţă cresc în progresie aritmetică. [pr.: tu si a ] – Din fr. malthusianisme. Trimis de claudia, 13.09.2007. Sursa: DEX… …   Dicționar Român

  • Malthusianism — Mal*thu sian*ism, n. The system of Malthusian doctrines relating to population. See {Malthusian}. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Malthusianism — noun see Malthusian …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Malthusianism — See Malthusian. * * * …   Universalium

  • Malthusianism — noun The viewpoint that population will always grow faster than the food supply that it needs to survive and prosper …   Wiktionary

  • Malthusianism — Mal·thu·sian·ism .iz əm n the doctrines of Malthus esp. with respect to the difference between the rates of increase of a population and its food supply and to the long term effects of this difference on the population …   Medical dictionary

  • malthusianísm — s. n. (sil. si a ) [ thu pron. tu ] …   Romanian orthography

  • malthusianism — n. theories and teachings of Thomas Malthus (English priest and economist that supported population control)mæl θuːʒənɪzm / θjuːzɪən …   English contemporary dictionary

  • malthusianism — mal·thu·sian·ism …   English syllables

  • Malthusianism — noun Malthus theory that population increase would outpace increases in the means of subsistence • Syn: ↑Malthusian theory • Hypernyms: ↑economic theory …   Useful english dictionary

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