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Defending life
from conception to natural death



Thomas Robert Malthus and the Myth of Overpopulation

Posted by Matthew McCusker on 19 March 2012

It is very common to hear abortion justified on the grounds that we are suffering from overpopulation.

It is argued that there are too many people living on the planet in relation to the resources available to support them. We are told that abortion and artificial birth control are therefore necessary if the population is to be kept within sustainable limits.

Unfortunately only one part of this argument is correct, namely that we are suffering from a population crisis. The birth rate is in fact far below replacement level in many western nations, and countries such as China and India, which have imposed upon their people brutal 'population control' policies (including forced abortion and sterilisation) are suffering from a serious population imbalance due to the killing of infant girls either before or after birth. The world is threatened by a crisis of under population and not by overpopulation.

This blog intends to look at these issues in more depth over the coming months. We will begin by looking at the origins of the overpopulation myth in the writings of an Anglican clergyman named Thomas Robert Malthus.

In 1798 he published his anonymous work the Essay on the Principle of Population. This argued that population always increases at a faster rate than food production and that famine and civil unrest are therefore the inevitable result of population growth. The birth of too many children is thus seen as a threat to the prosperity of any given nation. This was a reversal of the traditional view that population growth indicated a healthy and thriving society.

Malthus thought that the system of Poor Law, which provided limited amounts of charity to the poorest in society, was dangerous because it enabled the poor to have children that they could not support. He predicted that as population increased the quality of living for the majority must necessarily decrease. We must therefore learn the lesson taught by nature, "the great mistress of the feast", who "wishing that all guests should have plenty, and knowing she could not provide for unlimited numbers, humanely refused to admit fresh comers when her table was already full."

Malthus regarded contraception and abortion as serious sins and proposed sexual abstinence as the best way of ensuring that the numbers of the poor did not increase beyond society’s capacity to provide for them. Nonetheless it was Malthus's theories that gave many early advocates of abortion and birth control the assurance that the world faced a crisis of overpopulation. Increasing numbers of people would come to feel that a new child was not always a blessing to be welcomed but rather a problem to be solved.

It is these successors of Malthus then that we must study next if we are to understand the further development of this ideology, which has done so much to legitimise the killing of unborn children.

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