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and goodness of Providence, than with any view of practical policy, yet it seemed upon the whole necessary, in order to complete the circle of proof, that throughout the whole progress of society, from the lowest stage of savage life to a higher degree of civilization and culture than any people have ever reached, the first and principal proposition of this treatise, “that population has a natural tendency to keep within the powers of the soil to afford it subsistence in every gradation through which society passes,” is strictly within the limits of truth. Such appears to be the natural progress of society, when not materially diverted from its regular course; but let it be carefully observed that, in each of the stages, it is a fundamental principle of my treatise, to submit the truth of the propositions, the freedom of of society from the vices and evils of a redundant population, and the consequent progress of mankind in political improvement, to some degree of dependence upon moral amelioration. It will be observed that I have not merely had in view Mr. Malthus's principle of moral restraint, which includes only abstinence from early marriages, and from irregular sexual intercourse, but that general prevalence of moral principle, in whatever degree, which pervades the whole of the political body; which, more or less, induces public men to act with public spirit and an honest regard to the real welfare of the people, and private men to seek their own advantage with an enHghtened regard to the interest of others; and which, above all, produces a system of government and legislation, leaving men free to act in this praise-worthy manner, but repressing with more or less severity all accessible actions of a contrary nature.
* Now I should be very sorry justly to incur the imputation of having made a parade of introducing moral arguments where moral sanctions are misplaced, and where the question ought to be determined purely upon political grounds. Such a mistake always indicates bad taste, and nine times out of ten bad principle also ; for it savours of hypocrisy, and, like every other exaggeration, weakens the argument it is produced to fortify. But I sincerely trust that every candid reader will admit that the case I have been arguing does really involve moral considerations of the highest nature; that it is conversant with the spontaneous actions of men towards each other, and with the influence of laws and government upon those actions; with the regulation, in short, of the human will, disposition, and affections, as they operate upon the progress of society, which is strictly within the department, at least, of political morality. And if this be so, I should be still more sorry justly to incur the imputation of having made a parade of omitting moral reasoning, where moral sanctions lie at the bottom of the argument. For whether this be bad taste or no, it is certainly the worst species of hypocrisy, being nothing less than the triumph of a cowardly fear of the worldly-minded over a manly regard to reason and justice: it is in fact submitting to the loss of more than half the argument, in the vain hope of gaining proselytes incapable of half their duty, because deprived of half their means of knowledge, and of more than half of their motives of action; which is something like recruiting a regiment with men deficient of an arm and a leg: such soldiers and such proselytes are little worth the cost of procuring. Nay, it is worse than all this—it is depriving the M
politician of his surest ground of action, of his only certain guide through the intricacies of his path. For let us look to history, and tax our own experience; let us recollect the political axioms which have been held to be oracles in one age, and branded in the next as very mischievous things; and we must admit that politics involve always a choice of difficulties, frequently a choice of evils, and are never reducible to determinate principles, unless when they can be traced up to a moral cause. But when this can be clearly done, let us again look to history, and tax our own experience, and declare whether any political action, or anyimprovement undertaken on moral grounds, was ever the subject of repentance or regret to the society which adopted it? Here then is the touchstone by which every political speculation, that can be brought to it, may be examined and concluded on. When the symptoms of the pure ore are manifest, the politician may, may must, if he is honest, declare the argument current: and we may conclude that the legislator is never certainly safe except when he proceeds on moral grounds. To sum up the whole in a few words—where a moderately good government in its enlarged sense is found to prevail, there population will spontaneously restrain itself, while the production of food will be extended, and the community will make a healthy progress; but where the vices of a bad government, and individual immorality and selfishness, arefound to be predominant, there the production of food will be restrained, while population will make efforts to extend itself, which will be checked by misery and famine till a better system be adopted. I do not mean by this conclusion to lay every particular instance of private vice and public evil directly to the charge of the governments under which they may be found, any more than to fall into the opposite error of ascribing to the spirit of the government all private virtue and public prosperity : the utmost power of goverments can only lay the foundations of each, and lend a hand in rearing the superstructure; the spontaneous operations of the people will do the rest. But my conclusion evidently does extend to this, that the general nature of those operations will depend upon the sort of foundation laid by the government, whether in just and moral, or in unjust and immoral laws; and it is certainly thus far responsible to God and to the country. If public happiness and prosperity can rest upon political profligacy, the unprincipled use of power, the selfish traffic of individual interests, and the effeminate disregard of stern morals in affairs of state, then have the governments of past times clear consciences, and history much belies the general condition of the people who lived under them : but if, as I hope for some future opportunity of proving in a separate treatise, and as I think the brightening prospects of the world may lead a sanguine mind to anticipate, the converse of these propositions may be admitted as political axioms; if moral principle, and pure philanthropy may at length be considered as proper ingredients in the composition of a statesman, and legitimate influences in affairs of policy; then may the people look forward to better days, in the removal of the impediments which have hitherto checked the designs of Providence in their favour. For individual profligacy and selfishness, though shining with talent, will be discountenanced as useless: but individual morality, dilating itself as it always does into general philanthropy, and animated by zeal for the improvement of society, will be associated with the power of the state: their united force will be more than sufficient to fulfil the conditions under which (according to the principles of this treatise) mankind will spontaneously advance in the career of civilization