Godwin’s Reply to Malthus
GODWIN, WILLIAM. Of Population. An Enquiry Concerning the Power of Increase in the Numbers of Mankind. Being an Answer to Mr. Malthus’s Essay on that Subject
London: Longman, 1820
Original boards, paper spine label. Spine repaired. Some foxing. A fine copy.
FIRST EDITION. In 1798 Thomas Robert Malthus published his Essay on the Principle of Population in response to William Godwin’s ideas about the “perfectibility of society” advanced in Political Justice (1793).
“Godwin’s beautiful system of perfect equality,” Malthus wrote, would in theory end poverty, disease, and war, producing “extraordinary encouragements to population.” Because food production cannot keep up with population, poverty and misery would inevitably result. Godwin had acknowledged the population problem in 1793 but suggested that “eclipsing the desire for sex by the development of intellectual pleasures” could ease population growth. Malthus rejected Godwin’s utopian vision.
In 1820 Godwin rebutted Malthus’s argument in the present book, Of Population. Godwin argued that reordering society would prevent the poverty cycle that Malthus posited. Accumulation of property in the hands of the few restricts the food supply. Changing this state of affairs would go far in feeding the poor. Moreover, by redistributing property for the benefit of the poor, they would acquire the habits of the middle classes, procreating less and thereby solving the Malthusian problem.
Provenance: H. Bradley Martin, with bookplate.