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Malthusianism

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 23 June 2011

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Malthusianism.

In the eighteenth century, as expanding agriculture and industry resulted in a rapid increase in the European population, a number of writers began to consider the implications of this rise in numbers. Some argued it was a positive development, since a larger population meant more workers and thus more wealth. Others maintained that it placed an intolerable strain on natural resources.

In 1798 a young Anglican priest, the Reverend Thomas Malthus, published An Essay on the Principle of Population. Malthus argued that the population was increasing exponentially, and that food production could not keep pace; eventually a crisis would ensue. He suggested that famine, disease and wars acted as a natural corrective to overpopulation, and also suggested a number of ways in which humans could regulate their own numbers. The work caused a furore and fuelled a public debate about the size and sustainability of the British population which raged for generations. It was a profoundly influential work: Charles Darwin credited Malthus with having inspired his Theory of Natural Selection.

With:

Karen O'Brien
Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education at the University of Birmingham

Mark Philp
Lecturer in Politics at the University of Oxford

Emma Griffin
Senior Lecturer in History at the University of East Anglia

Producer: Thomas Morris.

  • FURTHER READING

    James P. Huzel, ‘The Popularization of Malthus in Early Nineteenth-Century England’ (Ashgate, 2006)

    Donald Winch, ‘Riches and Poverty: An Intellectual History of Political Economy in Britain, 1750-1834’ (Cambridge University Press, 1996)

    Donald Winch, ‘Malthus’ (Oxford Past Master, 1987)

    Patricia James, ‘Population Malthus: His Life and Times’ (Routledge & Kegan Paul PLC, 1979)

    Gertrude Himmelfarb, ‘The Idea of Poverty’ (Knopf, 1984)

    Joanna Innes, ‘Social Problems and Social Policies in Eighteenth-Century Britain’ (Oxford, 2009)

    William Godwin, ‘Enquiry Concerning Political Justice’ (London, 1793, in Vol 3 ‘Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin’, ed. Mark Philp, William Pickering, London, 1993)

    Mark Philp, ‘Godwin’s Political Justice’ (London, Duckworth, 1986)

    Gail Bederman, ‘Sex, Scandal, Satire, and Population in 1798: Revisiting Malthus’s First Essay’, Journal of British Studies, 47 (October 2008) pp, 768-95

    William St Clair, ‘The Godwins and the Shelleys’ (London, Faber and Faber, 1989)

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