Слике страница
[ocr errors]

fact which comes out when the German figures are more carefully examined is that urbanisation in Germany has a sterilising effect which is not operative in England. Prinzing gives the comparative figures of legitimate fertility for Prussia as follows :

1879-1882 1894–1897 Berlin


16.9* Other great towns


23:5 Towns of 20,000 to 100,000


25.7 Small towns


25.9 Country districts


29.0 Now urbanisation is going on even more rapidly in Germany than in England. The death-rate in England and Wales rose from 21 in 1850 to 23:5 in 1854"; after sharp fluctuations it reached 23*7 in 1864; since then it has declined to its present figure in normal times) of 14. In Prussia, after the war of 1870 and the small-pox epidemic of 1871, there has been a steady fall from 26 to 17'3 (German Empire in 1911). The net increase is only slightly larger (in proportion to the population) in Germany than in England; and the increase in our great colonies, especially in Australasia, is much higher than in Germany. There is therefore no reason to suppose that a rapid alteration is going on to our disadvantage.

It is widely believed that the Roman Catholic Church, by sternly forbidding the artificial limitation of families, is increasing its numbers at the expense of the non-Catholic populations. To some extent this is true. The Prussian figures for 1895-1900 give the number of children per marriage as : Both parents Catholic

5 Both parents Protestant

4 Both parents Jews

3:7 An examination of the entries in Who's Who’gives about the same proportion for well-to-do families in England. The Catholic birth-rate of the Irish is nearly 40.† The FrenchCanadians are among the most prolific races in the world. On the other hand, their infant mortality is very high,


* It must be remembered that the illegitimate birth-rate in Berlin is scandalously high.

† The crude birth-rate of Ireland is wholly misleading, because so many young couples emigrate before the birth of their first child.

and it is said that French-Canadian parents take these losses philosophically. It is quite a different question whether it is ultimately to the advantage of a nation which desires to increase its numbers to profess the Roman Catholic religion. The high birth-rates are all in unprogressive Catholic populations. When a Catholic people begins to be educated, the priests apparently lose their influence upon the habits of the laity, and a rapid decline in the births at once sets in. The most advanced countries which did not accept the Reformation, France and Belgium, are precisely those in which parental prudence has been carried almost to excess. We must also remember that the Dutch Boers, who are Protestants, but who live under simple conditions not unlike those of the FrenchCanadians, are equally prolific, as were our own colonists in the United States before that country was industrialised. The advantages in numbers gained by Roman Catholicism are likely to be confined to half-empty countries, where there is really room for more citizens, and where social ambition and the love of comfort are the chief motives for restricting the family.

The population of a settled country cannot be increased at will; it depends on the supply of food. The choice is between a high birth-rate combined with a high death-rate, and a low birth-rate with a low death-rate. The great saving of life which has been effected during the last fifty years carries with it the necessity of restricting the births. The next question to be considered is how this restriction is to be brought about. The oldest methods are deliberate neglect and infanticide. In China, where authorities differ as to the extent to which female infants are exposed, the practice certainly prevails of feeding infants whom their mothers are unable to suckle on rice and water, which soon terminates their existence. Such methods would happily find no advocates in Europe. The very ancient art of procuring miscarriage is a criminal act in most civilised countries, but it is practised to an appalling extent. Hirsch, who quotes his authorities, estimates that 2,000,000 births are so prevented annually in the United States, 400,000 in Germany, 50,000 in Paris, and 19,000 in Lyons. In our own country it is exceedingly common in the northern towns, and attempts are now being made to prohibit the sale of certain preparations of lead which are used for this purpose. Alike on grounds of public health and of morality, it is most desirable that this mischievous practice should be checked. Its great prevalence in the United States is to be attributed mainly to the drastic legislation in that country against the sale and use of preventives, to which many persons take objection on moral or æsthetic grounds, but which is surely on an entirely different level from the destruction of life that has already begun. The Comstock' legislation in America has done unmixed harm. It is worse than useless to try to put down by law a practice which a very large number of people believe to be innocent, and which must be left to the taste and conscience of the individual. To the present writer it seems a pis aller which high-minded married persons should avoid if they can practise self-restraint. Whatever injures the feeling of

sanctification and honour' with which St. Paul bids us to regard these intimacies of life, whatever tends to profane or degrade the sacraments of wedded love, is so far an evil. But this is emphatically a matter in which every man and woman must judge for themselves, and must refrain from judging others. There is a considerable weight of moral authority against these practices, and to disregard authority in the sphere of morals is always dangerous. Those who justify them do so on utilitarian grounds, and can make out a very strong case. But might not the same arguments be used to cover other expedients, which do not commend themselves to any decent-minded persons ? And may not even those who do not believe in divine promptings and inhibitions attach some value to the deep-seated racial instinct which shrouds these functions in awe and mystery ? These are questions which must be considered before a decision is taken on a very complex and difficult problem of conduct.

In every modern civilised country population is restricted partly by the deliberate postponement of marriage. In many cases this does no harm whatever ; but in many others it gravely diminishes the happiness of young people, and may even cause minor disturbances of health. Moreover, it would not be so widely adopted but for the tolerance, on the part of society, of the 'great social evil,' the opprobrium of our civilisation. In spite of the failure hitherto of priests, moralists, and legislators to root it out, and in spite of the acceptance of it as inevitable by the majority of Continental opinion, I believe that this abomination will not long be tolerated by the conscience of the free and progressive nations. It is notorious that the whole body of women deeply resents the wrong and contumely done by it to their sex, and that, if democracy is to be a reality, the immolation of a considerable section of women drawn from the poorer classes cannot be suffered to continue. It is also plain to all who have examined the subject that the campaign against certain diseases, the malignity and wide diffusion of which are being more fully realised every year, cannot be successful through medical methods alone. If the institution in question were abolished, medical science would soon reduce these scourges to manageable limits, and might at last exterminate them altogether; but while it continues there is no hope of doing this. I believe then that the time will come when the trade in vice will cease ; and if I am right, early marriages will become the rule in all classes. This will render the population question more acute, especially as the diseases which we hope to extirpate are the commonest cause both of sterility and of infant mortality. Under this pressure, we must expect to see preventive methods widely accepted as the least of unavoidable evils.

When we reflect on the whole problem in its widest aspects, we see that civilised humanity is confronted by a Choice of Hercules. On the one side, biological law seems to urge us forward to the struggle for existence and expansion. The nation in that case will have to be organised on the lines of greatest efficiency. A strong centralised government will occupy itself largely in preventing waste. All the resources of the nation must be used to the uttermost. Parks must be cut up into allotments; the un productive labours of the scholar and thinker must be jealously controlled and limited. Inefficient citizens must be weeded out ; wages must be low and hours of work long. Moreover, the State must be organised for war; for its neighbours, we must suppose, are following the same policy. Then the fierce extra-group competition must come to its logical arbitrament in a life and death struggle. And war between two over-peopled countries, for both of which more elbow-room is a vital necessity, must be a war of complete expropriation or extermination. It must be so, for no other kind of war can achieve its object. The horrors of the present conflict will be as nothing compared with a struggle between two highly-organised State socialisms, each of which knows that it must either colonise the territory of the other or starve. It is idle to pretend that such a necessity will never arise. Another century of increase in Europe like that of the nineteenth century would bring it very near. If this policy is adopted, we shall see all the principal States organising themselves with a perfection far greater than that of Germany to-day, but taking German methods as their model; and the end will be the extermination of the looser organisations. Such a prospect may well fill us with horror; and it is terrible to find some of the ablest thinkers of Germany, such as Ernst Troeltsch, writing calm elegies over 'the death of Liberalism' and predicting the advent of an era of cut-throat international competition. Juvenal speaks of the folly of propter vitam vivendi perdere causus; and who would care to live in such a world ? But does Nature care whether we enjoy our lives or not?

The other choice is that which France has made for herself ; it is on the lines of Plato's ideal State. Each country is to be, as far as possible, self-sufficing. If it cannot grow sufficient food for itself, it must of course export its coal or its gold, or the products of its industry and ingenuity. But it must know approximately what 'the number of the State ' (as Plato said) should be. It must limit its population to that number, and the limit will be fixed, not at the maximum number who can live there anyhow, but at the maximum number who can ' live well. The object aimed at will not be constant expansion, but well-being. The energies liberated from the pitiless struggle for existence will be devoted to making social life wiser, happier, more harmonious and more beautiful. Have we any reason to hope that this policy is not contrary to the hard laws which Nature imposes on every species in the world?

In the first place, would such a State escape being devoured by some brutal ' expanding' neighbour ? What would have happened to France if she had stood alone in this war ? The danger is real; but we may answer that France, as a matter of fact, did not stand alone, because other nations thought her too precious to be sacrificed. And the completely organised

« ПретходнаНастави »