Over-Population and Degeneracy
Before discussing the three questions with which the last chapter ended, it will be necessary to make a few remarks upon the general problem of over-population as presented by the birth-controllers remarks which are additional to those already interpolated above.
In the first place, let it be pointed out that it no longer seems legitimate to reckon the body of unemployed, or at least a large proportion of them, as evidence of over-population. We know too much to suppose that there is necessarily any connection between the two. The very system upon which our industrial life is based makes unemployment inevitable. The industrial life of the country could not be carried on if there were not a large reservoir of "hands" always ready to be tapped at a moment's notice. In fact, tenders for large contracts could not safely be forwarded to their destination if the contractor were not confident that, at a given moment, he could swell his working staff by hundreds or thousands.
But if there were no unemployed, whence could he draw the men for his suddenly increased working staff? From other industries? That would not work, for he could only do so (a) by paralysing those other industries,
Let me give but one example, taken at random from a recent issue of a London journal. On September l7th, 1927, the Daily Mail reported that Messrs. Cammell, Laird & Co., of Birkenhead, had just received from the Canadian Government an order for three steamships for the passenger mail and freight Service between Canada and the West Indies, and the Daily Mail added: "Messrs. Cammell, Laird & Co. state that the order will probably mean an increase of their staff of from 5,000 to 6,000 men."
And this argumentation is borne out by the figures given in the People's Year Book for 1918 (p. 158) of unemployed for all unions in various years:
Now such fluctuations reveal that our system demands a certain large reserve of labour, which can be drawn upon in emergencies that, in fact, a reserve of this kind is a necessity. And although a large excess over and above a safe minimum might indicate a state of over-population, it is impossible to argue a state of over-population from unemployment figures alone, until such a safe minimum has been officially established and recognised, and those who constitute it are raised to the rank of a reserve fulfilling a normal and useful function. 2
1 If I am credibly informed, the London General Omnibus Company, having recognised that a reserve of unemployed hands is an essential feature even of an organisation capable of such careful regulation as their service of omnibuses, keep and pay a certain number of conductors and drivers, whose duty it is to make an appearance at the various garages of the Company every day, in case unexpected emergencies have to be met or casualties replaced. And these men receive pay whether they are called upon to work or not
2 Although there is nothing new to economists in this argument, it seemed necessary to give it in full in a book destined for the ordinary reader, seeing that in the popular books advocating Birth Control, unemployment figures so frequently appear as one of the grounds upon which the need of birth
Furthermore, it may be questioned whether we are entitled to speak of over-population per se as the cause of any of the evils which are alleged to result from the pressure of numbers alone such evils as poverty, high taxation, overcrowding, and a low standard of living when, all the while, an appreciable proportion of these evils may be, and probably is, due not so much to an excess, as to the heavy burden of incapables which we carry along with us from year to year.
restriction is based. An exception to this rule is Dr. Blacker's book (op. cit., p. 60), in which we find in regard to the question of the optimum population, the following remark: "There is reason to suppose that unemployment returns are not necessarily a trustworthy guide to the figure." But the author rather mars the effect of this wise remark by stating later on (pp. 867), without any reference to the social system that demands unemployment as a permanent element in the community: "The population of each country should be proportionate to its resources. The numerical adjustment should be such that there be no unemployment and that industrial productivity be highest without idlers at either end of the social scale." Dr. C. V. Drysdale is more blunt. He says: "I think what unemployment there is must be ascribed to over-population, but I do not dogmatise on that point." (See his evidence before the Birth Rate Commission (Report, p. 121.)
1 See Report of Fifth Birth Control Conference, pp. 1358.
Nobody can say, for no modern person can imagine such a state of affairs. Such a condition is as unknown to us now as our present post-war Europe was unknown to Dr. George Drysdale in 1854. All our talk of over-population is based upon the assumption that the present crushing burdens imposed upon us by our defectives, our cripples, our incurables, our lunatics and our degenerates in all classes, are an ineluctable charge upon our resources.
There is no reason to suppose that an excess in numbers, alone, should not become oppressive among a healthy, vigorous people, or that such a people. should not be compelled at some time to limit its numbers. The ancient Greeks, whom we have every reason to regard as a healthy and vigorous people, adopted conquest, the exposure of infants and colonisation, and in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. even countenanced and encouraged pederasty with the object of reducing their numbers.
We cannot, however, claim that we are in the same position as the Greeks. On the score of health and vigour alone, we probably diverge from them very
The reasons why we cannot arrive at such a clear-cut and simple remedy are:
(1) It is almost impossible, as things are at present, to distinguish between the evils which are the direct result of over-population, and those which are the direct result of the crushing burdens imposed by our incapables of all kinds.
(2) It is impossible to estimate what residue of
1 We hear of the Asclepeia, a kind of health resorts, where the sick congregated; but they were not asylums or hospitals in our sense. They were medical temples, situated in places of fine air, pure water, and exhilarating scenery, where the life led by the invalid appears to have resembled that led by the convalescent at Homburg or Aix-les-Bains.
(3) To proceed to a deliberate and indiscriminate limitation of our population by an all-round reduction of families would, therefore, be a dangerous expedient, because we cannot afford to reduce by one iota, even by one child, the numbers of our rapidly diminishing sound stocks, both in the working and so-called professional classes. 1
Our position is, therefore, much more complicated than that of the ancient Greeks. And this remains true even if we were wrong in assuming that the ancient Greeks were less degenerate than we are. Because, whereas we know that our sound stocks in all classes cannot now be reduced with safety, we have no reason to suppose that the Greeks were as much alive as we now are to the extreme danger of an indiscriminate reduction of numbers in a population consisting largely of degenerate elements.
The fact is, the residue of wholly sound people amongst us is so small in comparison with the hordes of the tainted, the degenerate and the partially or wholly botched, that this is probably the most unfavourable moment in the whole of the world's history for starting a popular dissemination of contraceptive knowledge and methods. And in estimating, or attempting to estimate, the weight of the burden imposed upon the sound or partially sound, by the mass of
1 For a review of the widespread unsoundness in all classes at the present day, see my Man: An Indictment, Chapters V VI, VII, VIII and IX.
No matter to what extent we may acknowledge the cogency of the birth-controllers' arguments, therefore, when they show us that our present resources, and, as far as they can judge, our future resources, can hardly justify us in tolerating another further large increase in our population, we cannot accept their conclusion, which is that our population should now be limited or reduced; because we deny that we are confronted with a simple problem of over-population alone. And, this being so, we cannot accept their remedy, which, in practice, amounts to a uniform reduction in the size of families all through the nation.
What do the birth-controllers say in reply to this objection?
They readily admit that the problem is not purely one of over-population, and they claim that the "Neo-Malthusian, or Birth Control, movement is as greatly concerned with the quality of our race as with its quantity." 2 They go further and say "indeed the
1 The Church and Eugenics, p. 31.
2 Report of Fifth Birth Control Conference, Dr. C. V. Drysdale's presidential address, p. 3.
They go further, and insist that the Birth Control movement aims at improving the race, and offers the means of doing so, because the methods which it recommends for limiting families to one, two or three children, or none, may, and ought to be used selectively. They even add that "aggressive measures will be necessary to accomplish desired results." 3
If however, we examine these claims and pleas, it will be found that they amount to little.
In the first place to begin at the end since aggres-
1 Report of Fifth Birth Control Conference, p. 3. See also Dr. C. V. Drysdale's The Neo-Malthusian Ideal and How it can be Realised, p. 9, where he says: "Although it seems desirable that it [the birth rate] should be lowered by a few points . . . the question of population is beginning to change from almost purely one of quantity to one of quality."
2 This statement, differently worded, appears in all their literature, and is the keynote of the eugenic aspect of their propaganda. See also Professor E. W. MacBride's presidential address to the Fifth Birth Control Conference.
3 Horatio M. Pollock, Ph.D. (Statistician New York State Hospital Commission). See Report of the Fifth Birth Control Conference, p. 138.
What proof have we that Birth Control propaganda does, in fact, or in practice, lead to an indiscriminate and wholly unselective limitation of families all round?
First, the negative evidence. There is no restric-
Secondly, the birth-controllers themselves are indiscriminate in their appeal. They do not say "you, A, B or C, should have only two or three or four children"; they set up the limited family of two, or three, or four children, as a national ideal. 1
The Neo-Malthusians say three. 2 Dr. C. Killick Millard says: "Personally I regard four children two of either sex, as the ideal family. It is well to
1 There do appear to be some birth-controllers who recommend that desirable parents should have moderately large families (see, for instance. Dr. Haire in Hymen, p. 86); but "to encourage persons who are fit for parenthood" to have "a moderate number of children" (whatever "moderate" may mean) is of little use while an active propaganda is being conducted to spread the knowledge of contraceptive practices indiscriminately and to maintain a supply of contraceptives accessible to all.
2 Or at most four. In his evidence before the Birth Rate Commission, Dr. C. V. Drysdale recommended only three children for people earning less than £3 to £4 a week, and four children for people earning more (pp. 105, 11516 of the Report). Later on in his evidence, he said: "In the present state of this country, I do not personally advocate a family of more than four" (p. 127 of Report). As to whether these views might be taken to be the views of the Malthusian League, Dr. Drysdale said: "I have no mandate particularly from the Malthusian League, but I think you may take it that what I say would be officially confirmed at any time."
Thus it seems to be pretty clear that quite a representative body of birth-controllers are attempting to deal with the present situation, as if the problem to
1 See Report of Fifth Birth Control Conference, p. 219.
2 Ibid., pp. 1834.
3 Family Limitation, p. 13.
4 Formerly the Malthusian League.
5 Op. cit., p. 117.
6 Hymen, p. 78.
Thirdly, we can adduce their own evidence of reduced fertility in England and remind them that, according to their own claims, it is due to their propaganda and the spread of the methods they advocate. 2 In the sense that the Birth Control movement has led and continues to lead to indiscriminate limitation of families, therefore, we may deny its claim to be eugenic; nay, we say that it is actually dysgenic, for, we repeat, it is impossible to deal with present social evils as if they were merely the outcome of over-
1 The manner in which Dean Inge has stated the problem before the Birth Rate Commission reveals how much stress is laid by a prominent birth-controller on the question of over-population alone. He said: "In the Middle Ages . . .the birth rate was about 45, and the death rate about the same. Within the last century the death rate has been reduced from the mediæval level to 14, and if the birth rate were maintained at anything like its natural level, about 40 all over the world, the population of the globe, which now is 1,700,000,000, would in 120 years have reached 27,000,000,000, or about ten times as great a number as the earth could possibly support. That, it seems to me, is the fundamental fact we have to recognise, and one which makes a drastic limitation of the birth rate an absolute necessity" (The Declining Birth Rate, 1916, p. 293).
2 See Dr. C. V. Drysdale's The Small Family System, and presidential address already referred to, p. 49, ante. See also Dr. B. Dunlop's address before the same Conference (Report, p. 113), where the implication is that since 1877 there has been a fall in the birth rate in Europe owing to the spread of contraception. See also Sidney E. Goldstein's address before the same Conference (Report, p. iii), in which it is definitely claimed that the fall in the English birth rate is due to Birth Control.
The realised aims are, as we have seen, the indiscriminate spread of the knowledge and use of contraceptive methods throughout the nation and the world. And, as, we have shown, this must be dysgenic.
The unrealised aims, and those by which it chiefly justifies its propaganda, are the improvement of the race by the pressing of contraceptive practices 1 on particular couples who are considered as undesirable from the breeding standpoint, and the sterilisation of the undesirable.
Now it ought to be quite obvious to the eugenist that their unrealised are very much more laudable than their realised aims. Unfortunately the former are very far from being a practical reality in this country, while the latter are already making their practical effects felt in almost every class.
Perhaps, in order to be quite fair, we ought to add to the list of realised aims the proper spacing of births in Certain cases, because this can actually be achieved by Birth Control methods. And if this spacing of births is important to health, as it seems to be for
1 See Harold Cox, The Control of Parenthood (Putnam, 1920), p. 80. "Birth control is, in fact, essential to human progress, for it is a necessary condition for the improvement of the racial type." See also Blacker, op. cit., p. 91; Prof. E. W. MacBride's presidential address before the Fifth International Birth Control Conference.
With regard to the first part of the birth-controllers' reply to the effect that the Birth Control movement is as greatly concerned with quality as with quantity, it is difficult to see how at present they are justifying this claim, except by pious exhortations. For, although they certainly make a great point of the need of encouraging larger families among the more successful, better-educated and better-adapted members of society, and of discouraging large families among the unsuccessful, uneducated and unadapted members of society, the practical effect of their propaganda has, on their own admission, been that the former class is rapidly losing ground before the latter class. 1
So that even if we agreed with them in believing that this is wholly to be regretted, it is difficult to see how the mere exhortation to increase or to restrict multiplication is going to help, seeing, that with the wide dissemination of the knowledge of Birth Control methods and expedients on the one hand, and the spread of the gospel of comfort and luxury on the
1 Contributary causes are usually alluded to, such as the high taxation of the "better classes," the greater expenses involved in the rearing and education of their children, and the lower fertility of intellectual men and women. But, on the whole, it is generally admitted by birth-controllers that the better-educated classes are more general users of contraceptive expedients than the ignorant classes.
Once more, therefore, it is important to distinguish between the realised and the unrealised aims of the Birth Control movement. And in resisting the spread of Birth Control knowledge and expedients indiscriminately throughout the nation, one is not by any means committed to opposing the propaganda of the Birth Control movement in so far as it is concerned with the laudable, though unrealised aims above described.
Before drawing our conclusions, however, there are still one or two points that require clearing up.
The birth-controllers may and do reply that their propaganda does good in the eugenic sense, not only by bringing home to degenerate parents the moral obligation to prevent offspring, but also by actually teaching them the means whereby they may voluntarily achieve this end.
This would be a sound objection if the world, and the population of England in particular, were generally ruled in their conduct by the highest motives, or even by a sense of duty to the community or to the State. But what we find in practice is that the loftiest motives and theoretical duties to the State weigh very little with individuals. And, when it is a matter of reproduction, the sexual passion on the one hand and the acute sense of inferiority in degenerates on the other, operate in a direction wholly opposed to such ideal modes of conduct. As a rule, the more inferior a man is, and the more conscious he is of his inferiority, the more eager he becomes to fortify his self-esteem by the one
And even if the objection were valid, we might still question whether the good done in this way is more than wiped out by the harm wrought by the birth-controllers' practically realised aims.
To the birth-controllers' plea that Birth Control may be selective and therefore constructive, by "the mere use of contraceptive methods in families, there. are two replies:
(a) Unless the law authorises a specially qualified board to select those couples or individuals who must not be allowed to breed, and to enforce sterility where it is indicated a state of affairs still very remote selection on contraceptive lines will remain an impracticable dream, an unrealised aim.
(b) As for the selection on contraceptive lines operating among people who are allowed to breed this is absurd, Pre-natal selection is an impossibility. 1 Nature's way is and always has been to select post-natally. If natural selection has contributed at all towards the evolution of man, it has done so post-natally, for it is only when an individual is formed that his characteristics and potentialities are determined, and his fate in the life-struggle can be left to depend on them. To select pre-natally is to select in the dark, to suppress
1 The birth-controller may rightly argue that by spacing births judiciously by means of Birth Control a certain degree of selection is achieved. But this selection amounts to no more than providing more favourable circumstances for development in exceptional cases. It should not be understood as selection in the sense of artificial selection as exercised by the animal breeder.
Let it be observed, however, that this in practice is what Birth Control on contraceptive lines amounts to. It is equivalent to hoeing in the dark; for without any knowledge whatsoever of the most favourable association of the stock qualities of each parent, which may result from a particular conception, it arrests the process of life at conception in millions of cases, and assumes, quite unjustifiably, that the two or three children which the temporary withholding of contraceptive practices may allow to come into being in each family may be regarded as satisfactory from the progressive standpoint.
But what eugenics surely demands and expects is that the association of the best stock qualities should be attained in each family. No matter how eminently desirable the association of mediocre stock qualities may prove in highly favourable conditions, the progress of the race depends on individuals who combine the best characteristics of their parental stocks. Heredity, however, is uncertain. Who can say that this highly favourable combination will appear at the first, second, third, fourth, or even fifth birth? Contraception, however, limits the chances heredity has to achieve the desired end; that it does so indis-
1 For an interesting discussion on the impossibility of pre-natal selection, see Felix le Dantec (Lecturer on Biology at the Sorbonne) Les Influences Ancestrales (Paris, 1914). p. 70 et seq., Chapter IV, Impossibilité de prévoir le résultat d'un croisement.
If only one could be sure that heredity's chance of producing the best stock qualities were denied only in families where there is little to be expected! But one cannot. The Birth Control movement spreads the knowledge of the methods and expedients of contraception indiscriminately. And this means that, even among the best, heredity is being thwarted, and the best are not producing their best.
We are now in a position to discuss the questions with which the last chapter came to an end.
(a) We are dissatisfied with the birth-controllers' demand to limit our population to its present numbers because the evils which appear to be due to over-population are by no means wholly traceable to that source. The evils of over-population are complicated by huge burdens imposed by degeneracy and parasitism of all kinds; and to limit population without considering these burdens, or attempting to remove them, is to misunderstand the nature of our present problem, and to run the risk of destroying valuable elements in the community before we are certain that our remedy is the right one. Besides, even if we were satisfied that the problem before us were really one of over-population alone, we should not necessarily adopt Birth Control on contraceptive lines in order to solve it, because expert medical opinion is at present too much divided on the question of the effect which contraception may have on health.
(b) We are still more dissatisfied with the birth-controllers' demand to proceed to a reduction of our present
(c) We are dissatisfied with the means whereby they propose to effect either of the above ends, because we say that contraception indiscriminately taught and applied, is equivalent to night-hoeing. It destroys the good with the bad, the desirable with the undesirable, and even among the desirable often prevents the birth of the best child, by unduly limiting heredity's chances of achieving the happiest combinations of stock qualities in one individual of a family.
With what modifications, then, would the Birth Control movement become acceptable?
It would become acceptable only if:
(l) It abandoned its present tactics of spreading knowledge of Birth Control methods and expedients throughout the nation.
(2) If it agitated for the prohibition of the sale of contraceptive appliances and expedients indiscriminately to all purchasers.
(3) If, at the same time, it concentrated all its efforts on:
(a) Securing legislative powers for segregating, or otherwise forcing infertility on the undesirable, whether they are rich or poor, and solving the problem of over-population on qualitative lines before attempting a quantitative solution.
(c)Discovering and separating the evils of degeneracy from the evils of over-population, so that a clear policy of reform could be inaugurated which would not decimate existing sound stocks.
1. Medical views on the effects of contraception are too conflicting to enable us to frame any safe rule of conduct regarding the use by normal people of contraceptive methods. Caution alone, therefore, compels us to pause until such time as medical experts have pronounced more unanimous and more reliable views upon the consequences of any such habitual interference with natural processes, before we can confidently recommend it as a harmless method of family limitation.
2. The same remarks necessarily apply to the use of any particular contraceptive.
3. There is evidence of much stress and misery in modern England, which may be due to over-population. There is also much evidence pointing to the fact that the resources of the country will hardly be able to bear a proportional increase of its numbers equivalent to that which has occurred since Dr. George Drysdale wrote his Elements of Social Science. As, however, the evils of over-population are deeply involved with the evils of degeneracy, it is important to differentiate the two sets of evils, before we can be certain that a uniform limitation of families
4. To proceed now as if we were confronted merely with the evils of over-population would mean that we should, by attempting a mere reduction in our numbers, reduce sound stocks equally or proportionately with unsound stocks.
5. Birth-controllers, by spreading the knowledge of contraceptive methods and expedients indiscriminately, tacitly assume that the problem before us is simply one of over-population. Or at least they act as if they were guilty of this assumption, and in their views about the size of the ideal family they stand self-convicted of it.
6. It is therefore necessary to discriminate between the realised and the unrealised aims of the Birth Control movement. The realised aims are bad, because they are leading to a uniform limitation of sound and unsound stocks. The unrealised aims, as enumerated above, are good, and would justify the movement, if they alone were pursued and concentrated upon, and the public propaganda in favour of indiscriminate Birth Control were to cease.
7. The claim, that Birth Control is a eugenic measure and that it can be selective and constructive, is valid in regard to the unrealised aims of the movement; it is invalid in regard to the realised aims.
8. The claim that contraception in normal families can be selective and eugenic is invalid, because it is impossible to select pre-natally, and because, by limiting births, heredity is deprived of its chances of effecting the happiest combination of the parental and stock qualities in an individual child. It is by
Thus selection, if it maybe called selection, on pre-natal lines by contraceptive methods, amounts to a process of weeding or pruning in the dark, a process of hoeing by night, whereby much valuable vegetation is destroyed and the whole crop impoverished.