Samuel Leavitt, Anti-Malthus I (1880)

This is the first of two parts, originally published in The Phrenological Journal and Science of Health, Aug 1880. Vol. 71, Iss. 2, p. 72-76. The author, Samuel Leavitt, was an associate of Joshua King Ingalls and George Jacob Holyoake. His work appeared in various of the Onieda colony publications, and in The Arena. In his Reminiscences, Joshua King Ingalls wrote:

I should apologize perhaps to Mr. Samuel Leavitt, for not mentioning his name before. But he has been met on so many different platforms, I scarce know where to place him, particularly. We were in accord on the land and interest problems: but differed politically on the tariff and the greenback questions, although I acted as treasurer for the Liberty Bell, which he published in the Peter Cooper Presidential campaign. He advocated rational divorce for mismated couples. He has been a newspaper man ever since I knew him. He was the author of “Caliban and Shylock,” “Peace Maker Grange,” a social romance, and “Our Money War,” a most elaborate and exact statement of the history of our money metallic or paper, since the existence of our nation, with a bias in favor of fiat money.

Notice, near the end of this essay, Leavitt’s prediction that “a Central Council or a ‘Pantarch’ will probably guide the movements and actions of the earth’s twenty or thirty billion inhabitants.” The use of Stephen Pearl Andrews’ term is probably not accidental, and the vision here is perhaps not so far off from Andrews’ Pantarchy.


This essay is not, as might be supposed, a studied effort to refute the special doctrines
of Malthus. It is simply an effort toward the rebuttal of one of his main propositions,
namely, that great and immediate effort is necessary toward curtailing the natural increase of
the human family, Two simple questions will be discussed in this writing.

1. Is there in the aggregate, or in any large portion of the earth, a real overpopulation?
2 What means shall be used to fill the earth with good and wise people?

As to the first point, the facts concerning the actual population of the various countries
will be at once considered.

The area of dry land upon the globe is in round numbers about 51,590,000 square miles,
equaling 33,000,000,000 square acres.

The human family is now reckoned to number 1,400,000,000 or about one billion and a
half. China, which is so often referred to as over-populated, has 3,742,000 square miles,
much of it waste, and 446,000,000 inhabitants, according to a recent report of Prof. Schem.
This gives the Chinese five acres apiece. Japan has about 150,000 square miles or
96,000,000 acres, say two and five-sevenths acres for each person.

Saxony, in the German Empire, has 3,698,500 acres and 2,556,244 people; or about an
acre and a half apiece. Belgium is said to have one person for each acre.

So then, this globe, filled as to its dry land, with people, would contain about thirty-three
billions if populated at the Belgic rate; twenty-two billions at the Saxon rate; twelve billions
at the Japanese rate, and six and a half billions at the Chinese rate, yet people go snuffling
around, bewailing the swift coming of “the crack of doom,” when we have as yet less than a
billion and a half of fellow-creatures around us here; and have no evidence that the number
was ever greater than that,

The greatest evil accruing from this idea is, that it gives hard-hearted people an excuse
for still further hardening their hearts against their poorer fellows, and—as in the case of the
attitude of some European nations toward their foreign dependencies calmly and stolidly
watching the slow starvation of millions of famine-stricken wretches.


As to Malthus, he was not a bad man, and he was a hard-working, careful, patient
student and collector of facts. But he would see nothing except from an aristocratic standpoint:
was quite firmly convinced that ”the many were born ready saddled and bridled that
the few might ride.” As to England, for instance, it never occurred to him that millions of
poor workers could comfortably subsist upon the ground wasted by the nobility and gentry
in parks; and that millions more could have a comfortable living in the cities, if the factory
owners would be content with a fair share of the profit upon the labor of their “hands,” and
by greatly diminishing the hours of labor give employment to these other millions.

A favorite statement of Malthus is, “Population always increases where the means of
subsistence increases.” This might have been a saying of important significance at his time,
when the subsistence of a community was usually gathered from its immediate
neighborhood. Now, however, when the telegraph informs the ends of the earth instantly,
when any species of food becomes scarce at any point, and steamers and rail cars can
speedily supply the need from any region enjoying a surplus, such a statement becomes
quite meaningless.

The main natural checks to population, according to Malthus, are, moral restraints, vice,
and misery. He seemed to put much more reliance upon the latter than upon the former, His
chief critic, the celebrated Godwin, justly remarked that he should have added “bad human
laws and institutions” to his list of existing checks. A specimen of the faulty reasoning of
Malthus is found in his statement concerning the population of Australia. He gets his facts
from Capt. Cooke, with regard to the scarcity of population on that huge island; and sagely

“By what means the inhabitants of this country are reduced to such numbers as it can
subsist, is not perhaps very easy to guess.” He thus takes it for granted (forming the
conclusion from the supposed love that he evolved from his inner consciousness) that the
straggling savages who peopled Australia, in his day, numbered exactly so many human
creatures as the island was capable of feeding.

The philosopher is certainly right in the abstract, where he maintains that if human
propagation were maintained at its now usual rate, after the “millennium” had arrived, and
vice, disease, and misery had ceased to check it, there would be danger of a genuine worldwide
overpopulation. We know that in “the good time coming” there will be some new
checks. But we also know that they will be natural, and will in no sense militate against the
welfare of individuals or communities. We already get an inkling of what these checks will
be, in the fact that families of the highest culture and refinement are not as prolific, though
they make no attempt to check propagation, as those in the same nation that are subjected to
all manner of hardship and privation, short of that extreme distress that always effectually
checks population.

We may be sure of one thing—at let those of us who believe in Divine Providence—that as
fast as there is any actual necessity for checks (a necessity never yet really reached), the
good and wise will be shown what checks to use, and will faithfully adopt them. All the talk
of Malthus about the food supply of barbarians and nomads goes for nothing. Following
his absurd “law” that ”population always increases where the means of subsistence
increases,” he doubtless gravely decided that the few wandering tribes of Indians on this
continent represented fully the population that it was capable of sustaining. Nomads never
really try to obtain the principal part of the subsistence that even they know to be contained
in the earth beneath their feet.


O that I could send a glad cry of surprise and discovery throughout the nations:
“Increase, multiply, replenish the wide earth! Fill it with wise and good people! It is not yet
one-tenth full. It will never be thoroughly healthy and habitable until it is thoroughly filled
by intelligent and virtuous human creatures, who will remove all nuisances by a wise culture
and drainage of every arable acre.”

Here is an idea that is reliable, and is quite opposite to the whole tenor of
Malthusianism: namely, that we should hasten to populate the globe densely, in order to
make it truly habitable. “How horrible! what madness!” exclaim the disciples of this prophet
of despair; “the very day the earth gets full, the people will begin to starve, if not before, in
spite of your millennium.”

Our cheerful answer is: “Trust in the Lord (or in Nature, if you prefer), and do good.
Commit thy way unto Him!”

There is now and then a streak of light in the writings of Malthus that relieves the
murkiness of his pictures. The following from his Chapter II. really goes quite against his
main arguments. He says: “It has been observed that many countries at the period of their
greatest degree of populousness have lived in the greatest plenty and have been able to
export grain; . . . . and that, as Lord Kaimes observes, ‘A country can not easily become too
populous; because agriculture has the signal property of producing food in proportion to
the number of consumers.'”

This is a practically opposite statement to that previously given, viz.: “Population always
increases where the means of subsistence increases.”

Malthus pays a merited tribute to the monasteries of Europe, where, he says, the
agricultural monks have done wonders in fertilizing waste and barren places. Truly here is a
genuine work of use for religious devotees The Romanist monks called Trappists have a
grand enthusiasm in this direction, similar to that of the old Benedictines. Already have they
made many sterile regions blossom like the rose. What a noble work to fertilize the earth for
coming happy generations! If people will insist upon being martyrs, they can not select a
better form of self-sacrifice. But there is really little need for such work while the greater
part of the fertile land is still untilled. Beautiful, smiling wildernesses, the world over, are
fairly crying out for human culture and appreciation, and proffering unbounded sustenance
from their teeming bosoms.

Careful estimates show that the Valley of Orinoco alone, where an acre of bananas will
feed a village, would supply nourishment for the whole population of the world. What
nonsense, then, to raise the alarm about over-population. Rather let those who feel an
interest in the general welfare busy themselves very specially in scattering the multitudes
now gathered in a few regions throughout the unoccupied fertile places.

As the most striking novelty in this writing is the demand that the earth be really filled
with good and wise people as soon as possible, in order that it may be made perfectly
healthy, the substantiation of that theory must be my main object. It seems a strange
statement that: Wise human creatures are Nature’s great disinfectant! and this can be
proved; and a very important part of the proof is obtainable from the recently developed
facts concerning what is called the “Dry earth system of treating sewage.”

There is nothing more wonderful in modern discovery—or rather re-discovery, for
Moses tried to teach these things to humanity thousands of years ago—than the
disintegrating and disinfecting effect of applying dry earth to animal and vegetable refuse.
The man of philosophic and philanthropic mind, who has used the same earth from six to
ten times in an earth closet, and found the disinfective and disintegrative effect as complete
the last time as the first, has visions rise before him of the future blessedness of our race
and the redemption of the earth under our feet that are quite joyous. Such a man stands
aghast as he beholds the waste going on around him, in the destruction of soils and the
materials that would recuperate them.

I believe that by the help of this system every living creature can be made to give back to
the earth an amount of fertilization, that, added to that derivable from air sunshine and water
will fully equal what it takes from the earth. In this fact, if a fact, we have a solution of
economical and agricultural questions, worth all the libraries that have been written about the
preservation of soils. It explodes also some of the theories of Malthus.


Now as to the methods of distributing the population of the earth, some say that the
poor and foolish can not be organized into successful colonies. Such point to the failure of
Robert Owen. But a colony is not necessarily a socialistic community. Ancient and modern
history are full of accounts of colonies that were successful. Every migration of portions of
tribes has been of that nature. Even socialistic colonies, such as those of Shakers, etc., have
been very successful in our country.

Those who establish harmonious colonies do a work like that of Sisters of Mercy on a
battle-field; the latter move over the field, soothing the wounded, without considering the
nationality of the combatants or the cause of their quarrel. So the founder of a colony need
not consider the politics of the people he removes to an improved situation, nor the politics
of those among whom he puts them. We should remember when we wander through the
miserable slums of a city, that while the inhabitants of these places are half starved, the
humming insects and the singing birds are the sole occupants of millions of fertile acres,
which would afford these suffering humans happy homes and abundant sustenance. Many
will reply that thousands of these people are so shiftless that they would do no better on the
soil than they do in the slum. Here comes in the reorganization of society again, and the
time will come when men who are able financiers and industrial managers will feel
themselves as much bound to exercise their peculiar gifts for human advancement, as a few
clergymen, and also some artists, literary men, etc., now do to exercise their peculiar gifts to
that end.

As the steam-engine, telegraphy, and discoveries and inventions are rapidly making “all
the world akin,” the fact of being our brother’s keeper is more and more forced upon the
conscience of Christendom. The time will be when men and women who are not wise or
energetic enough to put themselves in fitting surroundings will be persuaded to suffer
themselves to be organized into some sort of association by the wise and good, who will
lead them to the green pastures and beside the still waters of the less populous parts of the
country. Then we shall have such grand work done all over the land as glorious William
Penn did, when he drew a multitude after him to the sylvan land of Pennsylvania and the city
of Brotherly Love, and made it the model city of the world, though that is not saying much.
The possible majesty of an organized colonization movement is seen in the fact that in
1878, when very few European emigrants came to the United States, 800,000 of our people
went west of the Mississippi. Through lack of just those elements that colony migration
would have given them, these isolated settlers endured fearful privations. Thousands, having
lost the savings of a life-time in the universal destruction brought upon us by our rulers,
between 1873 and 1878, had gathered up the wrecks of their fortunes, and some in wagons,
some on foot, pushed for the wilderness—an incoherent multitude. Thousands who had
money enough and brains enough to make very valuable and successful members of
skillfully-organized colonies soon found themselves out of money, health, and hope, living
in holes in the ground. They had staked their last dollar on this great risk, and were now
forced (when past middle age in many cases) to return East and begin life again as “hands”
in factory, shop, and Store. The money they wasted would have taken them, under a true cooperative system, in palace cars to palace homes on the prairies. What a grand work to
organize such, and save them from such destruction! What a blessedness! Let each rich
philanthropic man say: I will be an Industrial Moses! I will stand right here in my lot and
organize my employés in co-operative workshops like Godin’s, or lead a multitude, in shape
of a thoroughly-equipped colony, into the new country.


And now to return to the means of getting the whole earth ready for an immense
population. Whoever even admits the truth of the “dry earth” doctrine will see that we have
small occasion as yet to fear over-population. When such means are in thorough use, there
need be no waste, no malaria. All available food material will be used. But the world’s
population must be held under very strict control if there is to be at no place either famine or
over-production. Many new expedients will be adopted. The earth will be gathered by great
machines from the vast alluvial deposits, where it is wasted (for instance, from the deltas of
the Amazon, Nile, Ganges), and deposited on the barren plains. This very work was done on
a large scale by the “mound builders,” who once peopled this country.

Great discoveries will be made in agricultural chemistry. Many materials now wasted
will be replaced by others that are cheaper and more available. We used to say, “The fire
wood will be used up”—then came the coal; we said, “The whales will all be destroyed”—
then came coal-oil; now we have been saying, “The coal and coal-oil will run out”—and here
comes electricity to take their place.

In the future the world’s work will be done, more and more, by machinery; therefore,
human creatures will need much less food than now, as their energies will not be so
exhausted by hard work. All the wildernesses, deserts, and mountains, up to the snow line,
will be turned to use in some way for human sustenance. The waters of the ocean w ill be
ransacked for edible fish, and its inedible monsters will be exterminated (as will be all those
of the land). All inland seas, lakes, ponds, and streams will be stocked with fish, and vast
water spaces will be covered with human habitations, as in China.

A thousand or ten thousand years from now, a Central Council or a ‘Pantarch’ will
probably guide the movements and actions of the earth’s twenty or thirty billion inhabitants,
just as the wonderful train-controller, perched high at the north end of the Union depot in
New York, controls, by manipulating rows of buttons connected with the telegraphic
instruments, all the trains of the three great railroads centering there. Whereas now able men
control the distribution of money, produce, goods, etc., over the world, in a way that suits
their selfish aims, so then will the same thing be done by men actuated by pure benevolence.
That Central Council or Bureau will be in electric communication with every corner of the
earth, and will be continually sending forth messages of information, warning and


About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.