Ideas, ideas, ideas!
Ideas, Ideas, Ideas. So many of them around, not always that great, but we are just putting the finishing touches to our new catalogue on the History of Ideas and all of these ones are real crackers.
One of the highlights is an anonymous tract published in 1798, which is one of the most controversial books ever published and one that continues to exert its influence today. The book is Thomas Malthus’ Essay on Population which flew in the face of both the post-French Revolution Utopianism then prevalent in the intellectual circle around William Godwin who believed that everything was possible in the best of all possible worlds; and also the established Christianity of the time.
Malthus believed that whilst population increased geometrically, food supply only grew arithmetically, and this would lead to chaos. His solution included sexual abstinence amongst the working classes, and a repeal of the Poor Laws which he believed encouraged feckless behaviour. He also saw abortion and homosexuality as being reasonable preventative ways to keep the population in check. Examples of positive means of control were famine, disease and war. This latter idea was a major influence on Darwin and other evolutionists, as a form of natural selection and is a rare example of economic theory influencing biological science. Other luminaries of the nineteenth century, including, predictably, Karl Marx, were vehement opponents of Malthus’ theories.
Today his “thinking the unthinkable”, robust pragmatism has had a huge influence on the political debate in the Western world. Only a few hundred copies were published. Most surviving copies are in research libraries and are rarely offered for sale on the open market. As well as the first edition, we also have the much expanded and heavily revised second edition; and we also will include in the catalogue the first edition of Godwin’s work on population which is a rebuttal of Malthus’ arguments.