Thomas Robert Malthus is arguably the most misunderstood economist/philosopher of all time. His name today is synonymous with the antithesis of the point he was actually making; Malthus was not a Malthusian*.
Malthus’ core thesis in An Essay on the Principle of Population was that institutions like marriage and parental responsibility functioned as a check against out of control population growth. He was also arguing that state welfare payments will ultimately make the poor both more numerous and worse off.
With regard to population growth, he pointed out that something must be keeping human growth rates in check:
This implies a strong and constantly operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence. This difficulty must fall somewhere and must necessarily be severely felt by a large portion of mankind.
That something he identified as misery and vice (emphasis mine):
Through the animal and vegetable kingdoms, nature has scattered the seeds of life abroad with the most profuse and liberal hand. She has been comparatively sparing in the room and the nourishment necessary to rear them. The germs of existence contained in this spot of earth, with ample food, and ample room to expand in, would fill millions of worlds in the course of a few thousand years. Necessity, that imperious all pervading law of nature, restrains them within the prescribed bounds. The race of plants and the race of animals shrink under this great restrictive law. And the race of man cannot, by any efforts of reason, escape from it. Among plants and animals its effects are waste of seed, sickness, and premature death. Among mankind, misery and vice. The former, misery, is an absolutely necessary consequence of it. Vice is a highly probable consequence, and we therefore see it abundantly prevail, but it ought not, perhaps, to be called an absolutely necessary consequence. The ordeal of virtue is to resist all temptation to evil.
Misery as he uses the term could probably best be described as the privations of poverty, and the desire of parents not to bear children which they could not clothe, shelter, feed, etc. It also applies to the misery of those men and women who are unable to marry, must delay marriage, or if married, must abstain from sex out of fear of having children they cannot afford to care for.
Vice describes any number of immoral ways men and women deal with misery as defined above. Malthus doesn’t go into detail on this, but sex outside of marriage, prostitution, abortion, homosexuality, and perhaps birth control (depending on your view) all seem to fit his use of the term.
All of this strikes me as very relevant to the social and legal upheaval feminism in general and the promotion of female promiscuity in specific have created. With a large percentage of young women today electing to delay marriage and instead focus on their careers while indulging in alpha chasing and/or serial monogamous flings, it follows that an equally large number of young men must choose between misery and vice. This problem is made worse by the transformation of marriage to a wildly unequal legal framework which encourages women to divorce, as well as the fact that a large number of women prefer cads to the average nice guy beta.
In letting this happen, as a society we are insisting that a huge number of men choose between misery and vice. From a theological perspective the answer is easy. They should choose misery. This is true despite the fact that churches across the west can’t be bothered to take meaningful action to preserve marriage or call out young women on the immoral choices they are making. God defines what sin is, and His definition of sin doesn’t change even when Christians as a block can’t be bothered to stand by marriage in a meaningful way.
But the fact that sin is sin doesn’t change the fact that Christians have largely lost their moral authority to speak on the topic of sexual morality. I think this is at the heart of the backlash some Christians have received from men in the comments section of this blog recently. Those who stand by allowing the choices more and more to become misery or vice while tisk tisking those who fail to choose misery understandably evoke a degree of ill will.
Tangled within all of this is the question of whether men and women should be shamed equally for sexual immorality. From a theological perspective it would seem to me that both are equally sinful. As I say in my advice to men choosing a wife, the ideal answer from a prospective wife is disgust with promiscuity across the board. However from a practical perspective I see three problems with shaming men and women equally for promiscuity:
- The focus of shaming men and women equally has in practice served to excuse female promiscuity instead of reducing promiscuity across the board. In practice once the focus is on fairness the result is lowered pressure on women to remain sexually pure, while not reducing men’s sexual immorality to a noticeable degree. This path leads to more misery and vice.
- Small amounts of promiscuity do much greater damage to a woman’s eventual ability to remain happily married than it does to men.
- Even Christian women want a man who has the benefits of the knowledge and confidence which come from sexual success.
I don’t know how to put all of this together in a neat consistent philosophical package. Sin is sin, but I’m interested in offering young men and women something other than a choice between misery and vice.
* Any reader who can point me to the specific quote in the text of his writings where Malthus predicted that population explosion would lead to famine in a traditional social structure would be doing me a great service.