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David Stove - The Diabolical Place - A Secret of the Enlightenment

David Stove - The Diabolical Place - A Secret of the Enlightenment

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6
TheDiabolicalPlace:ASecretoftheEnlightenment
It
wasalwaysobviousenoughwhatthemainaxiomsoftheEnlightenmentwere.Theyweresecularism,egalitarianism,andtheutilitarianaxiom,thatthetestofmoralityisthegreatesthappinessofthegreatestnumber.Manyofthetheoremstoo,whichevidentlyfollowedfromoneormoreofthoseaxioms,werewellrecognizedallalong:suchtheorems,Imean,asrepublicanismandanti-clericalism.Certainothertheorems,forexampleuniversalsuffrage,tookalongtimetoberecognized
as
theoremsoftheEnlightenment,evenbytheEnlightenedthemselves.ButtherewasonetheoremwhichtheEnlightened,thoughtheyrecognizedthatitfollowedfromtheiraxioms,feltobligedtokeepsecretfromthepublicformorethanahundredandfiftyyears,andwhichremainedalmostunmentionableuntilthelifetimeofmanypeoplewhoarestilllivingtoday.ThetheoremImeanhadnoname,butwenowcallitcontracep-tion;andIcanbestbeginthestoryofthissecrettheorembypointingoutthattheworditselfisatwentieth-centuryneologism.Accordingtothe
OxfordEnglishDictionary
itdatesonlyfromtheyear1917.Likewise,itssynonym"birthcontrol,"whichwasatfirstmorepopular,datesonlyfrom1914.Donotthesedatesthemselvesspeakvol-umes?Imagineiftherehadbeennosuchwordas"equality,"or"republic,"until1914!Butcontraception,thoughitsderivationfromtheaxiomsisnotasobviousasthatofsomeothertheorems,
was
anEnlightenmenttheoremallalong.
Thisessayfirstappearedin1990.-Ed.
93
 
94
OnEnlightenment
Secularismcondemnsmarriagevows,alongwithallothervows,oaths,andpromises,asbeingrelicsofsuperstition.Thegreatesthappinessaxiomcondemnsclerical(andalmostanyother)celibacy.Forthesereasons,theEnlightenmenthadalwayspromisedanim-mensefutureincreaseinsexualgratification.Butuniversalsexualemancipation,onitsown,wouldbesuretohaveaneffectdirectlycontraryto"thegreatesthappiness":namely,toomanyhungryorunhealthyorneglectedchildren.Thereareonlyfourpossiblewaysofpreventingthatresult:infan-ticide,abortion,sexualabstinence,andcontraception.Thefirstthreearecondemned,again,bythegreatesthappinessaxiom,butthataxiomdoesnotcondemncontraception.Whenyouarecomparingamountsofhappiness,youhavetotakeintoaccountfuturepeopleaswellaspresentones;butyoudonothavetotakeintoaccountmerely
possible
futurepeople.
Ergo,
contraceptioniswhatEnlight-enmentprescribes.AtleastasearlyasCondorcet,theleadersoftheEnlightenmentsawthisderivationperfectlyclearly,evenifnotalltheirfollowersdid.Theysimplytookcaretosaynothingaboutitintheirbooks.EveninCondorcet'slastbook,
ProgresdeL'EspritHumain(1795),
whichheknewwouldbepublishedonlyafterhisdeath,ifatall,hisclosestapproachtothesubjectofcontraceptionisasfollows.Inthefuture,"menwillknowthat,iftheyhaveadutytowardsthosewhoarenotyetborn,itisnottogivethemexistencebuttogivethemhappiness;theiraimshouldbetopromotethegeneralwelfareofthehumanrace,...ratherthanfoolishlytoencumbertheworldwithuselessandwretchedbeings."!Surelythisisaveryindistinctwayofrecommendingcontracep-tiontoone'sreaders?Itcouldequallywellbearecommendationofabortion,orinfanticide,orsexualabstinence.Thousandsofpeoplemusthavereadthispassagewithoutrealizingwhatitmeant;IknowIdid,morethanonce.ButitwasadifferentstoryinsomeofthemanuscriptswhichCondorcetleftunpublishedathisdeath.Herehewasasexplicitandcopiousaboutcontraceptionashehadbeencryp-ticandbriefinprint.Hediscussesthephilosophy,thehistory,thecurrenttechnology,andthefuturesocialeffectsofcontraception.Onesucheffect,hesays,willbetoreducesexualdissolutenessingeneral,andmaritalinfidelityinparticular.>
TheDiabolicalPlace:ASecretoftheEnlightenment95
Condorcet'sEnglishdisciple,WilliamGodwin,wasevenmorecircumspect:thereisnoallusion,howeverfaint,tocontraceptioninthealmost800pagesofhisutopiantract
PoliticalJustice
(1793).Inpart,thiswasfrompureeccentricity.Whenitwasobjectedthatexcessivepopulationwouldruinhisfutureutopia,Godwinwasunconcerned,andonereasonwasthis:hebelievedthatoncepeoplebecomethoroughlyreasonable,asin1793they
were
rapidlybecoming,especiallyinFrance,theywouldloseallinterestin
sex.'
Thisnovel"shortway"withworriesaboutpopulationwasjustlyridiculedbyMalthus,'butitisunlikelytohavebeenthemainrea-sonforGodwin'sequanimityaboutthepopulationofutopia.ItismorallycertainthattheGodwin-Wollstonecraft-Shelleycircleprac-ticedcontraceptionthemselves:otherwiseShelley'stravellingsexcircus,whichevenasitwastookseveralhourstopassagivenpoint,wouldhavestretchedfromLand'sEndtoJohn
0
Groats.Itisthere-foreprobablethatitwascontraception,ratherthansexualindiffer-ence,whichtheyreallyexpectedtoprotecttheirfutureutopiafromthepressureofpopulation.
***
Thenin1798alongcame"ParsonMalthus"(asCobbettcalledhim)withhissightsfirmlytrainedonGodwin,Condorcet,andtherestoftheutopianrevolutionarytribe.Heknew,ofcourse,asalleducatedpeopledid,ofthewidespreadpracticeofcontraception.Buthe
was,
afterall,aconscientiousAnglicanclergyman,anditsim-plyneveroccurredtoMalthustoconsidercontraceptioninanyotherlightthanasoneofseveralvicious"preventivecheckstopopulation."("Preventive"checkshecontrastedwith"positive"ones,suchaswar,famine,anddisease.)Hemorethanoncediscussesinfanticide,and(inthelatereditionsofthe
EssayonPopulation)
"moralrestraint,"ascheckstopopulation.Butheneverdiscussedeithercontraceptionorabortion.InMalthus'smind,thosetwothingssimplyfellundertheheadingof"improperarts"(ashecalledthem)forlimitingpopula-tion,andhesaidaslittleashecouldaboutsubjectssorepugnant.His
Essay
wasapoliticaltract,butitsucceededindoingwhatpoliticaltractshardlyeverdo:itactuallychangedthemindsofverymanyofitsreaders.Itevenchangedmanypeople's'politics,buttherewasafargreaternumberstillofpeoplewhomitconvincedof
 
96
OnEnlightenment
thefollowingproposition:thathumanpopulation,atanyrateamongthepoor,alwaysincreasesuptothelimitpermittedbytheavailablesupplyoffood.Thispropositionis,ofcourse,onlyafactualorscientificone,evenifitistrue.What
practical
conclusionistobedrawnfromitisadifferentquestion.TheconclusionwhichMalthusdrewfromitandexpectedeveryoneelsetodrawtoo,wassimplythis:thatthepoorshouldmarrylate..~mongthepeoplewhomMalthusconvincedofhisfactualpropo-
srtron,
however,werethecontemporaryBritishleadersoftheEnlightenment:theutilitarianphilosophersJeremyBentham,JamesMill,andtheirnumerousandinfluentialfollowers.Andall
these
people,naturallyenough,drewfromthatsamepropositionapracti-calconclusionverydifferentfromMalthus':namely,thatthepoorshouldbetaughtthenecessity,andthemethods,ofcontraception.Thisgroupofpeoplesooncametobecalled"neo-Malthusians,"anamewhichnaturally(andrightly)distressedMalthus.Nordidthenameassistthepopularityofthosetowhomitwasapplied.Amongthosewhoknewhimpersonally,Malthuswasanexceptionallywell-likedman.Buthisbookwasexactlythereverse,andithasbeentrulysaidthat,bythe
1820s,
hisnameinanyformhadbeen"spittenuponbyalmosteverydecentandreligious-mindedmanorwomaninthecountry">asbeingacloakforindecency,orforreaction,orboth.Buttheneo-Malthusianshadanotherpublicrelationsproblemevenmoreseriousthanthatoftheirname,forwhiletheywereconvincedoftheurgentnecessityofcontraception,theyweretoofrightenedtosaysoinpublic.Theyconsideredthemselvesalreadyembattledenough,simplyfrombeingutilitarians,andthereforesuspected(rightly)ofrepublicanism,irreligion,etc.Forthemtoadvocateandteachcontraceptioninpublicwouldhavemeantincomparablygreaterodiumstill.TherehadbeennoprecedentforsuchanenormityinfifteenChristiancenturies,notevenamongthewildestmenoftheFrenchRevolution;andtheneo-Malthusianthinkerswerehardlythepeopletobreaksuchasilence.Theirmaster,Bentham,wasatimid,rich,scholarlyrecluse.Hewould(anddid)draftonrequestanewconstitutionforMexico,orwhatever,butthestormywatersofhomepoliticswereentirelyoutofhisline,evenonsubjectswhichwerementionable.JamesMill
TheDiabolicalPlace:ASecretoftheEnlightenment97
wasnotrichandhadhadtostrugglefordecadestogethisrespect-ablejobattheEastIndiaCompany,whichhewouldhav~in~ta?tlylostifhehadopenlyadvocatedcontraception.WastheirdiscipleGeorgeGrote,acitybanker,toruinhimselfandhisbankbysuchadvocacy?WasSirFrancisBurdett,whoselifewasdevote~to.prov-ingthatyoucouldberespectablethoughaRadical,to!orfelthIS.s~atintheHouseofCommons,asanotherM.P.actuallydid,byanIllJU-diciousspeechinfavorofcontraception?Werefactorygir~stobelecturedonthepreventionofconceptionbythat"veryladylikeper-son"assomeonerightlycalledhim,JohnStuartMill?No.Suchthingswerecompletelyoutofthequestion.Them?stthattheleadersofneo-Malthusianismdaredtodowastopublishoccasional,brief,andobscurehintsinfavorofcontracepti~n,liketheoneIquotedabovefromCondorcet.ThusJa~esMIll,forexample,inanarticleinthe
EncyclopaediaBritannica
III
1820,wrotethatasolutiontotheproblemofpauperismwouldnotbehardtofind,"ifthesuperstitionsofthenurserywerediscarded,an~theprin-cipleofutilitykeptsteadilyinview.'"whichmustbeadm~ttedtobeasufficientlyguardedwayofrecommendingcontraception.E~enhisson,althoughthesubjectofpopulationneverceased~oweI~honhismindfromthetimehefirstreadMalthus,contentedhimself
III
printwithsayingthingslikethefollowing:th~,tthef~turehappin.essofthemassofmankinddependeduponthelabouringpopulation[practising]avoluntaryrestrictionoftheincrease~ftheirnumbers,"?With
that
minimalutterance,ofcourse,Malthushimselfwouldhaveentirelyagreed.YetitwasasfarasJ.S.Milleverdaredtogoinpublic....Soasoneoftheneo-Malthusians,RIchardCarlile,wrote
III
1824,there'was"inLondon...asortofclass,orsociety,orconnectionofpersons,composedofPhysicians,Literati,Pol.iticalE.conomist.s,MembersofParliament,withmenandwomen
III
thefirstrank
III
pointoffortunesandtitles,soconvincedo~aredunda~cyofpopu-lationastorecommendameansofpreventingconceptiononcopu-lation.Thepractice,thoughnewtoEngland,theysay,isnotnewtoEurope.,..Thisanti-conceptionschemewascommunicatedtomeabouttwoyearssincebyafriend."Carlilesaysthatheha~atfirstarguedatlengthagainsthisfriend'sscheme.ThenhecontIll~esasfollows:"Butafterallthatcanbesaidbetweenourselves,asfriends,whoisthemanthatdarestobroachthesubjecttothepublic?Icon-

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