A Commentary on Malthus' 1798 Essay on Population
As Social Theory

The S
By Frank W. Elwell

"One of Elwell's main points is often overlooked by readers of Malthus, and perhaps more in the last few decades than earlier. That is that Malthus made no forecasts. His theory was a theory, a statement of the "If X, then Y" type, not a forecast. The fact that he is often treated as a forecaster is a misuse of his work. Elwell argues cogently that the widespread belief that social sciences borrowed the concept of evolution from biology is a misconception. Rather the social scientists of the day were much concerned with the factors governing long term trends in soical conditions. It is certainly a central part of Malthus' work.

--James F. Thompson, Emeritus Professor of Economics


The book is a commentary on Malthus’ 1798 Essay on Population that attempts to tie the interpretation closely to the original Essay rather than to the politically charged reactions to that Essay. Malthus' master work is not a simplistic projection of future population growth and inevitable collapse, the Essay is actually a far subtler ecological-evolutionary social theory. Malthus’ theory is fundamentally based on the relationships between population and food production. Increase the supply of food, he argues, and population will rise to meet this increase. This, he asserts, means that the race between population and resources can never be truly won by any sociocultural system. Therefore, some measure of social inequality is inevitable in all human societies.

The work includes commentary and criticism of Malthus’ methodology, the materialist, evolutionary, and functional elements of his theory, as well as the application of his theory to understanding the nature of welfare programs and possibilities for social progress.

Table of Contents:

Table of contents: Preface; Introduction Part 1: Malthusian Theory Methods; Theory, Materialism; Checks; Evolution; Functionalism; Inequality; Theoretical Summary Part 2: Applying the Theory Poor Laws; Progress; Neo-Malthusianism Part 3: An Essay on the Principle of Population: As it affects the future improvement of society with remarks on the speculations of Mr. Godwin and M. Condorcet, and other writers by T. Robert Malthus Bibliography; Index

Mellen Studies in Sociology Number 26
0-7734-7669-5 ISBN13: 978-0-7734-7669-1
324 Year: 2001

Related sites:
Classical Theorists
In the Classical Tradition

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©Frank Elwell Send comments to felwell at rsu.edu