It is impossible to walk through the streets of any great city, full of vast numbers of persons who, obviously, ought never to have been born, without recognizing that the birthrate is as yet very far above its normal and healthy limit. The greatest States have often been the smallest so far as mere number of citizens is concerned, for it is quality not quantity that counts.
It is nothing short of a social revolution, depopulating the country of its most laborious elements. 788,000 emigrants left in one year alone ; in the province of Basilicata the exodus exceeds the birthrate. I do not know the percentage of those who depart never to return, but it must be considerable; the land is full of chronic grass-widows.
It is not made nor unmade by the birthrate. Two important considerations present themselves to the world today: One is that woman considered as the fecund receptive sex-principle is refusing the sex relationship on the old basis, however "respectable" and well-intentioned that basis was.
It is sometimes said, indeed, that the decline of the birthrate is not entirely due to the voluntary control of procreation. It is undoubtedly true that certain other elements, common under civilized conditions, such as the postponement of marriage in women to a comparatively late age, tend to diminish the size of the family.
But the new moralist, who is learning to recognize both the claims of the individual and the claims of society, begins to ask whether on the one hand these women are not entitled to the satisfaction of their affectional and emotional impulses if they so desire, and on the other hand whether, since a high civilization involves a diminished birthrate, the community is not entitled to encourage every healthy and able-bodied woman to contribute to maintain the birthrate when she so desires.
The rising demand for slaves meant an expansion of the slave trade, and, as West Indian slaves had a high mortality rate and a low birthrate, this meant a continually thriving slave trade. As the ratio between whites and blacks widened, the problem of controlling the slaves grew more serious. Brute force was the only answer.
The long duration of Augustus's legislation to raise the birthrate is significant; successful it was not, but the fact that it was maintained on the statute book and systematically revised and developed for three centuries shows that it was at least accounted necessary.
The man who says that it does not matter if 15,000,000 Chinese die of famine, because in two generations the birthrate will make up the loss, has used a time perspective to excuse his inertia. A person who pauperizes a healthy young man because he is sentimentally overimpressed with an immediate difficulty has lost sight of the duration of the beggar's life.
The birthrate per woman is higher among the lowest and most ignorant classes in the back slums of our great cities, than among the women of the upper and cultured classes, mainly because the age at which marriages are contracted always tends to become higher as the culture and intelligence of individuals rises, but also because of the regulation of the number of births after marriage.
If those persons who raise the cry of "race suicide" in face of the decline of the birthrate really had the knowledge and intelligence to realize the manifold evils which they are invoking they would deserve to be treated as criminals.