The post is pitched like this because it’s Friday night, but it works. A more dutiful post might have been entitled simply ‘Malthus’ and involved a lot of work. That’s going to be needed at some point. (Here‘s the 6th edition of An Essay on the Principle of Population, for anyone who wants to get started now.) A more thoroughly technical approach would have been flagged ‘Neo-Malthusianism’. While sympathizing with groans about another ‘neo-‘ prefix, in this case it would have been solidly justified. It’s only through expansion of the Malthusian insight in accordance with a more general conservation law that its full current relevance can be appreciated. Classic Malthus still does far more work than it is credited with, but it contains a principle of far more penetrating application.
‘Neo-‘ at its most frivolous is merely a mark of fashion. When employed more seriously, it notes an element of innovation. Its most significant sense includes not only novelty, but also abstraction. Something is carried forwards in such a way that its conceptual core is distilled through extraction from a specific context, achieving a higher generality, and more exact formality. Malthus partially anticipates this in a phrase that points beyond any excessively constrictive concreteness:
The qualification “in some shape or other” might have been drawn from abstract horror, and “premature death” only loosely binds it. Even so, this formulation remains too narrow, since it tends to exclude the dysgenic outcome, which we have since learnt is a dimension of Malthusian expression scarcely less imposing than resource crisis. A Neo-Malthusian account of the “X” which in some shape or other makes a grim perversity of all humanity’s efforts to improve its condition grasps it as a mathematically conserved, plastic, or abstract destiny, working as remorselessly through reductions of mortality (Malthusian ‘relaxations’) as through increases (Malthusian ‘pressures’). Both would count equally as “checks on population” — each convertible, through a complex calculus, into the terms of the other. A population dysgenically deteriorated through ‘enlightened’ Malthusian relaxation learns, once again, how to starve.
The Dark Enlightenment (essay) was clearly catalyzed by the work of Mencius Moldbug, but it was to have had two Anglo-Thomistic or Doubting Thomas intellectual-historical pillars (and neither were Thomas Carlyle). The first was Thomas Hobbes, who was at least touched upon. The second was to have been Thomas Malthus, but the series was diverted into the foaming current of the Derbyshire affair and the outrages of Leftist race politics. The integrity of conception was lost. Had it not been, it might have been less tempting to read the 333-current as an Anti-Enlightenment, rather than a Counter-Enlightenment, in the sense of an eclipsed, alternative to the Rousseauistic calamity that prevailed. It would certainly attach the Scottish Enlightenment, but only under the definite condition that it is lashed securely to the harsh realist scaffolding of the Dark Enlightenment (Hobbes and Malthus), disillusioned of all idealism. Pretty stories are for little children (being raised by liberals).
Malthus subtracts all utopianism from enlightenment. He shows that history is put together — necessarily — in a butcher’s yard. Through Malthus, Ricardo discovered the Iron Law of Wages, disconnecting the ideas of economic advance and humanitarian redemption. Darwin effected a comparable (and more consequential) revision in biology, also on Malthusian grounds, dispelling all sentimentality from notions of evolutionary ‘progression’. It is from Malthus that we know, when anything seems to move forward, it is through being ground up against a cutting edge. It is when Marx attempts to put Malthus into history, rather than history into Malthus, that utopian dementia was resuscitated within economics. The anti-Malthusianism of Libertarians stigmatizes them as dreamy fools.
With NRx, the matter is perhaps more unsettled, but the Dark Enlightenment is unambiguously Mathusian. If you find your eye becoming dewy, pluck it out.