Many think that Dickins added this exchange into A Christmas Carol to illustrate in a hyperbolic way just how dark Scrooge’s heart had become. And he likely did. But Dickins did not pull this concept out of thin air. It actually comes from a controversial theory that was bouncing around in the 19th Century British culture.
Let me introduce you to the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus. You read it correctly…. “Reverend.”
In 1798, Malthus released An Essay on the Principle of Population. In the essay, he proposed that two types of societal checks and balances were ever-present and continuously at work, limiting population growth based and its effects on and by the food supply.
The first checks were called “Preventative.” These were moral restraints and legislative action that take the pressures off of the food supply. An example of a moral check would be a citizen choosing or being encouraged to practice abstinence and delay marriage until such a time that their finances were to support such an endeavor. An example of a legislative check would be restrictions imposed by the government on legal marriage or parenting for people deemed by authorities as “unfit” to engage in such activities. (Yes, you read it correctly… “Reverend.”)
The second set of checks were called “Positive.” These were naturally occurring events in society, such as war, disease, or poverty, which lead to higher rates of early death. Note: These events would later be called “Malthusian catastrophes.” Therefore, “positive” checks force the restoration of societal balance and reducing pressures on the food supply pressures. (Yes, you read it correctly… “Reverend.”)
Back to Scrooge. The poor need to go to the debtor’s prisons or the workhouses. If they can’t or won’t, then they better hurry up and die to “decrease the surplus population,” which places pressures on the food supply. Both “preventative” and “positive” solutions all rolled up into one statement by Ebenezer Scrooge! And some people in that period believed this!
Can you imagine being a fly on the wall when Reverend Malthus stands before Jesus to explain this theory?
To be fair, Malthus spent the rest of his life defending and modifying his theories based on the feedback he received and the extreme ways in which “Malthusianism” was used.
Are there any neo-Malthusians in our culture today?
“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
There is no other commandment greater than these.”Mark 12:29-31