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Global Population

Global Population: History, Geopolitics, and Life on Earth

Alison Bashford
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  • Book Info
    Global Population
    Book Description:

    Concern about the size of the world's population did not begin with the "population bomb" in 1968. It arose in the aftermath of World War I and was understood as an issue with far-reaching ecological, agricultural, economic, and geopolitical consequences. The world population problem concerned the fertility of soil as much as the fertility of women, always involving both "earth" and "life."

    Global Populationtraces the idea of a world population problem as it evolved from the 1920s through the 1960s. The growth and distribution of the human population over the planet's surface came deeply to shape the characterization of "civilizations" with different standards of living. It forged the very ideas of development, demographically defined three worlds, and, for some, an aspirational "one world."

    Drawing on international conference transcripts and personal and organizational archives, this book reconstructs the twentieth-century population problem in terms of migration, colonial expansion, globalization, and world food plans. Population was a problem in which international relations and intimate relations were one. Global Population ultimately shows how a geopolitical problem about sovereignty over land morphed into a biopolitical solution, entailing sovereignty over one's person.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51952-6
    Subjects: History, Technology, Population Studies, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-XIV)
  4. Introduction: Life and Earth
    (pp. 1-26)

    John Maynard Keynes stood to speak. “Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to raise your glasses and to drink—in silence—in piam memoriam.”¹ It was late July 1927, at the Holborn Restaurant in London, and Keynes was toasting Thomas Robert Malthus. The Malthusian League was celebrating its first fifty years, an anniversary function chaired by the famous Cambridge economist. A second toast was raised to “the Pioneers,” and the most significant living pioneer of all, elderly Annie Besant, responded. She had provoked the league’s founding back in 1877, and she was still provoking those around her: guests were asked...

  5. PART I The Long Nineteenth Century

    • 1 Confined in Room: A Spatial History of Malthusianism
      (pp. 29-52)

      Malthus liked writing about islands. They illustrated nicely how humans were always, one way or another, “confined in room.”¹ The multiple scenarios he offered about the great human predicament were often geographical spaces with limits: the Islands of the South Sea, for instance, or perhaps more pressingly for most of his contemporary readers, the British Isles. “Let us now take any spot of earth, this Island for instance,” he invited. If all restraints on population growth were absent, he speculated that in a few centuries, “every acre of land in the Island [would be] like a garden.”² But even this...

  6. PART II The Politics of Earth, 1920s and 1930s

    • 2 War and Peace: Population, Territory, and Living Space
      (pp. 55-80)

      Imperial Germany entered World War I loudly proclaiming its need forRaum. German foreign policy was strongly influenced by theGeopolitiker, scholars who detailed the theory (and indeed the practice) that “vital” nation-states were not fixed in Westphalian agreement, but were necessarily and organically expansive.¹ In this system of thought about people, land, and political territory—this geopolitical worldview—population pressure was both metaphor and quasi-physical law. “Organic-biologicalWeltanschauungof the Geopolitikers,” émigré Robert Strausz-Hupé explained, “is the urge to territorial expansion involving the revolutionary use of the population pressure of a growing nation.”² At one level, the “pressure” argument...

    • 3 Density: Universes with Definite Limits
      (pp. 81-106)

      The first World Population Conference gathered in the high summer of 1927, right in the middle of the decades that separated one world war from the other. Provocatively, to say the least, it was located in Geneva. Socialist conscience of the meeting, Albert Thomas, reminded those assembled just what was a stake: “the question is one of peace or war.”¹ And yet this remarkable conference did not start with war or peace, or even, for that matter, with humans. It began with fruit flies. Johns Hopkins biologist Raymond Pearl gave the opening paper, “The Biology of Population Growth,” a précis...

    • 4 Migration: World Population and the Global Color Line
      (pp. 107-132)

      “The earth is filling up fast, and one of our questions is what to do about it,” U.S. eugenics leader Charles Davenport announced.¹ The question was entirely disingenuous by the time he raised it with his population colleagues in Geneva. Some of his closest U.S. associates had not just designed but implemented their particular answer to the problem of an increasingly “filled up” world: the U.S. Immigration act of 1924.² It regulated the entry of Europeans into the United States, compounding earlier restrictions of people from the so-called Asiatic Barred Zone.³ Indeed the world’s “neo-Britons” in Canada, Australia, and New...

    • 5 Waste Lands: Sovereignty and the Anticolonial History of World Population
      (pp. 133-154)

      The claim that British population increase—that island’s modern “overcrowding”—was a key factor in Atlantic and Pacific expansion, settlement, and colonization was common enough.¹ John Stuart Mill had said as much in the mid-nineteenth century, advocating “the removal of population from the overcrowded to the unoccupied parts of the earth’s surface.”² Time and again, population writers acknowledged that New World land was the necessary condition of and for nineteenth-century world population growth. This was the literal ground from which populations doubled and economies thrived—in South America, the Pacific, and especially on the famous frontier of the North American...

  7. PART III The Politics of Life, 1920s and 1930s

    • 6 Life on Earth: Ecology and the Cosmopolitics of Population
      (pp. 157-180)

      After the Malthusian League’s fiftieth anniversary dinner in late July 1927, John Maynard Keynes jotted a postcard to another of the Malthusian diners, Julian Huxley: “The impressions and excitements of this world are the instruments with which the Supreme Being forms matter into mind.” Although cryptic to many, Huxley hardly needed Keynes’s scribbled prompt: “1st edn of An essay on the p. of p.”¹ They both knew their Malthus and recognized that they were his intellectual descendants: Keynes directly so, as reigning Cambridge economist; Huxley indirectly, as neo-Darwinian biologist and grandson of Charles Darwin’s great defender, Thomas Henry Huxley. That...

    • 7 Soil and Food: Agriculture and the Fertility of the Earth
      (pp. 181-210)

      Throughout the 1920s, and certainly through the economically and militarily tumultuous 1930s, the nature of soil and conspicuous demonstration of its cultivation were politically significant signs of belonging and of claim to territory. The restrictions on global movement of people and ongoing anxiety about global population growth, not to mention famine and food shortages, all brought to the fore local, national, colonial, and even world imperatives for the intensification of agriculture. Commentators such as William Beveridge thought Europeans overseas should cultivate more intensively and perhaps differently the soil they claimed,¹ while Warren Thompson thought those not cultivating the soil they...

    • 8 Sex: The Geopolitics of Birth Control
      (pp. 211-238)

      It would not have been Margaret Sanger’s preference to leave birth control off the official agenda at the first World Population Conference. Nonetheless, she strategically conceded and was certainly not the only one disappointed. In February 1927, before the decision to make the meeting “scientific” and not “applied,” John Maynard Keynes suggested that “it would fill a gap in the programme as sketched out if you could have a paper on the actual progress of contraceptive methods. How widely are they in fact employed? Have they already affected the birth rate?”¹ For Keynes, birth control in all its aspects was...

    • 9 The Species: Human Difference and Global Eugenics
      (pp. 239-264)

      Edward Alsworth Ross ended his bookStanding Room Only?with an entitled set of stipulations about the conditions under which the West might, at its pleasure and discretion, lift the “Great Barrier,” its system of immigration acts. If the social and economic criteria that marked a civilized state were achieved, “the Barrier should be removed.” But this was his penultimate comment only. Ross’s long study concluded with an afterthought: “Unless, to be sure, the future should demonstrate that interchanges of population between racially unlike peoples—which leads to crossing—is biologically undesirable.”¹ Ross’s preference, clearly, would be permanent racial difference,...

  8. PART IV Between One World and Three Worlds, 1940s to 1968

    • 10 Food and Freedom: A New World of Plenty?
      (pp. 267-304)

      In 1943, agriculturalists, economists, physicians, and international policy makers met in Hot Springs, Virginia, a gathering that pre-empted what was to become the first agency of the new United Nations (UN): the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The sinister backdrop was devastating famine in Bengal and in parts of China and millions hungry in the Soviet Union.¹ A world food crisis was declared, and food and population were immediately linked in grand plans for the postwar era. This manifested as national politics as much as international politics over the turbulent late 1940s. As the British withdrew from the subcontinent, independent...

    • 11 Life and Death: The Biopolitical Solution to a Geopolitical Problem
      (pp. 305-327)

      “Freedom from want requires population limitation,” Guy Irving Burch and Elmer Pendell proclaimed in 1947, authorizing their position with a long quote from Benjamin Franklin about prolific nature, crowding, and fennel.¹ Such a position was beginning to be expressed quite often in theory, if not yet in policy. Birth control offered a solution to food insecurity and therefore political insecurity, in the first instance. Statements about birth control solving a gender problem or a health problem for women certainly circulated internationally, as they had in previous decades, but they were muted. When entertained over the late 1940s and 1950s, they...

    • 12 Universal Rights? Population Control and the Powers of Reproductive Freedom
      (pp. 328-354)

      Reproductive politics in the postwar period is often assessed as involving a struggle between those seeking individualized birth control for women on the one hand, and more problematic programs of aggregated, and by implication more coerced, population control on the other.¹ Accordingly, population control with world ambitions is often understood to be a re-emergence of interwar eugenics operating “under new labels.”² Historians will thus draw a connection between compulsory sterilization—in some states of the United States, in some provinces of Canada, in National Socialist Germany—and postwar states’ interest in sterilization, in particular that of India. Ian Dowbiggin’s work...

  9. Conclusion: The Population Bomb in the Space Age
    (pp. 355-364)

    “Taking the whole earth instead of this island, emigration would of course be excluded,” Malthus had written in his 1803 edition.¹ Julian Huxley was saying more or less the same thing at his Lasker Award address in 1959: “Space sets the inescapable limit to population.”² Huxley did not, as a rule, make much mention of Malthus in his energetic world population work over the 1950s and 1960s. But there was no evading the connection between these population thinkers, even as a whole era of modern history divided them, to say nothing of the orders of magnitude by which world population...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 365-444)
  11. Archival Collections
    (pp. 445-446)
  12. Index
    (pp. 447-466)