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material with which to build up gigantic armies.
A writer on the state of public opinion on this subject during this
period has well said: "It seemed to the more exuberant spirits that a
vast British Empire, or a mighty Pan-German, might be expected to cover
the whole world. France, with its low and falling birth-rate, was looked
down at with a contempt as a decadent country inhabited with a
degenerate population. No attempt to analyze the birth-rate, to
ascertain what are really the biological, social, and economic
accompaniments of a high birth-rate, made any impression on the popular
mind. They were drowned in a general shout of exultation."
But this period of uncritical optimism was followed by a natural
reaction. The pendulum stopped in its course, and soon began to swing in
the opposite direction. Here, about 1880, the second stage may be said
to have begun. Public opinion began to manifest a subtle change, and
this mental attitude was accompanied by a physical manifestation in the
form of a decreasing birth-rate. The rate of births began to fall
rapidly, and has continued to fall steadily since that time.
The writer above quoted from says of this second period: "In France the
birth-rate fell slowly, in Italy more rapidly, and in England and
Prussia still more rapidly. As, however, the fall began earliest in
France, the birth-rate was lower there than in the other countries
named. For the same reason it was lower in England than in Prussia,
although England stands in this respect at almost exactly the same
distance from Prussia today (1917) as thirty years ago, the fall having
occurred at the same rate in both countries. It is quite possible that
in the future it may become more rapid in Prussia than in England, for
the birth-rate of Berlin is lower than the birth-rate of London, and
urbanization is proceeding at a more rapid rate in Germany than in
It is not difficult to arrive at the psychological reason underlying
this great change in public opinion, as manifested in this second stage.
In the first place, the wonderful era of world-expansion was arrested,
by natural causes well understood by students of sociology. The
ambitious dreams of world-empires were rudely interrupted. Moreover,
public opinion was being affected by a quiet education along the lines
of sociology and economics.
The working classes began to perceive, on the one hand, the tendency of
overpopulation to hold down, or even decrease, the scale of wages. The
evils of over-production, and of under-consumption were dimly perceived.
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