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vitality in the French, while, in fact, their own birth-rate has been
falling more rapidly than that of France.
Nor is it true that a falling birth-rate means a falling population. The
French birth-rate has been steadily falling for a number of years, yet
the French population has been steadily increasing all the time, though
less rapidly than it would had not the death-rate been abnormally high.
It is not the number of babies born that counts, but the net result in
surviving children. An enormous number of babies are born in China; but
an enormous number die while still babies. So that it is better to have
a few babies of good quality than a large number of indifferent quality,
for the falling birth-rate is more than compensated by the falling
death-rate. In England, as the statistics show, while the birth-rate is
steadily falling, the population has been steadily growing.
Small families and a falling death-rate are not merely no evil--they are
a positive good. They are a gain for humanity. They represent an
evolutionary rise in Nature and a higher stage in civilization. We are
here in the presence of a great fundamental principle of progress which
has been working through life from the beginning.
At the beginning of life on the earth, reproduction ran riot. Of one
minute organism it is estimated that, if its reproduction were not
checked by death or destruction, in thirty days it would form a mass a
million times larger than the sun. The conger-eel lays fifteen million
eggs, and if they all grew up, and reproduced themselves on the same
scale, in two years the whole sea would become a wriggling mass of eels.
As we approach the higher forms of life, reproduction gradually dies
down. The animals nearest to man produce few offspring, but they
surround them with parental care, until they are able to lead
independent lives with a fair chance of surviving. The whole process may
be regarded as a mechanism for slowly subordinating quantity to quality,
and to promoting the evolution of life to even higher stages.
This process, which is plain to see on the largest scale throughout
living nature, may be more minutely studied, as it acts within a
narrower range, in the human species. Here we statistically formulate it
in the terms of birth-rate and death-rate; by the mutual relationship of
the two courses of the birth-rate and death-rate we are able to estimate
the evolutionary rank of a nation, and the degree in which it has
succeeded in subordinating the primitive standard of quantity to the
higher and later standard of quality.
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