Although the argument of the Essay on population originated in a family disagreement between Malthus and his father Daniel, who idolized Rousseau, and the Essay itself attacks Condorcet and Godwin, both of whom drew on Rousseau's ideas about human perfectibility, Malthus's project can plausibly be seen as an extension of the social theory set out above all in Rousseau's Discourse on the origin of inequality. Malthus was animated by some of Rousseau's characteristic concerns, and he deployed recognizable versions of some of Rousseau's distinctive arguments, in particular relating to the natural sociability and natural condition of humankind, conjectural history, and political economy, especially with respect to the question of balanced growth. His arguments about ‘decent pride’, furthermore, that were emphasized in later editions of the Essay map neatly onto what has been called ‘uninflamed amour-propre’ in the Rousseau literature. When we treat the social question as a nineteenth-century question, or when we locate its origins in the post-Revolutionary political controversies of the 1790s, we risk losing sight of the way in which what was being discussed were variations on mid-eighteenth-century themes.
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