Popular Science Monthly/Volume 85/September 1914/The Decreasing Population of France
|THE DECREASING POPULATION OF FRANCE|
By Professor JAMES W. GARNER
THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS
I. The Present Status of the Population
ONE of the leading newspapers of France, in an editorial in February, 1912, declared that the day on which the results of the next quinquennial census were known would be one of national mourning for the people of France. The Parisian journals in commenting on the census returns when they were made public in May, 1912, characterized the conditions which they revealed by such terms as "deplorable," "profoundly desolating," "extremely disquieting," "lamentable" and "dolorous." The prevailing tone of their comments was as if the country had experienced some great calamity or had suffered a national bereavement. So profoundly impressed was the government that it proceeded at once to appoint an extra-parliamentary commission (the second since 1902), to "investigate the question of depopulation, and to recommend measures for combatting the evils which threaten the extinction of the nation." M. Klotz, minister of finance, in his address to the commission, urged upon it the necessity of prosecuting its investigations with celerity, for, he said, "depopulation is no longer a vague menace to our country; it is a national danger, at once pressing and immediate, and one which demands rapid and efficient measures." M. Léon Bourgeois, addressing the Congress for Social Hygiene about the same time, spoke in a similar tone, declaring that France was threatened with two dangers, one foreign and one domestic. While she was prepared to make any sacrifice, he said, for the cause of national defense, she must also consider seriously the danger with which the country is confronted by the decline of the birth-rate and the comparatively high rate of mortality among the French people. Speaking before the same congress, Senator Ribot, a former premier, declared that "our people must be instructed in the perils that menace us; it will require all the resources and strength of the government to combat successfully the dangers which now imperil the very existence of the French people." No one can read the comments of the statistical experts, sociologists, economists and publicists on the census returns of 1911 without feeling that the nation is really alarmed at the seriousness of the danger with which it is confronted. The census revealed the fact that in 64 of the 87 departments into which France is divided the population had decreased during the past five years and that the number of births during the preceding year in the nation at large was inferior by 34,869 to the number of deaths. True, the total population of the republic increased during the quinquennial period (1906-11), but this increase represented almost entirely the growth of Paris and a few other large cities, itself a result of foreign immigration, which now averages over 120,000 persons a year. Only 23 departments (the number was 55 in 1910) showed any increase at all, and except in those departments containing large cities, the increase was trifling. The departments of Upper Loire, Lot and Yonne each lost about 11,000 inhabitants, Allier and Manche, over 11,000, Somme, 12,400, Nièvre, 14,600 and Ardéche over 15,000.
The disquieting feature of the situation is that while the population of France has long been practically stationary and is now beginning to decline, that of her neighbors continues to increase by leaps and bounds. While the French population since 1872 has increased only from 36,102,000 to 39,601,000, or only about three and a half millions, that of Germany has increased from 40,000,000 to 65,000,000, or a gain of 15,000,000 souls, and this in spite of the several millions that Germany has lost by emigration to foreign lands. During this period the population of the United Kingdom has increased from 31,840,000 to more than 45,000,000; Austria-Hungary from 35,700,000 to more than 49,000,000, and Russia from about 80,000,000 to 155,000,000 (1908), and all this notwithstanding the heavy loss which these countries have sustained through emigration to foreign countries and to their colonies.
M. Bertillon, speaking before the Society of Friends of the University of Paris, in 1912, called attention to the fact that in 1815 the French constituted 18 per cent, of the civilized people of the world; now they constitute only 10 per cent. Against 50,000,000 people who speak French, there are to-day, he says, 120,000,000 who speak German and 150,000,000 who speak English. In 1789 France stood first among the powers of Europe in respect to population; to-day she stands sixth and is followed closely by Italy. M. Bertillon pointed out the economic and other consequences to the nation that must result from this loss of population. French exports have almost ceased to increase for lack of producers and manufacturers, while those of Germany have nearly doubled during the last thirty years. In case of war Germany now has fifty per cent, more conscripts than France to put into the field whereas forty years ago the two countries were in this respect on a footing of practical equality. France has no men available to send to her colonies and few to spread French influence abroad. M. Bertillon calls attention to the fact that technical and scientific works whose readers are necessarily limited in numbers but which nevertheless are the essential marks of progress will be published in the language spoken by the largest number of people. For Europe this language was once French, but it has ceased to be such. During the past century, which the birth-rate of all the other countries of Europe greatly increased, that of France steadily declined. In 1801, the number of births in France was 1,007,000, by 1836 the number had fallen to 927,000, in 1876, it was 847,000; in 1896, 807,000; in 1901, 857,114 and in 1911, 742,114. In 1897 the number of births exceeded the number of deaths by 108,000; in 1902 the excess was 83,000; in 1906 it was only 26,000 and in 1911 there was, as I have said, a deficit of 34,869, an amount equal to the loss of a city the size of Luneville, Verdun or Bar-le-Duc.
While the natural increase in the population of France has for many years been a negligible quantity, the average annual excess of legitimate births over deaths in Germany is at present in the neighborhood of 750,000 (last year it was 900,000); in Austria-Hungary more than 600,000; in the United Kingdom nearly 500,000 and in Italy more than 300,000. The fact that Germany in particular is adding by natural increase nearly a million souls to her human resources every year, while France is not only adding nothing to hers, but, on the contrary, is losing a portion of what she has, is not only a source of disquietude, but of genuine alarm. In a sense Von Moltke did not exaggerate when he said Germany is gaining every year a battle over France by reason of the addition to her population of nearly a million souls. Nor did M. deFoville, of the Institute, when he declared that France is losing every fifteen years four army corps.
The recent census statistics show a declining birth-rate in all the departments without exception. In many of them the rate of mortality exceeds the birth-rate by a third, while in some it is twice as great. From 1810 to 1911, the birth-rate for France, as a whole, decreased from 31.8 per thousand to 19.6, while in some departments, like Garonne, it is only 13.6; in certain parts of Normandy and Gascony it is as low as 10.9 and even 8. According to statistics published by the city of Paris in April of last year there was an average of but one birth in the capital for every thirty families during the past year.
Parallel with the decreasing birth-rate has gone a steady diminution in the size of French families. In 1800 each household had an average of 4.24 children; in 1860 it had fallen to 3.16, now it is slightly more than two and among many categories of persons like the wealthy of Paris, poorly paid state employés and small landed proprietors in certain provinces it is still smaller, in some cases being as low as 1.5.
According to official statistics published in 1908 by the ministry of labor, there were 1,804,710 families in France that had no children; 2,966,171 that had only one child; 2,661,978 that had two; 1,643,415, that had three, and only 987,392 that had four. Altogether there were only 2,238,780 families having four or more children, leaving 9,076,274 families having from but one to three or none at all.
A variety of causes, hygienic, social, economic and legal, have been offered in explanation of the conditions described above in respect to the state of the French population. First of all, an unnecessarily high rate of mortality among the French people is said to be partly responsible. For all France the number of deaths per 1,000 of population is in the neighborhood of 20, whereas in England, Holland, the Scandinavian countries, Germany and Switzerland it is considerably lower, the rate being as low as 14 in Norway and 17 in Sweden. Infantile mortality is especially high in France, one third of all deaths occurring before the end of the third year. The ravages of tuberculosis among the French also contribute greatly to the elevation of the death rate. M. Bourgeois recently stated before the Congress of Social Hygiene that although the death-rate from tuberculosis had fallen in England and Germany from 11 per 10,000 of the population, the rate in France was 22.5. The rate of mortality on account of this disease is especially high in Paris, where in 1908 there were 13,600 deaths therefrom.
Alcoholism was declared by the Klotz commission to be partly responsible for the high infantile mortality and to some extent also for the small birth-rate. The commission produced statistics to show that in those departments where there has been a large increase in the consumption of alcohol, there has been a corresponding increase in the rate of infantile mortality. Senator Ribot declares that alcoholism and tuberculosis are fast obliterating the French race and this opinion is supported by the testimony of a number of noted specialists in alcoholic diseases. Statistics show that there has been an enormous increase in the amount of alcohol consumed in France (the average per capita consumption is about fourteen litres per year and in certain cities of Normandy it is as high as twenty-nine) and they also show that a large percentage of the inmates of the hospitals and insane asylums are alcoholics. But as M. Bertillon has declared, while alcoholism is undoubtedly exerting a terrible effect upon the quality of the young and is contributing to race degeneracy, it is not an immediate cause of sterility and does not necessarily affect the number of births. Moreover, there are other nations where the evil of alcoholism is equally great, for example, England, Germany and Belgium, and yet those countries have a relatively high birth-rate.
The decline of religious faith and of traditional beliefs among the French is regarded by many persons, among whom may be mentioned the distinguished economist, Paul Leroy-Beaulieu, as one of the contributory causes for the small birth-rate. The scriptural injunction to multiply and replenish the earth no longer has the moral influence upon the French mind which it once had. The obligation to rear families which has always been regarded as a religious duty naturally rests lightly upon a people who have all but repudiated religion. The adversaries of religion, however, place the responsibility for the low birth rate at the door of Catholicism which has not only withdrawn from married life a large portion of the population both male and female, but does not encourage marriage among the laity. The latter charge the catholics emphatically deny, and as evidence that Catholicism is not responsible they point to Brittany, Finistère and other strongly catholic provinces where the birth-rate is the highest in France. If the birthrate for all France, says M. Leroy-Beaulieu had been since 1871 equal to that of Finistère, France would have to-day 53,000,000 inhabitants instead of only 39,000,000. Moreover, the catholics point out that in Quebec, a strongly French catholic province, the birth-rate is more than twice as high as that of France, and that Belgium with its comparatively high birth-rate is a country where Catholicism is strongly intrenched. It is sometimes complained that one cause of the evil is to be found in the paucity of marriages, but the statistics show that there has been a steady increase in the number for many years (e. g., from 269,332 in 1890 to 307,788 in 1911, and this notwithstanding the fact that there was little increase of population during this period), yet the birth-rate has declined. It seems clear that it is not more marriages that France needs, but more productive marriages; it is infecundity that is responsible for the diminishing population and not lack of marital unions.
Some students of the question, like M. Henri Joly, see in the granting of divorces, the number of which steadily increases every year, one of the secondary causes; but this may be doubted. On the contrary, it might be argued that divorce conduces to the increase of the birth-rate by permitting the dissolution of sterile unions and the contracting of others. Moreover, there was no divorce law in France before 1884, yet the population had long since ceased to increase except in trifling proportions. Finally, divorce is practised in other countries where the birth-rate is high; if it contributes to the diminution of the population in France, why does it not have the same effect elsewhere? The prohibition of the judicial determination of paternity in the case of illegimate children has long been regarded as a secondary cause of the low birth-rate, since it encourages illicit cohabitation in the place of lawful marriages. This legal incentive to "free unions" has been removed, however, during the past year by the enactment of a law empowering the courts to ascertain and determine the father of an illegitimate child which he refuses to recognize. The enactment of this law, says the Temps, was a great victory in the interests of morals and humanity and one which required fifty years to achieve.
The spirit of luxury and ease and the high state of wealth are also held responsible for the disinclination among the French to rear children. The census statistics show that in the richest regions of France, like Normandy, Burgundy and the Valley of the Garonne, the birth-rate is the lowest, while in the poorest provinces like Brittainy, the Nord and Lozère it is the highest. They show also that it is twice as high among the poor of Paris as among the rich and that it is fifty per cent, higher among fishermen and sailors than among landlords and the professional classes. But this is a phenomenon not peculiar to France; it is found in all countries where there is a high state of civilization and therefore does not explain why the birth-rate is lower in France than in other countries where similar conditions prevail.
Our conclusion, therefore, is that the principal causes of the low birth-rate are not due to external conditions, social, legal or religious, but are the result of the general attitude of the French toward family life. The relatively high rate of mortality, inadequate hygienic conditions, alcoholism, divorce and the other causes mentioned may be contributory factors, but the chief reason is that the French people do not desire to have children. This attitude has been powerfully accentuated by the neo-Malthusian propagandists who by personal solicitation and the distribution of literature encourage the voluntary limitation of births and the practise of abortion, under the pretext of hygiene and the dissemination of philosophic and scientific doctrines. Limitation of the population is to them a legitimate means of combatting poverty and misery, a policy all the more justifiable, they argue, because of the high cost of living and the increasingly hard struggle for existence. Quality rather than quantity of population, they maintain, is the true test of civilization and national greatness. Moreover, the population of France is already as large as its resources can adequately support and therefore nothing is to be gained by producing a surplus to be forced by necessity to emigrate to America or to Madagascar and to the colonies of Africa. This very active propaganda is now being vigorously combatted as a national crime by men like Jules Lemaêtre, Edmond Perrier, Senator Berenger and others, and a bill for its suppression is being considered by the senate with every likelihood of becoming a law at an early date. Statistics seem to leave no doubt that the propaganda in favor of race suicide is exerting a marked influence on the birth-rate in many parts of France. In Roubaix, for example, where it has been particularly active, the number of births decreased from 3,837 in 1897 to 2,568 in 1906. Likewise in Turcoing the birth-rate has fallen from 34 per 1,000 inhabitants to 19 since the beginning of the propaganda in that city. This propaganda, says Dr. Lebec, is costing France an army corps every five years. Senator Paul Strauss in reporting the conclusions of the extra-parliamentary commission on depopulation recently referred to the "agonizing results" of the Malthusian crusade, and declared that statistics collected by Dr. Doleris showed that between 1898 and 1904 the number of cases of abortions treated in the maternity hospitals had tripled and that the number represented 18 per cent, of all cases treated in such institutions. In Paris the number of abortions is estimated to exceed the number of births and fully two thirds of these are said to be provoked. Dr. Georges Bertillon estimates that the annual number of such cases is not less than 50,000 for all France, and Premier Barthou in the course of the discussion during the past summer of a proposed law to restrain the practises of the Malthusians asserted that the number of abortions was probably as high as 100,000 per year.
One undoubted reason for the voluntary limitation of the number of births is to be found in the small incomes of the laboring classes and the petty employés of the state. That a laborer who receives but 80 cents a day or a letter carrier whose salary is only 200 or 250 dollars a year can not rear a family, especially in a city like Paris, however much he may desire to do so, is a proposition which is scarcely controvertible. Consequently they feel under an economic necessity of limiting the size of their families. It is notorious that the number of functionaries in France is excessive (nearly one million, or one fortieth of the total population) and that they are miserably paid, their average salary being scarcely more than 500 dollars per year. This explains why the birth-rate among them is lower than that of any other class except the rich, the average number of children per family being but one and a half.
Students of the depopulation problem are all agreed that another important cause of the voluntary limitation of births is the excessive spirit of economy and the passion for saving which prevails among all classes in France and especially among peasants, shopkeepers and small proprietors. Statistics show that in those communities where the number of certificates of deposit in the savings banks is the largest, the birth-rate is the lowest. Every father feels under the necessity of providing a dot for his daughter and it is one of his chief ambitions to leave an inheritance for his sons. Among the poorer classes this ambition can be realized only when the number of children is limited. There is also among the French an extreme reluctance to see their fortune divided through the operation of inheritance laws. As the existing law does not permit free testamentary disposition, but allows each child an equal share of the inheritance, the only way by which the father can prevent the division of his estate after his death is to leave but a single child to inherit it. The French peasant loves his land more than he loves children, and his ideal is, therefore, a single heir married to a single heiress. He is willing to have his name disappear with his death if his heir is a girl, rather than see his estate divided, which must necessarily be the case if he leaves several children. Therefore he leaves only one. M. Paul Leroy-Beaulieu, who since the death of M. Levasseur is probably the highest authority in France on matters relating to population, attributes the low birth-rate to the new democratic conception of the family—a view which regards children as a burden and which desires that the family from one generation to another shall rise in the social scale. Every parent desires that his children shall occupy a higher social position than he himself did. The laborer's ambition is to see his son a landlord or a functionary; the peasant wants his son to be a monsieur, an advocate, a doctor or a merchant; and the petit bourgeois has similar ambitions. The only means of realizing such ambitions is to limit the number of children to whom the fortune is to be left. This capillarité sociale—this striving of each social molecule to rise higher in the organism—is, he thinks, the principal cause of the infecundity of the French race, at least during recent years.
III. Proposed Remedies
Such are the more important causes to which are attributed the declining population of France. Turning now to a consideration of the proposed remedies, we find that they are as various as the causes and are hygienic, legislative, administrative, fiscal and social in character. First of all, the death-rate, especially among infants, may, and should be, reduced to the level attained in other countries of Europe. More than one sixth of the children born in France, or between 150,000 and 170,000, die every year, and of these one third die during the first month after birth. This is a "veritable disaster" to the nation, says the commission on depopulation, and it should be met by better sanitary measures, medical surveillance, more effective inspection of the milk supply and gratuitous assistance to the poor. Maternal nourishment should be encouraged by every means, in default of which measures should be taken to assure a supply of sterilized milk to children who are dependent upon the dairy for their nourishment. Furthermore, legislation should be enacted forbidding the employment of mothers in industrial establishments at least six weeks before and after accouchement, and such establishments should be required to provide places at which babies may be nourished by their mothers. By such measures as these at least 50,000 children, it is claimed, could be saved for the nation every year.
State aid and initiative in the construction of cheap tenement houses for large families, in the cities where rents are high and the cost of living excessive, has been advocated by many social reformers. Last year the parliament adopted a building code governing the erection of such houses, and it contained special provisions in favor of large families. During the past year a law was also passed providing for public assistance for large families and making the expense of such assistance obligatory upon the departments, but providing also that the state and the communes should share a portion of the cost. The law enacts that every head of a family having more than three legitimate children and the resources of which are insufficient for their support shall receive an additional grant for every child above the third under thirteen years of age. The amount of the allocation is to be determined by the municipal council subject to the approval of the Council General and the Minister of the Interior, but it can not be lower than 60 francs per year for each child nor superior to 90 francs.
More effective measures for combatting tuberculosis, the abolition of divorce, legislation permitting the judicial determination of paternity in the case of illegitimate births and the suppression of convents with their 60,000 female celibates are some of the other secondary remedies proposed, but it is certain that such measures will not reach the real cause of the evil. As I have said, the parliament passed a law during the past summer authorizing the judicial determination of illegitimate paternity and its results will be watched with interest. In regard to the suppression of convents, M. Bertillon has remarked that at best it would not result in the addition of more than four or five thousand children annually to the population, whereas France needs at least 500,000 more births per year.
The restoration of religious sentiments would, according to many students of the problem, result in a new attitude toward the obligation to rear families. Among those who share in this view is M. Leroy-Beaulieu who, in a recent article in the Journal des Débats, protested against the government's hostile attitude toward the traditional religious beliefs of the people. It is necessary, he declared, that our statesmen should at once abandon the absurd and odious war which they have waged for a quarter of a century, and particularly during the last fifteen years, against our country's traditional religious beliefs.
The criminal suppression of the methods now being employed by the Malthusian propagandists is another proposed remedy. During the past year the senate has had under consideration a law for this purpose and one which proposes to give the correctional tribunals jurisdiction of cases of abortion, with a view to rendering convictions in such cases more certain. Senator Barthou, Premier and Minister of Justice, in advocating the adoption of this law in 1912 said: "I am certain that the senate will understand that the proposed law is a measure of public safety and national salubrity." There is little doubt that the suppression of provoked abortions and of infanticide would have important results upon the increase of the population, and it is equally certain that the best public sentiment of France demands legislation for this purpose, but its enforcement would obviously be attended with great practical difficulties.
Simplification of the formalities of marriage with a view to encouraging an increase in the number has also been advocated. It may be added that by laws passed in 1896 and 1897 a number of the old rigorous requirements of the civil code were abolished, notably those relating to age, residence in the commune and consent of parents, and the removal of these restrictions was actually followed by a large increase in the number of marriages (from an average of 281,000 per year prior to 1896 to 323,000 since 1907), but there is much complaint that the formalities still required and the legal fees exacted are excessive and constitute a real hindrance to marriage. But, as I have remarked, the number of marriages is already comparatively large in France and there has been a wholesome increase from year to year. In all probability, therefore, such a remedy would not produce any appreciable results.
The modification of the naturalization laws with a view to facilitating the acquisition of French nationality and thereby encouraging immigration has also been advocated as a means of increasing the population. The existing requirements are too rigid, says M. Leroy-Beaulieu; France, he thinks, could well afford to naturalize 50,000 foreigners a year since the density of her population is far less than that of Germany, Italy and Belgium, and by thus encouraging immigration the country would find a new source from which its declining population could be recruited. Reform of the inheritance laws so as to allow the father a right of free testamentary disposition, as is the rule in other countries of Europe, has been widely urged in recent years. The existing provisions of the civil code, as I have said, compel the division of the inheritance when there is more than one child, and the general reluctance among small proprietors of having their estates split up into parcels conduces to the voluntary limitation of their offspring. All those who have investigated the question are of the opinion that the proposed change would result in a marked increase of the birth rate. M. Bertillon goes further and proposes a more heroic remedy, namely, the treating of single children in respect to an inheritance as if they had brothers and sisters; he would, for example, impose a tax of 30 per cent, on the inheritance when there are two children and 60 per cent, when there is but one. In other words, where there is but a single child he would have the state confiscate that portion of the inheritance which would go to the other children if there were any.
A more reasonable proposal of this kind has been made by Colonel Toutee, namely, that the law should regulate the inheritance according to the size of the families of the heirs. Thus if two heirs are left, one of whom has three children and the other none, the estate should be divided into five parts, of which four should go to the first heir and one to the second.
The suggestion has often been made that the state should offer bounties for the production of children and numerous bills have been introduced into the parliament for this purpose. One of the more recent was a proposal by M. Messimy, a former minister of war, providing for the payment of a bounty of $100 for every child above the fourth. But for fiscal reasons such proposals have not been favorably received. A proposed measure which has many advocates is the employment of the taxing power for the purpose of chastising celibates and the heads of families without children. The rearing of children, says M. Bertillon, one of the strongest advocates of the taxation of celibacy and infecundity, should be considered as a public duty in the same way as service in the army and the payment of taxes. The act of rearing a child should be considered as equivalent to the payment of a tax; he who does not discharge this duty should be subject to a sur tax; those who do, should be wholly or partially exempted from taxation. The statistics show that there are more than 1,500,000 male celibates over 25 years of age in France, nearly 2,000,000 families without any children at all, nearly 3,000,000 which have but one child each, and 2,500,000 which have but two each.
A sur tax on such persons would be to a large extent a tax on the rich and well-to-do and it would make possible a reduction of the taxes on the comparatively small number of large families which are to be found, for the most part, among the poorer classes.
Fiscal measures whose purpose is to discriminate and to punish celibacy and infecundity are, however, objectionable to many persons who believe that the better remedy consists in measures of a more elevated character addressed to the moral sentiments—measures which will tend to reward and honor fecundity and which shall have the character of a mark of recognition by the state of its esteem for those who have contributed to its strength and perpetuity by the rearing of families. Such a measure is the oft-repeated proposal to give the preference in the matter of appointments to the lower posts in the public-service which do not require special qualifications, to the heads of families and especially to the heads of families containing more than three children. This proposal has been advocated by Messrs. Bertillon, Leroy-Beaulieu, Levasseur, Senators Lannelongue, Piot and many others and has been the subject of numerous bills in parliament. M. Leroy-Beaulieu has, I believe, even proposed that no one be appointed a functionary who does not have at least three living children. This proposal recalls the action of a former prefect of the Seine, M. Poubelle, who refused to appoint to certain inferior positions, any man who was not the father of at least three children. But this is a rather heroic remedy, hardly conducive to administrative efficiency, and would scarcely be practicable unless the state should increase the present miserably low scale of salaries now allowed its employés, many of whom find it impossible to support a family of three children out of their official incomes.
A more moderate proposal is that the state should take account of the size of the family in fixing the salaries and retiring pensions of public functionaries. This suggestion has been made by the commission on depopulation and by many writers and social reformers. Bills embodying this idea have frequently been before parliament, and in 1908 the Chamber of Deputies adopted a resolution inviting the government to introduce a projét for granting to the employés of the state receiving small salaries an allocation in proportion to the size of their families. Some of the administrative departments have in fact already adopted such a policy. Thus in the department of indirect taxes, every employé whose salary is less than $440 a year and who has three or more children under eighteen years of age receives a subsidy of $12 a year. Likewise in the post-office department and in the customs service there is a similar grant of $9.00 per year. Somewhat similar allowances are made by the state railroads and other branches of the public service. Thus the principle has already been given an extended application, though on a somewhat small scale. Not very different in principle and without the objections which characterize punitive taxation of celibacy and infecundity is the proposal advocated by M. Leroy-Beaulieu and others to take into account the size of the family in fixing the amount of the personal tax, which, in France, is mainly a tax on habitation and one which therefore weighs heavily upon renters having large families. This principle has been embodied in the tax systems of various continental states, notably in the German income tax law which allows a reduction of $12.50 in the amount of the tax for every child under fourteen years of age. The abolition of the tax on doors and windows, letters patent, the octroi and others of a similar character which are peculiarly burdensome to the poor would be, as has often been asserted, conducive to the rearing of larger families.
Such are some of the means that have been proposed for combatting the conditions which threaten France with depopulation. Some of them, like discriminating measures against celibates, the payment of bounties for the production of children, the exemption of heads of families from certain public impositions, and the partial confiscation of inheritances where there is but a single child, were tried by the Romans, but they were largely illusory and of little effect. Of the other measures proposed, some are impracticable, others are impossible of execution and still others would be productive of but slight results. The true remedy lies not in legislative, administrative or fiscal measures, though some of these may contribute toward the checking of the evil, but in a reform of the morals and customs of the French people. There must be a fundamental change in the attitude of French men and women toward the obligation to rear families; there must be an awakening to the duty which devolves upon the citizen to contribute to the perpetuity of his race through the rearing of children as to defend it in time of war or to pay taxes for the maintenance of government. Any and all measures which shall contribute toward an awakening of the people to the importance of this national duty are worthy of encouragement and of adoption. The solution of the problem is not dependent upon external measures and remedies; it is to be found almost entirely in the moral sentiments and social customs of the people themselves. Zola did not exaggerate when he said: "France will never be depopulated unless she wishes to be." The late Emile Levasseur once remarked that it was "truly humiliating to think of a nation of thirty-eight million souls, which by its age, its industry and commerce is one of the wealthiest of the globe and which by its intellectual activity, its arts and its sciences is one of the most capable of enlightening the world and which under republican government has during the last quarter of a century recovered in the European concert the place of a great power, is a nation which, according to the statistics is destined to disappear." Mr. Roosevelt's warning at the Sorbonne in 1907 that "neither luxury, nor material progress, nor the accumulation of wealth, nor the seductions of literature and of art, should take the place of those fundamental virtues the greatest of which is that which assures the future of the race" made a deep impression at the time it was delivered and has not been entirely without result. It is no exaggeration to say that at no time in the past have so many thoughtful Frenchmen been aroused to a realization of the consequences that must inevitably result from the continued decline of the population. This is fully attested by the organization of societies to increase the population, by the formation of parliamentary groups with the same end in view, by the appointment of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary commissions to study the question and to search for the remedies, by legislative and administrative measures of various kinds and by the discussions and publications of scientific bodies and of economists, sociologists and publicists. No one can read the extensive literature to which the discussion of the problem has given rise without feeling that the question is now regarded as a serious and pressing one and that the nation proposes to grapple with it as such.
- ↑ Such a law has been enacted since the above was written.