Strength in Numbers: Population, Reproduction, and Power in Eighteenth-Century France

Strength in Numbers: Population, Reproduction, and Power in Eighteenth-Century France

by Carol Blum


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In the eighteenth century France became convinced it was losing population. While not technically true (France was merely failing to gain population as rapidly as Great Britain and the German states), the public's belief in a national fertility crisis had far-reaching consequences. In Strength in Numbers: Population, Reproduction, and Power in Eighteenth-Century France, Carol Blum shows how intellectuals used "natalism" as a means of criticizing the monarchy and the Church in their pursuit of social change.

In addition to the arguments over celibacy, divorce, and polygamy, other, more radical, proposals were put forward to free potentially fruitful male desire from the tedious ties of European matrimony. The question of whether sexual violence was a crime or rather an imperative of nature was passionately debated, as was the abolition of the incest taboo. Descriptions of exotic locales where uninhibited natives were alleged to copulate freely and procreate abundantly became a popular literary genre of erotic fantasy, made respectable by a framework of natalist discourse. The wish to reject the Church's moral guidance and return to the "laws of nature" led philosophers such as Diderot and Voltaire to question the institution of marriage itself.

Centered on the eighteenth-century struggle to define moral authority, Strength in Numbers is the account of freethinkers' campaigns against the Church and monarchy; of the conflicts concerning the good and evil of "natural" sexuality; and of the ways in which natalism was used not only as a passive instrument in the wars of Enlightenment but as an active force shaping mentalities.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780801868108
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date: 03/08/2002
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.98(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Carol Blum is Research Professor of Humanities at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. She is the author of Diderot, the Virtue of a Philosopher and Rousseau and the Republic of Virtue: The Language of Politics in the French Revolution.

Table of Contents




ONE: The Value of Kings

TWO: Montesquieu and the "Depopulation Letters"

THREE: Celibacy: From the Grace of God to the Scourge of the Nation

FOUR: Divorce, the Demographic Spur

FIVE: Polygamy: Fertility and the Lost Right of Man

SIX: Rousseau and the Paradoxes of Reproduction

SEVEN: Population Politics in Revolution




What People are Saying About This

Suzanne Desan

This book makes a distinct contribution by examining Enlightenment populationist thought. Carol Blum illustrates in original fashion how natalism intersects with multiple other strands of the Enlightenment, from anticlericalism to the critique of social customs. This is a work that opens up new territory.

Suzanne Desan, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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