Statistics, Power, and Expertise

When we think of knowledge in the context of government, we often think of statistics. In fact, it's arguable that statistics are not merely an especially prominent form of politically useful knowledge, but that their increasing use, starting in the seventeenth century and gathering pace ever since, was precisely what gave rise to our very … Continue reading Statistics, Power, and Expertise

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Self-promotion/free advice alert: new book on Malthus

Buy this book! Well, buy it if you have US$100/£65/C$115 that's not destined for more pressing uses, like rent or food. Otherwise, look for it in a generously endowed academic library near you. It's full of new and interesting thoughts on Malthus, Malthusianism, population, geography, and more. And some of those thoughts are mine! This … Continue reading Self-promotion/free advice alert: new book on Malthus

The Ambivalent Alchemist’s Guide to History: Or, Why Gabriel Plattes Matters

"But if you look at the history, modern chemistry only starts coming in to replace alchemy around the same time capitalism really gets going. Strange, eh? What do you make of that?" Webb nodded agreeably. "Maybe capitalism decided it didn't need the old magic anymore." An emphasis whose contempt was not meant to escape Merle's … Continue reading The Ambivalent Alchemist’s Guide to History: Or, Why Gabriel Plattes Matters

Return to Penis Island: Or, the surprising trajectories of early modern population thought (Part 3: Conclusion)

[Earlier episodes: Part 1; Part 2] As we’ve seen, there were a variety of lenses through which to read Neville’s novel, from travel account to political parable to biblical allegory to niche pornography. The Isle of Pines’s close attention to population registered differently depending on the lens. To readers who kept a weather eye on … Continue reading Return to Penis Island: Or, the surprising trajectories of early modern population thought (Part 3: Conclusion)

Return to Penis Island: Or, the surprising trajectories of early modern population thought (Part 2)

[Earlier episode: Part 1] The Old Testament was familiar with the likes of George Pine: long-lived, polygamous survivors of disaster who founded new societies in bounteous and conveniently depopulated landscapes. In the Isle of Pines, for his part, Neville described a second Eden, “always clothed in green, and full of pleasant fruits, and variety of … Continue reading Return to Penis Island: Or, the surprising trajectories of early modern population thought (Part 2)

Return to Penis Island: Or, the surprising trajectories of early modern population thought (Part 1)

Henry Neville (1620-94) was a republican political thinker in an era of civil war, regicide, constitutional experimentation, and resurgent monarchy; he translated Machiavelli’s works and traced republicanism’s heritage back to Moses. He is now better known, however, for a short work of faintly pornographic utopian fiction, The Isle of Pines. Couched as a Dutch sea-captain’s … Continue reading Return to Penis Island: Or, the surprising trajectories of early modern population thought (Part 1)