Modes of Seventeenth-Century Demographic Thought
English thought about the political economy of population witnessed three distinct phases in the early modern period. In the first, stretching from the early sixteenth century through the early seventeenth, population as an abstract quantity took a back seat to specific, localized and qualitatively defined “multitudes” whose existence was bound up with particular legislative interventions. In the second, specific multitudes came to be seen as products of regional or national environment or “situation,” tied to “nature” but subject also to scientific interventions therein. The Restoration witnessed the birth of the third phase, when concepts of “political arithmetic” combined with other features of Hartlibian political economy to conceptualize population as an autonomous, natural, and historical process of “multiplication” and a quantifiable totality, which could be the foundation of economic and social analysis. The transformation in demographic thought, so closely associated with the history of mercantilism, was as much an episode in the history of economic thought as it was in the history of social and natural science.
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