Giovanni Botero was an Italian statesman, political writer, and upholder of the principles of the counter-reformation of the Catholic Church. Botero was a major figure in the early history of the social sciences and was recognized as the originator of modern population theory, in some important respects anticipating English economist T. R. Malthus. He was a member of the Jesuit order and held various diplomatic posts in France and Spain, and later in Rome. His ten-volume work Della Ragion di Stato (The Reason of State) (1589) is comparable in interest, if not in length, to Italian political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince (1513). Botero's book, like that of his more famous predecessor, is written for the prince who intends to conserve with prudence the domain he won by force. However, Botero's prince must be virtuous, religious, and faithful to the Catholic Church, "the eternal seat of power," and in this he opposed the lay vision of Machiavelli's prince. A later work, Relazioni Universali (1593–1596), describes the state of Christianity throughout the world.
In the field of demography, Botero is mainly of interest for the three-volume work Cause della grandezza e magnificenza delle città (The Greatness of Cities) (1588). In this work, the subject of population, seen as the wealth of a city or nation, is at the center of a quantitative depiction of human society. Botero had a quantitative vision of overpopulation, anticipating theories that became established much later. He contended that the civil development of populations did not lie in the possession of more riches, but above all in the numerical increase and productive activities of the people themselves. Botero attributed the increase of populations to the generative virtue of man and the nutritional virtue of the city. When the latter is insufficient, he argued, the solution lies in the creation of colonies, as practiced by the ancient Romans: the export of population as a relief valve for demographic excess. (This idea had already been introduced by Machiavelli in the Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio, which suggested that when the demographic mass exceeds the productivity of the earth, famine, disease, or floods will take place.) In effect, Botero produced a first doctrinal draft of a theory of population, more than 200 years before Malthus. Despite the distance in time and, in some respects, in philosophy, the similarity between the thinking of the late-eighteenth-century Protestant clergyman Malthus and the late-sixteenth-century writing of the Jesuit Botero goes beyond the basic framework of their analytic approach. For example, Botero's views on the types and modus operandi of what came to be known as "positive checks" and "preventive checks" to population growth are a remarkable anticipation of Malthus's familiar treatment, even if the latter is set out in a more rigorous and modern fashion. Like Malthus (who did not know about the work of his Italian predecessor), Botero also sought to ground his reasoning in observable demographic facts, even though that effort was largely frustrated by his lack of access to reliable statistics and by his misconceptions about the demography of both the ancient and the contemporary world.
selected works by giovanni botero.
Botero, Giovanni. 1583. De Regia Sapienza. Milano: Pacifico Ponti.
——. 1591–1596. Delle Relazioni Universali. Rome: Giorgio Ferrari.
——. 1956 (1588). The Greatness of Cities, trans. Robert Peterson. New Haven: Yale University Press; originally published as Delle Cause della Grandezza e Magnificenza delle Città. Rome: Giovanni Martinelli.
——. 1956 (1589–1596). The Reason of State, 10 vols., trans. P. J. and D. P. Waley; originally published as Della Ragion di Stato, Venice: I Gioliti; Ferrara: Vittorio Baldini Stampator Ducale; 1596. Torino: Gio. Dominico Tarino.