Antinatalism (continued)

[Excerpt from my ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

Antinatalism, Dysteleological or Nihilistic

A distinction must be drawn between, on the one hand, a teleological ecological antinatalism (the actions and the very presence of Man lead to the decline and the destruction of seemingly teleologically-structured eco-systems) and, on the other, a genuinely dysteleological antinatalism. According to the latter an end would need to be put to procreation because the existence of each individual, as well as of the species as a whole, is without sense or purpose. Such a dysteleological antinatalism is a position one might have expected to see propounded, for example, by writers and philosophers of “the absurd” like Albert Camus. No really substantial moves, however, were in fact made in this direction by these writers.

Antinatalism, Fundamentalist

Every discomfort, however minor and momentary, that is experienced by a living being is more than such a living being can reasonably be expected to accept and to live with; and every life, however rich and pleasant, must necessarily contain such moments of discomfort; every life, therefore, is, in its essence, bad and it is morally incumbent on us to call none into existence.


Antinatalism, Theolatric

For Philipp Mainländer the created cosmos is a roundabout path that God was obliged to take in order to reach his actual goal: non-being. On this account, human beings who refrain from procreation would be practicing a form of theolatry or “service to God”, since they hasten thereby the achievement of the end-goal of a cosmic process conceived of as culminating in the non-being of God.[1]


Antinatalism Hedonistic

“Hedonistic antinatalism” advances a view whereby procreation is to be forgone not in view of the inevitable suffering that will be undergone by the children thereby brought into the world but rather in view of the numerous hardships that parenthood can involve for parents themselves. An example of a work advancing this position is Corinne Maier’s 2007 book “NO KID. 40 Reasons Not to Have Children“, which stood at the top of the best-seller lists in France for many weeks. Its arguments can be said to be prefigured in Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata. Maier, however, does not develop the logic of these arguments to the point of a general reflection on whether it might not be morally requisite to raise the suggested injunction on procreation to the status of a universal commandment (i.e. that of promoting the extinction of the human race).


Antinatalism, Historically-Biographically Informed

Historically-biographically informed antinatalism extrapolates from history as we have hitherto known it, and from the individual biographies which make it up, to form an idea of the likely future and concludes that the catastrophes, both for the species and for the individuals who compose it, which this idea leads us to expect  are such that we cannot reasonably be expected to want to live with them.

[1] For more details here see Akerma, The Ebbing Away of Humanity (2000), Chapter 12: Mainländer: Ebbing Away as Service to God.


[Excerpt from my ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]


This is the place to take a closer and more detailed look at the title of the present handbook. On close examination we must recognize that what the antinatalist wishes to bring to expression is in fact something rather different from that which the term “antinatalism”, strictly and narrowly construed, conveys. This strict and narrow sense of the term “antinatalism” is, of course: “against birth”. But human beings who are born exist already previously, as the unborn. It would, then, be more correct to say that what the antinatalist aspires to is, first and foremost, that no more human beings should begin to exist. An internal differentiation of the notion “antinatalism”, then, yields, at the very least, the following forms of this latter:


Antinatalism, Anthropocentric

Anthropocentric antinatalism is concerned solely with the “ebbing away” of the human species, whereas àUniversal Antinatalism focusses on the question of how to prevent the coming into existence of all beings, of any species whatsoever, who are capable of pain and suffering. Anthropocentric antinatalists make the argument that animals are beings incapable of granting their consent, for which reason, they say, it cannot be morally permissible to sterilize entire animal species.

Antinatalism as Demographic Policy (Denatalism)

Before “antinatalism” and “pronatalism” came to be adopted as designations of moral-theoretical stances, they were part of the vocabulary of political demographics, with a demographic policy aimed at restricting the birth-rate being called “antinatalist” and one aimed at increasing it being called “pronatalist”. The principal difference between demographic and moral-theoretical antinatalism consists in the fact that the former does not aim at bringing about the actual extinction of a state’s population, let alone that of humanity in general, but only at a more or less substantial reduction in the birth-rate (so-called “denatalism”); the moral-theoretical antinatalism endorsed by the author of the present handbook, however, does indeed make the case for consciously and deliberately bringing about the extinction of the entire human race.


Antinatalism, Christian-Theological

An example of antinatalism “wearing the mask of theology” is provided by Johann Friedrich Weitenkampf’s 1754 book Lehrgebäude vom Untergang der Erde. Weitenkampf explores here the question – all too justified a one, given Christian presuppositions – of how it is conceivable that God should want to annihilate, in a great apocalypse, the world He created after allowing it to endure for just the short span of a few millennia. The astounding answer given by Weitenkampf to this question runs: God will not annihilate the material world entirely; He will “only” see to it that the earth is transformed in such a way that human beings can no longer procreate upon it. In this way Weitenkampf constructs a theodicy such that the benevolent Creator is absolved of the charge of having planned from the beginning the destruction of his own world. The argument serves also to acquit this supposedly benevolent Creator of the accusation of another type of cruelty: namely, that of allowing and even wanting the number of damned souls to grow so great “as to surpass all human reason…” (quoted from: Blumenberg, Selbsterhaltung und Beharrung, p. 194) Since the majority of human beings are predestined to suffer eternal damnation in Hell (Massa damnata) and “since, furthermore, no hope exists that the human race will ever change” (l.c. p. 195), it is, claims Weitenkampf, to be expected that God, out of pity for the yet unborn, will limit the number of the damned in bringing about sooner rather than later this non-annihilatory “Last Judgment” which will ensure that human procreation will no longer be possible in His created world (for further details see Blumenberg, Selbsterhaltung und Beharrung, S. 194ff). This Christian-theological antinatalism that we encounter in Weitenkampf’s work can easily be transposed into a secular form: since there is little hope that human history will ever take a course very different from the terrible course that it has hitherto taken, it would be cruel to continue to beget human beings and thereby increase beyond all limits the number of those who have suffered.


[Excerpt from my ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

The question as to an “anthropodicy” is the question as to how past, present and future suffering is to be justified given the fact there is no absolute necessity that human beings should exist at all, since it is possible in principle that each one of us simply forgo begetting progeny.

By ridding itself of the notion of God, the modern forma mentis might have seemed to successfully rid itself also of the question of how the suffering of the world is to be justified. Whereas the thought of the pre-modern era had expended a large part of its energy on this question of why a benevolent and all-powerful Creator, omniscient and omnipotent even over future events, would possibly allow his creatures to undergo so much pain and misery, this question was not so much answered as dismissed and dissolved by modern science and modern thinking with the blunt observation: there is no God. God, in other words, has gradually been pushed, in the modern era, out of every sphere and aspect of the world that can really concern us, surviving at best as some featureless and characterless force extrapolated backward from the Big Bang.

Without God, clearly, one needs no theodicy. That is to say, there is no longer any point in enquiring into such matters as why God has permitted so much suffering or whether – if the creation of no other world than this deeply imperfect one were possible – He would have done better to forgo Creation of world and Man altogether.

But modernity rid itself of the desire for a theodicy without seeing that, by doing this, it burdened itself with the obligation to provide an anthropodicy in this latter’s stead. This anthropodicy takes the form of the parallel but modified question: how can it be justified, in the face of so much suffering undergone in the past, being experienced in the present, and to be expected in the future, that human beings beget more human beings?


The Pre-Modern “World-Riddle”:

If the all-powerful Creator of the world is indeed both good and all-powerful, why does He allow His creatures to sufferRead More »

The Aim of Natal Enlightenment: Subjectivization of Objective Complicity

[Excerpt from my ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

Without knowing what they are doing, and partly even with the best intentions, human beings who persist in their pro-natal decisions make themselves complicit in laying the basis of future calamity. And even when they do know, at bottom, what they are doing they succeed in blocking this insight out – at least temporarily. We speak, therefore, of an objective complicity of all parents. Natal enlightenment consists, in the last analysis, in a subjectivization of this objective complicity.

Dealing With the State of Being Alone

[Excerpt from my ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

Among the reasons motivating acts of procreation there surely counts the need to somehow deal with the state of being alone. So as not to remain alone in the world (be it radically alone as a single individual or “alone together” as a couple) one acts in such a way that a new human being begins to exist – while knowing, indeed, that this new human being will now be threatened, in his or her turn, by this same state of aloneness. It is this paradox, and this moral inconsistency, that is expressed by Thomas Bernhard, in his novel “Frost” through the following formula: “To beget, because one wants no longer to be alone, another aloneness; this is criminal.”

Adorno and Antinatalism

[Excerpt from my ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

As a theoretician of systematic structures of collective self-delusion, and of the historical failure of the human civilizational project, Adorno often expounds positions which approximate to those of antinatalism without ever fully adopting this latter philosophical stance as his own.


Adorno’s Blindness to the Truth of Antinatalism and His Complicity in the Calamity of a Persisting Human Race

There is hardly any other philosophical critic of existing human society whose diagnosis lies so close to antinatalism as does that developed by Adorno. And yet Adorno shows no compunction at all about brushing antinatalism dismissively from the philosophical agenda. He proves himself here to be a willing victim of that very structure of collective self-delusion that he devotes his work to condemning. He adopts as his own (as with the image of the dog’s happily wagging its tail in the following passage from his philosophical magnum opus) the vocabulary of this collective delusional structure and thereby renders himself complicit in the calamity which he himself declares to be rapidly approaching:

“To those who cannot rest content with mere despair it seems legitimate to ask whether it would be better that nothing exist at all. But this question too is insusceptible of any answer valid for all cases. Of a person in a concentration camp it may indeed be said – assuming that someone who was lucky enough to escape this fate has a right to pass judgment here at all – that it would have been better for them never to have been born. But this notion of a saving nothingness evaporates, nonetheless, in the face of every glimmer of joy or hope that lights up the eye of any creature, indeed even in the face of the faint strumming of a dog’s tail as he enjoys some tasty morsel that he will have forgotten a moment after having eaten it.” (Negative Dialectics)

Perhaps Adorno’s blindness to the force of antinatalist arguments can be explained by the fact that he tended to reject any notion which seemed to imply that the negation of the negative would suffice, already in itself, to establish the positive (see Adorno, Metaphysik) This would imply, in turn, his refusing to see anything positive even in his own “new categorical imperative” of “arranging our thoughts and actions in such a way that Auschwitz can never be repeated” if such a rendering impossible of Auschwitz proved only to be a stage on the road to the vanishing of mankind in general.– And this, in its own turn, could mean that he – contrary to all that he otherwise taught – secretly wanted to hold fast to the petitio principii that the existence of humanity is an unquestionably positive thing in itself.


Minima Antinatalia

In his “Social Theory and the Critique of Culture” Adorno plainly assumes the production of further human beings after Auschwitz to be a “given” beyond all philosophical question, while at the same time famously calling into radical moral question the production of further works of art: “to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric…” (“Social Theory and the Critique of Culture”) This is a statement that he revises in his philosophical magnum opus, the Negative Dialectics, where he places in question, indeed, the very moral right to life of those, like himself, who barely escaped sharing the fate of the tormented and annihilated but continues to leave unquestioned the production of further human beings: “Continuing life has as much right to self-expression as has the tortured man to scream; therefore, it may have been wrong to say that, after Auschwitz, poetry no longer has a right to exist. It is not wrong, however, to pose the no less cultural question of whether, after Auschwitz, one has a moral right to go on living at all, and specifically whether someone has this right who escaped the camps only by chance and ought really to have suffered and died there with all the millions of others.” (Negative Dialectics) For all its vaunted mindfulness of the defining, irrecuperable calamity of Auschwitz, Adorno’s philosophy hesitates and holds back before a full-blown antinatalism.

Besides flight into the aesthetic realm as a realm whose logic is uncoupled from that of the commodified social universe, another strategy that Adorno acknowledges for the subject’s survival in the “false whole” is eccentricity. Whereas for Helmuth Plessner Man is an eccentric being by definition, Adorno sees the eccentric in sociological terms, as the type of the résistant;

“What would a happiness be that were not measured in terms of the immeasurable sorrow of what is? Because the way of the world is ruined and disrupted. Whoever takes care to adjust and adapt himself to this latter becomes thereby complicit in the madness, while the eccentric alone resists it and puts a temporary halt to the folly.” (Minima Moralia, aphorism 128) By this logic parents would need to cherish the hope, at least, that their child will grow up to be an eccentric. But did Adorno consider the immense cost in suffering involved in any such following of an “eccentric” path in life? Blindness to the force of antinatalist arguments is in fact the true failing of Critical Theory as a whole – a failing which became all the more marked once the Frankfurt School tradition had cast off its initial revolutionary impetus.