“Dicy Transformation” (from Theodicy to the Obligation to Formulate an Anthropodicy)

By “Dicy Transformation” we understand a displacement of the onus of justification: the transition from the obligation to formulate a Theodicy to the obligation to formulate an Anthropodicy. Although the “Age of Enlightenment” involved, not least, enlightenment as to the untenability of theodicies, the belief in some sort of Creator remained, generally speaking, intact. Even Voltaire considered atheism to be something harmful to society and famously formulated the proposition: ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him’ (Implosion of God). Kant too, due to certain moral-philosophical considerations, would gladly have held to the notion of a Creator God but was obliged by the structure of his own philosophical system, strongly critical of all metaphysical claims, to relegate this notion to the status of a “postulate of pure practical Reason”, i.e. an idea to which nothing that actually existed could be demonstrated to correspond. In the following remarks we want to trace out, on the one hand, how Kant’s re-examination of the classical question of theodicy – “how could a God both entirely good and all-powerful possibly have permitted all those ills and evils to exist by which human beings in the world are so affected?” – culminates in an obligation to formulate an anthropodicy which remains, by Kant himself, unrecognized and unexpressed.

Then, in a second consideration of this “dicy transformation”, we trace out, by use of examples, the reaction which ensued in many literary works of the modern period on this failure and collapse of the “theodicy” idea. This reaction took the form of the ascription of various negative attributes to a God no longer conceived of as essentially good and eventually, with the ever more rapid decline in belief in a God of any shape or nature, in the transposition of these negative attributes from the human-being-creating deity to human-being-creating human beings (parents), thus giving rise to an obligation to form, in place of a theodicy, an anthropodicy. In literature, all these negative attributes of God’s which resulted from the collapse of theodicy were asserted and represented[1] in the form of those mythologemes of the “bored”, the “wicked”, or even of the “sadistic” Creator which reflect back upon all the natalistically enlightened parents who failed to live up to that obligation to an anthropodicy which is implicit in every act of procreation.

There counted, for Kant, as established already from the time of the “Critique of Pure Reason” (1781) onward, the truth that he sums up as follows in his 1790 “Critique of Judgment”: that no theoretical proof is possible of “the existence of a Prime Being, in the sense of a Godhead, or of the existence of the soul, in the sense of an immortal spirit” (Kant). If Kant, then, even after that “critical turn” in his philosophy which affected the status, in his eyes, of all metaphysical propositions held fast to the notions of God and the immortality of the soul as “postulates”, this is to be explained not in terms of the theoretical but rather in terms of the practical-ethical aspects of his thinking. Kant’s views about the history of humanity up to the time of his writing are of crucial relevance here: without these postulates the horror of this history would be so overwhelming and unadulterated that one could only turn away from it in horror. Kant says as much explicitly in his 1784 essay “Idea for a Universal History With Cosmopolitan Purpose”, in which the tone he adopts seems curiously uninhibitedly metaphysical:

“For what good does it do to praise the glory and wisdom of Creation in the reasonless realm of Nature and to recommend this latter to our contemplation if that part of this great theatre of the highest wisdom which contains the end and purpose of all this – namely, the history of the human race – is to remain a ceaseless reproach to all this wisdom and glory the sight of which forces us to turn our eyes away from it with indignation?” (Kant, Schriften zur Geschichtsphilosophie)

If Providence is to be justified (theodicy), then an especial “viewpoint from which to observe the world” (ibidem) must be selected. If one considers history as if there were some “rational intent” (ibidem) underlying it, one must not despair about the course it is taking and feel impelled to avert one’s gaze from it but may rather hope that one day things will be better: “One may look, broadly speaking, upon the history of the human species as the execution of a hidden plan of Nature intended to bring to realization an internally – and, to this end, also externally – perfected state constitution, this being the only condition in which Nature can carry to full development all those talents and predispositions which it has implanted within Man.”[2]

In his 1786 essay “On the Conjectural Beginning of Human History” Kant explicitly expounds this “hidden plan” and speaks (using once again a language which bears little trace of that turn toward the critique of all metaphysics which characterized his philosophical breakthrough of this decade) of “the extreme importance of being content with Providence”: “The reflective human being feels a sorrow, one that can even become a moral corruption…He feels dissatisfaction with Providence, which governs the course of the world as a whole, when he considers the ills that so afflict the human race without, as it seems, there being hope for something better.” (ibidem) Kant names here, as the greatest of these evils, war and the preparation for war. Nevertheless, he adds, at our present stage of culture “war is an indispensable means of bearing culture onward; and only after the complete perfection and consummation of culture (to occur God knows when) would an eternally-enduring peace be something salutary, indeed only then would it be something possible for us. Thus, as regards this matter, we are surely guilty ourselves of causing those evils over which we so bitterly lament.” One cannot fairly deny that there is something monstrous about such a line of argument. On the one hand, all history up to the day of Kant’s writing is supposed to be subject to some divine Providence or some secret plan (which, however, for Kant, who had already long since made his “metaphysics-critical turn”, ought to have been obsolete notions already, or at best postulated “as if”s); on the other hand, human beings are supposed, since they are endowed with freedom, to be themselves at fault for not having yet succeeded in achieving a “complete perfection and consummation of culture” and thus having to continue to make war on one another. The “perpetual peace”, then, to which Kant was later to devote an essay that bore its name, proves to be something that must be earned and indeed something which is not even, at every stage of culture, “salutary” for Man.

A “second cause for human dissatisfaction” which is registered by Kant concerns the brevity of human life, a fact with which every begotten human being finds himself confronted. But Kant invests no hope in an “extension of a game that struggles constantly with toils and labours” and portrays what states of things the “unsociable sociability” that applies at our present low stage of culture would lead to if the average human lifespan were increased to, say, 800 years. He arrives at the conclusion that “the vices of a human race that would enjoy such long life would increase to such a point that they would no longer deserve anything but to be eradicated from the earth in another Great Flood.”

Even in the above-mentioned essay on “Perpetual Peace”, from 1795, Kant still holds to this conclusion that the human species is, at our present stage of culture, well nigh morally worthless. It would be impossible, he argues, to justify God’s ever having created such creatures. A theodicy, then, would be impossible if it were certain that no higher culture than our present one is possible. Since, however, there is no such certainty, hope exists:

“Yet the process of Creation, by which such a brood of corrupt beings has been put upon the earth, can apparently be justified by no theodicy or theory of Providence if we assume that it never will be better, nor can be better, with the human race. But such a standpoint of judgment is really much too high for us to assume, as if we could be entitled, theoretically, to apply our notions of wisdom to the supreme and unfathomable power.” (“Perpetual Peace”)

Kant puts himself here, clearly, in a position of stalemate: If there is a God, there is no way to justify his creating such miserable beings as we, in our present state, are. What remains, however, is the vague hope of a better future for humanity, never entirely to be excluded as a possibility. Certain remarks of Kant’s in his 1791 essay “On the Miscarriage of All Philosophical Trials in Theodicy”. This essay is of especial significance because the reflections contained in it carry Kant closer to an historically-informed antinatalism than does any other of his many writings. In this essay too, indeed, Kant holds true to the principles established by his “metaphysical-critical turn” and makes it clear that, in speaking of God, we are speaking of an object “which is not attainable by way of knowledge (theoretical insight)”. Since, however, the postulate of God’s existence is indispensable for the “moral economy” of human beings, Kant constructs his text on the “Miscarriage of Theodicy” as if argument about the actions and omissions of God (even despite the existence/non-existence of this latter’s not being, for him, matters susceptible of proof or disproof) were possible before the court of human reason. Kant advances arguments typical of God’s defenders, only to refute them in such way that the failure of all theodicy is pointed up.

A defender of God, for example (so Kant argues) might advance before the court of reason the claim that life is not so bad and so filled with pain as those accusers of God, who demand a theodicy, maintain.  Kant formulates this position as follows: “the assumption that evil and misfortune tend to outweigh, in the fates that befall human beings, the pleasant enjoyment of life is surely a false one because each man, no matter how badly it is going for him, will tend to prefer going on living rather than dying.” To this defence of God Kant opposes the following argument:

“The reply to this sophistry may be left to the sentence of every human being of sound mind who has lived and pondered over the value of life long enough to pass judgment, when asked, on whether he had any inclination to play the game of life once more, I do not say in the same circumstances, but in any other he pleases (provided they are not of a fairy world but of this earthly world of ours).”  

Whereas, then, the defenders of God advance the argument that whoever has once entered into existence will not willingly leave it even if it becomes an existence full of pain, Kant believes he can cite as a decisive counter-argument to this the fact that no one would ever want to live through his existence once again – or even through a modified version of this existence – once they had gained a thorough knowledge of life and had reflected upon it in its reality. Whoever is inclined to dismiss this as just a personal opinion of Kant’s should take into account the fact that Kant’s contention here is clearly the superior one from the point of view of the logic of argumentation. Whoever already finds themselves in the midst of existence is held fast there, bionomically, by a biological imperative remote from all considerations of reason and largely immune to any philosophical “enlightenment”; were someone able really to reflect on the existence that he is held in (so argues Kant) he would certainly not choose to begin to exist and to live once again. Whether Kant is right in this assumption could only be established through taking a representative opinion survey.

Kant also has the defenders of God advance one further argument, namely the following: “the preponderance of painful feelings over pleasant ones cannot be separated from the nature of an animal creature such as the human being”. Which is as much as to say that the presence of human beings on earth is not to be imagined without considerable physical pain. But here Kant poses the decisive counter-question, one which carries him very close to the position of historically-informed antinatalism: He writes: “The retort to this is that, if that is the way it is, then another question arises: namely, why the Creator of our existence called us into life when this latter, in our correct estimate, is not desirable to us?” Here Kant distances himself very significantly from that presupposition that it is right and good for human beings to exist which is otherwise so rarely examined and questioned. If one strips the transcendental-theological superstructure away from the problem that Kant poses here there remains – in the place of that “Creator of our existence” who is, in any case, within Kant’s system nothing any longer but a “postulate” – self-procreating Man himself, who is unable either to prove or disprove God and immortality. Where we emphasize, therefore, how fundamentally questionable this “Creator”, who persists together with all his salvationary requisites only as a “postulate”, must be considered to be, we suddenly find that it is no longer God who stands accused before the “court of reason” convened by Kant but rather those human beings that procreate their species.   

Implicit in Kant’s remarks here is the notion that there exists an obligation, if one is to beget other human beings, to provide a justification or legitimation for doing so (anthropodicy). Moreover, the reproach, directed to all appearances to God, that He would have done better to create no human beings at all than to create suffering human beings in fact applies more trenchantly to Man than it does to God, since the human parents who create children are not able, as the divine Creator is supposed to be able, to assure their children a compensation for their lived sufferings in some “life after life”. Although of course, to repeat this yet again, just this “compensation by the after-life” is something that stands, in Kant’s philosophy, very much open to question. According to the “Critique of Practical Reason” of 1788 the “after-life” is not to be conceived of in the form of a paradise that would function as an institution of compensation for earthly travails but rather as an opportunity for further fulfilment of duties and obligations in the “endless progress of immortal souls from the lower to higher degrees of moral perfection”  (see “Critique of Practical Reason”, Dialectic, Part 2, IV: The Immortality of the Soul as a Postulate of Pure Practical Reason).

But if those human souls which have hitherto been brought into existence really are to have this opportunity to “progress from lower to higher degrees of moral perfection” after the deaths of their bodies, then the question naturally arises of why Kant at the same time insists on the necessity of prolonging our earthly “vale of tears”, with its wars and preparations for war supposedly serving the cause of the progress of culture, until the advent of some nebulous “perpetual peace”. Is it not enough, on Kant’s assumptions, to hope that those souls which have already entered into existence will achieve this progress toward perfection posthumously, after they have left it?

Although Kant never explicitly formulated and proposed the idea, his critical philosophy in combination with his harshly realistic view on the course of history up to the present day strongly suggests that what is needed is not a theodicy but rather an anthropodicy: i.e. a justification of the creation of human beings by human beings in view of the course that human history has hitherto taken and can be expected to take. Kant’s thoughts on child-rearing and education might also be brought into play here as a building block for such an anthropodicy. On the one hand, Kant argues that it is morally incumbent upon parents to do everything within their power to see to it that their children, up until their coming of age, remain so content with the existence which these parents have decreed for them that they would have chosen this existence, in preference to non-existence, if they had had the choice (Inversion of Natal Guilt (Retrospective Absolution of Parents)). On the other hand, however, one would have also, in order to be consistent with Kant, to advise these “pre-existential” children not to choose existence in the world, since Kant himself says that no one who had once gotten to know what existence in the world is would ever opt to enter into it over again!

In his essay “On the Common Saying: ‘This May Be True in Theory But It Does Not Apply in Practice’” from 1793 Kant bases his argument upon “my inborn duty of influencing posterity in such a way that it will make constant progress (and I must thus assume that progress is possible) and that this duty may be rightfully handed down from one member of the series to the next. History may well give rise to endless doubts about my hopes and, if these doubts could be proved, they might persuade me to desist from an apparently futile task. But so long as they do not have the force of certainty I cannot exchange my duty (as a liquidum) for a rule of expediency which says I ought not to attempt the impracticable (i.e. an illiquidum, since it is purely hypothetical). And however uncertain I may be, and remain, as to whether we can hope for anything better for mankind, this uncertainty cannot detract from the maxim I have adopted, or from the necessity of assuming for practical purposes that human progress is possible.”

Here, Kant opposes to that historically-informed antinatalism which will seem a very convincing stance to anyone taking a clear look at human events as they have unfolded up to the present day (see, in particular, his formulation that doubts arising from history “might persuade (him) to desist from an apparently futile task”) the thought that one should not allow the chain of human procreation to be broken because there exists, for parents, the vague prospect of influencing, through their raising of their children, some better “posterity” and because no one can say, apodictically, that better times will not come some day.

But even this thought does not suffice to eliminate from the world the fundamental question that Kant poses in his essay on theodicy: Why is it that we are made to begin to exist in the first place? Why should hastening, for example by the proper raising of our children, the arrival of that hypothetical “point in time so happy for our posterity” be of any importance at all if, on the way to this point in time, billions of human beings must suffer and die without any reason being able to be given for their begetting other than an egotistical one?

By taking up the standpoint that Man’s “unsociable sociability”, along with the interminable series of wars and conflicts that it causes, reveals rather “the organizing hand of a wise Creator than the destructive hand of some malevolent spirit” Kant oversteps those limits which he himself had drawn, at least once he had progressed in his thought to the stage of the “Critique of Pure Reason”, and which dictate that we can know nothing of God and may not even suppose His existence to be knowable. On these terms, however, it appears just as justifiable to proceed on the assumption of a malevolent Creator as upon that of a benevolent one. Thus, it is rather with his talk of a “malevolent spirit” that Kant strikes the note that we want to develop below.


“Dicy Transformation” in Literature: Disguised Antinatalism in the Diabolicization of God

The mythologeme of the “evil God” acts, so to speak, as the rearguard of that ideology of a “Creator deserving of our worship” which was driven out of the human race’s self-understanding by the foundering of theodicy on critical rationality. As we shall show below by citing various examples, this rearguard has continued, long after the end of Man’s “theological epoch” as a bulwark which allows human beings to block out from view an obligation to develop an anthropodicy which is nonetheless taking ever clearer form as an historical necessity.

Enlightenment, indeed, displaced God from that central position within the intellectual and emotional economy of the human species which He had occupied for so long. But this displacement did not, for all that, do away with the reproach that had been made to this God of having placed Man in a badly-ordered world.  This reproach continued to be present, objectively, in the world; it only found new addressees: namely: procreating human beings. In the same measure as Man rid himself more and more entirely of God there increased, objectively, the obligation to justify the creation of human beings by human beings – that is to say, to provide an anthropodicy. The objective obligation that has emerged from this “dicy transformation” has hardly, if ever, been recognized as such, let alone the attempt made to put it into practice. Although talk of “the death of God” has become a commonplace in our culture in the last two hundred years, we have continued (as we are able, from the necessary hermeneutic distance of the present day, to recognize) to cast against God those reproaches which really ought to be cast against procreating human beings. Even atheists, like Thomson cited below, have done this.

The assaults of reason made it plausible that the “good God” was nothing but a product of human culture, thus pushing Him into the background as a figure who could be held responsible for the world as it exists; but the reproach that had formerly been directed at Him as the Creator of human beings now fell upon human beings themselves: if it had been a bad thing for God to create human beings and place them in this world, it must also be a bad thing for human beings to beget other human beings. It would be a peculiar sort of speciesism to say that putting human beings into this world was a bad thing when God did it but becomes a good thing when human beings do it. Looked at in this way, the blasphemous diabolicization of God grounds an obligation to create an anthropodicy and gives rise to a certain antinatalist impetus. Below, we shed light on these connections and implications by reference to certain selected testimonies from literature regarding “the evil God”.

Let us begin by looking at a passage from George Eliot’s (1819–1880) novel “Adam Bede”, in which this authoress – while being fully aware of the real facts of procreation – gives expression to the dominant, and not merely vulgar, notion belonging to an intact Christian religiosity whereby each individual owes his or her existence, at least in the last instance, to God (more than to their own parents). A leading character in this novel, the Methodist lay preacher Dinah Morris, states:

“We know very well we are altogether in the hands of God: we didn’t bring ourselves into the world, we can’t keep ourselves alive while we’re sleeping.” (Eliot, Adam Bede)

In intensified form, even if in a form that displays more markedly a Reticence in Accusation, the – paradoxical – question is posed by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909) in his “Anactoria” of what terrible crime human beings could have committed that has merited their being created by God and placed in such an intolerable world, furnished with a body whose pulsebeat measures the passage of time and announces thereby the constant approach of death[3]:

“Him would I reach, him smite, him desecrate, / Pierce the cold lips of God with human breath, / And mix his immortality with death. / Why hath he made us? what had all we done / That we should live and loathe the sterile sun, / And with the moon wax paler as she wanes, / And pulse by pulse feel time grow through our veins?“ (Swinburne, Anactoria)

If one substitutes for the diabolicized God of these lines (the “zero point”, or the husk, of what had once been believed to be a God essentially good) the figure of human parents (the actual “creators” of new human beings) it is these latter who become the ones reproached with having brought their progeny into existence and thereby exposed them to the pains of fugacity.

In his collection of poems “Romanzen und Jugendlieder” Platen (1796–1835) performs, indeed, no actual diabolicization of God; he touches more clearly, however, even than Bürger does on the God Taboo inasmuch as he envisages us all, quite generally, as damned to the condition of human beings:
“[…] O seek to sleep away each night / The pain and sorrow of each day; / For who can punish God, / For having damned and condemned us to be human beings!” (Platen, Romanzen und Jugendlieder, Werke Bd. 1, Lyrik)

A secular heir of the spirit of these lines would find himself having to declaim: “For who would feel able to accuse or punish his or her own parents?” The notion is already tangibly present here – even if it is not explicitly articulated – that the quarrel is not with divine providence but it is rather one’s own parents omission to Assess the Consequences of Procreation that must be deplored and regretted.

Once the notion of theodicy had essentially collapsed, we see the emergence in the literary tradition of something that can be called – inasmuch as it extends far beyond that disputatious wrangling with the divine which was already known from the legacy of antiquity – a genuine “mythology of evil”. The deity is henceforth represented as an entity motivated by boredom, or as wicked or blind, so that moral reproaches are now heaped upon it. As this artificial myth of the “evil God” gradually becomes more and more porous, these reproaches begin to attach and adhere rather to procreating human beings themselves.

[1] The remarks made here have benefited greatly from Karl S. Guthke‘s important work Die Mythologie der entgötterten Welt (1971)

[2] The objection of  Seume (1763–1810), however, seems as if tailor-made to be brought against Kant: “If human beings do finally one day become reasonable, the earth will perhaps die thereby from Marasmus senilis” (Apokryphen)

[3] This recalls Jean Paul‘s of Time as Death with ever thinner crescents (Death àPaul).

Dictatorship of the Embryo

In distinction from the male of the human species, the human woman, for Nemilov – author of the book “The Biological Tragedy of Woman” – is not just the victim of a biological illusion but has also “to pay a high price through her protracted and many-faceted service to what serves ‘the genius of the species’”. This service requires a reorganization of her entire organism. The conditions under which the reconstruction and reorganization of this organism take place can only be described as extremely cruel and brutal. Nature establishes in the body of the woman a pitiless dictatorship of the ripening fruit, concentrating her whole body on the task of protecting this minuscule new piece of living matter and mercilessly demanding, to this end, a complete abnegation, on the mother’s part, of her own self. Everything for the germinating seed, everything for the ‘genius of the species’; and for the mother only pains and discomforts of every kind.” (Nemilov)

We are dealing here, then, with the following constellation: women are, on the one hand, either voluntary accomplices or coerced accessories in this “Diktat of birth”; at the same time, they are subject – to a much greater extent than is the male of the human species – to the Diktat of that specific human being whose existence they are causing to begin: i.e. the embryo. Simone de Beauvoir surely means something of this sort when she writes of how a woman experiences her pregnancy as “at the same time an enrichment and a mutilation. The foetus is at once a part of her body and a parasite which lives at her expense.” (Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, Book Two, Part Two, VI. Motherhood) “Day by day a polyp, which has been born out of her body but is strange to this body, is battening upon her being”. The biological dictatorship of the embryo culminates in the àParturitionist Terror and then finds immediate continuation in the social Diktat of the newborn.[1]

Developing these thoughts of de Beauvoir’s in a blackly humorous spirit, Klinger describes to us the “shrewdness” of the child in the moment of parturition: “Weakness is the mother of power; and when the valiant son does not rend his mother’s body, when being born, in two it is not through clemency that he refrains from doing so. For if he did, who would be there to suckle and to feed him?” (Klinger, Betrachtungen und Gedanken)

[1] See also on this topic Sonja Martina Allen, Eine Poetik der Mutterschaft: Maternitätsbilder bei Else Lasker-Schüler und Marie Luise Kaschnitz, S. 192.

Diktat of Sex / Diktat of Nature

Lodged within the genetic structure of the Diktat of birth is another “dictatorship”: namely, the dictatorship of sex. “Borne by the blood, the sex hormones arrive with the same speed as the bloodstream in even the remotest parts of the body and establish here that ‘dictatorship of sex’ which is necessary to the maintenance of life on earth. Penetrating, together with the blood, the brain, the sex hormones intervene here too in the central governance of the entire body and establish here too their dictatorship. Working their effects upon the nerve-centres, they ‘eroticize’, as certain physiologists have so aptly put it, the brain itself. They give to the entire activity of the nervous system a specific sexual orientation, attune this activity to a specific kind of sex, and the hormone-influenced brain begins to see the whole world through this sexual prism.” (Nemilov, The Biological Tragedy of Woman)

According to Nemilov the Diktat of sex imposes “upon the organism that ‘vital tension’, that ‘joy in existence’ which distinguishes a young, healthy body.” (Nemilov) This latter notion of a ‘joy in existence’, then, which occupies a central position within the categorical organon of the pronatalists, would represent, on this account, a fundamental “cunning of biology” – with men and women[1] as the beings tricked and manipulated by this cunning.

[1] “Woman, in particular, exists with body and soul entirely under the dictatorial sway of the drive of Nature; a life outside of this drive, and against this dictatorship, is simply out of the question for a woman.” (Hueck, Wohin steuern wir? p. 36)

Diktat of the Recollecting Self

If, and insofar as, the research of Daniel Kahneman and others, and the theories built upon this research, are valid human beings are constitutionally incapable of judging and evaluating, retrospectively, the unpleasant experiences that they have undergone in their real negativity – that is to say, in the concrete negativity of their actual moment-by-moment living-through of these latter.

It is also surely, in large part, this constitutionally-dictated tendency to the distortion of retrospectivity that nourishes and sustains human optimism and pronatalism. We may speak, therefore, of a tyranny of the retrospective self inasmuch as its dominance precludes our ever becoming conscious of the actual extent of human suffering. Where we take into account such constitutive cognitive distortions as that of the dominance of the recollecting self, it becomes clear why human beings can find (their own) life to be a beautiful thing even then when they have spent months or years of it in a concentration camp. If these months or years ended with liberation, or if the life in question took a positive turn in some other sense, this long experience of pain and humiliation will tend to be blanked out. In retrospect, the time spent in such a concentration camp will appear to be much more tolerable than it would have been judged to be if one had asked its victims for their view of it day by day during their actual lived experience of this ordeal.

This fact that the experiencing self tends to be dominated and suppressed by the recollecting self is of the most extreme importance for antinatalism. This tyranny of retrospectivity is clear evidence that our positive self-assessments of our own lived reality – and thus the optimistic psyche itself – hide a truth that is very different. To put it more concretely: whoever begets a human being begets a creature that is bio-psychologically so constituted that it is prevented, by a kind of protective screen, from achieving a realistic grasp of its own lived reality.

Diktat of Birth (Diktat of Existence)

The phrase “Diktat of birth”[1] means that there has arisen – albeit very belatedly – in the realm of metaphor an antinatalistic counterpart and adversary to the decidedly pronatalistic metaphorical formulation: “the Gift of Life”. This phrase “Diktat of birth” is, at the same time, a succinct formula for certain essential aspects of the Kantian nativity theorem (Reversal of the Guilt for Nativity). “Diktat of birth” means: we exist without our assent thereto, and without our ever having acquiesced in the beginning of our own existence. Since, however, each human being actually begins to exist several months prior to his or her birth, it would be more ontologically accurate to speak not of a “Diktat of birth” but rather of a “Diktat of existence”.

The expression “Diktat of birth”, it should be noted, does indeed belong to the metaphorical realm or aspect of antinatalist thought. Outside this realm of metaphor – i.e. in a real ontological sense – the notion of a “Diktat of birth” cannot be claimed to make sense. Because, in ontological reality, nothing was “done to us” – nothing “befell us” – when acts were performed that caused the beginning of our existence. We were not torn thereby out of some “grey area” of quasi-existence (àGuf-Raum) into the bright light of full being. If we understand by “birth” precisely this beginning of our existence (and not, for example, the act of our issuing from our mother’s womb), then there was simply no one there upon whom this “Diktat” of existence could have been imposed; no subjectivity there which might have either resisted, or striven toward, receiving it. It is entirely rightly, then, that Lütkehaus conceives of the “Diktat of birth” “not in the sense that something, here, is actually dictated to someone – since, prior to birth, and without it, there is simply no such ‘someone’ there… but rather in the sense that this ‘someone’ is itself and as such dictated.” Alternatively, one might speak indeed of an “imposing of birth” (Lütkehaus, Vom Anfang und vom Ende, S. 21) It is, however, to be noted that our existence does not begin with our birth but rather between conception and birth: specifically, when a “self” begins to be present for the first time, i.e. when the brain of the foetus can first be said to bring consciousness into being. Expressed in non-metaphorical terms, then, we are dealing here not with a “Diktat of birth” but with the bringing about of a àBeginning of Life.

A precursor of the metaphor of the “Diktat of birth” is Julio Cabrera’s remark about the manipulation of the existence of another being. Objection must be made, however, also to Cabrera’s argument where he contends that we exercise power of ordinance over the being of another not only where we kill this latter but also where we act in such a way as to bring it about that he comes into existence. An “ordinance”, therefore, is issued that a human being should begin to exist.

Nevertheless, this notion of a “Diktat of birth” has a legitimacy that extends beyond its role merely as a formulation antagonistic to the familiar pronatalist formulation “the gift of life”:  Life cannot, indeed, be said to have been dictated to “us” (that is to say, to a specific real person); nevertheless, it is true to say that àMinor Demiurges decided (or at least it came about “by chance”) that one human being more would have to live and to die. In other words, with every progenerative decision that is taken it is decided that one further human being has to live and to die. The decision – or the “chance” – in question is not something that applies directly to the human being affected but rather to the whole order of being that encompasses this latter.

The notion of a “Diktat of birth” perhaps acquires its most precise signification in the  Bionomic Proposition of Ernst Bloch which advances the thesis that nobody began to live because he wanted to but once the person in question had indeed begun to live, he had thenceforth no choice but to want to do so. The rational kernel at the heart of all talk of a “Diktat of birth”, then, proves to be: a Diktat of life itself. Expressed in deliberately paradoxical terms, this Diktat would run: “Whoever is alive wants to live – whether he wants to or not!” Our bodies constantly make claims on us which compel us to go on living whether we give our intellectual consent and approval to this or not. The “Diktat of birth” thus means: “Once we are in the world, our own organism dictates to us a continuance in this world – whether we wish it or not”.


Jaspers, Karl (1883–1969)

In borderline situations, argues Jaspers, we despair of the sense and substance of every existence:

“I did not consent to wanting this life and am unable to see anything in it that might determine me to say ‘yes’ to it.” (Jaspers, Philosophie II, S. 304) Even where such a thought drives a person toward suicide, the person “tired of living” may become party, in and through this very impulse to take his own life, to a new experience the effect of which will be to preserve it: the experience of being free to take one’s own life in this way may prove apt to point up how life does indeed have a substance – namely, the experience of freedom itself – and that this substance does, in the end, weigh more heavily than the reasons which might have inclined one to renounce this life. Jaspers thus has the “Diktat of birth” and àHaving to Want to Live rebound from a wall of human freedom. It must be borne in mind, however, as an objection to Jaspers that that subject who, “tired of life”, suddenly discovers his own freedom precisely in his resolution to kill himself, has not, simply by refraining from suicide, freed himself from despair or pain.

Immediately afterward, however, Jaspers does, after all, take into account the “Diktat of birth” by noting that, although we may indeed enjoy the freedom to take our own lives, we do not enjoy the freedom to give these lives to ourselves.  This being the case, we exist essentially unfreely and out of a basic ground of unfreedom – and as soon as we succeed in wresting a freedom from this unfreedom and in emerging from this latter, this emergence is tantamount to our ceasing to exist: “Since it was not me that gave life to myself, when I decide, I decide only to allow to persist that which already is. There can be no all-encompassing action in which I ‘give my life’ (to myself) that would correspond to the all-encompassing action that I perform when I ‘take my (own) life’.” (Philosophie II, S. 308)

[1] The coiner of this fundamental component of antinatalistic terminology seems to have been Lütkehaus, see the latter‘s Nichts, S. 43 and passim.

Enlightenment, Natalistic

Well-known is Kant’s dictum defining “enlightenment” as “Man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity”. Now, each person’s coming into the world is something not “self-imposed” but rather imposed by his or her parents. Consequently, we need to qualify and situate this “self-imposition” of a state of “immaturity” diagnosed by Kant. A part of a human individual’s “immaturity” is always imposed by, and the responsibility of, the parents. Kant himself, indeed, indirectly recognizes a partial responsibility of parents for all such “immaturity” when, in his Metaphysics of Morals, he assigns to parents a duty to raise and care for their children until these latter have achieved existential autonomy. With regard to Kant the question (albeit an apparently crude one) arises: if “immaturity” is reprehensible because it runs counter to the essence of human autonomy and liberty, why does Kant not unequivocally call for an end to be put to the bringing into the world of more or less “immature” beings? The answer, of course, is that Kant – entirely aligned here morally and intellectually with the spirit of the Enlightenment – believes firmly, if not in the absolute perfectibility, then at least in the partial improvability, of the species Man.

Natalistic enlightenment is a drawing of attention to the fact that the “self-imposed immaturity” of which Kant speaks is, in the last analysis, imposed by others, i.e. imposed by each child’s parents (Parental Guilt). The ultimate aim of natalistic enlightenment is the antinatalist abolition of all parentally-imposed “immaturity”, for example through making all potential parents familiar with an Evaluation of the Consequences of Begetting Children.

Despite a large number of antinatalist statements and insights already on record – the present handbook included – we continue to live in antinatalistically unenlightened times. Here there applies the following formula: the degree of parental guilt of a procreating couple corresponds to the degree in which these latter have been natalistically enlightened. Paraphrasing Kant, we might say: “Enlightenment always also consists, in part, in Man’s emergence from an immaturity imposed by parents and thereby from that legacy of Nature that is the nexus of procreation.”   

Appointment to and Dismissal from Existence

Kant judges suicide to be a crime, a murder, and essentially a “violation  of one’s duty toward oneself”. In that part of his justification of this judgment which concerns us here Kant also adduces the notions of a violation of one’s duty toward one’s fellow men and, finally, of one’s duty toward God Himself, “who has entrusted to each man a post and station in this world, which said man abandons (if he takes his own life) without having been dismissed therefrom…” (Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, Metaphysical Principles of the Doctrine of Virtue (On Taking One’s Own Life, § 6)) This would mean that we are lieutenants or deputies of God’s here on the earth and have simply – devoid of all existential autonomy – to wait until some imponderable decree from on high comes to put an end to this service. From each individual’s point of view, indeed, the event that begins his or her sojourn in the world presents itself as equally imponderable. Human procreation has been going on for thousands of years until one day, for some reason that it is impossible to fathom, “I” come into existence (àIchfälligkeit). From the imponderability, for the individual, of this beginning at least Kant shows himself willing to draw moral conclusions: since no one ever gave consent to his or her summoning into existence, it is morally incumbent on our parents to render life sufficiently pleasant for us, up to the point of our coming of age, that it might plausibly be thought that we would have consented to it, had we had the choice between existing or not existing.  But given that Kant showed full philosophical comprehension of this fact that the entry of each individual into his or her condition as an existing being is something that is effected by a law or power external to this individual, whose consent to this “appointment” must therefore, by rights, be acquired retroactively, logical consistency would surely have required him to take the same attitude to the individual’s exit from this condition and to accord to human subjects the moral right, instead of waiting patiently on their “dismissal” by God, to “dismiss themselves” from their “post” as existing beings.

Imprecation of Parents (Breaching of Parent Taboo)

In her book “Beyond Taboos” Alice Miller describes how the taboo on passing judgments about the parents of patients in therapy can result in even analyses that go on for years remaining, in the end, unsuccessful. Miller argues that therapists should accompany their patients through the therapeutic process in an overtly partisan spirit, so that children can be liberated from that tolerance vis-à-vis their parents that tends to be imposed on them.[1] She must count as the first author who has dared to breach the “parent taboo”, inasmuch as she has argued in her books for the idea that it is a necessary prerequisite for any therapeutic success that parents be brought to book for the suffering that they have brought into the world. One key aim of the present handbook on antinatalism is precisely to contribute to our ceasing to think of the heteronomous nature of the beginning of the existence of every child as a true but trivial circumstance concerning no one but the individual thereby coming into being and of parents as the responsible parties only for a psychological suffering that may well be removable by appropriate psychotherapies; rather, the present work advances the view that parents must be looked on as those who have made possible all other forms of suffering as well: suffering which can only be put an end to by thinking and acting in an antinatalist spirit.


Carl von Hohenhausen (1816–1834)

It is in the Letter of Farewell to His Father composed by Carl von Hohenhausen, who, as an àExistential Protestant, ended his own existence with a pistol-shot in 1834 at the age of 18, that we encounter a secularized reproach against the initiators of existence which goes on, however, in a second step, to at least partially excuse the reproacher’s own human progenitors:

“What should one be grateful to one’s parents for? For the fact that they yielded to their natural drives and created a life the fortunate or misfortunate fate of which did not lie within their power? […] This is also why I have never been able to persuade myself that I owe gratitude to God, my father in a remoter sense or at least have never been able to adopt the belief that I have a duty to bear life even were it to become unbearable.”

After he has repudiated all obligation to gratitude vis-à-vis both God and parents he accords to his parents, though not to God, a nativistic absolution. The parents are absolved of all subjective guilt, although von Hohenhausen demands in return that his parents make no posthumous reproaches to him for having committed suicide:

“Without you, my parents, I would not have been a suicide! But I do not accuse you, I only accuse Fate, not to say God. You are short-sighted human beings, but God…!! […] But truly, just as you are without guilty as regards my suffering, so am I without guilt as regards yours.” (Hohenhausen) Von Hohenhausen subtly brings to expression here the notion that, if no subjective guilt weighs on his parents, there nonetheless weighs upon them an objective one. They are objective àAccomplices of the àConditio in/humana.



Thomas Bernhard (1931–1989)

In the work of Thomas Bernhard, profoundly shaped by antinatalist sentiment, the imprecation of parents makes its appearance freed of all the inhibitions passed down by tradition and the world takes on the aspect of a parentally perpetuated penal colony:

“We spare our parents, he said yesterday, instead of charging them our whole lives long with the crime of having begotten human beings. (…) They begot me without asking me and they oppressed me by begetting me and by casting me into the world in this way; they committed, upon and against me, both the crime of begetting and the crime of oppressing.” (Thomas Bernhard, Alte Meister)

[1] See Miller, “Beyond Taboos”, p. 80 at: http://www.alice-miller.com/content/de/E-book_Jenseits-der-Tabus.pdf. The notion “parent taboo” is actually to be found in a text on Miller’s work accessible at : http://www.anis-online.de/1/ton/18.htm.

Paradox of the “Advantage of Existing”

When one draws their attention to the gruesome conditions under which meat is produced, creophages/creophagists[1] always have ready to hand the argument of the essential advantage of existence over non-existence: it is not to be denied, they say, that the raising, feeding-up and slaughtering of animals involves significant suffering for these latter; but it must also be considered that, in so far as they function as “meat stock”, there is at least accorded to these animals a certain span of life, instead of no life at all;  without the human demand for meat, in other words, these animals would never have been bred, i.e. would never have existed at all – something which, it is contended, would not have been an acceptable alternative. Better a bad life that ends horribly than no life at all – so runs this strange “carnedicy”[2].

In order to provide their anthropodicy, pronatalists too assert a supposed essential advantage of existence; but they overlook thereby the fact that it is impossible to actually specify and name someone for whom it might be “advantageous” to begin to exist. 

[1] Human beings who, despite the existence of alternatives, consciously decide to remain consumers of animals bred, fattened up, tortured and slaughtered to just this end.

[2] See Akerma: Carnedizee – Philosophie als fleischlastiges Denken statt brotlose Kunst, in: Tabula rasa. Zeitung für Gesellschaft und Kultur, Februar 2011

Imprecation of Existence and Prevention of Existence

Rölleke emphasizes the essentially unrealistic character of the topos of the imprecation of existence and explains the provenance of this unrealistic character in the following terms: “The train of thought of the ancient philosophers was more or less as follows: death is the worst of all evils; an evil is something that one seeks, with all the means at one’s disposal, to avoid or to combat; how much more, then, would one seek to avoid or combat this worst of all evils! But death is an evil that can at best be postponed, never completely avoided. The only way of avoiding it would be – to never have been born. And thus we have, on the one hand, the childish nature of the deduction of the proposition and, on the other, its utterly unrealistic character.” (Rölleke)

One might call the topos of the imprecation of existence an unrealistic and egoistic, or merely self-related, antinatalism, since (at least in terms of its literal phrasing and initial apparent meaning) it appears to be a formulation restricted in its application to the one lamenting individual alone. As Rölleke’s exegesis brings out, however, this imprecation of existence always also bears a universally valid and applicable character and implies that it would be better if not just this lamenting individual but humanity in its entirety did not exist. That there always attaches to the egoistical or merely self-related form of antinatalism an element of universal antinatalism becomes clear where we remind ourselves that experiences of suffering are not merely something undergone by a few specific individuals but an essential aspect of the Conditio in-/humana.

Against this background the imprecation of existence can be seen as indeed the nucleus of a universal antinatalism: one which thereby seems anchored much more deeply and broadly in human cultural history than is usually supposed. And just as the imprecation of existence represents a nucleus, of initially merely egoistical import, of a tendentially universal antinatalism, so too does it harbour in every case a latent reproach to those parents responsible for the begetting of each respective imprecating individual. This reproach indeed is, due to a deeply-rooted àParent Taboo, only very seldom explicitly expressed; but it is inevitably implied already in the four-thousand-year-old exclamation: “O that I had never been called into life!”

The realistic core of that which Rölleke calls the unrealistic character of the imprecation of existence is the moral imperative that prescribes existence’s prevention: i.e. the abstention from all procreation – since it is only in this way that human beings can be prevented from getting into situations in which they cast such an imprecation upon their own existence.

In view of all this it seems astonishing that this imprecation of existence, manifesting itself everywhere and in all historical periods, should indeed have remained so markedly limited to the self and to the lamentations of the self and we have to ask: why did the formulation generally remain a self-related one instead of empathetically extending itself to the plight also of others? Why is it that this cry of pain that pervades our cultural history tends to remain passive, instead of extending itself actively and anticipatively, with anticipative and preventative effect, to the prospective fate of others? This would be the step from the ex post facto imprecation of one’s own existence to the prevention of future existences.

There follows directly from the self-referential “It would have been better for me never to have been born!” the notion “it was bad for me to have been born!” And, insofar as this “me” is, for the respective parents of each individual brought into the world, always only an – initially unknown, merely imagined – “someone”, this self-referential imprecation of existence always implicitly comprises the idea: “it is bad to beget anyone, to give birth to anyone!”. Or, expressed in positive terms: “It is better if one has no progeny.” This conclusion is supported by that imperative of universalization that is inherent in every form of ethics: whoever imprecates his own existence is bound, in terms of the logic constitutive of every line of ethical reasoning, to take explicitly into account the conditions of the possibility of the imprecation of their own existence on the part of other human beings. No one is really master of their own fortune or misfortune; but very many of us are masters or mistresses with power of decision regarding the fortune or misfortune of others: namely, over those new human beings over whose being or non-being we have the power to decide. To be born may be a fate – but begetting and bearing other human beings does not have to be! It is so less today than it ever was. In times and places where contraceptive methods are generally easily available it may indeed be reasonably demanded that the merely self-referential topos of the imprecation of existence be construed as an imperative exhortation to existence’s actual prevention.

The Imprecation of Existence

In European literature the topos of the imprecation of existence has tended to manifest itself in such formulations as “O would that I had never been born!” and other formulations derived from it. It was most likely Heinz àRölleke who first systematically researched this imprecation of existence as a topos of European literature. Rölleke himself has stated that his reading yielded more than 600 passages expressing this idea. Rölleke claims that this topos forms a tradition stretching back unbroken for thousands of years. Best-known perhaps – though certainly not the earliest – among these topoi is a passage from the fourth speech of the Chorus in àSophocles’s “Oedipus at Colonus” that runs: “Not to have been born exceeds every other thing in value (is, of all things, the best for Man)” This passage is neither the oldest ancient document of the topos that sees an “advantage” in the me phunai (“never having been born”) nor the only one. In the European Middle Ages comparable formulations drawn from the Christian Bible also acquired great cultural impetus and reshaped, in part, the Ancient Greek cultural heritage.

Rölleke rightly points out that extreme and critical situations apt to result in such expostulations as the wish never to have been born must have been part of the experience of human beings at all periods in history[1] and imprecations of existence therefore such as to have been able, at all times, to be formed out of the original matter of each individual’s really or potentially lived life. Just as the theory of physical Nature was “born twice” – once in antiquity and then again, centuries later, in the early modern age[2],  – so too have antinatalistic forms of thought germinated several times in different historical periods and independently of one another.

Where one compares, however, the Ancient Greek and the Biblical traditions of this topos there emerges, argues Rölleke, an interesting difference between the two: “Whereas the formulations of this sort in the literature of antiquity, although couched in very general terms, nevertheless refer, as a rule, to a specific human being in a specific situation, the Fathers of the Church invariably interpret the Biblical propositions referring to an individual person and an individual situation (as in the cases of Jeremiah, Job or Judas) as propositions of universal application and validity. Jeremiah, Job and Judas are each construed respectively as ‘types’.”

The following remarks of Rölleke’s regarding the broad dissemination of the topos of the imprecation of existence are of very great interest here since it is possible to construe this topos as a kind of disguised antecedent of:

“How widespread such a despairingly unrealistic imprecation of one’s own existence actually is, and how universally human this reaction is too (egregious and outrageous as it may initially seem) – this is made clear by the history of European literature in three ways:

  1. This proposition is over and over again interpreted as a universally valid one, as a self-evident gnomon: namely, that it would be better for each human being, indeed for humanity as a whole, not to exist.

  2. It is a formulation which can be proven to recur continuously at regular intervals throughout the whole of European intellectual and literary history.

  3. Already at the point where this formulation is first to be identified, in written form, within the tradition it displays the character of a generally-valid aphorism, a topos (that is to say, a truism). And most of its later occurrences seem to me to share this “topic”, truistic quality.

Sufficiently numerous examples will be cited below to prove the thesis that the articulation of this proposition extends to humanity as a whole. As regards the unbroken nature of the tradition: the first documentary evidence of this sentiment known to me is to be found in ancient Egypt, namely in the so-called First Intermediate Period, that is, approximately 2000 BC. From this period a note has come down to us reading: “The misery of life is so immeasurable that I wish I were dead; and even the little children say: o that I had never been called into life”. This formulation is somewhere around four thousand years old; for the last two and a half thousand years analogous propositions occur in a more or less unbroken chain in our literary and intellectual tradition […] Definitive documentary proof is thereby present of the extreme age of this proposition, of its perenniality, and (above all) of its quality as a topos, i.e. as a proposition bearing on the type “human being” in general – proof, that is to say, of the fact of its being independent of any personal individual destiny or of any state that a specific human being might happen to find himself in at any specific time. Documented also, therefore, is the constantly latently present meaningfulness of this proposition, its susceptibility of being filled up at any time, and as it were suddenly once again, with personal feeling and meaning for any individual human being. As Thomas Mann once put it: “What one has to put up with others have already put up with; and yet others, at some yet earlier time, have given it articulate formulation. There always responds, then, to every cry of despair de profundis an answering cry from somewhere else.”

Interestingly, Rölleke claims that this topos “O would that I had never been born” is not only present from the beginning to the end of the literary history of Europe but even spans the cultural production of the human race as a whole:  It would be better if the human race had never been “born”, that is to say, if human beings had never existed.

[1] From the antinatalist perspective: already by the very fact of their having been begotten human beings have at all times been exposed to such extreme and critical situations.

[2] See Sohn-Rethel‘s essay: Von der Wiedergeburt der Antike zur neuzeitlichen Naturwissenschaft, Bremen 1987.


Key caesura in our social history which marks the point of humankind’s becoming aware that the umbilical cord of our species’ configuration with Nature has once and for all been cut: in feminism there emerges and prevails for the first time the insight that women are not destined by their nature to bear children. Women finally shake off the yoke that they had borne over into their modern social existence from that transitional historical sphere in which culture had remained enclosed and informed by Naure. Feminism is thus, from its inception and by definition, an ally of antinatalism.


If women have found themselves, throughout most of human history, caught, to a great extent, within a vice formed by masculine domination on the one hand and the notion of woman’s “natural biological purpose” on the other, that struggle of women for self-determination which has developed in the course of the last two hundred years opens up an antinatalist potential which has met with the resistance of many of the luminaries of our poetic and philosophical traditions.


Helene Druskowitz (1856-1918)

The principle at the base of the feminist antinatalism of Helene Druskowitz runs as follows:

“Once they (i.e. women) come to perceive the higher law of life there will become clear to them also that higher purpose which consists in their role as humankind’s guides into death, as preparers of the end of all ends. This will then become humankind’s ideal, replacing our present ideal without real goal or end!” (Man as Logical and Moral Impossibility and as the Scourge of the World)

Druskowitz hereby formulates that moment of àAbsolute Definitiveness that is indissociable from antinatalist moral theory. Antinatalism is susceptible of completion and consummation in a more definitive sense than is any other moral theory. This is so inasmuch as, if the antinatalist moral programme were once to be carried through to its conclusion, no relapse back into the state against which this moral programme had raised its protest would ever be possible (unless, as one might imagine, it were to come about that the animals left behind once the human race had ebbed away should themselves then develop into self-aware beings).

“Existence Allowance”. For an Unconditional Nativistic Basic Income

How we exist depends, to a significant extent, on ourselves. But that we are is neither a merit of ours nor a mistake we have made.  Being intelligent beings more or less free to act as we choose we are able, to a limited degree, to shape and direct the mode of our being: that is to say, to live out, or plan, our lives within that only limitedly elastic framework which is prescribed for us by a birth at some higher or lower point in the social scale – or to transcend all those paths and courses which were seemingly set out for us beforehand. As regards the matter of our existence, however, none of us ever had the choice between choosing this latter or turning it down. Looked at in this way, our being-in-the-world is an existential straitjacket which has been fastened onto us or, put more precisely, “begotten onto us”. The only way to take it off is to choose to put an end to one’s life; and regarding its putting on in the first place we had no choice at all.

We want to show here how there can be deduced from this fact that, although we can be held (partially and conditionally) responsible for how we are, we cannot be held at all responsible for our being-here per se, the legitimate demand for an unconditional basic income for all those born into the world: No individual can do anything to remedy the fact that they were begotten and born. But to demand of each such individual, from around 20 years after the date of their birth on, that they should thenceforth rely on their own resources and energies alone in order to get through all that still remains of their existence, is to treat them precisely as if they had chosen to beget themselves, a choice for which they are now obliged to bear the consequences. In reality, however, the responsible parties for the being-in-the-world of the individuals in question are, on the direct causal plane, their parents and, on the social and ideological one, the society into which these parents bore them.

Already Immanuel Kant, effecting a complete inversion of the traditional nativistic way of thinking, had pointed out in his Metaphysics of Morals that it is rather parents who owe it to the children whom they have begotten without asking their consent to care for them until they are of an age to care for themselves. Instead of demanding from the unconsentingly begotten children that they even be thankful for this unfree – since, from the children’s viewpoint, necessarily unconsented-to – begottenness, Kant speaks rather of a duty of care and sustenance on the side of the parents. Children, argues Kant, have “an original and innate (not inherited) right to be cared for and sustained by their parents up to the point when they are able to maintain themselves.” (Kant, Metaphysics of Morals: Metaphysics of the First Principles of the Doctrine of Right, Part 1, § 28) The child’s right to be cared for and the parents’ obligation to care are seen by Kant to persist right up to the point where the child is capable of earning his or her own living.

The decisive question, then, is how or whether we can, or must, think out all the implications of this inversion of the nativistic way of thinking which was initiated by Kant. Because what happens once the child does indeed attain this point of “capability of caring for him- or herself”? Let us hold to Kant: the begetting of a human being is, for him, no mere private matter but rather something bound up with a certain educative mission because it is an act “whereby we…have brought a person into the world without their consent; for which deed there becomes incumbent on the parents an obligation to render, so far as it lies within their power to do so, the person thus brought into the world content with their state.” (ibid.) That education of the human race incumbent on parents must, then, according to Kant, consist in forming, out of each human being who initially began to exist without giving his or her consent thereto, someone “existing out of conviction”. Such an individual “existing out of conviction”, we may suppose, would happily take on whatever means of livelihood presented itself in order to “care for himself”. But must he do so? Not at all! Even that begotten individual who has come of age, or has otherwise become capable of supporting and caring for himself, does not for all that become a person who can be said to have included, at some point, the so-called “gift of life” on some putative list of presents that he would have wanted to receive. 

In the case of people who have already come of age and become capable of materially supporting themselves parents become absolved of the obligation which Kant demands they accept and recognize. Instead of being a matter for the parents it now becomes a matter for society as a whole to take upon itself responsibility for the basic sustenance of the children, now become adults. – This is a task which society best handles by ensuring for these children-become-adults an unconditional income sufficient to basic subsistence.

An initial attempt to conceive of the nature of such an unconditional nativistic basic income might see it as a compensation for the fact that there has been unreasonably imposed upon every begotten and born individual a certain highly onerous set of “tasks” consisting in the suffering-through of all the toils, sicknesses and forced partings from loved ones necessarily involved in existence as well, at the end, as (each individual’s own) death itself.  Insofar, then, as the state will in no case attempt to dissuade its citizens entirely from all procreation – were it to do so, it would be setting the “death of the state” as the very aim and goal of the state – it becomes bound to provide these citizens, their whole lives long, with the financial resources required to ensure an existence in keeping with basic human dignity (this latter, of course, being defined differently depending on the specific time(s) and place(s) at which it is lived).

To the extent, that is to say, that the policy it pursues is not a decidedly antinatalistic one, the state is to be considered as the inheritor of certain duties originally incumbent upon parents – and also as a joint and several debtor on the existential plane, under whose pronatal-ideological protection parents “bring” their progeny “into existence” with a perfectly clear conscience. Here, the nativistic basic income functions more precisely as a form of indemnification which the joint and several debtor, the state, has to pay, their whole lives long, to at least those among its citizens who assert the claim that they did not ask for their own existence and who remain unsatisfied in the face of those existential impositions which are approved by parents and by state as no more than reasonable.  

This gives rise to the question of the unconditionality of the nativistic basic income:  should it be accorded in its full amount also to those who have become parents themselves, i.e. to people who clearly in some sense have an affirmative attitude to existence since, if they believed this latter to be intolerable, they would certainly not have imposed it upon their own children? If someone decides to procreate he performs a retroactive confirmation of his existence in at least three respects:

  1. He retrospectively confirms that it is a good thing to be put or brought into the world without having made the choice to be so.

  2. He declares that the world into which he himself was brought is a world life in which is so little to be considered an unreasonable moral imposition that, according to his own assessment of the consequences of procreation, one may with a clear conscience bring further human beings into this world as well.

  3. He brings to expression the notion that he himself is so fortunate in his constitution as a human being and so suitable for the task of educator that there is no reason at all for worry or concern in his allowing this genetic constitution to take, on equal terms, form and to develop a consciousness and thoughts and experiences in a new human organism and in his forming and molding this new being with the educational means at his disposal.

But even despite this triple retroactive confirmation of existence which is performed, at least implicitly, by every person who procreates, a basic subsistence allowance should nonetheless, unconditionally, be paid out also to parents. As much is demanded not just by the practical dimension of political justice but also, in addition, by the consideration that, to many, that existence which has been imposed upon them will begin to seem especially intolerable in the case where their chosen manner of giving meaning to this their existence – admittedly, a manner which only perpetuates the meaninglessness which they were attempting thereby to flee – proves to involve financial detriment for them.

The demand for an unconditional nativistic basic income breaks with the notion of “social parasitism”. Such a basic susbsistence allowance for all takes seriously the insight: no one can help it that he or she was born. Although “how we are” may fall within the sphere of our own responsibility, no human being can be said to be responsible for the fact “that he is”. Whoever has ended up coming into existence through no fault of his own (and as much is true of every single one of us) has a claim to resources that will enable him to maintain this existence. The basic allowance for anyone obliged to bear existence is a necessary prop and support in our confrontation with that existential fear and anxiety to which each person is potentially subject who – having reached an age where they can “provide for themselves” in Kant’s sense – would otherwise be forced to earn their subsistence by pursuing some occupation utterly devoid of sense.

Nobody has the possibility of saying “no” to the beginning of their existence. The nativistic basic income provides a basis for the freedom, as a citizen come of age, not to have to say “yes” to everything. As a basic allowance for anyone obliged to bear existence it functions as a retroactive indemnification for the fact that, in the very beginning, one did not have the ability to say “no”. A state which refuses to its citizens a basic allowance of this sort treats them as if – as was envisaged to be the case in Samuel Butler’s novel Erewhon – they had, as pre-existent beings, voluntarily aspired toward the Conditio in/humana, for which reason they would now have no right to pose any conditions or demands at all (àUnwillingness to Be)


Valentin, Karl (1882–1948) – Bill for Existence

Whereas Balzac describes how the poor Père Goriot is driven to ruin by his daughters, Karl Valentin turns the tables here. Goriot’s eldest daughter demands larger and larger gifts of money to maintain her in that life of luxury which the existence her father has “gifted” her with has become. – The roguish Valentin suggests an effective retort to such demands. He draws up and submits to his own daughter, when this latter goes off to Königsberg to become an actress, a detailed bill for her existence up to that point in time:

“Dear daughter!                                 Munich, 3rd of February 1932

In view of our discussion during our last meeting in Munich on 5th of August 1931 I make so free as to send you, with best wishes, the enclosed invoice for your existence in the hope that you will find yourself in agreement with the prices specified therein.  

Costs of midwife, paid on

21.9.1910                                           20,-

1 small tin bathtub                 6,-

Lukewarm water, 10 pfennigs daily for a period of six years                                             219,-


Compensation for personal suffering (during birth), calculated and invoiced by mother                                                                                                                                                 100,-


Piano and guitar lessons        700,-


In view of the fact that you are my own flesh and blood I have conceded a

10% reduction, giving a total sum of


Said sum is payable within a period of eight days, after the elapse of which I shall, regretfully, be obliged to initiate legal measures for its recovery.

Yours cordially and respectfully

Karl Valentin“ (In: Max Puntila, The Apples of Pegasus)

Valentin succeeds in producing here a grotesquely distorted representation of àParental Gratitude in a society in which – as indeed had already been demonstrated by Balzac in his huge cycle of novels – all values and relationships are translatable into and reducible to money, according to the principle: you owe me your existence so be so good as to pay me what you owe; and be so good also as to compensate your mother financially for the pain you caused her in the process of your coming into the world (àTerror of Child-Bearing).

In Valentin’s grotesque it is no longer the parents that call their child into existence; rather, the mother is now the vehicle by means of which the child brought itself into the world and the father the breadwinner who must see to this child’s material support.

At its apex-point Valentin’s grotesque becomes an outright inversion of the  àAccusation Over Existence: it is no longer the child that charges his parents with being responsible for his having come without his consent – or even in a state of sickness – into the world; here, a father threatens to bring a formal juridical charge against his child if this child does not return to him, in pecuniary form, what is owed to him by this child according to our traditional moral conceptions: namely, gratitude.