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.

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