de Goncourt, Edmond (1822–1896) and Jules (1830–1870) – Happy Death and the End of the Species

The Goncourt brothers were not just the literary men who gave their names to the Prix Goncourt, the most famous of the French literary awards; they were also early visionaries of an as it were “two-track” ebbing-away of humanity:

“How is it that there has never arisen, at any point in history or anywhere upon our earth, a sect of wise men which has set itself as its goal the bringing about of the extinction of the human race, given the cruelty of the ills to which this latter is subject? How is it that no one has yet preached a doctrine of bringing about this extinction through abstention from procreation and – for those who feel they need to embrace this self-extinction more urgently – through directing the efforts of public chemical laboratories toward discovering and teaching to others the gentlest possible form of suicide: a combination of nitrous-oxide-like gases which would make of the transition from being into non-being nothing more arduous than a fit of laughter?”[1]

Here, with a view to hastening that ebbing-away of humanity which will take, by the path of abstention from procreation, at least a century, these two authors envisage, as a supplement to this, the demand for a form of suicide so serene as to actually invite imitation on the part of those who observe it. Their ideas were as visionary as – to judge by that question we have just cited regarding “why there has never arisen at any point in history a sect with the goal of bringing about the extinction of the human race – their ignorance of earlier antinatalistic movements was great (the Manicheans and Cathars had been sects pursuing just this aim). The question does arise, however, of why the number of anthropofugal, or properly and fully antinatalist, sects and individuals has remained so small; it is a question that can be answered by reference to the prevalence of pronatalist bio-socionomic imperatives. As regards the present day, one would have to point, were one to try to name two more or less organized groupings with sect-like character here, to the Church of Euthanasia or the VHEMT.

[1] „Comment ne s’est-il pas formé à aucune époque de l’histoire, à aucune place de la terre, une secte de sages pour laisser mourir la vie humaine devant la férocité de ses maux ? Comment n’ a- t- elle pas encore été prechée cette fin de l’humanité par l’abstention de la procréation et encore, pour les plus pressés, par la recherche et l’invention du plus doux suicide, par des écoles publiques de chimie,  où serait enseignée une combinaison de gaz exhilarants faisant un éclat de rire du passage de l’etre au non-etre ?“ (In: Goncourt, Edmond et Jules. Journal. Mémoires de la vie littéraires. 1864–1878. Tome 2. Paris: Fasquelle/Flammarion (1956). Entry of 10 March 1869, p. 504.

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