Antinatalism appeals to human freedom inasmuch as it challenges human beings to liberate themselves from unproven intuitions nourished and sustained by biosocionomic imperatives and holds, moreover, human beings to be capable of such a self-liberation. Antinnatalistic moral theory summons and deploys human freedom in order to make of it something definitive: how much true freedom the species shall have acquired will be measured in terms of the extent to which it succeeds in eluding these biosocionomic imperatives. The final and definitive proof of its self-liberation would be its extinction. The positive substance of freedom consists in the freedom, in principle, both of the species and of the individual to step out of that nature-bound history which caused the species itself to arise.
“Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains”, complains Rousseau in The Social Contract. Rousseau, however, overlooks, in this famous dictum, the fact that every human being is actually born unfree, inasmuch as he began to exist without his consent being asked or given. Let us modify, then, this famous dictum so as to make of it a motif of antinatalistic >Enlightenment: Every man is born heteronomously, as the respectively final link in a chain which reaches back deep into the past; may he seize and exercise the freedom that will make of him the last link in this chain..
“Because there is no such thing as a freedom to do good alone; only that person who is essentially capable of doing evil things is capable of the ‘good’ in the moral sense of the term.” (Nicolai Hartmann, Zur Grundlegung der Ontologie) And: “To affirm freedom is tantamount to taking upon oneself the source and origin of evil.” (Paul Ricoeur, Guilt and Ethics) “What is evil about freedom is that it is the freedom to do evil” (Guido Kohlbecher) – It is hard to imagine a more perspicuous expression of the dark side of the Conditio in/humana.
With his “Black Book of World History” Hans Dollinger presented a thorough documentation of this formulation of the notion of freedom, confirming its truth with a statement which takes into account the co-Extensivity of the development of humankind’s powers of production and of destruction: “The history of humanity is thus not only a succession of cultures which climb to higher and higher stages of civilization. Nor is progress simple progress. The human race’s achieving of more freedom and power has enabled us not only to do more good but also to do more mischief, not only to be more active in creation but also more active in destruction.” (Dollinger, “Black Book of World History”)
In order to conceive of a world without evil one would have to conceive of a world lacking also that faculty of freedom which allows evil acts to be performed. Such a world would be, by the same token, devoid of all morality – since the beings existing in it would not have the freedom to decide whether to do good or to do evil. For which reason the objection immediately arises: would the removal of all freedom from the world not be too great a sacrifice to make, even if what was gained in exchange was a world free of all suffering? Hans Lenk is right to oppose this reasoning in the following terms:
“Were it possible to acquire a world without suffering by making it a world free of morality – this would not be a difficult sacrifice to make. But such a world, of course, is simply not conceivable. Living beings are dependent on the killing of other such beings if they are to continue, themselves, to exist. This is true even of human beings capable of morality. Such beings too are profoundly condemned to do evil.” (In: Die Antworten der Philosophie heute, edited by Willy Hochkeppel. Discovered by: Guido Kohlbecher)
If we try to follow out Lenk’s argument here to its conclusion, we need first to carry out a clarifying correction to his stance the necessity of which may have escaped his notice. It is absolutely decisive to understand that it is not the case that – morally capable – human beings just “are” condemned to do evil; rather, someone condemns them to this condition: namely, their parents, without whose >Perpetration of Existence upon them, more or less freely committed, or whose progenerative decision they would simply not exist as “beings condemned to do evil”. If it is evil to condemn someone to do evil, there is clearly implicitly thereby passed a negative judgment regarding the progenerative decision that lies at the basis of this condemnation; a contragenerative decision would be, by contrast, to be evaluated as morally good. Put very concisely, Lenk’s insight leads to a conclusion which restates but goes beyond a certain core proposition of Sartrean Existentialism: each individual human being was involuntarily condemned by his parents to do evil.
Let us look again at Lenk’s statement that even a world without freedom could not be conceived of as a world without suffering because living beings depend by their very nature on the killing of other living beings. Firstly, as regards human beings possessed of free will, it is well-known that these latter have the option of nourishing themselves solely on vegetable organisms, which we must suppose do not suffer. And it is not difficult to imagine a world populated by living beings who would be, without exception, vegetarian. The actual natural history of our world took, indeed, a different course. This is the unwritten natural history of increasing freedom, of the progressively increasing divergence between stimuli and reaction which culminates in Man, with his defining freedom to do evil. Precisely the fact that billions of human beings remain meat-eaters when they might just as easily be vegetarian is a prime example of this freedom to do evil – in a way that causes harm to both animals and human beings – and of how this freedom is something that human beings actively choose.
In the following passage Adorno is close to achieving the insight that the highest possible exercise of the faculty of freedom would consist in an ontically definitive taking-back of this freedom through an embarking on the path of an ebbing-away of humanity:
“Freedom has retreated into pure negativity and what, in the age of Art Nouveau, was called ‘dying in beauty’ has now been reduced to the wish simply to curtail both the endless humiliation of existence and the endless torment of dying in a world in which there have long since come to be worse things to be feared than death.” (Adorno, Minima Moralia, Aph.) Despite his undeniable sensitivity, however, to the “endless humiliation of existence” and the “endless torment of dying”, Adorno does not carry through to its logical conclusion his social critique qua critique of suffering; this inasmuch as he omits to advocate a renunciation of the bringing forth of new human beings whose future is bound inevitably to consist in just such lived humiliation and just such a torment of death.