Seeds and Incipient Forms of Anti-Natalist Thought (Introduction, part 6)

That philosophy of non-procreation which has recently come to be called “antinatalism” consists in fact in moral-theoretical positions which only gradually emerged and detached themselves from the cultural tradition and from the moulding and (de)forming pressure of metaphysics (specifically of a Schopenhauerian metaphysics of the will) and found, most likely, a form of expression more or less fully adequate to their substance only around the turn of the 19th to the 20th Century in the writings of a thinker publishing under the nom de plume of >Kurnig. Underlying work on the present handbook on antinatalism has been a conviction that, besides the many clear declarations of an adherence to anti-natalist principles, fundamental callings into question of all procreation and explicit appeals to abstention from natality, it is possible to discover within the material that has been historically handed down to us a large number of testimonies, appeals and statements of position which are not, indeed, to be classified as genuinely anti-natalist positions but are nonetheless to be considered as, so to speak, “seeds of antinatalism” within our cultural tradition, and that these testimonies, appeals and statements need also to be taken into account in a work of the present kind. In addition, then, to what we will call “direct antinatalisms” in past and present-day thought, it is the intention of the present handbook to familiarize its readers also with these “seeds of antinatalism” that are to be found in the philosophical, epic, dramatic, and lyric literature produced throughout the history of human civilization. By pointing out the presence of (proto-)anti-natalist elements within the whole of our literary heritage we provide documentary evidence that the protest against existence in general has been going on, just under the surface of our shared human culture, since time immemorial and that antinatalism is not to be dismissed as a mere symptom of latter-day “decadence”. We might mention, for example, three classical sources of inspiration for anti-natalistic forms and for the critique of procreation both in the past and in the present day, namely: the antinatalism of the Ancient Greek tragic dramatists; the antinatalism of Ancient Asia; and a certain biblical antinatalism (in qualified form, the >Wish Never To Have Been Born of Job and, quite particularly, the exemplary family- and childlessness of Jesus in view of the imminent Last Judgment, a family- and childlessness which is again urged repeatedly in Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians) as opposed to the biblical pro-natalism in the form of the Old Testament injunction to “be fruitful and multiply”. Thus, two of the ancient sources of antinatalism have a religious character, while of the third of them – the antinatalism of the Ancient Greeks – it can perhaps most correctly be said that it corresponds to that pessimistic sense of existence that was diagnosed by Jacob Burckhardt.

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