From Kurnig to Marie Huot

The first modern antinatalist, a man named Kurnig (see my article on Kurnig), left virtually no biographical traces. Information that goes beyond the little we know can be found in a book by the author Francis Ronsin on Neo-Malthusianism. At the same time this book establishes a close link in the history of antinatalist ideas between Kurnig and Huot:

‘It was a woman, Marie Huot, who first made available antinatalist ideas to a large number of people. In reality, the radicalism of Marie Huot’s thoughts is far away from Malthus’s philosophy and has only a distant connection with neo-Malthusianism.’(Francis Ronsin, La Grève des ventres: Propagande néo-malthusienne et baisse de la natalité en France (XIXe-XXe siècles), Aubier 1980, p. 44, translated from French into English by KA)

The above citation offers an early occurrence of the term ‘antinatalistic’ in the current moral-theoretical sense. In addition to that Ronsin’s book also confirms a close link between compassion for animal suffering and the rise of antinatalist aspirations:

‘It was in September 1892, in the Salle de la Société de géographie, boulevard Saint-Germain, that Marie Huot presented her ideas during a public lecture. The scandal was reported in the press. A scandal which, in reality, was more sought after than feared by Marie Huot. She was a member of the Ligue populaire contre la vivisection, and had already become famous by attacking with her parasol Professor Brown-Séquard, who, at the Collège de France, operated on live rabbits. Marie Huot had the taste and talent for brilliant and spectacular actions, designed to give the ideas she defended the benefit of great publicity…’ (P. 44)

In what follows I present an important piece of information which Ronsin has gathered on Kurnig:

‘Finally, a very limited body of information allows me to mention two other organizations that are also important to be linked to the neo-Malthusian movement. A German named Kurnig spreads very original propaganda throughout Europe, from Heilbronn am Neckar, based on what he calls Neo-Nihilism and the total rejection of procreation. Since 1896, he has distributed a first brochure in French: Nouvelle appréciation de l’instinct sexuel (pessimisme, jurisprudence, psychiatrie), in which he claims to be inspired by Schopenhauer’s work and, in particular, by his chapter: Metaphysics of sexual instinct. Kurnig’s efforts to towards France would continue for several years. Having founded an international educational consulting centre in Heilbronn, he published a new manifesto: Neo-Nihilism-Anti-Militarism-Sexual Life (End of Humanity), which he distributed free of charge in a large number of copies, particularly among French teachers.’ (P. 118)

The next quote does even suggest a direct influence emanating from Kurnig having reached Marie Huot:

‘If we are to believe l’Éclair of 8 June 1908 (that very scandal sheet that unintentionally did so much to popularize neo-Malthusianism), “nearly five hundred French teachers have submitted their support to Mr. Kurnig. Every day he receives new ones, which he proudly publishes in his Bulletin.” These figures are certainly very exaggerated since Kurnig’s undertaking caused little noise, if any protest from the repopulators, according to whom: “this intervention by a German to combat the French birth rate could explain many things”. As for the synthesis he makes between nihilism and the rejection of childbirth, his work has most certainly influenced some French neo-Malthusians (in particular Marie Huot).’ (P. 118)

2 thoughts on “From Kurnig to Marie Huot

  1. On page 5 of the article on Kurnig you wrote: “Particularly noteworthy is Wilhelm Mensinga’s (1836– 1910) invention of the occlusive pessary (a rubber cap with an elastic rim that seals the cervix and protects against pregnancy) which he tested before publishing the results of his antiprocreational research in 1882 under the pseudonym of C. Hasse in his ‘Über die facultative Sterilität ohne Verletzung der Sittengesetze‘ (On facultative sterility without violating the moral law).”
    But if I understood correctly the wikipedia page on Wilhelm Mensinga, “On facultative sterility without violating the moral law” is not the name of Mensinga’s work but of that of Carl Capellmann, who opposed Mensinga.

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