Antinatalism is defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as “opposition to procreation,” but, as a philosophical theory, it’s more complicated than that. The concept of antinatalism includes theories that both advocate for a reduction in procreation as well as those that oppose procreation entirely. The theories that endorse the cessation of procreation typically argue that it is always immoral to have children, due to the amount of harm an individual can experience or inflict whilst they’re alive. As such, because no one should procreate, the ultimate normative conclusion of these antinatalist arguments is that the human population should embrace extinction. One supporter of this theory is David Benatar, whose 2006 book, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence, has become the seminal antinatalist text. Interestingly, Theophile de Giraud’s The Art of Guillotining Procreators: An Anti-Natalist Manifesto, has escaped that same degree of attention. This is surprising when we consider that Benatar’s ideas are notably theoretical, whereas de Giraud’s ideas offer a more practical, normative response to antinatalism. While there are several reasons An Anti-Natalist Manifesto hasn’t experienced the same popularity (or infamy) as Better, its absence in antinatalist discourse begs the question—what might we do if antinatalism was, in fact, right about procreation? Here, I’ll argue that, despite its ethical dilemmas, de Giraud’s attempt at a normative antinatalism - which he refers to as agathogenesis -  still warrants consideration. 

Better Never to Have Been is undoubtedly the most important antinatalist text. Benatar’s most influential argument is the asymmetry argument, which claims that existence is always more harmful than non-existence. This is because existence involves pleasure, which is good, and pain, which is bad, but non-existence doesn’t have pain, which is good, and doesn’t have pleasure, which Benatar claims is “not bad”. Since there is an asymmetry in the amount of good and bad experienced in each of these scenarios, Benatar concludes that existence is always more harmful than non-existence because existence always involves more bad than good. Helpfully, the asymmetry argument translates well into a diagram: 

Scenario A (X exists)

Scenario B (X never exists)

Presence of pain (Bad)

Absence of pain (Good)

Presence of pleasure (Good)

Absence of pleasure (Not bad)

Figure 1. Benatar’s Diagram of the Asymmetry between Pleasure and Pain

Benatar’s 'Better' likely became the seminal antinatalist text because of its accessibility. Despite the very theoretical nature of his ideas, Benatar utilises plain and concise language throughout the book. Additionally, Benatar is explicit about his intentions for each chapter, structuring them intuitively, with each subsection building off the last until the end, when he responds to anticipated counterarguments. The easy-to-read nature of Better is significant because it contributed to the popularisation of antinatalism, both as we understand it within philosophy and outside of academia. 

With this in mind, we now turn to Theophile de Giraud’s book, The Art of Guillotining Procreators: An Anti-Natalist Manifesto (originally 'L’Art de guillotiner les procréateurs: Manifeste anti-nataliste' in French). Despite being published in the same year as Better, An Anti-Natalist Manifesto never garnered the same attention. Why is that? From the bold title alone, it is clear that de Giraud’s work takes a very different approach to antinatalism than Benatar. While Benatar presents his arguments in a neutral, professional manner, de Giraud’s writing is impassioned and artistic. Benatar’s straightforward arguments contrast sharply with de Giraud's use of vivid literary devices, such as metaphors, hyperboles and rhetorical questions, which reflect his enthusiasm for the topic. Additionally, while 'Better' was written in English, 'An Anti-Natalist Manifesto' was originally written in French and translated to English by de Giraud himself. These distinctions are worth keeping in mind as we analyse de Giraud’s work more closely. 

'An Anti-Natalist Manifesto' is split into two sections, with the first being most relevant to our discussion. It involves a series of chapters, which de Giraud refers to as ‘Postures’. These 'Postures' act as his defence of antinatalism, advocating for the complete cessation of procreation. Each Posture outlines a different set of ideas related to procreative ethics, some that echo Benatar’s arguments and some that are unique. The Postures culminate in the eighth chapter: “An Agathogenesis”. Here, de Giraud develops a normative theory of antinatalism with explicit actions for individuals to follow. He describes agathogenesis as “a doctrine advocating a procreation resting on ethics and wisdom (rather than on caprice, ignorance, imperialism, hormonalism and reproductive immaturity)”. In other words, while the ideal scenario would be to abandon procreation entirely, the global population is mentally unprepared for such a demand and, therefore, we should focus on promoting “procreation according to the good”. 

Agathogenesis rests on three pillars; the first is compulsory parental education. Ideally for de Giraud, this education would involve at least one year of training and would partially focus on information about child psychology and development. He argues that funding for such a program would come from governments, as better preparing parents for parenthood is likely to minimise the funding required for other government programs, such as prisons and psychiatric facilities. The second pillar of agathogenesis is the compulsory psychoanalysis of potential parents before they have children. De Giraud suggests that such a program could be easily integrated into the parental education program, and would be beneficial because making potential parents aware of the traumas they carry will minimise the likelihood of inflicting their children with the same traumas. The final pillar is a prohibition of procreation for all people under the age of 30. As the most controversial of all the pillars, de Giraud argues that “one of the priority aims of agathogenesis is to give the child mature and responsible parents”. He also argues that a person older than 30 is more mature, has had more time to consider their desire for a child, is more likely to have a stable profession and marriage/relationship, and is likely to have more material resources. 

It is apparent, even from the very basic explanations I have provided, that agathogenesis has some significant ethical flaws – the most serious is its disregard for human rights and autonomy. Notably, the procreation prohibition violates international human rights laws about founding a family and the right to privacy, as outlined in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 12, 16). Additionally, even the compulsory parental education and psychoanalysis pillars impose on the freedoms afforded to and expected by adults. In the Western world, there already exists a precedent, whereby mandatory schooling doesn’t extend into adulthood, and there are only a limited number of health obligations, such as vaccines, once people enter adulthood. 

Of course, these are very serious ethical concerns and, in combination with de Giraud’s impassioned writing style, it is easy to understand why 'An Anti-Natalist Manifesto' never experienced the same reception as Benatar’s 'Better' . That said, it might also be worth considering if there is another reason 'An Anti-Natalist Manifesto' has been left behind in antinatalist discourse. Despite its issues, compulsory parental education is a concept that has existed for many, many years, from Hugh Lafollette’s Licensing Parents in 1980, to the more recent work of Anca Gheaus and Luara Ferracioli, who are interested in the duties both parents and governments owe to future children. It is also not unreasonable to imagine utilising parent-focused psychology programs in an age where discussions about mental health are becoming less stigmatised and more productive. These factors do not lend themselves to the notion that the work of de Giraud should be dismissed so quickly – in fact, they seem to suggest that it might even be worthwhile re-examining agathogenesis and developing potential solutions to overcome its ethical dilemmas. 

Thus, we return to our initial question: what might we do if antinatalism was right about procreation? Agathogenesis is not the answer, at least not in its current form. We cannot compromise on human rights. However, if antinatalism is right about procreation, we should be making a serious effort to develop some sort of theory or program that can provide people with recommended actions that promote the antinatalist agenda without impeding on autonomy. The work of Theophile de Giraud should not be dismissed, simply because it’s passionate or partially flawed, but rather embraced, studied and improved upon for the sake of furthering the antinatalist discourse.

Share this post