‘Babies Are Good. More Babies Are Better’: Pro-Natalism Takes Center Stage in Austin

At the Natal Conference in Austin in December, the “brightest minds in the world” will gather to promote right-wing tropes rooted in eugenics and misogyny.

The Natal Conference’s website warns that “by the end of the century, nearly every country on Earth will have a shrinking population, and economic systems dependent on reliable growth will collapse.” (@natalismorg / X)

On Dec. 1, 2023, the Natal Conference will be held in Austin, Texas. Promising to gather the “brightest minds in the world,” the conference is aimed at turning around the world’s “shrinking population,” which represents “the greatest population bust in human history.” Pro-natalists typically focus their concern on falling birth rates in the United States and most of Europe, as critics commonly point out, which they believe will lead to the collapse of civilization. The urgent goal of the pro-natalist movement (of which the Natal Conference is a part) is the reversal of a decline in population through promoting human reproduction.

The conference “has no political or ideological goal other than a world in which our children can have grandchildren,” according to its website—but as Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project on Hate and Extremism, warned, the meeting will solidify links between the far right and right-wing influencers. Fiercely anti-feminist speakers will join them.

“It’s not surprising to see far-right folks, eugenicist types and white nationalists joining forces at a conference like this,” Beirich told the Guardian. “They have become bedfellows.’”

The pro-natalist and the eugenic positions are very much not in opposition; they’re very much aligned.

Kevin Dolan, organizer of the Natal Conference

These links are not expressly touted on the conference website; however, a lean-in to eugenics is certainly suggested by the claim that the conference will be “gathering the brightest minds in the world in search of new solutions.”

The conference is organized by Kevin Dolan, who revealed his eugenical thinking on a recent interview on the Jolly Heretic podcast, hosted by Edward Dutton—who also has an episode titled, “Why Are Some Woke Women Not That Bad Looking?” (if you’re wondering his political orientation).

“Some of the debates that I hear about natalism is like we can’t have natalism, we have too many stupid people,” Dolan told Dutton, “but in my opinion, the only people who are going to respond to our natalism conference [and] conversations are going to be at the higher end of the distribution.”

He continued, cutting to the chase: “The pro-natalist and the eugenic positions are very much not in opposition; they’re very much aligned.” 

The Natal Conference’s organizer, Kevin Dolan, has been promoting the event on far-right podcasts. (Screenshot from The Jolly Heretic)

To elaborate, Dolan offered the example of two characters from the movie Idiocracy (2006): Trevor, who has an IQ of 138 “but won’t screw to save the species,” and the “dummy” Clevon.

“Clevon is going to do what he is going to do—realistically you cannot stop what he is going to do,” said Dolan. However, you can “get Trevor to have sex” by building a culture that encourages him to do so—presumably the primary aim of the conference.  

In claiming you cannot realistically stop “dummy” Clevon from doing what he “is going to do,” Dolan seems to steer clear of a negative eugenics approach, which seeks to improve the human population by preventing those with “undesirable traits from breeding” through coercive measures, such as involuntary sterilization.

Instead, he offers what is conventionally labelled a positive eugenic path forward out of the population collapse, which instead seeks to “improve the human race by encouraging those with desirable traits to breed”—namely, persons such as the conference attendees who are at the “higher end of the distribution.”

Eschewing the classic distinction between negative and positive eugenics, conference speaker Jonathan Anomaly instead argued, in his 2018 article “Defending Eugenics: From Cryptic Choice to Conscious Selection,” for a focus on the “justifiability of particular public policy proposals.” Of primary concern to Anomaly in developing these policies are the thorny challenges posed by “reproductive choice,” which is particularly problematic in societies that provide “increased opportunities for ambitious and intelligent women.”

As a result, rather than procreate, these liberated women may instead opt to “have pets rather than children, or to adopt children in middle age”—a likely manifestation of what he identifies as “pathological altruism.” 

Anomaly is pessimistic that policies which incentivize “people who would make good parents to have children” will work, given that “they have many other valuable ways of spending their time, including writing books, volunteering, taking exotic vacations, and advancing their careers.” Underscoring the deeply racialized and anti-immigrant nature of this eugenical thinking, he argued that incentives are unlikely to increase the proportion of the “people with inheritable traits we value.” About Sweden and its robust family leave laws, he wrote, “Foreign-born immigrants from Somalia,” have more children than “native-born Swedes who [have] below-replacement fertility.”

He suggested a better approach: Disincentivize those “who lack the adequate skill or foresight” to parent through policies like parental licensing schemes, which can weed out individuals who “lack the desire to take care of their children,” including those who “lack the means to provide food, shelter, medical care and education to their children.” 

Feminism is how the unpopular and undateable cope with life.

Peachy Keenan, speaker at the upcoming Natal Conference

A woman raises her fist during the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2022. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP via Getty Images)

The conference also runs on potent anti-feminist energy.

Speaker Helen Roy—a fellow at the Claremont Institute, which the New York Times characterizes as the “nerve center of the American right”—denounced “toxic feminism” in an article she wrote for Claremont’s publication The American Mind. In it, she argued feminism has drowned out “modern woman’s … greatness” by denigrating “pregnancy, domesticity, true friendship, and conformity to God’s will—all in favor of a sexually ‘liberated’ girlboss paradigm that rewards promiscuity, atomization, and unthinking yet unwavering devotion to the philosophy of self-creation.”

(By the “philosophy of self-creation,” I can only assume Roy is referring to matters such as bodily autonomy and reproductive choice, rather than to the cultivation of, say, a uniquely personal sense of style.) 

Or take speaker Peachy Keenan, author of the book Domestic Extremist: A Practical Guide for Winning the Culture Warswho boldly proclaims at the start of the book: “In this house we believe … babies are good, more babies are better” and “feminism is how the unpopular and undateable cope with life.”

Keenan’s essential call to action: We “must become anti-feminist. We must raise anti-feminist babies.” This goal is achieved by becoming “domestic extremists”—the title of her book. Domestic extremism does not demand that women “loom [their] own fabric or spin [their] own wool,” she wrote, but simply that they “remain authentically female,” as in the timeless way of being female: as a daughter, mother, and wife.”

So, when the “brightest minds in the world” gather at the Natal Conference in Austin in December, know that its professed “apolitical” and “non-ideological” goal of creating a world in which “our children can have grandchildren” masks a far more insidious agenda—and one that relies on eugenical and misogynistic tropes to achieve.

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Shoshanna Ehrlich is a professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her books include Who Decides: The Abortion Rights of Teens and the co-authored Abortion Regret: The New Attack on Reproductive Freedom. She is currently collaborating with the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts’ ASPIRE Center for Sexual and Reproductive Health on a minors’ abortion rights and access project.