Acton Institute Powerblog

Restricting ‘Human Breeding,’ Wherein I Call Zoltan Istvan A Moral Idiot

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I have a large family. Yes, I have 5 children of my own, but I also have 23 nieces and nephews and 30+ great-nieces and nephews. Large.

And we’ve heard it all. “Don’t you know what causes that?” (usually chortled with an accompanying poke in the ribs.) “Are you done now?” “Wow, you’ve got your hands full…” (translated: “Dear heavens, what is wrong with you people??”)

It’s all good. Say what you want; we like having loud family gatherings, trying to figure out how many chairs we’re going to need for Thanksgiving, buying in bulk and generally holding up our end of the demographic scale, since there are so many “child-free” couples these days. And as irritating as the rude remarks can be, they don’t come close to the idiocy of Zoltan Istvan, a self-described transhumanist and author, who’s recently penned an article titled, “It’s time to consider restricting human breeding.”

In even suggesting that we consider restrictions “on human breeding,” Istvan puts himself in fine company. Eugenics has been around a long time, and for whatever reason, he’s decided to join the ranks. Oh, he doesn’t come right out and say there are “certain people” we can do without. No, he hides behind a gauzy, filthy veil of “transhumanism,” trying to make his remarks seem somehow wholesome, well-being and for the common good. (I don’t think you’d recognize the common good if it jumped up and bit your nose, Mr. Istvan.)

In the UK edition of, Istvan tells us it’s time: time to start thinking about how to control who should have kids. He’s started the list for us: homeless people, people with drug issues, criminals (he doesn’t discriminate, so I’m guessing if you got a speeding ticket, you’re doomed), and anyone who has “no resources to raise a child properly and keep it from going hungry.” Istvan also says those parents whose kids end up in human trafficking situations should be cut-off (pardon the term) from further breeding; clearly, they are unfit to parent. I wonder if he is aware that many parents in this situation do not choose this for their children. It is a situation thrust upon them by kidnappers, internet pervs, teens with serious self-control issues and other situations totally out of parental control. In fact, I wonder if Istvan is familiar with the concept of “free will.”

Breezily, Istvan says all of this is truly humanitarian. What with all the kids starving to death around the world, we really should just make sure certain people don’t breed. He’s also a feminist: women bear the brunt of breeding, and get left behind in terms of life goals and careers. Let’s not forget environmentalism: our fragile planet is going to have a nervous breakdown with so many kids running around. Don’t get him wrong; he’s not trying to take away anyone’s liberty:

The goal with licensing parents is not so much to restrict freedoms, but to guarantee the maximum resources to those children that exist and will exist in the future.

Of course, the problem is always in the details. How could society monitor such a licensing process? Would governments force abortion upon mothers if they were found to be pregnant without permission? These things seem unimaginable in most societies around the world. Besides, who wants the government handling human breeding when it can’t do basic things like balance its own budgets and stay out of wars? Perhaps a nonprofit entity like the World Health Organisation might be able to step in and offer more confidence.

As Istvan points out, the devil’s in the details (and here, I believe the devil is clearly at work.) The whole forced abortion thing is tough; just ask Chi An, a woman who was not only forced to undergo abortions, but perform them. The situation was so horrid, she fled her native China. Who would be in charge of licensing? Would we hold local elections, like we do for the school board? I’m sure you wouldn’t mind a “jury of your peers” deciding if and when you could have a baby. Or can we trust the government to this task? (Before you answer that, remember how well things like the Obamacare rollout and the War on Poverty have gone.) Or perhaps a global entity, like WHO, should be charged with the task. Their misuse of antibiotics has helped lead to drug-resistant bacterias.

Istvan’s remarks are timely, in that the movie, “The Giver, is set for release today. It looks to be a decent adaption of Lois Lowry’s book. In it, if you are deemed fit, you and your partner are given two children (but you can’t reproduce. As Istvan has pointed out, it’s too risky.) Lots of other things in life are controlled in this society as well; actually, everything in this society is controlled. Everything is great, perfect, calm, pain-free.

Until it isn’t.

Mr. Istvan, you’re a moral idiot. If you think restricting some people’s liberties because they are just too dumb to figure things out for themselves, then get ready. Your liberties are next.

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.


  • I think David B Hart put it best:

    “The difference between John Paul’s theological anthropology and the pitilessly consistent materialism of the transhumanists and their kith — and this is extremely important to grasp — is a difference not simply between two radically antagonistic visions of what it is to be a human being, but between two radically
    antagonistic visions of what it is to be a god.”

    • Hanfeizi

      Indeed. I’m on the side of the transhumanists.

      God is Power.

  • Christopher Benek

    I am a pastor and I have gladly been to an Acton Institute weekend in the past. I am also a friend of Zoltan Istvan with whom I disagree with on numerous issues. Additionally, I am active within the transhumanism movement. Ms. Hilton, in my opinion, your public insulting of Istvan does nothing to uphold the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is very easy to make a case against Istvan’s claims with dignity and one should do so. Moreover, your categorial stereotyping of all transhumanists as having the same line of thinking is simply incorrect. If the Acton Institute has decided to engage in conflict methodology as a way of asserting its moral authority then it has certainly taken a step backward in its quest to assist humanity in evading tyranny.

    • Sir, tyranny is assuming authority not granted by God to tell people one deems “unfit” that they cannot reproduce. I stand by what I wrote; eugenics (which is part of the transhumanist movement) is evil.

      • Christopher Benek

        Ms. Hilton – I am not questioning your or anyone else’s prerogative to critique Istvan. How you proceeded in doing so is the larger issue. Rhetorically side-stepping that issue does not remove it. John 13:34-35

        Additionally – eugentics is a evil of humanity – not merely transhumanism (nor even a substantial part of transhumanism.) But regardless, evil will not be overcome by repaying it with evil.

        • “The philosophical conundrum of controlling human procreation
          rests mostly on whether all human beings are actually responsible
          enough to be good parents and can provide properly for their
          offspring.” Zoltan Istvan.

          If you think that’s on the same moral plane as calling someone an “idiot,” then there’s a problem. Transhumanism is based on eugenics: breeding “better people” in the name of science. If I can call attention to that sort of evil, then I shall do it.

          • Christopher Benek

            If, as followers of Christ, we don’t care how we treat people then evil has already won. Ms. Hilton your understanding of transhumanism is misguided and simply incorrect. Regardless, I wish you well.

      • Alantar

        There is a difference between positive eugenics (promoting the reproduction of traits deemed to be good) and negative eugenics (preventing the reproduction of traits deemed to be bad). Positive eugenics (perhaps promoting the reproduction of genes associated with good health, some types of intelligence, or the like) is probably a good thing so long as no one is forced to support it. Negative eugenics (which may be an attempt to eliminate genes linked to multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, religious belief, or sexual orientation – as examples) can range from admirable to awful, but should never be promoted by anyone in authority, should never include harm to any living person, and should only be decided by the prospective parents or (retroactively) by the person who wishes to change their own genetic makeup.

        As an agnostic transhumanist I strongly disagree with Zoltan on this issue for numerous reasons: the potential for abuse is far too high, it would set a terrible precedent, every prediction ever made by Paul Ehrlich has been wrong, population is better controlled by increasing freedom and thereby increasing wealth, the birth rate is too low in developed nations, we need more people not less to fully realize the Singularity, new technologies mean that our sun could support a population of over 100 trillion people within the century (if we had that many people), and there are already good reasons to believe that we will have faster than light travel within the century. In short, we have plenty of room to grow before we have to consider such issues – and in that time we will doubtless gain new information that will help us make such a decision if it becomes necessary.

        As for the short term problems that we must deal with at present: the claims about human trafficking are mostly a hoax to gain funding for self-serving NGOs, free trade can eliminate most extreme poverty faster than we could establish a comprehensive licensing system, and the problem of abusive parents would be better addressed by recognizing greater freedom for children to seek out alternative carers if their parents are abusive or cannot take care of them sufficiently.

    • Yes, at the least, we can all agree that insulting one’s opponents is not a good strategy for getting them to listen to our side of things. As a Christian Transhumanist, I disagree with Zoltan on a lot of matters, but also place a high value on those disagreements being presented in a reasoned, logical fashion. As Christians, our approach to disagreement should be even more reasonable and respectful than the baseline expectations would dictate.

    • Guest

      If you agree with Zoltan Istvan why are you a Christian pastor? What part of do unto others as you would have done onto yourself do you not understand. Whatever you do to the imprisoned, the poor and the sick you do unto Jesus also. Surely there are other religions in which you could honestly preach against the meek and the poor.

  • Christopher Benek

    No doubt, and Istvan’s positions should be contested – but we should also expect more from the Acton Institute than name calling.

  • I do not believe I am stupid. I do not believe we should restrict human breeding. Who would make such decisions? What traits would we choose to keep or eliminate, and why?

    “When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong.” – The Giver

    Do we need our freedoms restricted for the best outcome for all? Scary stuff.

  • If we sterilize/castrate “violent criminials,” we leave no room for reform. So, that 18 year old who got into a bar brawl gets castrated, and is never allowed to have a family? He serves his time, changes his ways, never drinks again, never strikes another person, but, too bad for him?

  • Guest

    God will rebuke him. It would not surprise me if some sort of immortality exists already. The spirit of God does not stay in human flesh forever. Once the spirit leaves man, man becomes good for nothing. Young children even of the worst parents have more spirit and charisma than the most intelligent trans-humanist. I notice that eugenics supporters are almost always emasculated spiritless men with a satanic hatred of women. If we trade poor children so that those men can live forever, we would have Hell on Earth.

  • jwrennie

    You are right he is a moral idiot (I think the Greek word moronos is probably appropriate).

    But the really stupid part of his whole argument is that _we did have_ a license for reproduction once and it was the idiot fellow travellers of his that destroyed it.

    Marriage was that license and the stigma associated with unwed motherhood.

    But we got rid if all that and now we have idiots like this seeking to implement far more draconian approaches that were solved by a much simpler and saner solution

  • Sean E. Flatt

    “in the name of humanity” Egomaniacal ideologues don’t seem to care much for humanity. We do need to face the challenges of a transforming world due to emerging technologies, but we need to be sensible.