Earthly births

The messianism of natality in the climate crisis



Hannah Arendt, natality, Anthropocene, messianism, climate crisis


The aim of this article is straightforward: to present two clarifications of Hannah- Arendt’s seasoned political concept of natality and to conclude by positioning this new account of natality within the context of the climate crisis. In many ways, this concluding section, where natality is read as a form of historical emancipation, hinges on the degree to which I succeed in reframing existing conversations around natality. In the first instance I submit an ‘earthly reading’ of natality before turning to discuss the historical implications of this ‘re-earthed’ natality as enacting a form of weak messianism akin to that of Walter Benjamin. Rethinking natality in this way, I present an account of Arendt’s work as always already inclined towards the issues brought to light in the climate crisis. And so, while the forms of emancipation and redemption that I locate in natality may already be commonly read in natal actions, which break spontaneously into the world and recall the originality of appearance, I nevertheless contend that its political implications reach new grounds with the revisions that I offer in the body of my article. By way of conclusion, I join critical Anthropocene theorists in contending with the ‘slow violence’, ‘willed racial blindness’ and ‘crises of the imagination’ that the climate crisis elicits. This is the setting that sits behind my intervention into natality and, in turn, it is this setting that I suggest can be illuminated through the weak messianism of a ‘re-earthed’ natality. Arguing for Arendt’s latent consideration of the earth, I hope to expose the ruined fragments of the past that shape the present crisis and gesture towards their radical redemption. If I succeed in showing that natality can be used as a resource to rethink both the prehistory and the present of the climate crisis then I will have achieved a reorientation in thinking about Arendt’s politics. Which is merely to say that I will have revealed concerns for the earth as intrinsic to natal actions and, in turn, their appearance as messianic disruptions on the earth. Prompted by the need to think critically about the historical appearance of the climate crisis whilst retaining, at the same time, the injunction to think expansively about future action – that is, as not determined exclusively by the violence of the climate crisis – this article defends a reconsideration of natality as a form of critical historical intervention. Formulating this reconstruction is then ‘operationalised’ in the concluding section where I invoke its revolutionary force in remapping the history of the climate crisis.

How to Cite

Benjamin, L. (2020). Earthly births: The messianism of natality in the climate crisis . Approaching Religion, 10(2), 73–91.