I was cooing over a girlfriend’s canine (this took place decades ago in
I liked Mr. Chachkes – that was his name. I’m glad he and his fellow partisans were able to lay their hands on the odd stray in the Belorussian forest, from where they had launched forays across enemy lines. He needed all the sustenance he could get.
I later realized that Mr. Chachkes had attempted to impart to us much more than a tale of canine cuisine. His message was that all animals are not equal. Man is not a species among others – he is the crown of creation. Man’s rights to life, liberty and property, and his dominion over the animal world, flow from his undeniable nature. (Actually, this position is also explicitly Judeo-Christian.)
Surprisingly, a few errant libertarians have rejected this a priori truth and now rabbit on about extending individual rights to dogs, rabbits, budgies – all our furry and feathered friends. These cranks do not deny man’s unique nature overtly, but in seeking to give animals the ability to launch legal claims against people, they promote the equality of all species. (And who will enforce these claims on the beast’s behalf? The state? And I thought libertarians sought to reduce state power.)
In short, libertarian animal rightists are up to their brain stems in self-contradiction. While doing what only man can do – debate and declaim – they simultaneously deny and diminish the privileged position that derives from this uniquely human ability. It takes a philosophical caveman to commit such a performative contradiction. (To the Greek philosophers, stumbling into self-contradiction was as bad as being a beast.)
Absurdities aside, libertarians who advocate for the rights of animals understand neither libertarianism nor rights. One of these obscurantists has even come to believe that because he thinks “it is morally wrong to kill animals,” it follows that “an animal has a right not to be killed.”
First off, libertarianism is not about morals, per se. Libertarianism is a political philosophy concerned with the justified use of force. Libertarian law is guided by the non-aggression axiom, which stipulates that it ought to be legal for adults to do whatever they please provided they do not aggress against the person or property of another.
Thus the legality or illegality of an act in libertarian law turns not on its morality or immorality but only on whether an act of aggression has been committed. In fact, no libertarian would argue against man’s moral duty to exercise his dominion over the earth wisely and well, only that a moral duty is not to be confused with an enforceable legal imperative, at least not in law.
Authentic rights – life, liberty, property – are essentially negative. You have no obligations other than to keep your paws off me and my property. At the same time, the violation of these rights gives rise to very real legal claims against others. The consequence of granting rights to animals is to legalize the use of force against anyone who slaughters, markets, experiments on, or even eats and wears animals. In the debate on animal rights, the morality of such acts is thus not in the purview of libertarian law. What matters is whether we can justify the criminalization of these behaviors, and hence the use of force against those who practice such behavior, which is almost all of us.
If an animal has the right “not to be killed,” as the new breed of libertarians-for-animal-rights puts it, the animal has a de jure right to life. They would assert that Mr. Chachkes’ doggy dinner was no one’s chattel but instead a “sentient being” whose right to life had been violated. Libertarian law, concerned only with whose property the animal is, would enjoin my Mr. Chachkes and his partisans to compensate the dog’s owner. The animal-rights misanthropists would have arrested Mr. Chachkes for “murder” (or perhaps seen poetic justice in the fact that, as a “reward” for his wartime heroism, the poor man spent 10 years in one of Stalin’s gulags.)
Ultimately, as this column has writ
ten, the justification for conferring individual rights on humans only is vested in the fact that a human being is “a rational agent, with the gift of consciousness and a capacity to scrutinize his deeds and chart his actions.” “[M]an’s nature is the source of the responsibility he bears for his actions. It is also the source of his rights.” Or as John Locke put it, animals have no responsibilities, ergo, no rights.
Still, quite correctly, animal rightists want to know how beasts differ from babies or the cognitively impaired, who, though lacking the capacity to reason, are still conferred with individual rights.
My answer to this further fortifies the Argument from Man’s Uniqueness. Individual rights “exist within the context of a moral community.” There is never a shortage of those who seek to terminate society’s weakest members. As only a human community can champion the cause of animals, so too have people evolved methods (legal and otherwise) to enforce the rights of the most vulnerable.
If the day comes when Fido fights tooth and nail for more than Kibble’n’Bits, when he embraces the pariah dogs in his pack, then he will have earned his rights.
©By ILANA MERCER
April 2, 2004