Veganism is Compatible with Libertarianism

While most vegans are left-wing supporters of government, it doesn’t surprise me to meet libertarian vegans who see veganism as a natural extension to their political philosophy. Libertarian principles of (human) self-ownership and the non-aggression principle can graciously be extended to (non-human) animals. While Rothbard and other libertarians would not grant animals rights, veganism is compatible with libertarianism.

The fundamental question of animal rights is, “Are animals individuals?” In other words, are animals members of the “moral community” or merely objects that require little or no ethical concern.

The strongest philosophical strain of veganism in the West is the abolitionist approach to animal rights (AAAR). The AAAR claims that all sentient beings are members of the moral community and so cannot be used, exploited, or killed. It would seem then, that those who accept this position would be open to libertarian principles of non-aggression and self-ownership. However, while most vegans are strongly left-wing, it seems their bleeding hearts bleed for all except the tax-payer.

Veganism as a way of life is completely apolitical. Whatever their reasons, a vegan is someone who attempts to avoid animal use as far as possible.

“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

The Vegan Society, retrieved from https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/definition-veganism

Conversely, libertarianism is completely a-nutritional. Libertarianism does not state that using animals is required, so there is no fundamental inconsistency in being vegan and a libertarian. Even though libertarians like Murray Rothbard claim that animals cannot be granted rights, one could be hold a vegan diet and lifestyle without claiming animals have rights.*

… individuals possess rights not because we “feel” that they should, but because of a rational inquiry into the nature of man and the universe. In short, man has rights because they are natural rights.

Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, New York University Press, 1998

But, even if animals do not have rights, it would not be against libertarian principles for someone to be vegan. A libertarian might choose to be vegan even if “natural rights” were not granted to animals. Libertarianism does not forbid veganism. Rothbard continues:

… [rights] are grounded in the nature of man: the individual man’s capacity for conscious choice, the necessity for him to use his mind and energy to adopt goals and values, to find out about the world, to pursue his ends in order to survive and prosper, his capacity and need to communicate and interact with other human beings and to participate in the division of labor.

Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, New York University Press, 1998

This view is anthropocentric, a self-serving definition of rights; for humans-by humans. If you were able to communicate with pigs, frogs, fish, or bacteria, they would likewise define rights so as to secure their interests. Pigs would state that their natural ability to forage and make nests establish their “natural” right to forage and make nests –preventing humans from “processing” them for bacon. Fish would state that their natural ability to breathe underwater establishes their “natural” right to breathe underwater uninterrupted — preventing humans from removing them from the ocean for consumption.

Perhaps the following questions becomes more obvious now that animal examples have been used: How does any natural fact establish any natural “right”? And why do we assume human supremacy in the “rights” making department? Why would the pig or fish’s definition of rights be rejected in favour of the humans?

I am not claiming that humans ought to live timid lives, wary of harming other beings. I am not saying humans ought to accept the pig (or fish’s) definition of rights. I am not saying that humans can’t assert themselves, flourish, and live according to their own values (whatever they may be). I am not saying that it is wrong to eat meat. I am merely recognising that all “rights” are man-made inventions. Even human “rights” and other ideas like egalitarianism. This is why there is no inherent contradiction in being vegan and libertarian. We can invent both animal rights and libertarian principles.

One reply to my view is that we could also invent horrible or evil values and principles. This is true, but then the people who hold these values don’t see them as evil. In fact, your values seem evil to them. Another critique of my view would point out that we can’t invent and hold contradictory values. I could attempt to argue that usually people don’t try to, but then it is more robust to reply that logical consistency is itself a value premise. But without theorising about madmen, it is enough to state: veganism is not logically inconsistent with libertarianism.

Grounded in emotivism, we can assert our values, and grant whatever rights we prefer. As such there is no inconsistency in preferring to grant rights to animals — even to the extent that eating meat is prohibited — and being a libertarian –maintaining the non-aggression principle and self-ownership.

Of course, modern natural-rights libertarians would oppose laws that forbade eating meat. To them, this would be an initiation of force upon an individual’s right to act (eat meat) without initiating force against anyone else. But this begs the very question that animal rights raises: are animals individuals? How do we define individuals, and what rights do they have? If animals are merely objects and not individuals, they do not have rights and can be property. As property, the owner can do as he or she wishes. (This is the point that the AAAR raises and challenges).

In short, man is a rational and social animal. No other animals or beings possess this ability to reason, to make conscious choices, to transform their environment in order to prosper, or to collaborate consciously in society and the division of labor.

Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, New York University Press, 1998

Rothbard is making a similar mistake that Rene Descartes made. Descartes claimed that “animals could not reason nor use language rationally”. As such, they did not have souls, and therefore had no need for rights. But Rothbard’s view like Descartes’, is contrary to the 2012 Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness which states:

Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates. [bold added]

Retrieved from http://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeDeclarationOnConsciousness.pdf

So, even if some animals have consciousness, to what extent should we grant rights to animals (and to what extent)? To answer this, first consider why libertarians grant rights to humans. Natural-rights libertarians say that they grant self-ownership rights to humans because they derive from people’s natural ability to think, feel, etc. The argument is that the “nature” of something determines what rights it has: since “each individual must think, learn, value, and choose his or her ends and means in order to survive and flourish” they must have rights to self-ownership (Rothbard, For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, 1973). But by this same logic rights can be granted to animals: Since each sentient animal must be conscious, …, in order to survive and flourish, then must have rights to self-ownership. This would establish the animal’s right not to be bred, killed, eaten, or made into shoes.

You may disagree with me, like my friend did:

Natural rights are derived from argumentation ethics. And due to reciprocity of rights they can’t be extended to animals.

One libertarian’s rebuttal to my argument (from an actual conversation)

But Hans Herman Hoppe’s “argumentation ethics” doesn’t derive natural rights. Argumentation ethics states that, as an assumption, when we argue we implicitly agree not to physically fight. Hoppe assumes that libertarianism’s principles cannot be argumentatively refuted — which may be true — but this is a separate concept to whether it is being able to argue itself that establishes rights.

Assuming that animals cant be extended rights because animals can’t make rational arguments begs the question: Why do you assume that it is rationality (and the ability to argue) that establishes rights? Why not assume it is the ability to be sentient (as the AAAV does) that establishes rights?

What characteristic does establish rights? (Or stated in the emotivist way: what characteristics do we want to define for establishing rights?) The natural-rights libertarian Hans Herman Hoppe answers in the following:

Every person is an exclusive owner of his physical body as a primary means of action, no person can ever be the owner of any other person’s body, for we can use another person’s body only indirectly, that is, in using own directly appropriately and controlled own body first, thus direct appropriation precedes indirect appropriation.

Hans Herman Hoppe speech Youtube.

So, if libertarians are granting property rights to humans exclusively due to their ability to directly control themselves, then they must also grant property rights to all beings that are in direct control of themselves: ala sentient beings.

Veganism is compatible with libertarianism, not incompatible.

While consuming animal products causes unnecessary suffering I prefer not to consume animal products. While I can’t avoid animal use completely, that does not mean I don’t want to avoid it as much as possible. Yes, my house was built on cleared land that animals homesteaded, yes my vegan food is currently fertilised with manure that was taken by force from animals, and yes, you could point out many reasons that veganism doesn’t avoid using animals completely. For others, it may be health or environmental reasons that motivate their veganism, but for me, it is primarily an emotional response towards the way humans use animals that maintains my veganism. The overlap of veganism and libertarian thought is obvious and wide.

*Rothbards's libertarianism is based on the natural rights justification. I have attacked such groundings elsewhere, and contrary to Rothbard, I do claim that "rights" are granted only by human preferences (by having a "feel"/desire/preference in granting animals rights).

Veganism is not a moral baseline

moral baseline

“Veganism is a moral baseline that aligns values with actions. Anything less is just hypocrisy”.

I am really opposed to this kind of message because I think it is one of the main reasons people don’t go vegan.

I understand that to vegans, this kind of message is really appealing, but that doesn’t make it true. Whether veganism is morally imperative or not is a philosophical claim. Proclaiming it at people is not making an argument for it. I happen to think it is false (that veganism is morally imperative) and that arguments along this line of thinking are in error. But that is besides the point of this post.

Even if veganism is not a moral imperative (or even if there are no such things as moral imperatives), that doesn’t mean that there is no reason for an individual to choose to be vegan.

There happens to be many facts that are relevant to the decision to go vegan. Combine these facts with personal values to be healthy, not cause suffering, or help the environment, and people are going to be more motivated to choose vegan options –or life a vegan lifestyle. (Another facet to vegan advocacy is the removal or challenge to fallacious thinking).

Think about a similar argument for the existence of God. What if someone said to you: “Living according to the bible is a moral baseline”. Would you feel like there is a open exchange of ideas, or just a condemnation of anything except a Christian lifestyle?

My point is this: It matters to the animals (and to me) that people choose vegan options, and that the world increasingly moves towards veganism. Anything that thwarts this goal is my enemy (rhetorically speaking), and I want to challenge it. The abolitionist approach to animal rights (where this use of the moralistic phrase “moral baseline” comes from) is based on flawed philosophical ideas, and it is important that vegans stop using it to beat non-vegans around the head with their in-group ideas. We have to speak to the audience, not just celebrate what we already think. Furthermore we should always proportion our beliefs to the evidence, and for moral imperatives there is only ever the argument from intuition.

The good, bad, and ugly of the abolitionist approach to animal rights

The effectiveness of and truth (or falsity) behind Francione’s vegan advocacy

Gary Francione (click for full biography) is an American professor of law and philosophy at Rutgers University. He has contributed to the animal rights movement with books, podcasts, speeches, radio and television spots, and increasingly with social media and webinars. He, along with his partner Anna Charlton, cover topics that promote veganism and the abolitionist approach to animal rights (AAAR). The AAAR borrows its name from the abolitionists of the United States’ 19th century civil rights movement because it shares the notion of abolition –rather than incremental change.

On Gary Francione

Gary_Francione
Gary Francione

I intend to separate Francione from the ideas he espouses. I don’t intend to attack him personally, I intend to critique his ideas. I believe Francione is sincere in his beliefs of: moral realism, that animals have moral value, that it is wrong to use animals, and that he is correct to follow and promote the AAAR.

You should make up your own mind at to Francione’s views. What follows are mine. You can find Francione at these online locations:

This purpose of this post

I have a variety of views to different aspects of the AAAR, some positive, some negative. Ultimately, I think the world that Francione wants to work towards is one which is very agreeable to me; one that I would want to see. Unfortunately, I disagree with much else of the AAAR.

There are at least three facets to my views on the AAAR:

  1. my critique of the philosophical basis for the AAAR;
  2. the effectiveness of the approach in reducing animal suffering;
  3. the conflation of veganism with issues not strictly related to animal exploitation;
  4. my acknowledgement of Francione’s contribution to the animal rights movement with critiques of other historical approaches to animal issues, and more.

With that said, in this post I will comment primarily on the effectiveness of Francione’s AAAR messages, i.e. whether they bring vegans and non-vegans closer to more vegan choices and the vegan lifestyle.

I will also try to tease his messages apart: separating appeals to compassion from philosophical claims. I will use images from his twitter account as example of the messages that Francione spreads there and elsewhere. I will break the messages into the good, the bad, and the ugly. First, I will attempt a fair representation of the AAAR.

The abolitionist approach to animal rights

There are six principles to the AAAR, which I want to present accurately.

Principle one:

  1. Sentient beings have the basic right not to be treated as property (i.e. an object, as opposed to a legal “person”)

Principle two:

  1. The legal right not to be treated as property implies that there must be an abolishment of institutionalised animal exploitation
  2. There should not be a support for welfare reform campaigns, or single-issue campaigns such as: cage-free eggs, enriched cages for birds, meatless Mondays (as opposed to meatless everyday), vegetarianism (as opposed to veganism), “humane/happy” animal use or products, etc.
  3. There should not be any promotion of reducetarianism (the reduction of animal use or eating), welfare reforms, protectionism, or similar, as opposed to veganism

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Principle three:

  1. Veganism is the least which a person must be in order to be acting morally
  2. Creative, nonviolent vegan education is the way to do vegan advocacy (bring others towards a vegan lifestyle)

Principle four:

  1. Sentience is the criteria for establishing whether something or someone is in the “moral community”. This inherently rejects speciesism (the discrimination based on species membership)
  2. Being a member of the moral community is –at least– sufficient to establish moral rights
  3. Said moral rights are sufficient to establish the fact that all sentient beings are morally equal for the purposes of not being used exclusively as a resource

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Principle five:

  1. We should reject of all forms of human discrimination that is based on morally irrelevant criteria
  2. It is inconsistent to oppose speciesism but not other forms of discrimination like racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism
  3. It is inconsistent to oppose racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism but not speciesism

Principle six:

  1. The animal rights movement is an extension of the peace movement with the inclusion of extending peace to nonhuman animals
  2. The animal rights movement promotes nonviolence
  3. It would be impossible to establish a principled way to justify violence for animal rights because most people engage in animal exploitation

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You can read my history of animal ethics post to gain some extra context for Francione’s views. Some of his books:

The good (effective).

In this post, for the sake of the animals, I’m defining “good” as effective vegan messages; messages that bring non-vegans closer to veganism, to choose more vegan options and choose vegan options more often. Here are some examples of good messages by Francione.

These messages all appeal to the viewer for compassion. They make no false statements, and do not push non-vegans away from veganism. In short, they are positive and/or factual, and effective.

The bad (ineffective).

These are any messages that Francione uses that might make non-vegans feel judged, or otherwise negative about veganism. Therefore these messages reduces the chance that non-vegans would “go vegan” as Francione would demand. (I prefer to say “be vegan”, because it is an act that can be done once, twice, a little, a lot, or completely).

Most of these messages come across as judgements and assertions that non-vegans are harming animals, unkind, unfair, exploiting animals, making excuses, causing suffering and violence, not doing enough, etc.. I may not disagree with these views, but I understand that how they are presented (if at all) needs to be done with care.

There needs to be a focus on effectiveness –on helping the animals. Messages that make non-vegans dig their heels in the sand in defensiveness won’t help the animals. Unless these messages were provided differently, it would be more effective to say nothing.

I do understand that if you accept the ideas of veganism, these messages seems “true”, but the for the sake of the animals which suffer due to human exploitation, it is important to focus on a message being accepted by non-vegans. In focusing on the animals, it is important to be effective, not purely right or correct (if that is even the case; it may be that we are wrong).

I can only see these messages being justified by a sincere belief that Francione is correct about the issues. Only if you believe that animals have moral rights and therefore are not objects to be used, could you feel justified in saying such truths without concerning yourself with how the message is received; if it is accepted or not. To me this is the essence of fundamentalism, of ideologues, of dogmatism: a view that stopped asking whether it is justified or true. Rather it comes across as convinced of its own truth. This is against my preferred spirit of pragmatism.

The ugly (incorrect).

Many of the images in this section also could fall under the ineffective (bad) category, but I have included them here because they provide clear examples of questionable reasoning or assumptions. I am primarily referring to Francione’s meta-ethical views.

Most of my critiques to the content of these images have been explored in my other posts (search “moral realism”). Whether you agree with my meta-ethical position as a moral anti-realist, or with Francione as a moral realist, I maintain that these kinds of images are ineffective to non-vegans.

Unless non-vegans accept Francione’s moral realist view, non-vegans will simply ask questions like: “how do you know animals matter morally?” and possibly make assertions like: “morality is subjective”. Whichever your view on this, the fact is that these debates are far from settled in philosophy. Hence, while I have my views, the practical question is whether these images effective for animal advocacy? These images are ineffective at best, certainly they are philosophically questionable, and at worst completely erroneous.


References

G. L. Francione (personal communication, July 21, 2017)