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Animal Rights Debate–Second Review

This second review of The Animal Rights Debate by Gary Francione and Robert Garner is by Carlo Salzani and is published on the Humanimalia Web site. Again, a thoughtful review. This time, however, a third book is also considered: Beyond Animal Rights: Food, Pets and Ethics by Tony Milligan (Continuum), which I’m not familiar with. Salzani concludes

Unlike Francione and Garner, whose disagreement is internal to the animal ethics camp, Milligan opens up the discussion to a greater range of inputs, which help nonetheless to locate the debate against a wider background. What Milligan does not offer, unlike Francione and Garner, is a political strategy: he proposes a personal analysis of a number of issues based on a pluralist set of considerations, which however ends up often in an argumentative stalemate or in a sort of situational ethics. Unlike Francione’s and Garner’s, his voice is not that of an activist, but rather that of a philosopher, sometimes too detached and doubt-ridden to be able to offer the simplification that action requires. His book is therefore to be read in the context of a wider discourse. Together with Francione and Garner, Milligan provides some coordinates to orient the reader within the current philosophical and practical debate concerning animal ethics.

Regrettably, The Animal Rights Debate frames the discussion about strategy as an either/or. Either it is animal rights or it is animal protection. Salzani appears to position Milligan’s Beyond Animal Rights as not providing direct insight into this dispute but nevertheless a worthwhile contribution to the overall discussion. I look forward to reading Milligan to form my own opinion.

Salzani, like Mepham, makes an interesting observation about the different approaches taken by Francione and Garner.

Robert Garner begins his chapter on an apparently more restrained tone: he does not want to criticize animal rights per se, and even states that “a great deal of the ethics of animal rights is convincing” (103). However, soon after he adopts a language that is not second to Francione’s in harshness and condemnation: what he opposes is the “abolitionist” version of the animal rights theory, which he characterizes as “fundamentalist,” “inflexible,” and “dogmatic”; like a fundamentalist religion, it is based on “essential truths” and on an “unwillingness to compromise” in order to achieve incremental short-term goals that fall short of the ideal end point; as such, it is irreconcilable to the “political art of the possible” (104). Garner advocates the position Francione called “new welfarism” but that he prefers to label “animal protectionism,” which defends a “politics” of incremental and “feasible” legal reforms aimed at ameliorating the conditions of animals.

I say regrettably The Animal Rights Debate frames the discussion as an either/or because I believe a smart social justice movement for animals is one which matures sufficiently to understand and appreciate the differences between them. These differences can be irreconcilable opposites if we want them to be. They can also be a clever coordinated strategy which utilises the strengths and weaknesses inherent in each. The strategy I advocate is one which balances the utopian vision of animal rights with the pragmatic politics of animal welfare. Many if not all social movements struggle under a tension of fundamentalism and pragmatism. A smart social movement is one which learns how to deploy both simultaneously. I first made this case in my paper, Utopian Visions and Pragmatic Politics: Challenging the Foundations of Speciesism and Misothery, was published in Animal Rights: The Changing Debate edited by Robert Garner (Macmillan, 1996).

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  1. Peter W
    March 16th, 2011 at 10:53 | #1

    Thanks for this interesting commentary. In my years following the debates around animal rights/welfare/protection, I have found the dogmatic black and white mindset you mention so incredibly depressing. The people most active and most passionate seem to spend most of their time sniping at those within the movement whose views are not completely identical to their own. Abolutionists seem to hate ‘new welfarists’ with a terrifying passion. Welfarists look down on abolutionists as crazed utopian fundamentalists. Rather than seeing their common ground – their compassion for animals, they only see the differences.

    I find an awful lot to admire in Gary Francione. His passion and commitment is inspiring. I enjoy and appreciate his writing and his podcasts but his unrelenting refusal to recognise that common ground probably puts off as many people as it attracts. For example, his view that vegetarianism cannot be promoted as a ‘gateway’ to veganism is, to me, ridiculous. How many of us (myself included) transitioned to veganism through a short vegetarian stage? I wouldn’t be a vegan without having been a vegetarian. Once you’ve gone veggie, veganism is only a small and logical step.

    Yes abolition is the ultimate goal but it’s not going to happen overnight (or even in our lifetimes if it happens at all). In the meantime there are a lot of animals suffering. What do we do with them? Pure abolitionism doesn’t seem to have an answer to that.

  2. larry
    March 17th, 2011 at 05:08 | #2

    Here is a video on animal rights: http://meat.org

  3. Russell S
    April 11th, 2011 at 16:03 | #3

    I hope that the current debate within the animal advocacy movement regarding abolition v regulation will help us to clarify our own positions.

    I have had hundreds of interactions with people, through information tables, about animal rights, and my only regret is that I sometimes asked people to consider vegetarianism rather than veganism. If our goal is to get people to go vegan, then what is the point of promoting better conditions for farm animals or vegetarianism? If we are abolitionist, then I think we should be honest enough to admit that. When we hold a firm abolitionist stance then I believe that the animal agriculture industries with their marketing teams, will want stronger regulation to try and make themselves more appealing to the general public. I really don’t see why we should spend our time and resources doing that for them.

    For those of us that aren’t abolitionist and accept the animal agriculture paradigm, then that is fine, go ask for less cruelty, but at least be honest about it.

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