14 September 2012

Tom Regan on the Animal-Rights Movement

Tom ReganIn issuing its condemnation of established cultural practices, the rights view is not antibusiness, not antifreedom of the individual, not antiscience, not antihuman. It is simply projustice, insisting only that the scope of justice be seen to include respect for the rights of animals. To protest against the rights view that justice applies only to moral agents, or only to human beings, and that we are within our rights when we treat animals as renewable resources, or replaceable receptacles, or tools, or models, or things—to protest in these terms is not to meet the challenge the rights view places before those who would reject it. On the contrary, it is unwittingly to voice the very prejudices it has been the object of the present work to identify and refute.

But prejudices die hard, all the more so when, as in the present case, they are insulated by widespread secular customs and religious beliefs, sustained by large and powerful economic interests, and protected by the common law. To overcome the collective entropy of these forces-against-change will not be easy. The animal rights movement is not for the faint of heart. Success requires nothing less than a revolution in our culture's thought and action. . . . How we change the dominant misconception of animals—indeed, whether we change it—is to a large extent a political question. Might does not make right; might does make law. Moral philosophy is no substitute for political action. Still, it can make a contribution. Its currency is ideas, and though it is those who act—those who write letters, circulate petitions, demonstrate, lobby, disrupt a fox hunt, refuse to dissect an animal or to use one in "practice surgery," or are active in other ways—though these are the persons who make a mark on a day-to-day basis, history shows that ideas do make a difference. Certainly it is the ideas of those who have gone before—the Salts, the Shaws, and more recent thinkers—who have helped move the call for the recognition of animal rights, in the words of Mill that serve as this book's motto, past the stage of ridicule to that of discussion. It is to be hoped that the publication of this book will play some role in advancing this great movement, the animal rights movement, toward the third and final stage—the stage of adoption. To borrow words used in a different context by the distinguished American photographer Ansel Adams, "We are on the threshold of a new revelation, a new awakening. But what we have accomplished up to this time must be multiplied a thousandfold if the great battles are to be joined and won."

(Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, updated with a new preface [Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2004], 399-400 [ellipsis added] [first edition published in 1983])