How “Animal Rights Movement”?

Political scientist Jane Jenson tells us that social movements are resistent to "outside naming" and they want to be involved in "self-naming."[1] This raises an important question in the philosophically messy "animal rights movement": how did it get its name?

This is an important question – Jenson points out that it is not simply a struggle over words. Names of social movements are important. Professor of sociology, John Lofland, for example, justifiably assumes that the names of social movements reflect their fundamental values, even if those values are highly abstract. In turn, one would expect their values to be reflected in their main campaigning claims. Lofland says: “In order to say that there is a movement, we must be able to identify at least one such shared value, otherwise, there is, by definition, no movement (only a disparate collection of enterprises that we as analysts have ourselves fabricated in our minds as a movement)”.[2]

He cites the peace movement – its shared value is peace; the feminist movement – its shared value is feminism; the civil rights movement – its shared value is rights. It follows, then, surely, that the shared value in an animal rights movement would also be rights. However, this is not the case at the moment: apart from using Rights as a convenient or political title, most people in the present-day "animal rights movement" are not rightists.[3]

The question remains then: how did a modern movement whose founders such as Ronnie Lee and Peter Singer, who have never seen rights as a fundamental part of their stance on human-nonhuman relations, become to be called the "animal rights movement"?

Perhaps it was an accident? Certainly sloppiness is a factor. Lee and Singer, of course, prefer the term "animal liberation," the former inspired by the Angry Brigade, the latter by the utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham. Of course, the work of Tom Regan needs to be acknowledged – in the 1980s, in a televised debate in Britain,[4] Regan was described as the intellectual leader of an animal rights movement that was presumed to exist, and was the main speaker when he appeared alongside Richard Ryder and Andrew Linzey in support of a motion calling for a Bill of Rights for nonhuman animals. [Note that neither Ronnie Lee nor Peter Singer featured in this programme focused on the rights of animals.] However, did Regan ever become the ‘intellectual leader’ of an animal rights movement? Did The Case for Animal Rights supplant Animal Liberation as the main text of a rights-based movement? No, in fact he has become fairly marginalised ~but at least tolerated~ by a movement that goes under the name of animal rights but does not not have a shared value based on rights.

It is quite a simple task to check out the truth of this assertion: look at most leaflets, posters, publications, and websites designed by the social movement organisations that allegedly make up the "animal rights movement" [go back as far as the late 1970s and early 1980s] and see how many times you see claims like "animals are rights bearers" and "rights violations" appear. Such claims, after all, are the main ones in the claims-making of the human rights movement: but such claims are virtually invisible in the current animal advocacy movement. Granted, you will find slogans and headings like “Animals Have Rights”; but not in substantive claims: notions of right-holding, and violations of rights take very much a back seat in a movement that prefers to make welfarist claims about "cruelty" issues.

Let’s go back to this notion of an accident. Perhaps Jean Pink [the founder in 1977 of Animal Aid in Britain] made an understandable mistake when she characterised Animal Liberation as the “bible of the new animal rights movement." I say her mistake was understandable, not least because one of the first things Singer talks about in Animal Liberation [on page 1 indeed] is the “Rights of Animals” in the context of Wollstonecraft’s 1792 publication of Vindication of the Rights of Women and Tyler’s reply, Vindication of the Rights of Brutes. In such circumstances, perhaps it is not so obvious to many that Singer’s text is not one of rights-based philosophy. Unfortunately, it seems that Singer was not too bothered at the time about correcting the founding member of Animal Aid and even now PeTA deliberately perpetuate the error.

The links in the section entitled “Why Animal Rights?” on PeTA’s main page leads to an account of Animal Liberation, and a further link reveals Singer’s text on Wollstonecraft and Tyler. Since PeTA wish to define the term "animal rights" so widely that it includes Peter Singer’s animal welfarism, this strategy of confusing is quite clever. They are less subtle elsewhere. PeTA’s bookstore includes two books by Peter Singer under the title “general animal rights,” but none by Tom Regan, Gary Francione, or Joan Dunayer. About Animal Liberation, they report, and then purposely distort and mislead: “Referred to as the animal rights “bible”, this book includes in-depth examinations of factory farming, animal experimentation, vegetarianism, and animal rights philosophy. If you only read one animal rights book, it has to be this one.” [5, emphasis mine]

This is important: it not just a matter of a struggle over words. It is about the principal claims-making of a social movement entitled the "Animal Rights Movement."

Some get around the problem I am claiming to be an important one by not using the term "animal rights movement" as such, but by suggesting that there is a rights-based component in the general animal advocacy movement. For example, in 2004, Barbara Noske wrote about “the animal welfare/rights/liberation movement - the animal movement for short”. [6] Earlier, political scientist Robert Garner [7] wrote about the “Animal Protection Movement” which, again, incorporated the notions of "animal welfare," "animal liberation," and "animal rights."  This appears to have the negativity of Lofland’s "disparate collection of enterprises."  For various reasons, rights-based animal advocates are likely to have problems with such schemas – not least because they want a social movement that is, after all, called the animal rights movement - not, however, because this is thought a fancy name, nor because of some historical mistake, nor the prominence of a philosopher who does not believe in rights – but because this animal rights movement would be made up exclusively of people who actually believe that nonhuman animals have rights: who believe that nonhuman animals are rights bearers and what happens to then at the hands of humanity are rights violations: who claim openly that nonhuman animals are right-holders and what humans do to other animals are rights violations. Imagine that!


 It seems to me as reasonable as insanely supposing that all the members of the human rights movement believe that human animals are right-holders who can have their rights violated.

[1] Jenson, Jane (1995) ‘What’s in a Name: Nationalist Movements and Public Discourse’, in H. Johnston & B. Klandermans (eds.) Social Movements and Culture, London: UCL Press.

[2] Lofland, John (1995) ‘Charting Degrees of Movement Culture: Tasks of the Cultural Cartographer’, in H. Johnston & B. Klandermans (eds.) Social Movements and Culture, London: UCL Press: 197.

[3] Francione, Gary (1996) Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement, Phil: Temple University Press.

[4] see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJRdi3m7fZQ and/or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADhNch30Img

[5] http://www.petacatalog.org/prodinfo.asp?number=BK390

[6] Noske, Barbara (2004) ‘Two Movements and Human-Animal Continuity: Positions, Assumptions, Contradictions’, Animal Liberation Philosophy and Policy Journal, vol 2(1): 1-12.

[7] Garner, Robert (1993) Animals, Politics and Morality, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

1 comment:

  1. Another resource for you: http://www.ng2000.com/fw.php?tp=animal-rights