Thursday, August 2, 2018

On Animal "Rights"

Target Liberty reader Kevin emails:
I noticed you published a video from YouTube channel "Mercy For Animals" (  As someone who has recently decided to try to become vegan, I was wondering what your thoughts were on animal rights.  I know Murray Rothbard essentially doesn't believe animals have rights ( but his argument never sat right with me.  While animals can't "petition for their rights" in the conventional way, if you've ever seen their reaction to the way they're treated by the meat/dairy industry (e.g. search for "pigs gas chamber" on youtube), it's crystal clear they are suffering and want no part of what is being done to them.  I think this is a very interesting topic for Libertarians because it involves the most fundamental principle, the NAP (for animals).
RW response:

First, I posted the video because of the comment made by Dr. Milton Mills on the video that the government central planning effort to drive everyone into a particular way of eating was very flawed. With lactose intolerance being one case, which is extremely prevalent in the black community. Thus making the government central planning advisory that all should drink milk absurd. 

The title of the post gives away my thinking on what I was focused on in the video: Government Racist Promotion of Milk.

The posting had nothing to do with the group that published the film.

As for the meat (continet intenditur) of your question, I wrote back at EPJ in January of 2014:
Let me start by making clear that, in my view, just because something is a living creature does not mean it has a right to life. As most of us have, I have swatted my share of flies that have annoyed me and slaughtered many mosquitoes that were in the process of sucking my blood.
I am not a hunter, so I have never killed any game. However, I eat beef almost daily. I also eat on occasion escargot, Manila clams, lobster, fish, rabbit, deer and chicken. I also eat eggs regularly, which, I guess, is just a rooster step away from eating early-stage aborted chicks. Of  course, almost everyone else does the same. In other words, to believe that we are one with other living creatures on this planet does not fit the facts.
To a large degree, man is the master of the bird, fish and animal kingdoms. We evolved that way and we survive by eating fruit, vegetables, birds, fish and animals. To think otherwise is nonsesne.
Further, it should be clear that animals do not necessarily respect the life and property of humans. I would hate, without a gun, to come up against a lion, tiger, rattlesnake, polar bear, pit bull or shark.
The 2014 essay I quote was before I had laid out my full thinking on  Foundations of Private Property Society Theory but I did couch my response with the PPS thought in mind that there are no "rights" even for humans:
[N]ot only do we survive by eating various creatures on this planet, but we protect ourselves from attack by various creatures. It's a jungle out there in which we are pretty good at surviving by mastering the elements and mastering other creatures. It is at the core of our existence.
When we consider whether rights for animals are justified in a libertarian society, we must keep all the above in mind. But most important, we must remember that a libertarian society would be based on a fundamental level on the private property rights of humans. Thus, a mosquito or fly on my property is a trespasser and I should be free to kill it. The same goes for any animal or bird on my property. We are the masters and we make the rules.

Thus, animals, in my view, in a libertarian society, should have no right to life or liberty. They are at the mercy of the property owners upon whose properties they find themselves. It is the property owner who should set the rules on how animals should be treated on his property. He decides whether they live or die, whether they are allowed to run free or be caged, otherwise restricted in their movement, or prepped for the slaughter mills.

As a footnote, I would add that in a libertarian society, it would be appropriate, if a specific socierty wanted  to ban the torture/cruel treatment of animals, in that, as humans, we can empathize with the horror of unjustified pain. 
In Private Property Society, I state that I side with Henry Hazlitt who views human "rights" as a mystical concept. I see even less reason to apply such a concept to other animals.

That said, I have no particular desire to see animals tortured and have no problems with individuals banning on their properties animal torture but this banning would be based on individual properties. Further, I would only support the banning of "torture" in a narrow sense. The killing of animals in (humane?) fashion for food or clothing is fine with me, and so is the use of animals in labs to develop treatments against diseases that humans face.

I repeat, for the most part, humans are the masters of this planet, there is no reason to be sadistic about it but I am going to choose my desires over other animals pretty much every time. And I will continue to swat mosquitos and flies.

I note you state you have become a vegan, but don't think this lets you off the hook when it comes to creating upset. Plants cry.



  1. Ayn Rand does a good job of explaining that rights apply only to humans because humans have choice of action, i.e., have volition, free will. Rights are moral principles that guide action in a political setting. Rights exist only in a political setting because, on a desert island where you are by yourself, rights have no purpose. Rights apply only to human choice because, if you had no volition, then there is no point of prescribing a moral code.

    As Perry Mason points out, animals act on instinct, not volition, and hence do not adhere to a moral code. Furthermore, animals besides humans are not conceptual beings, so they cannot hold the concept of rights.

    This is not to say we ought to torture other creatures. Doing so goes against a rational, purposeful, and productive approach to a satisfying life.

    Finally, pointing out that your evil neighbor may torture your dog does not explain rights. The same evil neighbor could cross onto your property and torture your dog regardless of your property rights. Violation of rights happens all the time.

  2. Harold, the only thing I would add is that one consequence of animals not having rights is that humans can own (have property rights in) animals, and thus if someone tortured your dog, that would be an actionable invasion of your property, unless it occurred on the torturer's property, in which case the answer would be more complex.