BOOKS: What Everyone Needs to Know / The Animal Rights Debate

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  July/August 2011:

Animal Rights:
What Everyone Needs to Know
by Paul Waldau
Oxford University Press
(198 Madison Ave.,  New York,  NY 10016),  2010.
224 pages,  paperback.  $16.95.

The Animal Rights Debate
by Gary L. Francione
& Robert Garner
Columbia University Press
(61 West 62nd St.,  New York,  NY  10023),  2010.
272 pages,  hardback,  $24.50.

My practice,  in reviewing works of philosophy,  is to save them for long flights to far-away places,  when I will have the rare luxury of being able to read for hours without interruption.  Then I write about what I remember well enough to be still thinking about it a week or two later.

What I remember most of Animal Rights:  What Everyone Needs to Know,  by Paul Waldau,  is the response of two other prominent authors of books about animal rights,  in separate conversations, when I mentioned having read it on my way to the Asia for Animals conference.

Each remarked that while many interesting books have appeared that apply animal rights theory in various ways to specific issues, from animal control to zoological conservation,  neither could recall having seen a work about animal rights theory itself that really added much to the discussions by Peter Singer in Animal Liberation (1975) and Tom Regan in The Case for Animal Rights (1984).  Each asked if Waldau offered anything new.

In fairness,  “new” is a relative concept.  In 1975,  as a graduate student,  I organized an evening of discussion at a professor’s house about several recently published philosophical works,  including Animal Liberation and a tome or two on libertarian economic theory.  The host somehow linked,  compared,  & contrasted the various ideas in the books,  and over a couple of beers all of the ideas seemed bright,  new,  and exciting.

If I happened to be a university student today,  encountering similar intellectual discussion of animal issues for the first time in Animal Rights:  What Everyone Needs To Know,   I might have a similar response.  But perhaps I would also have to have been asleep for 40 years to be a university student who had not before read discussions of animal rights theory,  if only as slogans on t-shirts.

Animal Rights:  What Everyone Needs to Know is a reasonably thorough and readable primer about ideas which by now probably don’t need to be introduced with a primer.

The Animal Rights Debate, by Gary Francione and Robert Garner,  starts from the premise that “Most people accept that animals are at least partial members of the moral community,”  and proceeds to point/counterpoint between Francione and Garner about how best to advance that acceptance from an animal welfare perspective to recognition of animal rights.  This requires Francione and Garner to each define how they perceive animal rights as differing from animal welfare.  They differ in aspects of definition,  each tending to set the other up as a “straw man.”

Francione,  a longtime vehement “abolitionist,”  argues chiefly from positions of legalistic logic.  Francione likes, particularly,  to take claims for the value of incremental reform to extremes of interpretation.
Garner,  however,  remains resolutely pragmatic,  focused on what can be done here-and-now.  To Garner,  Francione is a “fundamentalist,”  whose case is akin to the Marxist contention that reforming capitalism only delays the advent of a Communist revolution.

“Fifty years or so ago,  vegetarianism was an alien concept for most,”  Garner reminds.  “Now it is commonplace.  This transformation,  one can strongly speculate,  has been at least partly the product of animal welfare-based campaigns,  highlighting for example the evils of factory farming and the need to reform it. The only reason promoting veganism is now a more credible goal,” Garner contends,  “is exactly because of the work put in by the whole animal protection movement in the past,  including those who have adopted an animal welfarist strategy.”

Much of the Francione/Garner debate is at cross-purposes. Garner appears to have a better understanding,  by far,  of how public opinion,  consumer preference,  and political momentum shift; but often tactically pragmatic approaches to instituting change are most effective when more challenging and radical proposals help to build awareness that present conditions are intolerable.
–Merritt Clifton

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