Liberty Commentary

Animal Rights

by Luke Marshall

kittysniperToday, many animal rights activists and groups discuss ideas of animals being abused and mistreated and many even saying animals should have the same rights that human beings have. When discussing the issue of animal rights it is important that emotion does not get in the way of rationality. So often like other issues, animal rights debates become diluted by feelings taking precedent over rationality. While the preferable behavior is to treat animals right, this does nothing to provide for the truth claims of animal rights philosophers and activists. With humans, we can examine that our rights derive from our very nature and this is where morality is put into libertarian philosophy. So we must examine the nature of animals to determine their rights. When we look at how animals interact with each other we see lots of violence and conflict. A predator will kill its prey in order for it to survive. When we see a lion kill a gazelle we do not declare this murder and say it is evil. Why is the lion not a murderer for killing a gazelle? For something to be immoral, it must understand virtue. Lions have no understanding of right and wrong and therefore are not evil. Evil must know virtue in order to be evil. The predator and prey relationship between animals is not civilized exchange. Animals do not respect one another’s rights. Animals do not respect property rights. How can an animal be held to the non-aggression principle if it cannot understand property. How can an animal have any inherent right when it cannot even reason if it has rights?

What we see is some of the thinking of Kant taking place. Kant held that rationality is what holds us higher than animals. Due to mans ability to think and use logic, we are higher creatures than animals. While this belief is valid, I do not find it the most sufficient. Humans have rights derived in humans having natural domain over their body. Since humans control their own body, they should be able to have rights to the fruit of their labor since property is nothing more than the reward of using our body or mind for labor. What we see is the view of John Locke of self-ownership and property rights coming from our own nature cannot be applied to animals. Since animals have no inherent right in their nature we cannot enforce the protection of animals unless the animal is the property of someone else. What we see is that animals cannot use reason and adhere to contracts, have no understanding of virtue, and even though they can employ their means that it is due to instinct not to reasoned thought. I think Murray Rothbard said it best in regards to why humans have natural rights, “For the assertion of human rights is not properly a simple emotive one; individuals possess rights not because we “feel” that they should, but because of a rational inquiry into the nature of man and the universe. In short, man has rights because they are natural rights. They are grounded in the nature of man: the individual man’s capacity for conscious choice, the necessity for him to use his mind and energy to adopt goals and values, to find out about the world, to pursue his ends in order to survive and prosper, his capacity and need to communicate and interact with other human beings and to participate in the division of labor. In short, man is a rational and social animal. No other animals or beings possess this ability to reason, to make conscious choices, to transform their environment in order to prosper, or to collaborate consciously in society and the division of labor.”

Rights are like a contract in how all individuals have to have knowledge of other individuals’rights and they either adhere to the contract or break the contract. Animals do not understand principles such as property rights and non-aggression and should not be held to these principles, also these principles should not be held to animals. The difficulty in deciding if animals are deserving of rights come from our emotional attachment to them since they are living creatures. Even though near all human beings have a place in their heart for animals this does not mean that they are deserving of rights. If an animal belongs to someone else, then they should be protected like any other form of property. However, to force people not to eat animals because is the true initiation of force. Still people should treat animal right as a matter of preferable behavior. Just because animals do not have natural rights does not mean everyone in a free society would be permitted to abuse them. While animals do not have inherent rights due to their lack of knowledge of virtue and inability to respect rights does not mean animals should not be treated well. For the most part animals do not aggress against human beings and the need to use force against an animal is unnecessary. As long as the animal does not violate you or your property the animal should be treated with respect like a human. The difference between a non-aggressive animal and a non-aggressive human is that a human should be protected by privatized companies or by his own power and should under no circumstance be coerced. While animals should be able to be used for meat, one is not permitted to use a human for meat. Animals should be treated with respect and those who do not respect animals should be ostracized. While a private defense agency can not haul an animal abuser to court unless the animal belongs to someone else, an animal abuser should be ostracized by society.

Just as one would choose not to do business with a prejudiced person, one should choose not to do business with companies that abuse animals. Private citizens who abuse animals should not be allowed on other individuals within the societies property. People who are not criminals yet act in a non-preferable way should be ostracized by society to prevent further non-preferable behavior. While one should not be arrested for mistreatment of animals, the individual should be subject to members of his or her society looking down on them.

To lock someone up for mistreating animals seems not only distasteful, but, also seems inefficient. Sending someone to prison for mistreating animals only increases their chance for becoming more violent in the future against animals and people alike. Prison serves as nothing more than a criminal college and this is only going to create further atrocities and creates problems for society in the future. Giving someone a fine for abusing animals just strengthens the power of the state who abuses its people. What we see is private individuals in a free society not serving, providing, or allowing animal abusers on their property would help stop the abusive individual and is the civilized way to approach the issue. The law is an opinion with a gun. Violence is at the core of the law and to treat people who mistreat animals with violence is a non-civilized approach to dealing with the issue of animal rights. While animals do not derive rights from nature, the majority of people understand that it is wrong to treat animals badly. A free society could provide the most efficient way to stop animal abuse despite them not having respected rights or rights in the eyes of privatized law.

Luke Marshall is a 15 year old Free Market Anarchist. He enjoys reading philosophy, writing, debating, and working in his GMO free garden. You can read his article on how he came to be an Anarchist at You can email Luke at