Academic journal article The Review of Social and Economic Issues

Animal Torture: A Critique of Thick Libertarianism

Academic journal article The Review of Social and Economic Issues

Animal Torture: A Critique of Thick Libertarianism

Article excerpt

Animal torture has had a bandit-like existence in libertarian theory. With but few exceptions (mass murder, rape, torture of human beings) viciously mistreating helpless animals is about the most despicable act imaginable. And here we are not discussing dog or rooster fights. These are problematic enough, but they occupy a much higher rung in hell, if there be such a thing, than cutting, or burning, or throwing acid at our non-human fellow creatures. There could be but few people who would deny that torturing animals is highly immoral.

And, yet, prohibiting such heinous acts by law which occurs in all civilized jurisdictions is not an option for libertarianism. Is that a problem for this philosophy? There are many who think it is.

We argue, in sharp contrast, that libertarianism is a subset of moral law, concerning when violence is justified, and that it has no position on anything else.

What, then, may libertarianism say about the animal torturer? Only this. If A is a torturer of animals, and B punches him in the nose in behalf of A's non-human victims, then B is guilty of assault and battery. Prediction: no court, even private ones presumably dedicated to libertarian principles, would land too heavily on B, given the almost universal revulsion at this sort of behavior. However, if we are to take seriously the principles of libertarianism, there is no warrant for punishing B any more lightly than anyone else who punches someone in the nose, for far less acceptable reasons; for example, C is a bully and punches D for the sheer enjoyment of the activity. Nor is this really adequate from the point of view of those who oppose animal torture. What they12want is not for some private individual to use violence against the violator of non-humans and then to bear even a light sentence for this behavior. The goal is, rather, that the forces of law and order do so, by declaring such acts illegal, and then mete out heavy punishments to the malefactors. For what if A the animal torturer is bigger and stronger than B, the person who objects to his actions in the name of morality and decency? No, the desideratum from this quarter is for this heinous act to be prohibited by law.

But this, precisely, is what libertarianism cannot offer. For, as we have seen, this philosophy is but a narrow slice of ethics. It is concerned, solely, with intra human actions.23That is true of the thin libertarian view of the matter. However, it cannot be denied, there is also a version of thick libertarianism in the literature.34In that view, in addition to the non-aggression principle (NAP) of thin libertarianism, there are a host, a plethora, of other requirements to comply with this philosophy. For left wing thickists, the libertarian must embrace feminism, homosexual rights, labor unions and oppose hierarchies ("bossism") and prejudice against minorities. In contrast, right wing or conservative thickists maintain pretty much the opposite of all these criteria. And in the view of thin libertarians,45this philosophy has no position on any of these outside issues. As long as a person does not initiate violence against any of these groups, he is acting in accordance with the freedom philosophy. The perspectives on any of these causes are as relevant to libertarianism as is the issue of whether chess or checkers is more libertarian. For the purist or logically consistent libertarian, as long as an individual does not toss checkers at innocent people, or gouge them with chess pieces against their will, his actions are compatible with libertarianism.56

What does all of this have to do with animal torture? Simply this: it is an issue apart from libertarianism, at least for the thin version thereof. As moralists, we can of course denounce such despicable behavior. But since thin libertarianism concerns itself, solely, with how human beings treat each other, not how they deal with their own (animal) property, the entire issue falls outside of the scope of this philosophy. …

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