SKIN OF THE DOG
It is the judges (as we have seen) that make the
common law. Do you know how they make it? Just as
a man makes laws for his dog. When your dog does
anything you want to break him of, you wait till he
does it, and then beat him for it. This is the way you
make laws for your dog: and this is the way the judges
make law for you and me. They won’t tell a man
beforehand what it is he should not do—they won’t
so much as allow of his being told: they lie by till he
has done something which they say he should not
have done, and then they hang him for it.
—Jeremy Bentham, Truth versus Ashhurst,
Or Law As It Is (1792)
NOT ALL LAWS COMMAND THE SAME ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT PERSONhood and property, nor can we be sure how far case law can be understood to offer insight into worth and insignificance. If we were challenged to write a legal history of dispossession, we could find no better examples, both profound and ancient, than in the taxonomies of personhood when bounded and enlivened by the dog kind. Only with dogs before us and beside us can we understand the making or unmaking of the idea of persons.
Does ownership mean the same thing for all citizens? Perhaps one way to approach questions of value is to consider the