IN 2005, SHORTLY after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast, I began thinking about animal welfare. Granted, this was not an obvious move in response to the Gulf Coast tragedy, nor to the problems of poverty, racial oppression, and environmental degradation that it uncovered. Social inequality and environmental management are arguably the major challenges of the twenty-first century. Why, at this moment, should we be thinking about animals?
One answer, of course, was famously formulated by Claude Lévi-Strauss: animals are good to think with.1 Thinking about animal welfare may help us to extend and enrich liberal political theory, to make it more relevant to the deeply interconnected social and environmental problems we face. That is part of my project. But I hope this book makes the case that animals are also an interesting and important subject of public policy in their own right. They deserve greater attention by political theorists and, indeed, by the general community of policy makers, activists, and ordinary citizens. This book, then, is intended for that broad audience. It aims to introduce readers to some of the tools and concepts that political theorists use to think about political obligation, the role of the government, and related issues as they apply to animals. But because I don’t think political theorists have all the answers, the book attempts to bring others, such as historians and legal scholars, into the conversation. You will find here a lot of theoretical argument but also a lot of excursions into history, law, and public policy—excursions that will, I hope, encourage some creative and critical engagement with the theory presented. We need to improve our ability to govern the natural world, to make the world a better, richer, more sustaining habitat for humans and other species. This is a collective project, and thinking together about our political relations with animals is a good place to start.