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Privatizing the Animals? An overview of libertarian thinking on animal politcs

Kaspar Ossenblok
Ghent University
Kaspar Ossenblok
Ghent University

Abstract

Privatizing the animals? An overview of libertarian thinking on animal politics Kasper Ossenblok (U.Gent) & Patrick Stouthuysen (V.U.Brussel) Although Robert Nozick was one of the first modern day political philosophers to reflect on the moral status of nonhuman animals (1974: 35), libertarianism is not very often considered to be a source of inspiration for theorizing on the politics of animals. In general, it seems that libertarian theory with regards to nature is relatively underdeveloped (Wissenburg, 2011). What libertarians have to say concerning animals is probably even more limited. Nevertheless, we argue that it is interesting, one, to analyze and systematize what libertarians have written concerning the position of animals, and, two, to extrapolate on the basis of the existing libertarian theory what a libertarian approach to the politics of animals would look like. This is, in brief, what we plan to do in our paper. In a first part, we give an overview of what libertarian theorists have written concerning animals. Although they approach the subject from different angles, both deontological and consequentialist libertarians consider the topic of little relevance. The deontological position can be summarized by stating that only “moral agents -those capable of recognizing right from wrong – can be directly morally wronged” (Garner, 20XX: 12). Therefore, animals cannot have rights and people have no obligations towards animals. The consequentialist position is that, if markets do not protect animals in general or specific species in particular, it simply means that society does not place that much value on their continued existence. Individuals are, as Miron argues, if they really care, of course always free to eventually pay “a premium for their preservation” (Miron, 2010). We argue that a more promising approach can be developed on the basis of recent left-libertarian thinking. The “Lockean Proviso” can be interpreted in such a way that protecting nature and protecting animals can be grounded and defended from a libertarian position. In a second part, we tackle more practical topics. We look at some of the concrete proposals libertarians have formulated to save and protect animals. Underlying most libertarian proposals is the conviction that, as Murray argues, “environmental complaints are readily resolved in a society that observes property rights and common law” (Murray, 1997: 114). In general, libertarians consider private property to be the best basis for stewardship. Does that mean that, from a libertarian perspective, there are no limits to what an owner can do to the animals that are his legal property? Would privatizing the animals really work as a conservation strategy? What would happen to those species that, for whatever reason, do not find a private sponsor? On the basis of these and other questions we evaluate what libertarianism adds –or can add- to our political approach to animals.