Animal Rights: Tracing the Idea

Exploring how the notion of animal rights has emerged, so as to consider ways of defending more-than-human beings in the present.

book covers

Francione, Gary L. Rain without thunder: the ideology of the animal rights movement. Temple University, 1996. 269p ISBN 1566394600, $59.95; ISBN 1566394619 pbk, $22.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 1997

Animal rights and animal welfare differ significantly. By the former, animals are individuals with rights, and any human treatment of them as property violates those rights and is thus immoral. By the latter, humans’ treatment of animals as property is acceptable but must be done without inflicting unnecessary suffering. Francione cogently argues that the animal liberation movement, though using rights rhetoric and espousing the eradication of animal exploitation, actually represents a new, self-defeating welfarism because its tactics embody the animal welfare position. Consequently, the plight of animals is arguably worse than it was 20 years ago. He advocates, strongly, the more radical animal rights position. Although sometimes overly detailed, repetitive, and legalistic, the book contains a clear delineation of the two perspectives, from basic philosophy (Peter Singer’s welfare theory versus Tom Regan’s rights theory) to strategy and tactics. Though Francione does not discuss anti-animal theories, he does respond to the “utopian” charge against animal rights and proposes criteria for efforts to secure such rights incrementally. Summing Up: Suitable for upper-division undergraduates through professionals. —W. Ouderkirk, SUNY Empire State College

The Global guide to animal protection, ed. by Andrew Linzey. Illinois, 2014 (c2013). 323p ISBN 9780252036354, $95.00; ISBN 9780252079191 pbk, $27.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2014

In this compilation of one- to two-pages articles, edited by Linzey (theology, Univ. of Oxford, UK), 159 contributors present various animal welfare/rights and ecology/conservation issues (heavily slanted toward the former). Discussion is global in scope, with calls for a paradigm shift in the prevailing anthropocentric attitudes toward “sentient” animals (both free living and domestic), especially those associated with food production, research/testing, hunting, and entertainment. The provision of species-specific concerns and regional perspectives is helpful. The very well-written text is highly accessible to general readers. It offers an intriguing array of eye-opening information, covering economic, legal, religious, ecological, moral, and biomedical viewpoints. However, it is also rather biased, providing some information that is deliberately distorted or grounded primarily in emotion rather than fact. Arguments are many, but largely one-sided. When dissenting perspectives are offered, they are generally short and sophomoric in nature, sometimes blatantly absurd. Contributors make many recommendations for legislating a moral compass in animal-related matters, although the implementation of many of these would be impractical. Overall, this thought-provoking book will be valuable for starting a preliminary dialogue on animal-related issues; however, many of the controversial opinions expressed will likely be embraced primarily by like-minded readers. Summing Up: Recommended. With reservations. All undergraduate students and general readers. —D. A. Brass, independent scholar

Muller, S. Marek. Impersonating animals: rhetoric, ecofeminism, and animal rights law. Michigan State, 2020. 240p bibl index ISBN 9781611863666 pbk, $39.95; ISBN 9781609176419 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2021

Muller (Florida Atlantic Univ.) sets the framework for a deeply provocative dive into the ideological rhetoric of ecofeminism, feminist legal studies, and critical animal studies. By considering animal rights within the context of rhetorical studies, Muller ontologically examines what constitutes a person, thereby reconfiguring rights. A thorough introduction provides the history of animal rights and establishes the purpose of the research, which the author states as the formation of a critical vegan rhetoric. Four chapters cover theory and method, nonhuman rights projects, case studies of the rhetoric of Gary Francione (Rain without ThunderCH, Mar’97, 34-3841) and Steven M. Wise (Drawing the LineCH, Nov’02, 40-1551), and the rhetoric of “earth jurisprudence.” The conclusion establishes a new method toward the goal of total liberation for animals by reconciling conflicting ideologies and minimizing the incoherence of existing animal rights laws. Other books cover the rhetoric of animal rights, such as Framing Farming, by Carrie P. Freeman (2014), but Muller makes the careful rhetorical move to dissolve the “animal-as-object” worldview. Anyone interested in animal rights is encouraged to read this book. History will surely record Muller as a champion for liberating animals, and this book as the premier text in communication and rhetorical studies regarding animal rights. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —K. L. Majocha, California University of Pennsylvania

Nash, Roderick Frazier. The rights of nature: a history of environmental ethics. Wisconsin, 1989. 290p ISBN 0299118401, $27.50.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 1989

In this important book, Nash (Univerity of California, Santa Barbara) provides the most comprehensive study to date of the modern precursors of the animal rights and deep ecology movements. In the prologue the author discusses the concepts of ethical extension and radical environmentalism. Successive chapters show how the idea of the rights of nature developed from the natural rights tradition. The author of the classic Wilderness and the American Mind (3rd ed., 1982), Nash draws attention to little-known American forerunners of the environmental ethics movement, such as John Payson Evans and John Howard Moore. He also shows how environmental ethics has developed as a subfield within philosophy and religion. The book includes detailed and impressive discussions of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance in the environmental movement, and an insightful discussion of the analogy between the 19th-century abolitionist movement and the contemporary radical environmental movement. The extensive bibliography will be invaluable for readers who desire to learn more about the history of environmental ethics. Although other books cover some of the same materials as The Rights of Nature, none is so synthetic, comprehensive, and so attuned to the contemporary environmental movement. Summing Up: Highly recommended for all libraries. —D. Jamieson, University of Colorado at Boulder

Singer, Peter. Ethics into action: Henry Spira and the animal rights movement. Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. 222p ISBN 0847697533 pbk, $17.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2000

Singer’s biography of one of the world’s leading animal rights activists is an inspiring introduction to the world of animal rights, environmental ethics, social activism, and personal choice. In the opening chapter, “The Buildup,” Singer gives the reader a foundation that he then uses to trace Spira’s intellectual and political development from a 13-year-old boy arriving in New York City to a left-thinking merchant marine to a nationally recognized activist in the animal rights movement. Subsequent chapters focus on some of Spira’s different campaigns, among them successful attempts to end sex research on cats in New York’s American Museum of Natural History, corporations’ seizure of animals from local pounds, Draize testing of cosmetics, LD50 testing, and the inhumane treatment of animals raised for food. These chapters are a chronological ordering of Spira’s major campaigns. The author does an admirable job of presenting Spria’s tactics and the slow but steady growth of his successful approaches at industrial regulation. Equally interesting is the critical analysis of conflict within the animal rights movement, particularly with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Summing Up: The book flows in a lively fashion and should prove both interesting and informative to readers at all levels. —E. J. Krieg, Buffalo State College

Traïni, Christophe. The animal rights struggle: an essay in historical sociology. Amsterdam University Press, 2016. 206p bibl index (Protest and social movements, 6) ISBN 9789089648495, $99.00; ISBN 9789048527038 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2016

This interesting book traces the emotional trajectory of the animal protection movement from its beginnings in 19th-century Britain and France to the present day. Contending that the movement has too often been reduced to “simplistic stereotypes,” Traïni (political science, Institute of Political Science in Aix-en-Provence, France) aims at a more nuanced portrait. He links the changing methodology of activists and activism to broader historical circumstances and the concerns that attended them. The earliest activists were less concerned with the suffering of animals than with the “brutishness” of the humans who abused them: upper-class conservatives aimed at controlling and modifying the behavior of those they saw as their inferiors. During the last third of the 19th century, an increasing number of reformers, prompted by a mounting spirit of egalitarianism, emphasized compassion for animals themselves—especially household pets—as central to the animal protection agenda. Finally, toward the end of the century, a number of activists turned to what they saw as “hidden acts of cruelty,” launching protests against scientific experiments involving animals. The final chapter examines the varied character of the modern movement, its relation to environmental science, and its emphasis on the “wild.” Well written and clearly argued (although contaminated by some confusing printing errors), this book should appeal to all audiences. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —N. B. Rosenthal, Stonybrook University

Wadiwel, Dinesh Joseph. The war against animals. Brill, 2015. 302p index afp (Critical animal studies, 3) ISBN 9789004300415 pbk, $75.00; ISBN 9789004300422 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2016

In this rich, dense text, Wadiwel (Univ. of Sydney, Australia) frames the degrees of violence and exploitation of animals in industry, food production, and other human-centric exploitations in rigorous theoretical conversations ranging from politics and governance to how life is valued or devalued, and to how humans measure the capacities of animals to enjoy rights and sovereignty.  A variety of theorists are integrated into these discussions in significant depth, including Foucault, Agamben, Derrida, Haraway, Spivak, Locke, and Hobbes.  The author enlists these and other thinkers to support his argument that animals are systematically oppressed through structures of language, politics, commodification, and property concepts.  Extensive footnotes, source texts, and tertiary discussions enrich the discussions in the main text.  This rigorous volume will be challenging for readers not familiar with the array of literature referenced throughout the work.  The book could serve as a central text in a course focused on animal ethics/rights, but ought to be supplemented with introductory theory readings.  It could also work well as a case-study reading for a theory-based course. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals/practitioners. —S. M. Weiss, Rochester Institute of Technology