Animal Rights in Anarchy

I was once a libertarian minarchist. It's been a long time since then, and sometimes I forget the inescapable logic that lead me into the anarchist camp. But then all I have to do is read a libertarian blog for a while, and it comes back.

Case in point: this article at the Agitator:
While discussing animal rights with a couple of colleagues over happy hour a while back, we started discussing what value we ought to place on animals, and what rights animals have that ought to be protected by the state. ...

[Scenario:] A real life Cruella Da Vil systematically buys up cute, furry puppies, then tortures and slaughters them solely for entertainment value.
[Read the comments; they are worth the trouble.]

This is one of a myriad of places where traditional libertarian rights theory falls down. Our instincts assert to us that animals do have rights. Many people try to get around that, by worrying that torturing cute puppies might be a gateway to "real" human rights-violations. But let's assume not: Cruella has lived and worked with all manner of people for years, quite peacefully. She's never committed any crime, nor even raised her voice against a fellow human. She just likes the screaming of puppies, that's all.

If animals can be admitted to have any rights whatsoever (and that's exactly the compelling case that Peter Singer made in Animal Liberation), then it's hard to see where their rights begin and end. Here's the problem: we assume they have rights, less than ours, more than a mere inanimate piece of property. But they cannot articulate nor fight for their rights. Only we conceive of rights. So how to know what their rights are?

Failing to define animal rights means inevitable human conflict, as one human claims rights over an animal owned by another.

The problem of animal rights largely disappears once we give up on the notion of platonic Rights, and the State to enforce them. To my way of thinking, anarchy is something that will naturally unfold out of human nature. Its ideology will be libertarian as a practical matter, but anarchy precedes the ideology, not vice-versa. In anarchy, animal rights and human rights are exactly the same - ideas that humans have, not platonic solids out there somewhere. In both cases, they are things that human customers will try to get provided by their protection agencies. Within a given state, there cannot be two policies, so there must be conflict and forced agreement. In anarchy, there will still be some forced agreement - some things, like laws against murder, are not negotiable. But there is the widest possible latitude for multiple policies. (That's why we've already determined that federalism works - it allows multiple policies.) And animal rights, as with other areas of rights-theory that are fundamentally unclear, will be one of the areas where a thousand flowers will bloom.

Some protection agencies will take a "anything goes" view of animal rights. Animals are mere property and you can torture them at will, if you like. Your neighbors, of course, will be free to shun you if they find out. Landlords will be free not to rent to you. Employers will be free to terminate you. But no government will interfere. Other protection agencies, probably the majority, will have anti-abuse laws. Why? Because most people, decent people like "brooke" in the Agitator's comments, will demand them, and supplying them is not expensive.

As "brooke" says:
I can't quite say that someone's preference for torturing and slaughtering puppies is more important than the puppies' lives. It has an ickiness factor that I can't wish away with my libertarian principles.
Quite so.

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