Libertarian Beliefs About Animal Welfare

From a student presenting Libertarian Party beliefs, explaining libertarian views on the subject. The application of libertarian philosophy expressed by the party or others may or may not universally represent libertarian beliefs on the topic for all adherents.

To Meat or Not to Meat – It’s a Personal Question
By Ivan Bertović

The quality of an argument can best be measured by taking that argument to its most extreme conclusion, and seeing if that is something we find reasonable. Most of the arguments we hold dear are valid even in the most extreme cases, such as free speech, but those that cannot hold up to this scrutiny must be committed to the flames, to borrow from Hume. If premises are corrupt, our conclusions will most likely also be.

That is why there’s absurdity that can’t be justified in the argumentation of application of libertarian principles, as a general rule for all liberty lovers to abide by, to any life form other than humans (at least for now).

The most common arguments why animal welfare needs to be reaffirmed and more actively implemented into any idea are:
-Animals are living beings too
-Animals feel pain
-Animal-based products are not necessary

There is no doubt animals are living creatures, as they share all relevant characteristics. Yet equating an animal life with the one of the human has implications that one would find absurd regardless of their moral framework. If animal life is a life worth protecting because it inherently has the same or similar value to the human’s, then what is the essence of that value? How do we differentiate what constitutes a “worthy” life. Is it reserved purely for mammals, do we include lizards as well, do we fall all the way to single-cell organisms because in the essence they are also alive. Plants are also considered “alive.” One would not last long in the world respecting every life the same way we respect human. Our every breath would be considered a genocide. Such implications would also reflect on our perception of other, more sentient, life. Do we, in that case, value the life of a hardened criminal with the one of an innocent child? They are equal before the law, but are they equal after the law passes judgement? It’s absurd, I know. That’s how we test it.

The argument from pain is, in my view, equally unstable in the face of the challenge. If the pain is the benchmark, one can easily think of ways this could be used to take life even if it is valued in Western value system. Even plants react to the destruction of their tissue, which we perceive as pain. They hear caterpillars nibble on them and activate their defences, where we would fight back. They release scents into the air when attacked to attract bugs that will defend them, where we would scream for help. They share information on incoming attackers, where we would warn of incoming enemies. They present a form of conscientiousness that would make them included within the lives worth defending.

And finally, the fact that we can live without meat. I am no expert on nutrition, I have no clue about agriculture and farming, or of any data on the sustainability of the all vegan diet implemented through economy of scale. But I do know a bit about supply and demand. Our “needs” come from our “wants.” If you want to live, you need to eat. Some argue that a human can survive off of plants alone in a sustainable economics model. But the fact of the matter is, there are consumer goods that are derived only from animals, and in order to substitute them, one needs to produce these substitutes which in turn have higher price since the more effective and efficient producer already existed. The animal itself. Thereby we actively transfer the cost of surviving from animals onto humans, and preferentiate animal life over the human life. Yet even then one might argue that not every animal’s welfare is being observed. For us to have massive fields, birds lose their habitat, and mice are being run over. Bugs and other pest are murdered by the thousands in an attempt to preserve our food supplies. I wouldn’t dare to presume that animals understand the NAP* and that by violating it, i.e. entering our fields, “had it coming,” in the same way that I wouldn’t expect it from a child. I also wouldn’t drive over a would-be thief in the field with my farming machinery, but that’s beside my point.

The reason why we apply the NAP and other libertarian principles onto some who lack conscientiousness is either because we expect them to develop it in certain point in time, like children, or because we respect their personhood, as would be the case with a coma patient for example. All of the previously stated arguments are not to say that animal welfare is irrelevant. It is among some of our “wants.” I myself have a dog, and I love her dearly. The tail-wagging and excited jumping to greet me whenever I come home from work brings joy to my life for which I’m immensely grateful to her. I would not let anyone or anything to harm her. I want to see less animals suffering on crowded farms where they are skinned, boiled, and cut open alive, where they are terrified and crammed into tiny spaces in conditions that seem inhumane even if plants were in their places. And I adjust my consumer preferences according to that. But libertarianism is here to empower people. To give way for their “wants.” Libertarian might want a car, yet none would argue that owning a car is essential to libertarianism. I do not dismiss animal welfare, but it should not be conflated with libertarianism. Let’s call a spade a spade. Let thousand ideas bloom! And who knows, perhaps the idea of animal welfare is the “superior” one. But not to the idea of Liberty.

Ivan Bertović is a former European Students For Liberty Executive Board member.

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