Growing fears regarding violent and unpredictable behavior fed a powerful stereotype which became a constant preoccupation of animal welfare activists, namely that brutal treatment of animals inevitably leads to the brutal treatment of human beings; accustoming oneself to violent behavior toward animals is equivalent to preparing oneself to perpetrate criminal acts on fellow human beings. As early as 1751, the English painter William Hogarth published a series of engravings entitled The Four Stages of Cruelty which enjoyed great popularity and a lasting influence. Each engraving represents a stage in the life of the fictional Tom Nero.
The first print, showing one of the poorest quarters of London, depicts him as a child torturing a dog. In the second plate Tom Nero, now an adult, is a hackney coachman and is shown beating a horse that has collapsed to the ground. In the third plate he is being arrested for the brutal murder of his mistress, and in the fourth, The Reward of Cruelty, the body of Tom Nero, who does not deserve to be given a proper Christian burial, is cut up and dissected in an anatomical theater. A passing dog devours Nero‘s heart, which is lying on the floor among his entrails. The success and very wide distribution of these prints, which sold for a shilling apiece, contributed greatly to propagating the idea that children who are cruel to animals grow up to become violent criminals.
In 1782, The German pastor Christian-Gotthilf Salzmann mentions the instructive story of Tom Nero in Elements of Morality for the Use of Children, a book that enjoyed a great deal of success in Great Britain. By the 1820s, around the time the RSPCA was founded, the idea that cruelty to animals, particularly when perpetrated by children, would be a prelude to cruelty directed toward human beings was therefore by no means a novel notion. In 1876, the SPA bulletin commented at great length on The Four Stages of Cruelty, so remarkably described by Hogarth, and paid tribute to the way the work made a vital contribution to the spread of awareness of animal welfare issues in Britain: “the reproductions of these drawings were distributed throughout England and made a deep impression on the people who saw them”.
It is easy to imagine the anxiety that such a stereotype if widely believed, could generate. In towns where the spectacle of animals left to the mercy of members of the least educated classes was so widespread that any coachman, carter, shopkeeper, or butcher who roughly handled an animal was in danger of being taken for another Tom Nero, whose criminal instincts could rise to the surface at any time. The name chosen for the very first animal welfare organization in Europe is highly significant in this regard.
The scandalous state of affairs that activists were determined to remedy was not the suffering of animals but the widespread cruelty of those individuals who, having maltreated animals, threatened to behave in a similar way toward humans. The upper echelons of society were convinced of the need to act as quickly as possible because they feared that allowing the working classes to become accustomed to the shedding of animal blood could lead the social order to be threatened. The organization of societies dedicated to the prevention of cruelty – all cruelty not only cruelty toward animals – were partly motivated by fear of social change: “fear of imminent revolution, of a society, increasingly dominated by a ‘barbarous and brutal’ crowd; in short, the fear of anarchy”. This fear of social change gave the members of the first animal welfare organizations a predictable-class profile. It also meant that the only activities which caused concern were those practiced by members of the lowest and least-educated strata of society.
In France, a country that had lived through numerous revolutionary episodes, there was also a fear of violence which would lead to threats to the social order. More than the elites in any other European country, the French upper classes were haunted by shocking images of uncontrollable bestial crowds. If this widespread concern over the control of political violence had not been present animal welfare campaigners would have struggled to convince others of the urgency of their cause. Indeed it is significant that in 1850as political tension in the Second Republic was at its height, with the obsession with the struggle between classes which were supposed to gather their forces for the assault of 1852, and right in the middle of debates around the Falloux Law, the National Assembly still found time to pass the Grammont Law, which made the ill-treatment of domestic animals a criminal offense. This demonstrates that people at that time believed that cruelty toward animals made a significant contribution to the prevalent climate of violence, cruelty, and barbarity.
There were other instances of mobilizations against cruelty toward animals occurring in a context of fear provoked by revolutionary riots. On 6 July 1802, the question of barbaric treatment of animals was brought up in the Institut de France at a moment when there was a clear desire to avoid any further revolutionary disorder. Similarly, it would seem that the closure of the amphitheaters in the Place du Combat in Paris – were dogs, which often belonged to butchers‘ assistants, fought bulls, mules, wild boar, bears, and wolves – was partly motivated by the tense, violent atmosphere created by the riots of 1830-1832.
Furthermore, it is clear from the following statement by the Bishop of Nîmes, which condemns bullfighting, that the protection of animals was closely associated with concerns about social disorder and political violence: The sight of blood excites an unquenchable thirst for more blood. In a country like ours, where there is so much mobility within the social order, where revolutions are sparked so easily and so frequently, it is a bad thing to nurture fierce instincts which could later be exploited in a moment of trouble and chaos, and allow our nation to tear itself apart in bloody saturnalia. Thus, in France and in Great Britain, the passage of legislation for the protection of cattle was facilitated by the widely held belief that brutal treatment of animals can arouse criminal instincts, leading to behavior that causes harm to humans.
Firstly, it is necessary to prohibit violent spectacles because they can provoke, particularly among the more uneducated, instincts that may give rise to unpredictable outbursts of brutality; secondly, it is a matter of urgency that animals be protected in order to protect the whole society from horrible outbursts of criminal violence; and thirdly, that particular vigilance is required where children are involved because habits acquired at an early age prefigure behavior which will persist and recur throughout adulthood. We often see, particularly in villages and small towns, butchers slaughtering a calf or a sheep in the middle of the street. Children flock to witness the spectacle and take their first lessons in cruelty.
But the thing that aroused our indignation the most was the sight of children being allowed to witness the butchering of animals. We even saw babies playing right next to where calves were having their throats cut. Is it not immoral to accustom children to the sight of blood and to prematurely harden those who are made to feel pity? Furthermore, there were women helping their husbands with their unhappy tasks, either by tying up or by holding down the animals. Is it not an absolutely shameful and repugnant thing for members of the sex which is above all made for feelings of gentleness and humanity to witness bloody orgies, and in so doing serve an apprenticeship in crime? Thus, the protection of the sensibilities of refined men, discussed above, is not the only reason for banning the public ill-treatment of animals. Indeed, such men, who take an interest in the common good, are particularly concerned that if appropriate measures are not taken a terrible outbreak of violence will occur which it will not be possible to stamp out.
Since the beginning of the 19th century, and right up to the present day, animal welfare activists have always seen their struggle as a way of thwarting mounting individual cruelty, as well as the spread of cruelty on a collective scale. All our efforts must be directed at preventing the perpetration of ill-treatment of animals by men, even when such ill-treatment is committed out of anger, impatience, or stupidity rather than wickedness. If we succeed in reducing the number of these brutal acts then that will constitute an important achievement. We will lessen the number of cases of ill-treatment, firstly all those incidents which we prevent directly, and then all those which would have been the consequence of bad examples followed. It is worth noting that anger is in a way, like certain nervous conditions, contagious.
We must, as far as possible, protect children from these impressions, and not excite their curiosity with the spectacle of tortured animals struggling. It is healthy to cultivate the habit of being kind to animals not only for the present but also and especially for the future. Protection societies, which have been set up all around the world, are increasingly aware of the importance of integrating animal welfare into the education of children and young people. A child has many more opportunities to protect or to ill-treat animals than adults do. He uses animals to test his strength. If he starts off by showing kindness, one can be optimistic about his future; if, on the contrary, the child indulges in acts of cruelty, care must be taken to prevent such habits from developing. If nothing is done the danger will be that, having spent his tender years tormenting animals, his first subordinates, he will go on to spend the rest of his life bullying anyone who is put under his command. [The behavior will be the same], the only thing that will change will be the victims.
Faced with such terrible danger, we can easily understand how mobilizations for animal protection could be presented as part of a civilizing mission of the greatest importance. Activists for the cause believed themselves to be working toward nothing less than the improvement of men and, as a consequence, the improvement of human beings’ ability to live together on good terms, in a society free of conflict. In their opinion “there seems to be no doubt that being kind, in particular toward pets, improves people, [and] makes their manners more gentle”.
Zoophilia can present itself as one of the most advanced forms of philanthropy because it aims to constitute a “propaedeutic of gentleness,” the most suitable elementary basis for the cultivation of the love of men, which is indispensable for the progress of humanity. Thus the earliest animal welfare activists thought of themselves and presented themselves as educators who, because of their knowledge and experience, offered to instruct and guide others for the benefit of the community. In Great Britain, this attitude was closely linked to a large number of moral campaigns inspired by religious convictions. In France, a much more secular country, the earliest mobilizations against the ill-treatment of animals foreshadow the “demopedic fervor” which – particularly between 1880 and 1900 – promoted the education of the people, aiming to tear them away from their vilest habits, and thus enabling them to participate in the improvement of the civic order.
Here is an important message to communicate, and to teach people. By a gradual and inevitable change in his sentiments, an individual would go from showing gentleness, pity, and fairness toward animals to experiencing the most tender compassion for his family and all people. Once these saintly habits were adopted they would no doubt save people from the shameful excesses their intemperate behavior could lead to.
Thus, confirming the adopted hypothesis, one of the most powerful motives behind animal welfare mobilizations was the growing revulsion with which members of the upper classes of society regarded violence. It should be stressed that this disgust at brutality was so great that it influenced the way in which the moral entrepreneurs of the cause conceived of the ideal way of absorbing it. They considered that using persuasion to convince the people to adopt civilized behaviors was all the more praiseworthy because it avoided the use of coercion. Arguing for obtaining change forcibly would implicitly rehabilitate the use of force and violence, which had been so heavily criticized. What is more, analysis of authoritarian approaches revealed them to be irrational and even counterproductive, because “the punishment often fails to achieve its objectives”.
In people of bad character, punishment produces bitterness which always seeks vengeance; it causes indignation in the false spirits who are unable to recognize that it is in the man’s own interest that he receive the punishments, which he brings down upon himself. That is why the entrepreneurs of the cause celebrate the ability of those able to tame the fiercest and most stubborn natures with gentleness, tact, diplomacy, and delicateness. To achieve this they use sensitizing devices which will be discussed below. For now, it is important to note the continuity that the moral entrepreneurs establish between controlling human violence and the domestication of animals. Refining the habits of humans and taming the savage nature of animals is part of one and the same civilizing mission.
The principles which we advocate is to “Train Animals, Rather Punishing” to retrieve seem very simple, and the Protection Society will work to have them adopted more generally. We repeatedly recommend gentleness, calmness, and patience. If anyone has any doubts about the effects softness, patience, and good treatment have on animals they have to follow our society’s useful works and see the positive contribution they make on morality, agriculture, and commerce; allow us to submit a greeting note which will inform you of one more fact to be added to so many other similar observations. Notice that to achieve success, patience and gentleness have always been absolutely indispensable. Repression must be used sparingly, tactfully and at the right time, otherwise not only will it not obtain the desired results, but it can actually be counterproductive. Along similar lines, we can note the enthusiasm with which members of the society greeted the news of the creation of a new hornless breed. The protection society can only applaud the devotion and perseverance.
Here we can see the extent to which the attention given to domestication techniques, as well as the acclimatization of new animal species, is closely linked with the explicitly stated desire to reduce the various kinds of violence which threaten the social order. Significantly, acts of cruelty committed by domestic animals tend to be attributed to a lack of self-control on the part of those who attempt to train them. The perseverance and tact of animal protectionists are presented as the best qualities needed to combat this violence, and to pave the way toward an ideal world, inhabited by animals without horns, chains, or muzzles who obey peaceful, affable men. One has no difficulty in seeing how this ideal could echo political watchwords relating to the nature of the relations which should prevail between men: praising good domestication “has become the archetype of other kinds of social subordination. It is a paternalist model in which the sovereign is the good shepherd. Docile loyal animals obeying a thoughtful master set an example for all the servants”.